Eiffel Tower

France has long been known, and greatly admired in Progressive circles, for it’s astounding array of government benefits including it’s legendary mandatory five weeks of vacation, 35 hour work-week, and generous benefits for mothers.  Here is an interesting story by Claire Lundberg for Slate on the downsides of the arrangement.

Ms. Lunberg emigrated to France because NYC was not progressive enough for her liking.  She had a child and was greatly pleased with the benefits she received that never would have come her way in the U.S.  Then she tried to re-enter the job market.  Let’s just say the bloom fell of the rose at that point.

Simply put Ms. Lunberg discovered that while France may appreciate her motherhood, its employers do not.  She found herself being asked how many children she had, how many more she intended to have, how she cared for them, etc., and then didn’t get the job.  None of these questions are permissible in the U.S. but are just dandy there.  Eventually she drifts into the truth of the matter:  Choices involve trade-offs.

France has wonderful benefits along with chronically high unemployment, a workforce that is mostly temporary (to get around mandatory health plan requirements for employers), and a chronically struggling economy (it’s kind of hard to outwork the Germans and Americans spotting them six weeks a year and another five for vacation).

We rarely explore trade offs when pursuing what we want.  People should be paid more; let’s force a minimum wage!  Hey, why can’t these marginally skilled people find work anymore?  More people should have health insurance from their employer; let’s make 30 hours of work per week full-time for purposes of benefit eligibility!  Hey, why has full-time job growth collapsed and part-time work exploded?

Any discussion of driving costs into an organization to improve benefits or other aspects of rewards for work must take this reality into account.  HR practitioners who make such proposals must be prepared to discuss the trade-offs and articulate why the proposal’s value trumps them.  If you are not prepared, then expect a short meeting and disappointment.