6 Differences in Work culture Between the US and Europe

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6 Differences in Work culture Between the US and Europe

Culture | Jan 14, 2021

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In the US, many workers and employers are still experimenting to find the perfect work-life balance. 

Meanwhile, our European counterparts are deemed happier, healthier, and more productive while working fewer hours, having longer breaks, and more paid vacation.

Work culture in Europe and the US is like night and day.

This is not saying that one culture is more hard-working than the other. It shows how European governments and businesses are looking after their people to boost productivity and improve workers’ work-life balance.

Here are some of the differences between European and US work culture.

Geometric map of the world

Work hours are different

Get your “OMG” ready if you’re working in the US. It’s a known fact that Americans do work longer hours than people in Europe. 

Take the year 2015 as an example. Based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Americans worked an average of 1,790 hours a year compared to France’s 1,482 hours. 

Saying Europeans are lazy is a myth many Americans have in their heads. It’s just that European countries implement more worker-friendly labor laws than ours. 

Americans work longer hours with the mentality of more work equates to more productivity, which, more often than not, leads to overworked, burnt out employees in the US.

Emails can wait

Yes, they can! Americans have a tendency to send and reply to emails before or after work hours. 

This is frowned upon in many cultures. So much so that in 2017, the French government gave its employees the right to disconnect from work email

In many parts of the world, there’s a separation between work and personal life. This delineation between sending and responding to emails also includes the weekends. Work life does not bleed into one’s personal life in many work cultures outside of America. 

Woman on vacation reading a book

Europeans receive more vacation time

They not only get more time off, but they actually use their vacations. On average, many Europeans have 4-5 weeks of vacation time without being shunned by their employers. While the US, on average, only provides 2 weeks of paid vacation.

Another significant difference is that Europeans take their vacation at one time. In contrast, in the US, employees take their vacation in piece meals.

People enjoying a European lunch

Americans have shorter breaks and/or lunches

Many countries in Europe have lunch breaks that can take up to 2-3 hours. Greece for example takes about 3 hours. Many of them eat at home, and the idea of lunch break is not centered only on resting, but actually centered on traditional mealtimes.

France, on the other hand, uses about 2 hours for lunch. It goes without saying, the country shuts down between 2:00-4:00PM. 

Coffee and chocolate chip cookies on marble countertop

In Sweden, they have a common practice called Fika, which literally means “to have coffee.” Fika at the workplace translates to two 10-30-minute breaks, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. And they pair Fika with a lunch break that lasts for an hour. And get this, the typical Monday-Friday in Sweden at 9:00AM-5:00PM.

Meanwhile, in the United States, one in five Americans eat away from their desks. In 2018, a survey revealed that 56% of employees take a lunch break of approximately 30 minutes.

Europeans don’t drive as much

It may sound inconsequential, but people in Europe don’t drive as much plays well into the work culture.  

Many employees in the US drive to work on average, 32 miles both ways. This adds unnecessary stress to already overworked and debt-burdened Americans. 

In Europe, the transportation system is more developed and reduces employees’ stress levels.

If you’re reading this in America, you very well have the first-hand experience of driving long hours in traffic and having breakfast while going to work.

Americans love pop culture way too much

One too many Americans watch mindless TV shows, and for the most part, work has something to do about it. Talking about shows and fictional characters replace real conversations to get to know your colleagues more.

Many of us in the US just want to plop on the couch and catch up on all the latest pop culture trends or TV shows. Many US employees end up talking about highlights of their favorite shows during water cooler conversations, aside from talking about the weather.

In Europe, on the other hand, people are less inclined to centering a conversation around TV shows.

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