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In 2022, I'm going to join a new Team in a new city at my company HQ.

The place is known, maybe wrongfuly, to be an hard place to work at.

Moreover, France is well known for its presenteeism culture even though the mentality is evolving.

Before joining, I'm requiered to have individual meeting with people working there in order to know each other before I join.

How can I ask them what are the working hour volume without sounding like a lazy person ?

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    The problem is even when you ask them, they'll give you something vague like "as long as you don't show up after 9:30 or leave before 17:00, it's fine". But then peer pressure strikes in and you find yourself working more hours than you should.
    – Doliprane
    Oct 13 '21 at 13:34
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    note that there's a HUGE difference between the work culture in Paris (in the large sense. I.E. région parisienne) and the rest of the country. (I'm french and worked in several towns, including Paris). Since you mention a company HQ, can we suppose this is around Paris?
    – JFL
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:15
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    @JFL Yes, HQ will be based at Paris but I really don't know if the work culture is going to be sane (progressive?) or utterly toxic. My company has beautiful guide line but country side site feel "old school". Anyways, your remark is excellent because I see ton of people not understanding how toxic french work culture can be on certain point, including asking this kind of question, especially as a "cadre"
    – PowerCat
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:58
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    @PowerCat no one can tell. I have some friends who have to work at night to catch up with their work and others who work one hour a day and keep slacking the rest of the time. All of them are in Paris. I work there too and for me, it's somewhat in the middle. Some people in my company work a lot and others leave at the exact same time everyday. I'm the latter. Instead of asking about working volumne, maybe ask something like "at what hour do you usually begin to work and when do you usually leave". It's not lazy to ask about working hours, especially when you have to commute.
    – Doliprane
    Oct 14 '21 at 10:03
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    @PowerCat and if they reject you because of that, consider yourself dodging a bullet.
    – Doliprane
    Oct 14 '21 at 10:06
28

The proper solution in this specific case is to wrap this up in a more comprehensive set of questions.

  • How is life in this city?
  • What are usual things to do in the evening?
  • What kind of schedule do you have, that fits the city?
  • Do coworkers often hang out together?

with questions on the same topic before and after. Makes a logical pack of questions.

Yes, presenteism is still quite strong here in France. Management "à la française" is toxic that way, it sometimes requires more looks than real achievement.

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    This doesn't make any sense. None of these answers have anything to do with the workload. They're about people's private lives and about whether colleagues are also friends. I don't know if there's a culture where these questions may reveal something about the workload, but in France, no, they won't. Oct 13 '21 at 20:06
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    @jcm No, I don't think they would. The first two are tourist questions with no relation to work. The third is a personal question which people are unlikely to answer in much detail when talking to someone they've just met. The fourth is vaguely work-related but doesn't invite an answer that talks about work schedules. Absent other clues, I doubt that French people would guess that this is a discreet way of asking about work-life balance. Oct 13 '21 at 21:17
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    If you get answers such as "I don't know - I'm always at work", "Go home, sleep - then get up, go to work", "My schedule? I work, I sleep - is there anything else?", and "I see these people 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Even if I did have time to 'hang out' I wouldn't want to do it with them" you're getting a pretty good picture of the work schedule. And yes, I've been to interviews where I got answers similar to this. Oct 13 '21 at 21:39
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    @BobJarvis Those answers would only really be given if (a) their working hours are at the extremes and (b) the person is comfortable sharing what others may consider to be personal information or going beyond what the question asks. For the most part the questions would probably be useless for determining working hours.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:35
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    @BobJarvis-ReinstateMonica These questions make sense if you want to know whether an 80+ hours work week is common. Unless you are in some very specific fields the answer in France is 'no'. If you want to know whether people work the slightly less than 40 hours a week that is in their contract or rather something like 50 hours a week these questions don't help at all.
    – quarague
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:47
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Before joining, I'm requiered to have individual meeting with people working there in order to know each other before I join.

That's a great sign! Use this opportunity to learn what you will be getting into, should you accept their offer. Ask about the company, the manager, the worklife, etc.

How can I ask them what are the working hour volume without sounding like a lazy person?

  • Tell me what work life is like here?
  • What does a typical work day look like for you?
  • This place is known, maybe wrongfully, to be a hard place to work at. Can you tell me about that?
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    I've asked a lot of interviewers some variant of "What does a typical work day look like for you?" and I've never gotten any hint about working hours.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:37
  • @NotThatGuy There's a big difference, though, in asking an interviewer and asking future co-workers.
    – thelr
    Oct 14 '21 at 12:09
  • @JoeStrazzere I mean, the question does sometimes reveal useful information about what they actually do on a daily basis (although I've often found more specific questions to be much more helpful in that regard), but it's never told me anything about working hours specifically, neither directly nor indirectly. Do you suggest it to just get an idea about daily work tasks (and not working hours), or have you had different experiences regarding it telling you about working hours?
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 14 '21 at 13:02
6

France (especially French management) has a presenteeism culture, but also has a culture of worker protection. This culture is not always present in the kind of companies where almost everyone is salaried (cadre), however.

It's absolutely fine to ask about typical schedules. That's not just about the total workload, and you can focus about schedules rather than total time spent if you're worried that asking about total time spent will sound lazy. Ask what time people typically start, until what time they stay in the evening, and whether it's typical to take work home. Ask whether there are times in the year with extra workload (product launches, tax season, or whatever is relevant in your industry) and when they are.

You may or may not get honest or representative answers. You're more likely to get honest answers if you manage to ask lowly people outside their boss's hearing.

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  • From my experience, worker protection does not really apply to "cadre" and if it does, the cadre's career is going to be stuck. This is horrible but also true. I'm not supposed to work on the weekend or after 20h00 but if I did not, I would have been classified as a lazy, unmotivated worker who can not be voluntary and when I see my salary / advantage, I would be a fool to not make those sacrifices.. and they know it !
    – PowerCat
    Oct 18 '21 at 15:41
  • @PowerCat Legally, worker protection does apply to cadres. In practice, indeed, it can be another story. In computer tech, I've noticed that companies with a métallurgie background tend to have better worker protection than companies classified as Syntec. However, droit à la déconnexion is more and more of a thing everywhere. If it's an option given your field and geographical location, keep in mind that the surest way to get a promotion is to change employers. Oct 18 '21 at 16:11
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I honestly don't know why it would sound "lazy" to ask something as basic as the working hours. It even should be in your contract. I don't think you need worry too much about this, but I also believe you can say something like "Hey, another question, what are the working hours? I want to make sure I'm doing my best from day one, so I would like to be aware beforehand of this". The idea would be to make it clear that your desire is to comply with the company and the team.

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    Not in France, especially "Cadre", we only have "days worked" in our contract, we are only requiered to have 11 hours of rest beetween 2 shift which, sometime, isn't respected. From my experience, talking about work hour volume or pointing out presenteism is really touchy.
    – PowerCat
    Oct 13 '21 at 13:11
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    @JoeStrazzere A 40-hour work week in France is 5 hours of overtime (less if you get extra vacation days, which is common). Oct 13 '21 at 20:07
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    Interviewers look for every signal they can to draw conclusions from their limited interactions with candidates (who typically try to avoid anything that would show them in a bad light). Many may take questions about working hours to mean that working hours are particularly important to the candidate, they'd be unwilling or unhappy to work any amount of overtime and their job is just a job for them and they don't care all that much about the work itself. It mostly shouldn't be a red flag, but it may certainly push them towards a rejection if they're on the fence. Some caution is advised.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 14 '21 at 9:45
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    As @PowerCat says, the work culture in France is toxic that specific way. While arrived at 08h00am, and leaving at 05h30pm, I've been told "you took a free afternoon?", and it was not a joke. Hence the importance of the question.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Oct 18 '21 at 14:45
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    @gazzz0x2z The famous afternoon "joke". I do like working in my country but those points are ultra toxic and can ruin everything. What I hate is that most of the time, I have to stay at the office just to be there. For 3 years, I have probably waited more than worked, 50-50 at least for sure. I hate this.
    – PowerCat
    Oct 18 '21 at 15:34
4

Just be upfront about it.

France has very specific laws about working hours. Since 2002, the standard is 35 hours per week. Not all companies implemented this in the same way

  • many just do 7 hours par day, 5 days a week
  • few allow doing the 35 hours in 4 days
  • many kept 39 or 40 hours a week, compensated in additional holidays (known as "RTT" which stands for "Récupération du Temps de Travail").

Also depending on the industry there may be additional benefits (like additional holidays) written in what is called a "Convention collective".

Since you come from a different country it is perfectly normal to enquire about a system you don't know.

So you can perfectly ask "I heard about 35 hours and RTT, can you explain it to me?" and nobody will raise an eyebrow.

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    This is not true for "cadre" status, for which there is a specific number of worked days per year, and worked hours are not counted. There is only a maximum number of hours (11h per day, 11h between shifts, 36h consecutive rest time, etc.).
    – Sacha
    Oct 14 '21 at 14:06
  • @Sacha This is a big shortcut. Not all "cadres" are subject to the same rules, it depends on their status ("cadre dirigeant" or others), the branch ("convention collective"), company rules, and individual contract. Many "cadres" enjoy "les 35 heures" and "RTT".
    – jcaron
    Oct 14 '21 at 16:36
  • @jcaron: how can you have both "35 heures" and "RTT"?
    – WoJ
    Oct 15 '21 at 8:47
  • @WoJ RTT means "réduction du temps de travail", reduction of working time. It is the same as "35 heures". However the implementation may vary. Some people will have a fixed 35-hour work week (often by having half a day off), or will alternate 4-day and 5-day weeks. Others will accrue "RTT days" (or hours) which they can take like holidays. The expression "prendre ses RTT" is actually a shortcut for "prendre ses jours de RTT".
    – jcaron
    Oct 15 '21 at 12:16
  • @jcaron: yes, I know (I am French). It is just you said Many "cadres" enjoy "les 35 heures" and "RTT" - I understand you meant "or" instead of "and" (because it is either-or, generally speaking)
    – WoJ
    Oct 15 '21 at 12:20
2

In any country, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. If you're about to jump into a hell-hole of unpaid overtime and excessively long hours, you need to know that in advance. (So that you don't take the job ...)

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You can ask the answers that shows you want to work hard, but not extra hard.

Examples:

  • How often you are are under deadline so you work Saturdays?
  • How often you are called during your vacation?

None of this questions will give you the full answer you want(but may give good info), but hopefully unless it is a company with 60h work week they will not consider you too lazy to join.

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You could ask work related questions, such as:

  • does the team have a weekly meeting planned to discuss the project?
  • in order to know when to setup meetings, what are the average arrival and departure times of the team?

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