I am a university professor from the United States. I am on a one year "leave of absence" from my US university, and I am now in France working for an industrial research organization (high level R&D at a prime nuclear research center in the world) to improve my technical skills. I have had little experience outside of university settings until now.

I have a bit of a quandary at my current workplace. I have a boss who likes to work between 9am and 8pm and is always extremely tense and strung up. He expects a similar level of commitment from me that was not negotiated as part of a contract. Now, I understand that in research, you can't always negotiate a contract's clauses down to the last inch, as then it wouldn't be called "research", but you do generally have "hours spent at work" outlined.

I am on salary. My contract states that I will be paid for 35 hours of work a week, but my manager has made it clear that "I do not work as long as other folks in the research lab". (Most of them spend 10-12 hours a day at work). His manager feels that, although it's not entirely fair to make such unqualified comments about my work, I should work for 39 hours a week and that the working hours are 8.30am-5.10pm. (They are not really published anywhere).

I know that I have a certain attention span that allows me to work from 8.15am-5pm. After this I am quite spent, and I know that not much inspiration is going to pour out of me. At 5pm I prefer to leave since I have items in my personal life that I need to manage as well.

I hate quibbling about "how much time must I spend a day at work", but now I just stick around until 5.10pm (8.15am-5.10pm). On some days, I know that I have done enough on my daily task list at say 4.00pm, but I just sit around for the next one hour twiddling my thumbs doing nothing constructive.

I personally hate sitting around trying to appease a clock, but is this what is expected at a "real/corporate" workplace? All my life I have spent in university settings where people don't "time" me.

Is there anything wrong with leaving work early when you know that not much productive is going to happen in the last three-quarters of the hour or so?

Things I cannot consider:

  • Quitting my job.

  • Hiring a lawyer (I doubt this is a case for such a step).

  • Work 10-12 hours a day. This, I think is absurd. Spending "a lot of time at work" doesn't necessarily translate to "getting a lot of work done" when you must manage work-life balance/priorities.

  • 9
    Isn't legal maximum working week 35 hours in france ? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/35-hour_workweek Be carful because it sounds as if they are asking you to break the law. You should speak to HR immediately to clarify what it is you are being asked to to and then to have your contract amended to reflect that. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 13:21
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    @drN: 35 hours excluding lunch breaks sound very normal, 48 minutes of lunch break seems a bit strange, but why not. Specifying working hours excluding lunch break in the contract is pretty standard. The only strange thing here is they are expecting you to work more than stated in your contract. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 13:54
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    @drN well if you are indeed contracted for 35 hours a week with lunch breaks on top of that to make it up to 39 hours then you have to work those hours. If they want you in the building for those hours there isn't much you can do about it. As for working beyond that, any time your boss asks you to work more than your contracted hours ask for it in writing or email and then take it to HR. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 14:47
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    @BjarkeFreund-Hansen specifying exact hours for what appears to be a very high level RnD job is unusual university professors and the like are NOT paid by the hour and some would be very insulted if you implied they where
    – Pepone
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 20:17
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    Setting time spent in the office equal to commitment is fundamentally wrong, espcially so with R&D and research. It is a prehistoric way of thinking. Fight it whenever you can!
    – Thorst
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 9:07

8 Answers 8


For what it's worth, this is coming from a French point of view.

You have to understand something. French work culture is quite specific for this.

In theory, in France, it is somewhat a legal obligation to have 35 hours on the contract. So, yes, you should work 35 hours a week.

In practice, this is far from true. If you are a factory worker, then yes, 35 hours it will be. If you are a researcher or any executive (manager etc...), basically any job that requires high diploma, you will be expected to stay longer at work, this is implicit, except if you are in the public sector.

It is really considered badly to leave at the exact time it is said on the contract, so earlier is not even something one can consider.

This is in general why you can have what's called RTT (Réduction du temps de travail). Instead of being paid for overtime, you can take more days off. In most companies, this will be 1 or 2 days off per month on top of the legal 5 weeks per year.

But again, in France, the labour code is really strong and in favour of the employee. So if you decide to work from 9 to 5, they won't be able to fire you or anything, you will just have to accept you will be considered a slacker.

And keep in mind the visibility. This is the same everywhere in the world. Your colleagues might not be as effective as you but the manager will not feel it that way.

  • 5
    This is pretty much it. If you work around Paris, the usual workday is 9-9:30 AM -> 6-6:30 PM. Even for 35 hours contracts.
    – Goodzilla
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 11:51
  • I agree with you. However, how does one have a work-life balance that I see so many europeans enjoy? I currently hate my work here in France (I am a researcher) and that has affected my work life balance and health. I have worked in the USA as a researcher and I was not a "clock watcher" there. Is this a completely different question then?
    – dearN
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 7:06
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    35 hours a week salary... As a US software developer this wonderful concept is amazing and foreign to me... In my market there is a huge number of campanies that WILL cut you loose as being a slacker, or just not dedicated to the job, etc for not putting in 50+ hours a week. (exceptions apply, but generally speaking here you're looking at 45 hours give or take for most "reputable" employers, only the rare progressive start up or non-profit tends to promote not working by a clock and considering less than 40 "reasonable") perhaps I need to be looking into moving... Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 18:54
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    @RualStorge As a US-based software developer (for around 8-9 years now), I have yet to work in an environment where this was the case. I've seen plenty of people complaining about how they "had" to do it, but I very rarely work over 40 hours per week (and then it's for emergencies), and I get nothing but compliments. Thus, I have a theory: companies will extract everything they can from you. It's up to you to push back.
    – bvoyelr
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 16:00
  • @bvoyelr a great deal has changed these last 4 years, with new federal laws around working overtime on salary, and even stricter state level laws being passed, some as recently as 2-3 months ago. In addition to this many roles (developers among them) are in increasing demand and people working those roles are both better organized and communicating closer than ever before. All of which has REALLY improved working conditions for devs here in the US. So to your point, I believe my previous comment doesn't reflect how things are today on the marco scale. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 15:05

Be careful: your contract states that you work 35 hours a week (as required by the law), but this is the yearly average.

A (very) common practice is to ask employees to work 39 hours a week (as it was before 2000) and even it out by giving them 10 to 12 additional days of leave. This is perfectly legal and requires you to effectively work 39 hours a week. This may be what your boss meant when he told you you had to work 39 hours a week.

Another thing to check is whether you have a "cadre" contract: in this case, although you theoretically have a 35 hours week, work time is counted in days, not in hours, and you are required to work extra time when needed, for free. As a compensation, you are allowed to leave before quitting time when your tasks of the day are done. Note that you are entitled to get 13 free hours between 2 days of work (which effectively limits the work day to 11 hours).

Yes, this is kind of crazy, but this is France after all: government makes a new law which changes everything, notices it doesn't work everywhere, and new laws are made to handle every specific case, which always ends up in a mess. That's why you can have a contract which states you work 35 hours a week, but your effective work time is counted in days.


My contract states that I will be paid for 35 hours of work a week but my manager has made it clear that "I do not work as long as other folks in the research lab" (most of them spend 10-12 hours a day at work). His manager feels that although it's not entirely fair to make such unqualified comments about my work, I should work for 39 hours a week and that the working hours are 8.30am-5.10pm (not really published anywhere).

Your contract says that you will be paid for 35 hours of work a week, so work 35 hours a week. If your manager wants you to work 39 hours then you say that you will gladly so so if your contract is changed so that you're payed for 39 hours, anything else is simply theft.

The people who are working 10-12 hours a day are probably being payed way more than you, so talking about fairness is simply absurd. You cannot compare one employee to another unless they have the exact same skillset and have the exact same amount of salary.

In general there's nothing wrong with leaving early as long as you've finished your mandatory times filed by your contract OR if there's no more productive work to be done, but the latter is more rare to be found and is entirely tied to individual work spaces and managers. In your case you should simply finish the mandatory hours and leave, unless you get payed more.

Hiring a lawyer would be a possibility if you'd get fired for not working those extra 4 hours a week for free, or if they threaten to do so.

  • 2
    "If your manager wants you to work 39 hours then you say that you will gladly so so if your contract is changed so that you're payed for 39 hours": not necessarily. You should also have the option to refuse to work 39 hours, either because you prefer 35 hours and the contract that you currently have, or because it may be illegal under French law.
    – a3nm
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 8:35
  • This answer does no take into account the specifics of the situation. In France, most engineers, researchers, managers are paid for each day. Although 35 hours is supposed to be a default working time, it's never practically the case, so this hard line approach is not realistic. You have to try and show the manager that you're not getting more done by staying longer.
    – Puzzled
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 6:57
  • @Puzzled What do you mean? I really don't care where you're from if you've got something specifically written in the contract. Are you implying that contracts are useless in some countries?
    – Jonast92
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 15:51
  • @Jonast92 I am saying that for the "cadre" positions, the expectation differs from the obligation. Sure the contract is there, so if the OP wants to sue the company, he may have a chance (IANAL). But flat out refusing by just stating "this is what is written in my contract" may not lead to a constructive reaction from the manager. It may be better to try and demonstrate that he's not getting more done. For the record, I am French and I am quite happy to not be working in France, this being one of the reasons. While I sympathise with the intent of your answer, I think it won't be effective.
    – Puzzled
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 12:37

The "35 hours" is different depending whether you are a simple employee or a "cadre".

I can guess from what you describe where you work and that you are probably what we call a "senior research engineer". You probably have a "cadre au forfait jour" status, so the 35 hours must be understood as a yearly "average". As a "cadre" you are expected to stay the number of hours that allow you to complete your tasks (which can be more or less than your nominal work duration). This is most of the time more than the 35 hours, that's why "cadres" have extra vacation days called RTT. For instance, in a famous research facility of the south of Paris, there are 23 days of RTT each year (in addition to the standard 5 weeks of vacation).

If you want to be sure of how it works, the French way is to go to the HR administration, they will tell you everything you need to know. Hiring a lawyer is mostly useless in France, except after being fired, but the court for this case is an administrative one, and is usually slow (several months or years to solve problems).


I personally hate sitting around trying to appease a clock, but is this what is expected at a "real/corporate" workplace?

Working a white collar job in the industry in France

This comes from a French POV, based in Paris. It can be quite different in the rest of France

The cadre status

As was stated before, in France, with a "cadre" status (which is any white collar job, in theory), in a company, you

  • have 35 hours on your contract (or up to 40 hours, with compensating RTT)
  • are expected to work more than that.

This is part of what having a "cadre status" is like. You are not supposed to enter your precise arriving/departure time in a software every day, you can do what you want with your day, but are supposed to work longer than the time on your contract if it is needed by your management, usually to reach deadlines.

You did not mention if your colleagues have the same contract as you. (If not, you should make sure that your manager is aware of the difference, for example if their contracts are 40h + RTT when yours is 35h.)

So, how long are you supposed to work?

The specific times will depend on your company, but usual times to come in are between 8 and 9:30, and to go home are between 5:30pm and 7:30pm. Precise times will depend on your company culture. According to your question, your company culture has a 8:30 - 5:10pm work time.

I'd also like to mention that, depending on the work place, the lunch break can be between one and two hours, and is not counted as work time. You did not mention how long it takes in your company.

In the different companies where I've been, the arrival time was not that important, as long as it was before 9:15 - 9:30. What counted and was "seen" was the departure time.

What can you do?

Non confronting solution

If you have activities, at home, that you can do in the morning as well as the evening, you could move them in your day, to go to work at the same time as your team.

Or you can do the opposite, and use the end of your day for easy/not important stuff: I used to use the last hour of my day to manage my emails, do administrative reporting, and proof-read documents. You could also read technical literature which is interesting to you, and not directly relevant to your job during this timeframe.


You can try to negotiate with your direct management. You can probably ask if you can, for example, reduce the time of your lunch break to leave earlier, but please note that leaving at 5pm is already quite early by industry standards in Paris. It could be interesting to check how efficient you are perceived to be, relative to the other people in your team.

You will probably get the answer, though, that they are trying not to do any exceptions. I would avoid escalating to HR.

Ignoring the comments and working 35h

If you only work for 35h (perceived by your management) a week, you will not get fired, but it is likely that your reputation could suffer, and that it would be harder to get recommandation letters.

Is this the case everywhere in France?

No. One big exception to this rule are pure research labs (CNRS, INRIA, ...), where you can manage your schedule the way you want as long as you do the work. I have some colleagues arriving at 11am and leaving at 8pm, some arriving at 9am, leaving at 4:30pm, with a very short lunch break, some who work from home when they need to without having to do anything else than send an email on the morning of their absence. R&D is a mix, sometimes more industry culture, sometimes more research culture.

  • I am not familiar with RTT, is this like overtime? Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 10:39
  • @BurhanKhalid Not really. In France, your contract should be 35h/wk. If your company wants you to contractually work more (up to 39h/wk), they must compensate you by giving you rest days. For a 39h/wk contract, you get between 8 and 11 RTT (it depends on the number of public holidays happening during the work weeks). The company can chose when you take 5 of those days. You can also work overtime, but in a cadre contract, your overtime hours are usually not counted (except for very big overtime, such as staying until 9pm); it depends a bit on the company culture though.
    – Clef.
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 13:49

I personally hate sitting around trying to appease a clock but is this what is expected at a "real/corporate" work place? All my life I have spent in university settings where people don't "time" me.

This depends heavily on where you work as it goes directly towards company culture.

I was working as an operations manager at an internet services firm - we had "office hours", but work was done throughout the day and many times during the night. Often you would see some staff staying over even after the official COB (Close Of Business).

These days I work in a bank and here they are very strict about timing. Everyone leaves at the same time and arrives at the same time the next day. Unless your job specifically requires, you can't even enter the building after hours nevermind work.

For my position, I have access to the building but rarely does work happen outside published hours - and if it does, its counted as overtime and paid at the next cycle.

Your "real work place" depends very much the industry you are in. In regulated industries (airlines, healthcare, banking, etc.) timing is strict and you are not expected to burn the midnight oil unless its part of your normal job role.

I have also worked in companies where there is no defined office hours - everyone has access to the facilities at all times, you can come and go as you please - but your deliverable time lines are strict.

I'm like you - I also hate sitting around waiting for the clock to tick over, but at the same time I can appreciate the discipline that comes with having regimented hours of work.

  • I agree with most of what you say except the part on "discipline". I don't think its great work culture to impose "discipline" by clocking in and out employees with advanced degrees (PhDs for instance as is the case at my work place)
    – dearN
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 11:34
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    I don't think having an advanced degree should exempt you from office rules. Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 22:25
  • Office rule is working between 8.30am-5.30pm or whatever. I am not saying that having an advanced degree exempts me from this rule but I am saying that it is unreasonable to make unqualified remarks that "I am working LESS" than other employees or that it is a good work culture to be a clock watcher. Yes, having an advanced degree does generally mean that I hold myself to a higher standard. Keyword is "generally". Not always.
    – dearN
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 7:14

Is there anything wrong with leaving work early when you know that not much productive is going to happen in the last three-quarters of the hour or so?

Much of it depends on the industry in which you work, and the office culture at your work. It also depends on what you mean by "wrong" here.

If you mean in the legal sense, you need to become familiar with local laws. That's not something we can help with in this forum.

If you mean "is there anything wrong with choosing to ignore the corporate culture and norms", that's a more difficult discussion. Some individuals in a unique and safe position can deliberately ignore the norms and get away with it. Most cannot.

If you mean "Can I decide to leave early when my boss specifically tells me to work longer?", then you need to determine what kind of outcome is possible, and what kind of outcome you desire.

  • If you cannot be fired no matter what you do, and if a potentially poor job review doesn't impact you, then it's not "wrong" to leave whenever you choose.
  • If you can be fired but don't care, then it's not "wrong" to leave whenever you choose.
  • If you can be fired and you do care, then you should talk with your boss, explain your limited attention span, and ask if there can be some accommodation

You indicate that "not much productive is going to happen in the last three-quarters of the hour", but that's something you can change. Being "spent" is a matter of opinion, not fact. Even if you are tired, there are productive things that you can accomplish - ask your boss to suggest tasks that can be successfully completed in a tired state.

is this what is expected at a "real/corporate" work place?

At least in my part of the world, there are very few professional, salaried positions where 35 hours per week (or even 39 hours per week) is the norm. And while many jobs have some flexibility regarding the starting and ending time of those hours, many professional positions expect a higher level of commitment.

In France, it may be different.

  • Why does employers equate time spent in the office with commitment?
    – Thorst
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 9:09
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    Because people who don't spend the time often really are slackers. They always perceive themselves as the best employees who do the most, but honestly, they often are not. If you completed your work after 25 hours and left and I have more work available to assign but you didn't let me know you had some time avaialable, you are a slacker whether you think you are great or not.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 19:18
  • @HLGEM as a salaried person you are meant to mange your hours an dnot be micro managed by your boss so your not making much sense Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:34
  • @Neuromancer, no you are meant to work a minimum number of hours if the work is available. That minimum is typically 40 in the US. The law on salaried is to allow companies to force unpaid overtime not for you to work fewer hours. If you work 25 hours and there is more work available and you didn't let your boss know you were done and I find out, then you are fired. That has been true in every company I have worked for and I have worked for large corporations, small businesses, medium businesses and government agencies. I have seen slackers fired at all of them.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 14:52
  • @HLGEM Not how I have seen salaried work in uk the US with its very week protections may work differently - a salaried contract will say "no fixed hours of work" in the UK - its also a big marker for which social class you belong to. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 17:49

In some places, and this seems particularly true of France in my experience, working to the expected hours, behaviour and culture of your workplace is seemingly more important than what you actually do while you are there.

If they are convinced that you are a slacker for leaving at 17:00 rather than staying til 17:10, then you either accept that or change your hours to work the 8:30 - 17:10 that the unwritten rules would seem to indicate. If they insist on 39 hrs/week, then do that as well and take your RTT days when allowed.

  • This. It is extremely common in France to "measure" a person’s work efficiency by the time they spend at work. Being seen at work (place) is regarded more favorably than working. This can lead to toxic workplaces were leaving earlier than expected (even after your official work time, and/or when you day’s work is done) is frowned upon, and the too common "race to go home last".
    – breversa
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 14:51

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