Shaking IT Up: Is the Sunset Better in France?
January 12, 2004 Kevin Vandever
Is the sunset better in France than in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Peoria? It may seem like a strange question, but most of us working a professional life (either in IT or in any other office environment) probably don’t know. It’s not because we have never been to Paris or Marseilles, but because we can’t remember the last time we saw the sun set in our home town. We work like farmers, from sun up to sun down, but we are inside, so we don’t know what the sun set is like.
France has not been high on many Americans’ list of places to visit lately, but after you read about the work habits of the French, you might think differently. This is partly due to our disagreement with the French on how to deal with Iraq but is also related to the long-standing perception that the French hate all Americans and are rude to us when we visit their country. For my part, I’m not that down on the French for their stand on Iraq, nor do I think that they are rude to all Americans. I don’t pretend to know all the political issues, and don’t necessarily need to. What I do know is that they are entitled to their opinion and we are entitled to disagree with them. But going as far as to not drink their wine or eat their chocolate and cheese because they don’t agree with us, well, I’m just not going to do that. But I digress. I’m not here to convince you to travel to France, drink the wine, or eat the cheese. I do, however, want you to take a look at a phenomenon that has been discovered in France and help to determine how it came to be.
I recently saw a graph put together by analysts at financial giant UBS Warburg that listed cities from 34 different countries in order of the average hours worked per year. (This is called the UBS Prices and Earnings Survey, which tries to gauge the buying power of people from major cities around the globe. Santiago, Chile, headed the list, with the average worker putting in about 2,250 hours per year. Santiago was followed by Kuala Lumpar at about 2,200, Bogota at about 2,150 hours, and Hong Kong also at about 2,150. These are the average numbers, and each of them calculates to over 40 hours per week. Ouch.
A surprising item to me was that New York City was in the bottom quarter and weighed in at just under 1,900 hours per year, or about 36.5 hours per week. I guess the number of hours doesn’t surprise me as much as the fact that New York came in so low. I was surprised to see that so many other cities ranked ahead of it, as crazy as that city is. But then the answer hit me like a 5:00 p.m. staff meeting. Those other cities must be dominated by IT shops. How else can such high averages be explained?
I never realized it before, but Santiago must be bursting with self-motivated, heavy-hitting, team players that solve the city’s problems by cranking out the code. It’s obvious. We in IT blow the scale way out of proportion, given our 60-hour work weeks. You feel guilty, too, when you only put in 40 hours, right? If you don’t, there are plenty of other IT folks just waiting to hand you all the guilt you can imagine. They’ll mutter “clock watcher” under their breath as you dare to walk out the door after a measly eight-hour work day. “Where’s his dedication? His drive? His passion?” Yes, it must be the case that those cities at the top are dominated by IT shops. It can’t be anything else.
That’s why New York was so low. Sure, New York is full of IT shops, and they make us all proud by raising the curve, but New York is a diverse city, and with that diversity comes many forks in the career path. You’ve heard of banker’s hours, right? Well, where do you think most of the banks are? That’s right, New York. Now you can start to see why New York is more leisurely than you might have thought.
Speaking of leisurely, who do think is at the bottom of the list? That’s right, the French. More specifically, the Parisians. In Paris people work an average of about 1,600 hours per year. Using a 52-week work schedule as I did above (which is probably not the case, because, as I understand it, the French get about 53 weeks of vacation per year), that works out to 30 hours per week. The next closest city is Frankfurt, at about 1,700 hours per year, so Paris has wrapped up the title pretty soundly.
Personally, I could live with that Parisian work week. Let’s see. I’d get up at about eight or nine, enjoy some breakfast and a café au lait at the local café, maybe head into work around 10:30. I’d work for a couple of hours before heading out to lunch to grab a baguette sandwich, sit by the park, and read a book (a whole book, not just a few chapters). Then I’d head back to work for a few hours to finish the day. By three or four in the afternoon, I’d have put in a full day’s work. Then it would be time to get to the gym for a workout or to take a nice jog through the city. Follow that up with a nice, long shower before uncorking a bottle of your favorite Bordeaux to let it breathe a little as you prepare an artistic meal to take out to the patio to watch the sunset. That’s right, the sunset. Remember that? People in other parts of the world, and maybe even in this country, but certainly in other professions, actually take time to watch the sun set in the evening.
Okay, before you get too excited, quit your job, and move to Paris, you have to remember one thing: Paris has IT shops, too. And that’s probably why the number of hours worked per year wasn’t lower. Maybe IT shops affect the curve there, too. It could be the case, just as in this country, that IT professionals are defined by their jobs, and that they also live to work instead of working to live. They might take pride in working long hours, often bragging how late they stay or how early they get in, just like we do over here.
Or do the Parisians simply know how to live? Do their IT staffs go home on time? Do they not take too much pride in what platform they work on? Or are there just not that many IT shops in Paris? I’m not sure. See, as cool as Paris might be to live in, it might be that our profession, not our geographic location, is the problem.
We should try to change our attitudes in IT. We should care more about the language we speak than the language in which we code. We have to stop judging people by the color of the screen on which they work. Let’s do our jobs and do them well, but let’s learn to do them in smaller doses. Even you folks who really, really love what you do, it’s okay, I applaud you, but I’m still talking to you. Go ahead and have breakfast and dinner with your family–and in the same day. Take up a hobby, listen to music, play a sport, volunteer for a cause, wake up without an alarm, look up in the sky, and wonder why. Do something other than your job! Go ahead and live! The company will not go out of business. The stock market will not crash. Your family won’t freak out (okay, I can’t promise any of that).
You don’t have to move to Paris to watch the sunset. Maybe you can do it from wherever you live now. Perhaps you just have to adjust your priorities a little and learn to put the keyboard. Down!