U.S. Work/Life Balance vs. Rest of the World

When I first graduated from university in England, I started at an entry level position with U.S. Work/Life Balancea 10 person company. The pay was average (£10,500 back in 1990 if I remember correctly), and I had an average vacation allowance of five weeks. Yes, you read correctly – FIVE weeks. Right off the bat.

No earning 10.75 hours a month. No negotiation. Of course, a 21-year-old has plenty of ways to fill that, and I did (I remember taking a week off in summer just so I could watch Wimbledon uninterrupted).

The real point here is, that the U.S. is very different, and expectations are different, and that has a big impact on our working lives and especially working in global organizations.

So first, how does the U.S. rank? Courtesy of a 2007 CNN report, we are not the lowest in terms of total number of annual “days off” (the sum of the typical minimum + public holidays). Nope, luckily we were beaten by Canada and Vietnam! The U.S. averages 25 total days. The top ranking is Finland with an average of 44.

I’ll tell you another difference. In Europe, people actually WILL take their vacation vs. many people I’ve worked with here in the U.S. that seem to need to be forced to take time off. It’s an odd occurrence, but I’ve heard a repeating phrase about the U.S. and Europe which you might agree with – “In the U.S., people live to work, and in Europe, they work to live.”

What does this mean for U.S. employers? Well, since we can’t classify the U.S. workforce as a new sub-species, we’re probably unknowingly asking people to work at close to a burn-out pace most of their career, and we’re certainly not preparing them for the conflict that will exist in working in a global corporation.

Just ask anyone who has a global team about how frustrated they get when they need things from their international team during the months of July and August.

At Shadowmatch, we constantly see that habits and behaviors of teams and managers that drive relentlessly towards goals. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just that work/life balance is so key to the overall health of the workforce we sometimes forget to look at how certain behaviors might be stressful and drive employees to a point where performance starts to suffer.

Now, as a candidate, this does not mean you should walk into an interview and demand more time off and ask for a relaxed schedule, but for goodness sake, if your boss tells you to have some time off and take a vacation, then take. a. vacation! It’s not just a movie line!

Adrian WoodAdrian Wood is the Vice President at Shadowmatch USA, partnering with companies to build better teams through powerful behavior-based team development, employee development and recruiting and talent deployment solutions. Wood has advised major clients including Bimbo Bakeries, Cisco, Citrix, Mom Corps, Sprint and many others that excellence in the workplace is about behaviors, not personality. Follow him @aw_shadowmatch or Shadowmatch USA @ShadowmatchUSA on Twitter; like his company on Facebook; subscribe to their blog; or email him directly at adrian.wood@shadowmatchusa.com.