France is experiencing “an epidemic of laziness”, says an in-depth study published by the center-left Fondation Jean Jaurès with the Ifop polling institute this month.
Sigmund Freud said that the two most important things in life are to love and to work. If France seems to have lost its way, perhaps it is because labor has become severely devalued.
In 1990, write social scientists Jérôme Fourquet and Jérémie Peltier, 60 percent of French people said that work was a “very important” part of their lives. Only 24 percent say the same today.
The survey studied the relative importance of six lifestyle components. No other category came close to the 36 percentage point drop in the importance attributed to work. Over the same 30-year period, family size fell 10 percent, from 81 to 71 percent. Religion fell from 14 to 5 percent.
While the Covid pandemic is not the only cause, “it has had a profound impact on our relationship with work and our family ties, but it has also increased the value of free time and the private sphere,” the study authors write.
Two elements have gained importance in the same period: friendship, which rises six points to 46%, but above all leisure, which rises 10 points to the level of “very important” for 41% of the population.
When then-President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed that the French “work harder to earn more” in 2008, two-thirds of those polled were up for it. That number has reversed, with two-thirds now saying they prefer to work less and earn less, despite the cost-of-living crisis and increased demand for public services.
France, like the US and other European countries, has seen a “great resignation” since the Covid pandemic; more than half a million departures in three months in late 2021 and early 2022. They included 470,000 who left permanent jobs known as CDIs. There was a time when a CDI, which offers virtual job security for life, was considered the equivalent of nirvana.
A third of the French now work remotely at least one day a week, while close to a quarter work remotely three days or more, with the highest rates on Mondays and Fridays. The authorities now speak of “peak days” instead of rush hour. The Paris transport company RATP reports 18 percent fewer passengers on Fridays than on Tuesdays.
Disinterest in work is accompanied by a feeling of lethargy. Thirty percent say they are less motivated than before the pandemic. That rises to 40 percent among people ages 25 to 34, and it’s highest in Paris, at 41 percent.
A country known for its vibrant cultural sector now appears to be in danger of becoming a nation of couch potatoes, with 45 percent saying they are less interested in going out than before the pandemic, 50 percent in the Paris region.
Movie ticket sales are down 34 percent. Nightclubs, associations and volunteer organizations report a collapse in attendance. Habits acquired during the Covid lockdowns have taken root. The sale of home video projectors and deliveries of prepared food have skyrocketed. “Embrace the art of doing less” is the tagline for Uber Eats. The verb “chiller” (to cool) will enter the Le Petit Robert dictionary in 2023.
Outrage over income inequality and a feeling that one’s work is not appreciated are also demotivating factors. In 1993, 54 percent of French employees believed their efforts were fairly rewarded, while 25 percent said they were not. Today, 39 percent say that the balance is fair, but 48 percent believe that it is the losing party.
The value attributed to work largely depends on age and politics. “Silent quitters” who do as little as possible without being fired now make up 37 percent of French employees and 45 percent of voters for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left France Unbowed.
Among the predominantly young French citizens who voted for Mélenchon in the first round of the presidential election, 61 percent said they are less motivated to work than before the pandemic. That falls to 28 percent among Emmanuel Macron’s older voters.
However, 69 percent of those polled supported “the right to be lazy” claimed by Sandrine Rousseau, a far-left environmentalist. That rose to 85 percent on the far left.
“The right to be lazy” was invented by the Frenchman Paul Lafargue in a social manifesto published in 1880. “O laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues,” Lafargue wrote, “be the balm for human anguish.”
Lafargue was the son-in-law of Karl Marx.