If automakers want to compete, they could go Google

One thing that stuck with me after a recent trip to Paris, other than the Eiffel Tower, was that most office buildings empty at 5 p.m.

In the Motor City, by comparison, you can bet that many folks frequently burn the midnight oil.

After talking to some Parisians, I learned that the French enjoy liberal vacation policies and workweeks of 40 hours or less.

There are pitfalls to that system, but I admit I felt a tinge of envy.

I don't see U.S. companies going French anytime soon, but I do see some automakers recognizing the benefits of easing up on the white-collar work force a little, even allowing flexible schedules.

Ford Motor Co., for example, has concluded that expecting employees to arrive at 7 a.m. and to work until the late evening won't fly with many of today's workers, who value a balance between work and personal life.

So Ford has created a job-sharing program that allows for advancement and good salary for talented employees but requires fewer hours.

Ford is considering other such changes. That's notable for a company where the unwritten rule for decades was you arrive before and leave after your boss does.

At Toyota's U.S. headquarters, there are several open-space work areas with half-cubicle desks rather than offices. The idea is to have a more creative, less corporate environment, or so I was told when I visited there a few years ago.

Now, I'm not suggesting automakers take the whole Google approach to the workplace, complete with foosball tables, video games and scooters.

But some automakers seem to realize that they should embrace some of Google's work culture if they are to compete for talent.

By the way, I'm told that at Google you can bring your dog to work with you.

There's that tinge of envy again.

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