As the United States continues to cling to the 40-hour work week, German and French work weeks offer an apt example of how less really can be more. While Germany called for austerity for most of the Euro zone, it continued to offer unparalleled worker protections and shorter working hours than most of their counterparts.
During the global economic crisis, Germany pushed for employers to reduce hours instead of laying off workers. The policy, known as Kurzarbeit, also stipulated that the German government would partially reimburse workers for wages lost. In Germany, for example, employees work an average of 35 hours per week, with an average of 24 paid vacation days.
France adopted the 35-hour working week in 2000, with hopes of reducing unemployment and yielding a better division of labor (by reducing the hours one is able to work, employers have to hire more people to make up for those hours lost, thus theoretically reducing unemployment)–and, of course, to enhance quality of life.
As of 2013, Germany barely trailed behind the United States in terms of exports, and has an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. The unemployment rate in France hovers markedly higher at 10.6 percent. However, according to the OECD’s 2014 Better Life Index, the French report a better work-life balance than Americans surveyed.