The Difference In Work Culture Around The World Is Seriously Insane


Unsurprisingly, work culture is pretty different depending on what country you live in. From 30+ days of paid leave to 70+ hour work weeks, the variations get kind of crazy.





If you think your work week was rough, don't vent to someone who works in Japan. These employees are seriously dedicated to their jobs—so much so, there's actually a term for someone who dies from overworking themselves—karo-shi. Luckily, cases of karo-shi are few and far between, but the fact that there is an actual word in Japanese for those severe circumstances is pretty intimidating. Of course, it's not all work and no play or rest. There's a rising trend in Japan that allows exhausted employees to take a snooze at their desks when they're feeling tired without gaining the scorn of their peers and managers. Don't get too excited. They only get to do this because Japanese workers get less sleep than those in other countries.


The United States


If American work culture was a game, it would be called something like Japanese Work Culture: Lite Edition. Like the folks in Japan, we're pretty dedicated to our jobs. More and more often, employees are working through lunch to accommodate their increasingly heavy work loads. We're extremely time oriented—meetings start and end when the clock says they do. There has also been the rise of the work spouse, which shows Americans reaching for some form of interpersonal relationship and comfort as they work increasingly long hours. However, we might see a change in this trend in coming years, as more millennials fight for a decent work-life balance.




Like many of the Nordic countries, Sweden sets up a pretty sweet deal for its employees. They have the best parental leave plan out of any country to date—that's 480 days of paid leave for parents of newborns or adopted children. Also, just about every Swede has the option to take advantage of their unofficial summer vacation, and many of them do, for five weeks a year. In Sweden, and many other parts of Europe, vacations are seen as a right, not a bonus that may or may not be used, like they are in the United States. Breaks are important to the Swedish people, so much so that fika—or coffee, in English—is practically a national institution. Every day, twice a day (usually at 10:00 and 3:00), coworkers gather together for coffee and pastries, and they don't rush out once their cup is filled. Fika is about slowing down and taking time to enjoy one another's company, which is a value that is important to the nation as a whole.




Did somebody say siesta? That's the daily two to three hour midday break all Spaniards enjoy. It's meant to give people the opportunity to eat, rest, and avoid the roiling midday heat, all while rejuvenating them enough to work late into the evening. Spaniards also enjoy 34 vacation days a year—the United States' average of ten days pales in comparison. Food is an important part of Spanish culture, so co-workers are likely to spend many lunches and dinners together. Time-sensitive Americans, Brits, Germans and Japanese folks, beware—while people in Spain are usually fairly prompt during work hours, you can expect to wait awhile if you show up right on time for drinks later that night. In Spain, moments are meant to be enjoyed, and time is not of the essence like you might think it is.




The Aussie lifestyle is notably laidback, and their work culture is no different. Most surprisingly, office romances aren't the slightest bit taboo. So long as everyone is professional and transparent, nobody cares (I see you squirming, Americans). This isn't to say they aren't serious about their work—Aussies work hard, and play hard, too. Work-Life balance is important to them, and in such a big, beautiful country, who can blame them? Time spent enjoying life and spending time with family is highly valued in Australia, so their four weeks of paid vacation come in handy. If their bosses aren't giving them the time off they need, the people in Australia have no problem speaking up—whether talking to a senior exec or an equal, Aussies speak their mind. They're also infamous for casual cursing in the workplace. Foul language should be used with discretion (the 65-year-old CEO might not appreciate it as much as your 27-year-old counterpart), but don't fly into a rage if an Aussie coworker casually calls you an offensive word in the workplace—odds are, it's a term of endearment.




Other than having over 5 weeks guaranteed paid vacation, the British and American work cultures are quite similar on the surface. Brits are prompt, polite, and well-dressed—much like most of corporate America. They're all about fairness, so a manager might be more likely to work with employees rather than simply ordering them around. Ever polite, Brits tend to be more indirect when it comes to doling out instructions—rather than telling someone to do something outright, they might ask (assuming the answer will be yes, of course). Authority is important—unlike Aussies, British employees take care to defer to the hierarchy in place at the office. Friday drinks with the team are practically mandatory, so if you want to assimilate into the office quickly, find a favorite brew and drink up.




Switzerland is much like a melting pot when it comes to workplace culture because it has so many different pockets of people that live and work within its borders. Geneva is loaded with international companies, and the business culture tends to be pretty similar to ours over here in the U.S. There are Italian, German, and French segments of the country, and the work culture in those areas generally consists of a combination of the two entwined cultures. The Swiss people tend to be tolerant, serious, and punctual when it comes to business, so if you need to skip your morning cup of joe to get to that meeting on time, do it. Be sure to come prepared, too—meetings are no joke, and your co-workers will expect you to come with your thoughts organized and ready to share.


South Africa


Building and maintaining stable working relationships are just as important to your success as professionalism is in this country. Be respectful and show up on time, but show some investment in your coworkers' lives, too. Some countries that are strongly individualistic value personal profit over anything else—that won't fly in South Africa. Business arrangements are made with both parties in mind, and meant to be mutually beneficial. Basically, you can probably check whatever cutthroat business tendencies you learned from your home country at the door. South Africans work hard, but their roots as a collectivist society means you're not going to be burning bridges and making unfair business deals while you're there. If you're from a very time-oriented country and you're working with South Africans, set a deadline in your business contract—in their culture, deadlines are somewhat fluid, so they might take your end date as more of a suggestion than a demand.




In the early 2000s, France introduced a law that reduced the statutory work week to 35 hours per week, with mandatory overtime pay for employees that go over the limit. Basically, the French have a decent amount of free time for sleeping, eating, and leisure activities. That's pretty unique to France—and the rest of their business culture is one-of-a-kind, too. Meetings might run longer than an hour, broken up frequently with small talk over coffee. A morning kiss on the cheek to say hello—faire la bise, as the French say—is commonplace, and office disagreements may be solved in front of everybody rather than from the privacy of an office or empty conference room. The French are feelers, and talkers, but they do respect their work hierarchy. France is filled with companies that opt for top-down style management, and usually it's the person at the top who makes all of the important decisions.