Mental Health and the 35-Hour Workweek

Commonly held ideas about the superiority of mental health and personal well-being in many European countries are often backed up by statistics about the average workweek in such countries, and among the nations with the most coveted working conditions, France is typically vetted as the best. With shorter, 35-hour weeks, ample time for lunch breaks, and generous vacation packages, French jobs are often considered to be especially luxurious and beneficial for the avoidance of stress and other taxes on mental health. A recent series of suicide incidents, both attempted and successful, at a major French organization, however, has brought the national working conditions into question, under a particularly bright media spotlight.

France Telecom, a major employer, has recently been hit with 38 suicides–-24 of which have been successful–within the past 20 months. A remarkably high number of attempts and successful suicides, the figures have created an outrage amongst the public as well as throughout the company itself, where workers complain that a new modernization and globalization scheme has created excessive stress and disappointment among employees. Some of those who ended their lives and their careers-–or attempted to do so–at the company left notes or otherwise described unacceptable management and excessive criticism. Throughout the country, in fact, a push toward integrating traditional French business values and practices with those of the United States and other leading economies has suggested that workers are enjoying their famously relaxed conditions less.

As occupational and mental health experts alike study the case of France Telecom in an effort to understand the recent incidents, the suggestion that rapid globalization and the introduction of high-stress, poorly managed environments may lead to untenable mental health conditions is not likely to be ignored.


Charlton, E. (2009, October 6). Does work kill in the country of 35-hour week? Retrieved from

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kitt


    October 12th, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    This is very sad… a place where employees were happy and had plenty of time to relax are falling prey to ‘globalization’… globalization is no good if the end result is a sad one, isnt it? This needs to be reverted ASAP by the concerned authorities…

  • Austy


    October 12th, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    A thirty five hour work-week? WOW! thats something that an American can only dream of… but in places where it has been so, it should be maintained and at least keeping the recent suicide rates, it should be reverted…

  • Kelli


    October 12th, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    I want a shorter work week! 20 hours sounds like plenty to me!

  • Jack


    October 13th, 2009 at 2:19 AM

    Work is important,yes…but not at the cost of your life,is it? Work is to be done,deadlines are to be met, but when the employees are at peace and are relaxed, you can extract better quality of work from them. This is much better than extracting loads of low-quality work and making them unhappy about long work-hours and finally paying for their medical bills. Firms need to understand this little thing, and then corporate-world would be a much better place to be in.

  • Iris


    October 13th, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    It is hard for me to even visualize having a shorter work week and productivity remaining at the same level. but evidently there are companies and countries that enforce this and it works really well for them. I guess I am so accustomed to the traditional 40 hours here in the US that working anything less seems odd to me. I wonder how you would ever get everything accomplished that needs to be done in order to keep things moving along. maybe it is that we are really not using all of our time wisely and that places where they work fewer hours have just really made it a very good habit to absolutely make the most of their time instead of wasting half the day like I do now.

  • Ben


    October 13th, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    If an increase has to be made effective in work-hours,it should be done in a gradual manner,and that too, without cutting down on the free-time…otherwise,corporations will end up having a lot of unsatisfied employees suffering from health issues.

  • Fiorghra


    October 16th, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    I work in a stressful legal services organization. Our typical work week has always been 35 hours per week – 5 seven hour days. A few years ago my employer agreed to let me change to 4 eight hour days, reducing my hours by just 3 per week. I still have the same amount of work and get it done but have three day weekends is HEAVEN!!! It has greatly improved my quality of life and I would encourage everyone who can to do the same.

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