Joie De Vivre – Europe vs US work / life balance

bridge over river in city
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Have you ever been to Europe and walked around wondering if people work at all? Southern Italy partakes in something I can only understand to be something of a Siesta. Shops close down every day from 1 to 6 pm and it’s pretty difficult to get anything accomplished during these hours unless it is your mission to sleep or eat. In Europe the meals are longer, people don’t seem as stressed, it seems as though everyone has the month of August off and LUNCH is a thing. Not a thing where you wait on a long line and collect your salad or your pressed juice to have at your desk or on the go. An actual thing where you sit down and GASP! even have a glass of wine or beer!   People smile, they chat and then they go back to work. Every day I went out to lunch in London on my first trip I noticed everyone around me was in business suits having lunch and drinking on their lunch break. You rarely see this in New York.  The amount of grab and go places in midtown has skyrocketed simply because not many people do a sit down lunch anymore.

There is just a je nai se quoi in Europe’s quality of life that seems to get lost in translation when it comes to being an American. But Why?

Let’s rehash the facts of what Europeans are doing differently.

  1. Vacation time is longer BUT there is also a requirement for how much vacation time is actually offered to an employee. When I looked up vacation time by country this is what I found:

France averages 36 days per year (11 holidays)

Italy averages 32 days per year (12 holidays)

Spain averages 44 days per year (14 holidays)

United States does not offer a required minimum vacation time

  1. Retirement Age:

France: 62 (67 by the year 2023)

Italy: 66 for men and 63 for women (67 by 2021)

Spain: 65 (67 by 2027)

United States: 62 early retirement, 66 and 2 months for people born in 1955 and increasing to 67 for those born in in 1960 or later. Not everyone receives social security benefits either.

  1. What are the standard hours worked per week in Europe?

It’s hard to say but several countries have adopted 35 hour week policies where anything employees work over 35 hours warrants over time: Germany and France are two countries where this is true. The standard “full time” hours required to be considered full time are 40 in the US.

Having vacation time is important but also working for a company that appreciates work/life balance is equally as important because if you have the time and aren’t able to take it or it’s frowned upon to do so, having the time is a waste. It seems that people in Europe take several weeks off at once (as noted by a typical August). This is not always easy to do in the US either as it’s not in corporate culture to do so.

Is it time for me to move to Europe? I don’t think so. Not yet. While Europeans definitely seem to have a relaxed culture in many of their cities I am happy to live in the US. It just helps to be aware of what other countries offer and see how others live. While New York often seems the most like a rat race to me, many other cities in the Country do not feel that way. It wouldn’t hurt to try to incorporate more of a European outlook on life and actually sit down to a lunch when we can and appreciate our downtime more (and use it).


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