Are you working too hard? If you’re a senior-level employee based in the US, the answer is almost certainly yes.
That’s not a casual observation — it’s one of the findings of Doodle’s recent report on work/life balance at American companies. Forty percent of the executives Doodle surveyed said they face “tremendous pressure” to put in longer hours to advance their careers, and 99 percent said they have attended a work meeting on a day off.
Lower-level employees aren’t immune, either: 85 percent of them said they, too, had attended meetings on days off.
As someone who leads a global company with locations in different countries with hugely different cultures and work habits, I know it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible for companies to succeed while their key players maintain a positive work/life balance.
However, to get to that point, we need to take some critical steps to change the American mindset toward work.
What American Businesses Get Wrong
While standard working hours tend to be comparable between the US and European countries like Switzerland and Germany, the culture surrounding acceptable work time differs drastically, especially for executives. For example, in Europe, the expectation that senior-level employees will be regularly available until late into the evening or on weekends simply doesn’t exist to the extent that it does in the US.
Of course, there will always be exceptionally busy periods or intense projects that require extra input. However, in most European countries, these are viewed as warning signs that something needs to change, whether that means refining processes or adding resources. In the US, however, these extra hours are effectively baked into the system and taken as a given. That makes it difficult for people to unplug fully from work.
Consider that in Switzerland and Germany it’s common practice for employees at every level to take a minimum of two weeks’ vacation time every year. When doing so, these employees are unavailable to their colleagues. Doodle’s survey showed this type of extended time away from the office just isn’t the norm in the US.
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What American Businesses Get Right
Of course, US companies get quite a bit right in their approach to work as well. Speed is one major differentiator between American businesses and their European counterparts. At Doodle, I have seen this firsthand: Implementation and ramp-up time for our services often moves faster with US-based companies thanks to the always-on work culture.
In addition, the US system tends to be less hierarchical, and it rewards individual employees for their hard work. Accelerated career advancement and salary growth are common features of life at US companies, and many organizations go the extra mile to retain and fully leverage their top talent.
The Best of Both Worlds
Looking back at the results of our survey, we see that US companies need to reconsider the levels of pressure place on executives and employees alike. With the vast majority of US workers attending meetings even on days off, it’s obvious US employers have problems with setting and respecting boundaries. The issue could be alleviated by taking a more European approach to work hours.
On the other hand, companies in any country that find themselves facing a project requiring great time and effort to complete should take a page out of the US corporate playbook. Sometimes, the only way to get things done in a timely manner is to put more hours in.
In addition, there are certain principles that can help create healthier corporate cultures regardless of societal norms. These include encouraging open, forthright communication between colleagues and providing tools that enable and streamline global collaboration between coworkers. In fact, better collaboration tools are critical to generating transparency and keeping everyone up to speed despite differing time zones and work schedules.
For multinational companies, this last point may be the most important one of all. If colleagues around the world can communicate and collaborate seamlessly, it becomes easier to enjoy the best of both cultural worlds: the productivity gains of the always-on US work culture and the healthier work/life balance of European work cultures.
Modern business leaders are facing new challenges around retention and work/life balance that are more complex than ever. The good news is that, with the right tools and knowledge at their disposal, organizations can certainly meet these challenges head on.
Adopting the right approach to work/life balance for your company comes down to identifying existing strengths and pain points, setting clear expectations around work and vacation time, and providing your employees with the tools they need to connect and collaborate seamlessly, regardless of where they are in the world. By taking these steps, you will create a company culture that drives organizational success without risking mass employee burnout.
Renato Profico is CEO of Doodle.