British bosses like a bit of sauce with their lunch

July 10, 1998

BRITISH managers face the longest journeys to work and do not mind the occasional lunchtime chat about sex, according to a new study by an Oxford psychologist.

Peter Collett's European Commission-funded study of managers from six countries also shows that the French take the longest over lunch - but rarely mention sex.

The research was based on 813 managers from Britain, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. They were asked to complete a diary detailing everything they did in a day from waking to bedtime.

First up in the morning were Czech managers, who rose just before 6am on average. The Czechs were also the quickest to get ready and leave for work. Bulgarian managers appeared more sleepy-headed, rising on average an hour later. But this may be because their journeys to work were the shortest, at an average 20 minutes.

Commuter culture may explain why British managers had the longest journeys, averaging 50 minutes. In general, the east Europeans were more likely to live near their workplaces and so have shorter journey times whereas the west Europeans live in the suburbs or out of town.

On arriving at work the French were most likely to greet colleagues and clients with a kiss, 11 per cent kissed during the working day. The Bulgarians (3 per cent) and Germans (1 per cent) were the only other nationalities to admit to kissing at work. Handshaking was by far the most common greeting throughout all nationalities and, despite their penchant for kissing, the French excelled at this.

Secretaries were recruited to "snoop" on managers as part of the study. They were asked to record who came in and out of their bosses' offices, whether it was a scheduled meeting, whether the visitor was punctual, what they discussed and how long they stayed.

Their records confirmed that the French are pretty poor timekeepers and, what is more, they know they are and do not care. The Germans believe they are very punctual, but the secretaries' evidence showed this to be a misconception, since they are just as lax as every other nation bar the French.

Dr Collett said: "Everything about the Germans being fantastic timekeepers is a complete myth. Interestingly, in Germany its the boss who tends to be late, in Britain it is a manager's colleagues and in France it is often the secretary."

Lunch in France is a national institution, according to Dr Collett's study. French managers spend longer, an hour and ten minutes on average, over lunch and eat more. They were three times as likely as British counterparts to eat lunch outside the office, either in a cafe, restaurant or at home. Polish managers were most likely to sit alone at their desks and eat a sandwich or even skip lunch.

The most popular subject at the table among all nationalities was "business". Virtually all, 93 per cent, of the British managers talked business while a third of the French managers avoided it. Perhaps surprisingly, the French were not keen to talk about food. Just 16 per cent mentioned it compared with 60 per cent of Czechs.

Other popular subjects were one's firm, families, sport, colleagues, politics and gossip. "The wife", "the husband", "sex" and "love" were pretty taboo, although 10 per cent of Bulgarians discussed sex compared with 9 per cent of Britons and 3 per cent of French.

The study revealed that communication was the single most important managerial skill. But there were wide discrepancies between nations.

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