Tue Jul 5th, 2005 at 03:52:23 AM EST
The European Work Ethic (Love it, don't change it!)
I've been reflecting on some of the discussions that have occurred here at EuroTrib over the last few weeks, regarding the issues of work and productivity, having confidence in European economy, quality of life, and so forth. Then this morning, while doing my little tour of political blogs to see what the latest news and discussions are, I was referred to this posting by Kevin Drum, who writes a blog ,,Political Animal" ,for the Washington Monthly:
July 2, 2005
SLACKER FRENCH?....Matt Yglesias points out today that although French GDP per capita is considerably lower than America's, it's mostly because they have "fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations." Higher unemployment is also a factor, but basically Matt is right: the French have simply chosen to work less and have more leisure than Americans do. I wonder how many Americans would make that choice if they could? I used to hang out with a bunch of Swiss guys (who eventually bought the company I worked for), and although the Swiss have a reputation for being pretty industrious, they basically thought we were insane for taking only two weeks of vacation a year. I pretty much agreed with them -- although more in theory than in practice. Like a lot of people, I never even used up my two weeks of vacation a year, and when I left the company I got a big check for unused vacation pay. And I was far from the worst. I had people working for me that I literally had to force out the door because they had accrued 300 hours of unused vacation time and would start losing it unless they took some time off. Still, I wonder: If you had the option of taking an 8% pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would.
Actually, I can speak to this out of personal experience, since I've been in management roles in nonprofit human services agencies for most of the last 17 years, one of the main benefits that can be offered is vacation time. I for one took as much as I could, but there were many, many employees who worked up to their vacation time limits, and I had to tell them they needed to take time off, or lose having any further time accumulated (this, because a nonprofit could not afford to cash out a huge accumulation of vacation time, so set limits, in order to make people use their vacation time).
Anyway, Drum also referred to the blog, ,,German Joys", by an American expat in Germany, Andrew Hammel, in which he has written an article entitled: ,,The Gloriously Relaxed European Work Ethic", which is a response to Drum's article
As I'm sure my dear fellow-countryman Drum realizes, the vast majority of Americans don't have this choice. We educated professionals have a lot of freedom to structure our time how we wish. But how many American Wal-Mart employees could go to their boss and say: "Jeez, I'd like to spend more time with my kids. Can I take all of August off and give up the wage?" The answer is: "Sure, in some other job. I'll give you a friendly incentive to find one in two words: you're fired!"
No, my friend, you'll need to move to another country, one like Germany, to overcome your workaholism. I was never a real workaholic American, but nevertheless I once worked for four years in American without ever taking a substantial vacation. <snip> I still do 3 or 4 hours of work on the weekend, just to silence my workaholic conscience. But other than that, I am delighted with the work/life balance here in Europe. Here are some pieces of advice for my fellow Americans who choose to move to Europe:
Don't brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say "I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!" you'll get the same reaction you would in America if you said "I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!"
Learn your environment. Take into account how much work you can really expect from Europeans. Don't expect anything to get done in August, don't expect a response to your email the same day. If you really need to get in touch with someone while they are on vacation, or on the weekend, you won't be able to. Which means not that they are being irresponsible. It means you don't really need to get in touch with them.
Change your standards. Realize that when someone complains about being horribly overworked, even though you know they are working about 40 hours a week, accept it. By their standards, they are working very hard.
This may sound strange to our European friends, but somehow Americans have developed this compulsion to work long hours, and while the American worker can be quite pproductive, the American work/life balance is really out of balance. The irony in all this (to me anyway), is that I am seeing the American style work compulsion slowly trying to slip into the culture here (I definitely see it here in Switzerland), in which I see management driving the employee with only the bottom line in mind, and not about quality of life or quality of relationships with the employees (and I believe, based on my work experience, that if you treat an employee well, he/she will perform better in their job...and this seems like a no-brainer to me...although not to many American and American-style companies). I'm telling you, if most Americans realized how good you have it here in Europe, they would clamor for it...that's my belief anyway. What think you?