International Work Culture

Almost everyone around the world starts Monday the same way. We all wake up, get dressed, eat some breakfast, and make our way to work. The global workforce is collective in that we all have bills to pay, but the way we approach our 9 to 5 can vary a lot depending on where we live.

All work and no play

Here in the United States, many work more than the classic 40-hour work week. We aren’t the only one. Japan also has a strong reputation for intense work ethic, and there’s even a word for it: Karoshi.

In France, a Right to Disconnect Law grants citizens the right to ignore any work-related emails that arrive after business hours. In Taiwan, it’s now mandatory to take two days off of work per week to try and prevent burnout. In Italy employees must take at least 20 days of paid vacation in addition to 10 holidays, and in England most employers offer five weeks paid vacation.

Give me a break

Taking breaks throughout the day is also important in many countries. Sweden has fika, otherwise known as a “coffee break”. Fika a staple in the workday that’s built on the Swedish concept that productivity is at its highest when employees are able to relax and let off some steam.

Then there’s the world-famous Spanish midday siesta, which is now becoming more of a long break to run errands or have a lengthy lunch. Spaniards don’t work less time than the majority of the world, but their workdays are more spread out.

Be mindful

Then, there are practices unique to the region themselves. For instance, you’d never use your left hand to give or receive business cards in India. In Brazil, it’s not uncommon for people to arrive half an hour late to a meeting. Denmark has a very direct culture, where pointed questions expect the same kind of answer, and South Africans expect a lot of eye contact during exchanges—it’s a sign of showing interest.

Wherever you are in the world, work is work. But each country puts its own twist on etiquette, values, and culture. If you’re traveling on business, be sure to do some research on the quirks and customs of the country you visit.

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