Australians and Americans are comparing their ‘live to work’ vs ‘work to live’ cultures

It’s no secret that American workplace culture differs greatly from the rest of the world. In the United States, employees tend to work 40 hours a week, take minimal paid leave, and seldom take breaks during the day. The American Dream has glorified a hustle mentality that prioritises working to live rather than living to work. Europeans, on the other hand, apply a more relaxed approach to their workplace culture. While many people have managed to resist American work habits, not every country has been successful in maintaining a work-life balance.

Last week, a Reddit thread on the popular forum r / australia went viral when user u / moviesoccerbeer asked the internet, “Why didn’t ‘live to work’ catch on in Australia like it did through the rest of the Anglosphere? Australia seems to have adopted the Mediterranean ‘work to live’ mentality when it comes to work ethic. Why is that? “

The standard work week for Australians is 38 hours, although many people work longer. While work days tend to start at 9am for offices abroad, Australians start their day at 8am or 8.30am in the morning. As of July 2021, the national minimum wage in Australia is $ 20.33 AUS ($ 15.16 USD) per hour, according to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

One Reddit user from Australia attributed Americans’ workplace culture to their deeply rooted history and social welfare programs. “Hard work is unevenly distributed across our society, but fundamentally we are (thankfully) lacking the ‘shark tank’, ‘win at all costs’, ‘look after myself only’ ethic that permeates American working life,” user Single-Incident5066 wrote . “I think that cutthroat work environment is born of a lack of social safety net, at will employment contracts and the absurdity of having your health insurance tied to your employer.”

In 2020, 28 million Americans did not have health insurance at any point during the year. While 91 per cent of the population were covered by health insurance, more than half of Americans were covered by employment-based insurance. Australians have access to both a universal public health system and a private one, but some internet users believed that members of the Australian government are trying to lean more towards an American system.

“Not just trying, succeeding,” commented user Burtorr. “They may not have managed to privatize Medicare yet, but we’ve been stepping closer to the US model in recent years …”

Some internet users compared their experience working in the US to their time in Australia. “I worked in the USA for a bit,” wrote user ProceedOrRun. “I was amazed just how long everyone hung around at work for. Like they weren’t actually working the whole time, just a lot of chatting, eating, coffee, and various other time wasting activities. Not uncommon for people to spend over 10 hours a day in the office, then go out to dinner with colleagues afterwards. “

Another person wrote: “I have worked for an American company before. Their attitude to work is fascinating and, I think, driven by the fear that at any moment they could be turfed out and have no safety net. “

“That said, Americans pay well (once past the low levels of the organization) and many of them seem to be very cheery in the face of what I think are quite toxic workplaces,” they continued. “That environment also breeds a ton of assholes though because there is almost a direct link between me getting more and you getting less. In those cases, always back the horse called self interest. “

While living down under is known for its laid-back lifestyle, one Australian worker felt that this mentality has skipped a generation. “I think it’s a bit of a myth that Australians are all laid back larrikins. It’s a lie we keep telling ourselves, ”said user Brickies_Laptop. “Take any corporate job / study any degree in Australia and you’ll find yourself surrounded by stressed out workaholics with a work hard play hard mentality not at all unlike what I imagine the culture in the USA is like.”

“Perhaps our older generations were indeed more relaxed, hence where the laid back Australian stereotype comes from,” they wrote. “But this is absolutely untrue of younger generations today in my experience.”

Another person agreed that there is a shift in Australian work culture, and it’s becoming more and more similar to the American workplace.

“Live to work is very quickly becoming the norm in Australia, particularly in the law and finance sectors,” said user justputonsomemusic. “Australia and New Zealand are quickly becoming US-lite on this, and if not for our strong labor laws and rights, we would already be there with the seppos.”

Trade unions play an important role in Australian workplace culture, allowing workers to bargain with employers. Even though unions in the United States have a similar role, union density has been historically much lower than it is in Australia. In 2021, the percentage of Australians belonging to a union was around 14 per cent, while ten per cent of the American workforce were unionised.

“I think workforce have more power,” said user Dontblowitup. “It’s passe to admit this now, but unions make a difference. Even if you aren’t in a unionised industry, the fact that they’re around mean your alternatives are not that bad. If your opportunity costs of more leisure is low, guess what, you’ll take more leisure, and so will everyone else. “

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