Five Frustrating Myths About French Business Culture

For years now, France has been stereotyped as a bad place for businesses. Despite being one of the world’s largest economies, French culture is seen as antithetical to successful enterprise, with workers and authorities conspiring to make business owners’ lives as difficult as possible.

While there have been some barriers to business growth in the past, the French business landscape of today is very different to the one of decades past. Here are five of the most frustrating myths about doing business in France, and why the country is a far better business destination than you might think.

“The holidays in France are too long”

Holidays are sacrosanct in France, and part of the working culture that isn't likely to change. While Sundays are no longer definite days of rest the way they were a decade ago, it's true that the French receive more public holidays than many of their neighbours, particularly compared to the UK. French workers get 30 days’ paid holiday per year (compared to 28 in the UK), and also benefit from up to 13 public holidays in some regions.

However, this added time off isn't the broad negative it's often painted as for businesses. A significant body of evidence suggests that more time off actually encourages people to work harder, giving them the mental and physical rest they need to perform better in the workplace. When you look at how low the UK's workplace productivity has fallen - at least, prior to home working - the French system starts to make a bit more sense.

“It’s too difficult to hire and fire people”

Unions have always had a lot of power in France, and this is still true today. French people in general tend to be more involved in politics than many other nations, and are strongly protective of the freedoms for workers that have been won over the centuries. This is both a cultural point and a reality for French businesses, and something you should be aware of.

Related article: Start A Business In France in 8 Steps

While there hasn't been any union-busting of the sort seen in the UK in the 1980s, however, the imbalance of power between unions and the government has been redressed slightly in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of the current government, some power has belatedly been given back to businesses, closing loopholes that were being abused by some employees and their unions.

Changes made by the current government have curtailed some of the most extreme powers of labour unions, where a firing could often be contested, and lead to a long and costly tribunal. Businesses in France can now hire and fire employees much more freely than before, allowing them to fret less about releasing underperforming employees, and helping them to grow and adapt to changing circumstances.

“It’s too difficult to find funding”

There has long been a perception that, while France may well be a good place to start a business, it isn't a good place to grow one. A lack of funding opportunities and some restrictive labour policies have been seen as stymying business development, with France harbouring fewer 'unicorns' (billion dollar companies) than similar sized nations.

Related article: What are the benefits of starting a business in France?

This perception is rapidly changing, and France is not just becoming a hotbed for startup talent (such as the huge startup hub Station F), but a place where startups can stay and scale up effectively. As well as EU funding, startups in France are benefitting from the Bpifrance investment fund, and a wave of angel investors and seed funding. This is only increasing thanks to the efforts of La French Tech, and the burgeoning tech startup ecosystem in over a dozen tech cities across France.

“Workers in France strike too often”

France is almost as famous for striking workers as it is for its clothes and cuisine. Images of angry protesters disrupting transport and occupying factories are part of French folklore, and seem to be prevalent. But while there are some statistics to back this up - France is “above the European average” in terms of strikes - they are rarer than you might think, and often targeted away from typical businesses.

The most recent strike to make the news was in early 2020, when rail workers abandoned their posts for over a month. However, this was a case of public sector employees striking over changes to pensions, which would have hit rail workers hardest. At the time, France had the third highest pension expenditure as a proportion of GDP in Europe, and Macron’s government was trying to reduce this.

Related article: How to open a branch of your business in France the easy way

Of course, strikes in France do happen, and even if they aren’t often directed at private businesses, they can still cause you disruption. But the notable strikes do tend to be further apart, and more to do with the public sector. In the most recent examples, they’ve actually been a reaction to a government that’s trying to balance its books, and make France a more efficient and competitive destination for investors.

“Starting a business in France is too complicated”

Starting a business in France has got much easier over the years due to France looking to improve its business reputation and court more foreign investors. Although it's undoubtedly true that French authorities still have a love of formality, there are easy ways around any obstacles - especially language problems - when you have a company formation expert to guide you and help out with any paperwork.

If you need more information, we have a free downloadable guide below which takes you through every step of opening a business in France, and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to either call us directly on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us from our contact page and we’ll be happy to help.

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