Exploring the Contrasts between Work Cultures: Finding the Best of Both Worlds

As a practice manager responsible for global teams, I have been immersing myself in the topic of work cultures, particularly the contrasting dynamics between Europe and North America. Our firm strongly believes in the significance of work-life balance and actively incorporates it into our hiring practices, prompting me to delve deeper into the factors contributing to these shifts in our workforce. While work-life balance has become increasingly valued in many parts of the world, it is a concept that often doesn’t align with the traditional American work culture.

Through my interviews with candidates from the US, I have observed a fascinating pattern. While these individuals are attracted to the idea of the work-life balance we offer, they also approach it with skepticism due to their past experiences. Many have heard stories of companies touting work-life balance as a core value, only to feel mislead when their personal lives still take a backseat to work obligations. In the U.S. many companies are switching to unlimited vacation for employees. The CEO of an American company once told me time off went down after they implemented that, but they would not implement it in Europe for fear of time off increasing. I recently spoke to a candidate who mentioned having unlimited vacation days on paper, but he had not been on a family vacation of more than a week in 3 years as his manager never approved his holiday requests.

This conundrum has led me to dig deeper into the stark differences between European and American work cultures, their origins, and the pros and cons associated with each. In this blog post, I aim to explore these contrasts, identify areas for mutual learning, and propose strategies to create an optimal work culture that combines the best of both worlds.

Understanding European Work Culture

European work culture has long recognized the importance of work-life balance and its impact on life satisfaction and overall well-being. A study published in the Health Economics Review[i] revealed that work time is one of the main drivers of life satisfaction. The study found that a balanced distribution of working hours and leisure hours directly impacts feelings of well-being. This research confirms the significance of work-life balance in the European context and further emphasizes its role in enhancing life satisfaction.

Moreover, recent trends indicate that as welfare rises in Europe, people are working fewer hours. Notably, employees in higher positions have seen a significant reduction in their work hours in recent years. This shift reflects a growing recognition that prioritizing leisure time and personal well-being can lead to increased life satisfaction and improved overall quality of life. The emphasis on shorter work hours, particularly among higher-ranking professionals, demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being and supports the notion that work should not dominate individuals’ lives.

Exploring American Work Culture

In contrast, American work culture has the belief that working longer hours equates to success. Unlike in the rest of the world, in America, it has been seen as normal for successful individuals in higher positions to work harder and longer days. However, this perception is slowly changing. Recent studies have shed light on a noteworthy trend among American workers, particularly among wealthy individuals. A study highlighted in The Atlantic[ii] revealed that despite the common perception of Americans as workaholics, affluent men in the United States are actually working fewer hours compared to previous decades. This shift challenges the notion of “workism” and signifies a changing mindset towards work-life balance.

The study found that the reduction in work hours among wealthy individuals can be attributed to several factors, including an increased emphasis on personal well-being, family time, and leisure activities. It suggests that individuals are recognizing the diminishing returns of excessive work hours and are seeking a more balanced lifestyle. This evolving trend highlights a growing recognition of the importance of work-life balance and the pursuit of personal fulfillment beyond professional achievements. It signifies a shift towards valuing quality of life, meaningful relationships, and personal well-being.

Learning from Each Other: Cross-Cultural Exchange

My experiences have reaffirmed my belief in the power of cross-cultural learning. European work culture can learn from American practices by fostering innovation, embracing entrepreneurship, and cultivating a culture of ambition. The American work culture, in turn, can learn from the European emphasis on work-life balance, employee well-being, and long-term sustainability.

While European work culture excels in prioritizing work-life balance, there are aspects that can be learned from the American approach. According to a study conducted by Gallup[iii], Europeans are often perceived to have a less favorable work attitude compared to their American counterparts. The study suggests that Europeans can benefit from adopting certain aspects of the American work culture, such as a strong work ethic, ambition, and a drive for success. By incorporating these qualities, European work culture can further enhance productivity and foster a culture of achievement.

Understanding the strengths and areas for improvement in both European and American work cultures allow us to seek a balanced approach that combines the best of both worlds. By integrating the European emphasis on work-life balance with the American work attitude of ambition and drive, we can create an optimal work culture that values employee well-being and productivity.

Embracing the Best of Both Worlds for Employee Well-being

The exploration of European and American work cultures has revealed fascinating insights into the importance of work-life balance, productivity, and overall employee well-being. As someone passionate about creating an optimal work culture and as a representative of Simms & Associates, I am driven by a mission to advocate for employee well-being worldwide. By taking the best aspects from both cultures and discarding the detrimental aspects, we can pave the way for a healthier and more fulfilling work environment.

Understanding the strengths of European work culture in valuing work-life balance, shorter work hours, and employee well-being has enlightened us on the significance of creating a sustainable and supportive work environment. We will continue to prioritize these principles within our organization, ensuring that our employees feel valued, fulfilled, and have the necessary balance to thrive both professionally and personally.

At the same time, we recognize the merits of the American work culture, including ambition, innovation, and a strong work ethic. We will incorporate these qualities into our work culture to foster an environment that encourages growth, achievement, and continuous improvement. By embracing adaptability, openness, and collaboration, we can create a dynamic and inclusive workplace that propels our employees and our organization to new heights.

Moving forward, we commit ourselves to an action plan that merges the best aspects of both European and American work cultures. We will advocate for work-life balance by promoting flexible work arrangements, supporting personal well-being initiatives, and encouraging employees to prioritize their health and family commitments. Simultaneously, we will foster a culture of ambition and innovation by empowering employees to take risks, pursue their passions, and challenge the status quo.

Join our team!

In our pursuit of an optimal work culture, we invite individuals who seek the balance between both work cultures to join us at Simms & Associates. Our company is committed to providing an environment where employees can experience the best of both worlds and thrive personally and professionally. If you are passionate about work-life balance, ambition, and innovation, we invite you to explore our job openings on our career page at simms-associates.com/career/.


[i] Reference to the study: “Worktime and life satisfaction in Europe: a cross-sectional study on the impact of worktime on life satisfaction and other potential driving forces of life satisfaction”  https://healtheconomicsreview.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13561-022-00396-6

[ii] Reference to the study: “American Rich Men Work Fewer Hours: The decline of ‘workism’ among America’s wealthy” https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2023/01/american-rich-men-work-less-hours-workism/672895/

[iii] Reference to the Gallup study: “Europe Gets Life Right, Work Wrong” https://www.gallup.com/workplace/393794/europe-gets-life-right-work-wrong.aspx

By Michiel Lely

Practice Director