13 Apr Working Culture: USA vs Europe
European working culture is a hot topic in our current national conversation. With the influx of the Great Resignation, Americans are wondering what a different work culture looks like.
Post pandemic, many are interested in adjusting to match a more European view of work life balance, and many companies are taking steps to mirror them. But what even is the difference?
For a young person looking to intern, there are a few key things that make working in Europe extremely educational- and also pretty sweet.
Work/Life Balance is a complicated relationship in the States. It is no secret that the United States is unique in its aggressive approach to work, resulting in its impressive productivity. This, however, comes with downsides. Often, Americans feel compelled to rarely use their sick days, work over hours, and skip lunch breaks. In European countries, this is considered archaic. For example, the average American typically works approximately 47 hours per week, with nearly 40% of individuals surpassing 60 hours. In Europe, an average workweek could include 35 hours (France) or even as low as 29 hours (the Netherlands), a far cry from the US. The European focus on rest and slow living can help workers to avoid burnout, an ever-increasing complaint from the US. Students interning abroad can expect less hours than they are accustomed to or have witnessed from their parents.
In addition to different work hours, the States is unique in its low amount of vacation time in comparison to other countries. In almost every other country (except for Japan and Canada), workers can expect 20 days of paid leave each year for wellness or vacation. Finland and France often get an entire month of paid leave. In the United States, the average amount of vacation days taken is a measly 13. The mentality on vacation time is also very different between the two, with the US often expecting the individual to be somewhat available to their coworkers. A full “unplug” is often unheard of for American individuals.
When shifting to working culture in a European country, Americans can expect longer more dedicated free time by way of breaks and lunch. The average American spends a depressing 30 minutes eating lunch, while some European countries, such as Greece, can take a whopping 3 hours. Europeans also practice full breaks, something that is often a rarity in the workplace on American soil. Breaks in the US are typical for minimum wage workers, but less typical for those in full time salaried positions.
After Work Hours
Recently, France put out a new bill called “The Right to Disconnect”. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when employees shouldn’t send or answer emails. The goals of the law include making sure employees are fairly paid for work and preventing burnout by protecting private time. While there is likely little chance the United States adopts this bill, the mentality is important for all workers to remember. Americans frequently are expected to be available at all times, especially for people in the business field. This blurs the lines between work and life in a distinctly American way.
There’s an old saying: Americans live to work, Europeans work to live. While an exaggeration, the difference in mentality surrounding work is stark. There is a general strong focus in the US on productivity and “hustle culture”. Despite the intensity of work in the US, Americans tend to be far friendlier in the workspace than their European counterparts- and not in the way you think. Americans frequently adopt a “positive feedback” mindset, opting for frequent praise. Europeans are less likely to give out praise. As the European Business Review puts it, “This doesn’t mean that Europe is hostile. Rather, they are simply less prone to excessive geniality.” European mentality and self-image are also less focused on what someone does. While in conversation in the US, what someone does is often used to define that person, while European countries tend to view someone’s job as simply that: a job. This mindset is an easy way to grasp the European relationship to work. While Americans heavily identify themselves with their career and productivity, Europeans simply don’t.
American companies are frequently adjusting to better match our European counterparts, and there is hope that the American relationship to work will eventually be settled. Gen Z and Millennials have a very different view than their Baby Boomer parents when it comes to work, and this is largely due to the awareness of European working culture and exposure to it on the internet. European work culture is often viewed as a utopia to burnt out American workers and can be an excellent place to intern in order to travel and gain experience simultaneously. Just be prepared for work culture to be a bit less glamorous when you return to the US!