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Embracing Work-Life Balance: America Workplace vs. Rest of the World

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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I enter the office and see colleagues chatting face-to-face. There's endless amounts of free coffee in the kitchen on every floor. Employees discuss upcoming paid vacations. Where am I? At my study abroad internship in Sydney, Australia. You can find a welcoming community and friendly coworkers anywhere, but in Australia, the office had a uniquely relaxed vibe.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to intern at Australia's Channel Nine Today Show as a journalism producing intern. At Today Extra, I did everything from producing segments to brief moments on camera. One thing I’ve noticed during my time there is that Australians value quality over quantity, resulting in a healthier work-life balance and renewed excitement for work.

Work-life balance isn't just an Australian thing. Countries worldwide have worker-friendly policies like France's 35-hour work weeks, Spain's extended menstrual leave law, and Japan's generous parental leave benefits. In France, many companies utilize a 4-day work week, with around 10,000 workers testing it. This balance between work and rest is a universal necessity for all workers. In fact, almost 70% of American employees feel more satisfied with their jobs if they take regular vacations.

In some American companies, finishing tasks quickly is prioritized over giving tasks the time they deserve. However, at my Today Show internship, assigned tasks were expected to be done by the day's end, but we were given the autonomy to dictate our personal time management. This approach counters Parkinson's Law, where tasks expand to fill allotted time. This is just one example of the many internal policies American workplaces could model to promote balanced work hours and positive environments.

Starting off on the right foot

Recalling my first day at the Today Show, it was truly heartening. Walking into the office, everyone greeted me and explained their roles. They offered me coffee and smoothies, followed by a tour of the workspace. I got to job shadow a producer for guidance instead of navigating this new role alone. The atmosphere was undeniably welcoming. Without prompting, a colleague introduced me to their diversity and equity chat. This became a valuable resource where I found my community to commiserate with during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Creating a welcoming environment sets the tone. Just as we strive to make a good impression on a company, they also need to make a positive impression on us for us to excel in our roles.

Looking at onboarding practices globally, different countries have unique approaches. For example, in Japan, new employees are included in decision-making ("ringi"). Australia, like my internship, pairs new hires with mentors. These diverse methods highlight the importance of inclusive onboarding for lasting employee satisfaction and success.

Move around the company

Unlike many internships, my time at the Today Show focused on my growth rather than just my contributions. As a Gambian-American (IYKYK!), this shift in approach was something I had to adapt to. I learned to define what I wanted from this experience. Even though my main task was producing news segments at my desk, I got the chance to try other things. Once, I mentioned to my executive producer that I was curious about behind-the-scenes work. The next day, I was on the studio floor, watching how the show was managed.

This emphasis on versatility isn't unique to my situation; it's seen globally. In Germany, employees are encouraged to move between departments to gain skills and collaborate better. Japan has a "nemawashi" system, which involves building consensus across departments and supports lateral movement. These practices not only help personal growth but also bring stability to your chosen field. In contrast, the American approach often keeps you in your initial role, limiting exploration and adaptability.

Work-life balance and flexibility

During my internship in Sydney, I witnessed a strong commitment to work-life balance. Whether you were unwell, needed to care for your child, or had to catch a flight, leaving the office early was accepted as long as tasks were handled responsibly. Clocking 8-hour days wasn't strictly enforced. I observed employees seamlessly shifting between work and 20-minute conversations, creating a blend of community and productivity.

This work-life balance approach is reflected globally. In the Netherlands, flexible work arrangements are actively promoted. Denmark's "37-hour work week" prioritizes quality. France grants employees the "right to disconnect" after work, safeguarding personal time. Germany's "Kurzarbeit" aids employees during tough economic times. These diverse strategies all highlight the importance of valuing work-life balance, fostering a workplace culture that promotes well-being and a sense of reciprocity between employees and employers.

Safe spaces for candid discussions

Promoting transparent communication in the workplace is essential for a positive environment. Other countries offer insights into effective strategies. For instance, Scandinavian countries emphasize direct communication between all levels of employees, building trust.

Regular informal discussions, held weekly, enhance teamwork and camaraderie, as seen in Japan and Germany. To support employees of color, dedicated forums provide a platform for open dialogue, addressing discrimination and unique challenges.

BIPOC employees also face prejudice and demanding work conditions. Designated spaces for open conversations alleviate stress and refocus attention on tasks. Additionally, American employees juggle expectations and limited compensation. Learning from the Netherlands' work-life balance focus can improve job satisfaction.

Take the lessons learned

My internship abroad taught me so much about what a happy work environment could look like. In today's global workforce, the pursuit of work-life balance is crucial. The experiences from around the world underline the value of quality work, diversity, personal growth, and open communication. By learning from these international models, we can create workplaces that prioritize well-being and productivity. Embracing these lessons enriches our professional lives and cultivates a more balanced approach to work and life.

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