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French Workers Have Led the World During the Great Resignation. Why?

By Eliza Haverstock

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

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In the land of croissants and cheese, workers quit their jobs at double the rate of any other country, according to a recent UKG survey.

French workers are leading the Great Resignation, but they're also the most likely to regret quitting a job. Image credit: Evgeniia Ozerkina /
French workers are leading the Great Resignation, but they're also the most likely to regret quitting a job. Image credit: Evgeniia Ozerkina /

As December 2021 came to a close, Ismael Perrier handed in his resignation notice. The 37-year-old Parisian had spent more than a decade working in human resources, but the pandemic had shifted his priorities, and he’d received an offre d’emploi elsewhere. So, Perrier promptly packed up his 215-square-foot studio in Paris’ lively Bastille neighborhood and moved 300 miles southeast to the city of Lyon.

After a two-week break, Perrier began the three-month training process to become a bus driver. “I made a U-turn in my career to live my dream,” he said. “I’ve been passionate about the world of public transport since I was kid.”

The so-called Great Resignation has swept the globe since the onset of the pandemic, and French workers like Perrier led the pack. In France, nearly half of job leavers have quit multiple jobs since the start of the pandemic--double the rate of any other country, per a recent survey published by HR consultancy Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG).

Chris Mullen, the executive director of UKG’s workforce institute, isn’t sure what exactly drove the turnover. “It could be because those in France tend to value their free time, and ‘work to live, not live to work,’ and they are more apt to move on if the new job doesn’t fit their life-work need,” he theorized.

While French workers likely weighed work-life balance, the country’s geography may have also played heavily into resignation decisions, said Serge da Motta Veiga, a professor of human resources management at the EDHEC business school near Lille, France. (As a close friend of Texas A&M business professor Anthony Klotz, who coined the term “Great Resignation” in 2021, da Motta Veiga is well-acquainted with the phenomenon.)

The U.S. spouts plenty of major metropolises brimming with job opportunities, but France’s job market is largely concentrated around Paris, explained da Motta Veiga. Like Perrier, many French workers may have left bustling Paris for a calmer pace of life.

“A lot of people were resigning because they were tired of living in a small apartment in Paris,” da Motta Veiga said. “They left a place that was very expensive, very pressure driven, maybe to a place that offers more flexibility.”

Regrets for French workers

But the grass isn’t always greener: French job leavers tended to have the highest levels of regret surrounding their decision compared to other countries, per UKG. Six out of 10 French job leavers regretted their decision to quit during the pandemic. For those who moved out of Paris, the smaller job markets in their new cities could be a reason for the regret, da Motta Veiga surmised.

Despite this, however, “boomerang” rates among French workers were the lowest, because French managers were the least likely of any nationality to consider rehiring ex-employees, explained UKG’s Mullen. (On the flip side, 65% of French workers are willing to return to an old job if offered the opportunity.)

“If going back to their old job is unlikely, and they haven’t built up pride in their new job, French employees will continue looking for a better experience elsewhere,” Mullen said.

Why are managers so hesitant to give workers a second chance? French offices tend to be more “traditional,” hinging upon the concept of loyalty more so than American workplaces, da Motta Veiga explained. “We're still very old-fashioned in the ways that things are sometimes done, so bureaucracy is still very heavy,” he said. For comparison, the U.S. had the highest boomerang rate, with two in five Great Resignation participants returning to former roles.

“I’m hoping this will change. I feel like boomeranging is actually the future,” added da Motta Veiga, who spent a decade studying and working in the U.S. before moving back to Europe. “If I hire somebody for my company and they leave me, I'm going to be happy to rehire them after they got trained by somebody else, and they got even better somewhere else.”

As for Perrier, he has no regrets over his major career pivot--underlining the human-level subtleties that surveys can rarely capture. Though Perrier fits into France’s Great Resignation trend, he bucks the “work to live” stereotype.

“I consider my job not to be just a simple job, or a way to put food on the table and a roof over my head,” he explained. “To me, this job is a passion.”

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