Do you hate hypocrites? And boot-lickers? And people who spread rumors? Well, so do the French. According to a recent survey here asking what types of people are most irritating at work, it looks like the French have the same primal reactions to a**holes at the office that, well, probably anybody would.
People working in companies were asked to name three types of people they hate most, and the clear winner among the most-hated is, at 53%, the hypocrite. The runner-up, at 35% of people surveyed, is the brown-noser, who is actually tied with the person who spreads rumors, also at 35%. Interestingly, the next most irritating person at work turns out to be the smelly one – 26% of those surveyed are irritated by questionable hygiene. Which shouldn’t be surprising since, on a hot summer day in Paris, even at 9am in the morning, things can get a little sweaty in the un-airconditoned métro.
Nonetheless, that smelly people are more disliked than people who take credit for other employees’ ideas (24%), those who systematically pass the buck (19%), and the ones who spend the day taking cigarette breaks (18%) or who are rude (17%), strikes me as being a little short-sighted, since personally I think that rude people who pass the buck and steal ideas are total jerks (I might even dislike them more than hypocrites and brown-nosers. But maybe I’ve never had to sit in a cubicle next to someone who should have brought a change of shirts.)
The survey comes on the occasion of a national “Neighbors’ Day at the Office” (which was yesterday), a sort of workplace spin-off of France’s very successful Fête des Voisins, a day once a year when the residents of apartment buildings and neighborhoods all over France gather for a potluck of home-made quiche, saucisson and cheap Bordeaux, the point being to actually chat with neighbors to whom you only ever mumble hello, to build bonds, strengthen the social fabric, all that.
It strikes me as deliciously, stereotypically French that this bond-building event at the office should be the occasion to ask people whom they…hate most at the office! Complaining is a deeply ingrained part of workplace culture in France (or so the stereotype goes), part of a greater culture of entitlement and social safety nets, the sense of a workplace naturally owing employees something. Rather than the more American vision (as the stereotype goes) of employees being owed nothing until they earn it. There is a French verb, râler, which means to groan or moan about something, and in my own circumscribed experience, the French do it a lot at work. And now we know what they’re complaining about – hypocrites and gossips.
Interestingly, it turns out complainers and hypocrites may actually be among the highest performers in a company. Another survey from last spring shows that people with the highest satisfaction at work, the ones most likely to be happy at the office and to recommend their companies as a great place to work, were the lower performers. So once again, might the French râleurs, actually, improbably, be very productive?
Not surprisingly, this last survey–which actually tried to get a sense of the link between complaining and productivity, of the effect on the bottom line–was…American.