Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The French Employer/Employee relationship...

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I visited one of my favourite blogs French Essence by Vicki, (an Australian woman who lives with her family on their olive farm in France) where she wrote about the relationship between Employer and Employee in France.

For many reasons as business women we decide to go out on our own and build a business but I think one of these reasons would have to be how we may have felt in previous employment roles.  This may include not feeling appreciated and our own worth undervalued or this sense of just being part of a rat race.

So when I read Vicki's latest blog I thought I must share it here because admittedly not perfect in a complete business sense it does have a more positive and wholesome approach to an employer and employee relationship and perhaps one that we too would want to foster certain elements of in our own businesses.  When I read this blog it made me think of, "Working to live rather than living to work".  

Enjoy,

Louisa 

Vicki from French Essence -

The French Gardien

As much as I love travelling, I love home more. Life on this farm turns with or without me. That is the thing about nature, she won't wait and in my absence routines run, new plans must be put in place, the olives tended and the garden maintained. The French gardien, the caretaker, makes this happen. Our gardien is Gérard and without him my world would be a different place. Not because he is an employee and helps me with the jobs that need to be done but because he is an integral and important part of my French life. As an Australian I understand the employer/employee relationship. I respect contracts and working conditions and at one time or another I have been both employer and employee. This does not work in the same way here in France; we are connected and accountable to each other in ways that go beyond the sheet of paper that contractually binds us. I am le patron. I am the person responsible for Gérard, his well being, his happiness and his fiscal future. In turn he has my back; he is loyal, he has only my best interests at heart and I believe he would protect me with his life if ever called upon. He truly does 'take care'. Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic but life in France is not cut and dried and nor is it always business-like and set in stone. It is messy and it is emotional with traditions and practises that date back hundreds of years.


It all started back in 1999 when we bought an abandoned fruit farm in Provence. It was going to take time to establish the olive grove that would one day make the farm a viable notion and to renovate the crumbling farmhouse as our home. We were unable to live permanently in France at that time and had chosen London as our base - we needed somebody local to help supervise and co-ordinate our dreams. That is when I met Gérard and that was the start of our ten year 'relationship'. When I use that word 'relationship' I cringe for all the icky connotations that this over used word brings. Yet I can think of no other word that would describe so well how things are between us. It is not a partnership in the way one would imagine because we are not equal - I am the boss - yet it is a partnership in the sense that we are co-dependent. We have come to respect each other and the cultural differences that divide us. I have learned patience and that all decisions require hours of mind numbing chat before a 
qui or d'accord can sign things off. Gérard appreciates my limited concentration span and recognises that glazed eyes and a lack of response mean it's time to wrap it up. 


Gérard would never contradict a decision that I make even if it was the wrong one. This is where I find the 'relationship' a conundrum. As 
le patron in this French system, my word is the one that goes. This antiquated practise has cost me much in time and money. I am a novice farmer, I am an Australian woman operating in a foreign land and more often than not I have been clueless about many things. I am also comfortable with engaged and informed discussion between employer and employee. Where I come from every one has their say and the information is assimilated and the best practise followed. It is a more informal approach, not so here. The truths sheepishly hide themselves until le patron's ways are well and truly proven a folly. Afterwards, there is much, 'I would never have done it that way' and 'that's not the way we do it here' conversation accompanied by vigourous head shaking and hand gestures with a most definite, 'I told you so' hanging in the air. Only the French gardien didn't tell me so and he never does tell me that I am doing it all wrong and he never would. That would be far too familiar and not his place. I have wised up a little now, after countless frustrations, and always ask for his opinion. When resistance and reluctance to share his pearls stand in our way I cloak my question with an, 'If it were you'...This way I get to the heart of the matter; I save face and my pennies.


The French g
ardien and le patron are emotionally dependent. Well Gérard and I are at least. It is very simple; if he is happy, I am happy. (See the word  'relationship' is perfect...) We meet every morning when I am home and talk...at the risk of repeating myself, I mean talk. We talk until there are no words left, until the subjects have been thrashed and thrashed over and over and then some. It is the tumble dryers of conversations but without the timer. There is no such thing as a quiet morning at the farm and as much as I make fun of it, I love it. It is the way it is; it is my status quo. In amongst our farm talk, our garden chat and our household natter we gossip about the nitty gritty. Health (always lots of that) and family matters pepper our professional dialogue. Gérard seeks out and values my opinion when it comes to matters of the heart or family dramas. I listen, for that is my role as le patron. He has confided in me many times over the years yet I would not with him; that would be crossing an invisible line of propriety that must remain to preserve our relationship. That is the strangeness of our pairing. We are more than friends but never that. 


Today's meeting ran for hours and included much tree lopping talk and a garden tour to evaluate the snow damage (yes lots of that - we had two heavy snowfalls this winter that created havoc with the olive trees and the more fragile plants in the garden). We measured the quantity of camouflage netting we will need to recreate the shaded area at the swimming pool (more snow damage) and we chose the colours for the re-painting of the outdoor furniture. I heard all about an Elvis concert in Paris that he attended with his wife (he lost me there for a moment...all I could say was, 'long live the King'...), the trials and tribulations of elderly 
beaux parents living alone in the mountains and most importantly we discussed the name of our new puppy who will arrive at the end of April. It was a busy morning....


Like all things there are French 
gardiens and then there are French gardiens. Gérard is one in a million. xv

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