Je ne veux pas travailler !

“I would prefer not to” — Bartleby, the (French) Scrivener

Léa Bory
4 min readFeb 21, 2022

During my first strategy class at HEC Paris, we worked on a case on Southwest Airlines, an airline that managed to reduce cost, especially by creating very effective employer training. As the professor asked, “why wouldn’t this be possible for Air France?” I guess to compare two different company cultures, a student shouted “because French people are not hard-working!”

To be honest I (a French woman) would not describe myself as particularly hard-working. I even told my interviewer for my HEC MBA application that my biggest weakness was laziness. I thought it was more clever than “too perfectionist”. Is it because I am French though? I always thought I was kind of lazy because I was surrounded by impressive, hard-working, and conscientious people, from my friends to my coworkers. And most of them happen to be French. Are they less French than me then?

“Paresse”, Félix Vallotton, 1896.

With the MBA I watch my own country through the eyes of my 167 classmates, 167 little Emilys in Paris (with the exception of a few of “irréductibles” French students) discovering the French administration, the long lunch hours, the rude waiters. When I went through the obstacle course of French administration myself, as I needed a civil wedding date from the city hall, some were surprised this kind of hurdles was not designed only for them, as a twisted privilege for foreigners. Sometimes I have the bitter impression some would prefer France without the French, the croissant without the baker, appearing as Manna in the desert, like in biblical times. But unfortunately, we still need a rude baker who woke up at 5 AM this morning to bake it.

My interest in management first came from my laziness. Do you imagine: making people work for you? I later found out it is not that simple. But also, by assuming everyone shares the same level of apathy, I reflected on incentives & motivation: how do I make someone work on a project when I would not do it without complaining and procrastinating first? I would argue to be a good manager is to be a lazy manager: finding the right people with better skills than you, training them so you have minimal feedbacks to give them, and motivating them to work efficiently… It takes a lot of work to be lazy. I mean, I am actually writing a whole article on the merits of laziness on a Sunday night, and tomorrow I will have to edit it and promote it to the masses! If I’m lucky I will find someone kind (and motivated) enough to proofread it…

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, Manet, 1863

There is also a lot of finger pointing and self-righteousness in blaming people for being lazy. Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, after all, with others like gluttony or lust (sins French people are also famous for). But “sloth” is only a recent interpretation of what “acedia”, the original Latin word, used to mean. First, acedia was used to describe the lack of desire to fulfill religious duties, not the lack of motivation to produce PowerPoint slides. Second, it describes what could easily be described today as clinical depression: apathy, sadness, despair… I would not go that far to describe my own lack of enthusiasm & my difficulty working thoroughly and conscientiously. But I would like to point out that we need to take the criticism of “laziness” with a pinch of salt. Perhaps the person you describe as “lazy” is experiencing a problem way deeper than a character flaw.

In the recent debates on the “Great Resignation”, many argued that COVID relief funds have made the workforce lazy, inducing the wave of resignation. But a study by Adobe uses another word: work/life balance. The study shows that the main reason why half of Gen Z workers are planning to leave their job is the lack of satisfaction in work/life balance. It is important to reframe the conversation on this vague character flaw into more quantifiable and concrete concepts, like productivity and even workers’ rights.

Further, productivity should not be measured in relation to the amount of time spent in front of a screen. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, the scholar Sherry Turkle describes how a manager decided to organize informal breakfasts where their team would just chat for half an hour without screens involved. The results on their productivity were significant: by having conversations in a casual environment without emails involved, the team would resolve problems & collaborate more seamlessly. The results of just hanging out together without an agenda or “brainstorming meetings” were substantial.

So anyway a manager in the Silicon Valley basically invented “la pause déjeuner”, our infamous hour-long lunch break, but in the morning. Disruptive!

Even though we all love a good harmless stereotype, especially when it is proven to be true, so far my cohort did not complain to me about my work. Yet. But right now I am too lazy to find a clever conclusion to this article, so I’ll leave you on that. Bisous!



Léa Bory

Marketing freelancer from Paris. I write about whatever I want: social media, literature, love and personal finance