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10 Ways Workplace Culture Differs Around the World

Posted by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Career Advice Expert

Last Updated Jan 10, 2018
|4 min read

Few experiences enhance your professional prowess and deepen your cultural awareness like working abroad. Learning how your international counterparts operate, embracing the customs of foreign workplaces and having the chance to build relationships with international peers can yield lasting rewards. Plus, international professional opportunities can lead to enhanced sensitivity, bolstering your emotional intelligence and fortifying your understanding of your industry and your role.     

But before you head out to travel the world, it's worth reading up on some of the unique habits and workstyles of international offices — here are a few that may surprise you!

1. The Israeli Workweek

The workweek in Israel runs from Sunday - Thursday so that citizens are free to observe Shabbat, the Jewish Holy Day, from sundown on Friday to Saturday evening. The standard Israeli work week is 43 hours, and many Israeli workers sneak in some work hours on Friday morning. Professionals in some Israeli industries, such as tech, have adopted a Western schedule to keep in touch with their international counterparts, but this is typically the exception rather than the rule.

2. Logging Off in France

French workers are protected by a Right to Disconnect Law, which stipulates that most French professionals are not responsible for responding to emails that come in after hours. The measure was adopted to protect employees from being overworked. This is something we can only dream about in the U.S., but in France, it’s regarded as a necessary means to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

3. Meeting Start Times in India

Have difficulty making it to your meetings on time? Don't sweat it — being 15 minutes late to a business meeting in India is still considered on time, reports The Economic Times.

4. Collective Fitness in Japan

Radio taiso is a 15-minute exercise regimen that is commonly enacted in Japan. It earned its name because the steps and music that accompany the workout are broadcast throughout the day on Japan’s National Radio (NHK).  Students engage the warm-up before classes, just as staff at many companies perform Radio taiso as a collective unit each morning. Companies invite employees to exercise together to build morale, reduce stress and create a feeling of unity among team members.

5. Swedish Coffee Breaks Are Serious Business

The Swedes believe that taking breaks seeds productivity, which is why they take coffee breaks, or fika, very seriously. Fika gives Swedish workers an opportunity to relax and enjoy a beverage and a sweet with their colleagues. Some Swedish businesses have formal fika, breaking daily at 9 and 3 to invite conversation and camaraderie among staff. Other companies are less formal in their implementation; either way, fika is an institutionalized mainstay for Swedes.

6. Supporting Icelandic Parents 

A trailblazer for equality, Iceland has set an impressive standard for parental leave. When an Icelandic family welcomes a new baby, each parent gets three months of parental leave. Then the couple gets an additional three months of leave to share. Each parent earns 80 percent of his or her salary while on leave. The hope is that both parents have an equal chance to learn childcare skills and to bond with the new baby.  

7. Prayer Time Trumps Meeting Time in the UAE

Courtesy and good manners have a revered place in business practice in The United Arab Emirates. But when doing business in the UAE or in any Muslim country, prayer times should always be respected. They often take priority over any phone call, event or engagement.   

8. Rules of Thumb in Nigeria

Whenever you’re working or traveling internationally, you want to brush up on cultural dos and don’ts — for example, don’t give your Nigerian colleagues a thumbs up, even when you’re doing great work together. The gesture has a completely different connotation in Nigeria than it does in the US, and it’s considered very offensive in Nigeria!

9. Un Beso in Argentina

You might feel surprised the first time you meet an Argentinian colleague and he or she gives you un beso, a “mock kiss,” on your right cheek. In both professional and social spheres, un beso is the Argentinian way of showing welcome, respect and affection. While it may feel a bit off-putting to those unaccustomed to it, it is a traditional greeting that is extended with respect and warmth.    

10. Finding Balance in Taiwan

A Law went into place January 1, 2017 giving Taiwanese professionals two days off per week. Employees in Taiwan have long viewed their loyalty to their employers as their top priority, and they regard personal requests, like time off, as rude. The hard work of its people has yielded economic success for Taiwan, but now the professionals who have created that success want to enjoy it. The new law emphasizes the importance of self-care, child-care and elder-care.

Happy travels!

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