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Home > Blog > Oh, Well. So much for the European model
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, July 07, 2004 6:15 PM
Oh, Well. So much for the European model
Anita Sharpe on Business

Just when many workaholic Americans and their employers were being swayed that the Old Country might be on to something with their six weeks of vacation and 35-hour work weeks, the Europeans change their minds.

According to a front-page story in today's New York Times, companies in Britain and on the Continent are lengthening work weeks and trimming bonuses used for vacations.

'We have created a leisure society, while the Americans have created a work society,' Klaus F. Zimmermann, president of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, told the Times. 'But our model does not work anymore. We are in the process of rethinking it.'

Not surprisingly, most of the companies doing the rethinking are manufacturers.

My guess is the future holds multiple models for both Americans and Europeans: longer hours and less personal control for those who work primarily with their hands in commodity businesses; and, much like now, considerably more freedom for those who work mostly with their minds in creative industries.


ed tan - 7/30/2004 1:28:00 PM
I am a US Immigrant (Philippines) of 30 years.
I am a Civil Engineer and my wife is a Nurse. Typical Filipino in California: House, cars, retirement savings, private health care insurance, no credit card debts, substantial disposable income.

We put in the 40 hours week. We take 3 weeks vacation to Europe - every other year.

For Filipinos - the choice of US vs. Europe - is a no brainer. As I suspect it is for the rest of the world (including a majority of the Europeans).
Avi Solomon - 7/9/2004 5:50:16 AM
Time is better than Money!
Elizabeth Albrycht - 7/9/2004 4:11:00 AM
I spend a considerable amount of time in France, a country with probably the most generous (or pernicious depending on your point of view) support for employee time off (35 hour weeks, 6 weeks vacation). I have many discussions with my friends here about how I think that is ultimately unsustainable in a global economy.

That being said, however, part of me is sad that it cannot be sustained. You see, I disagree that (at least among my friends) that they have a lower standard of living. It all depends on how you define it. Yes, they make less than their American counterparts. That means they buy fewer things. (Heck, they cannot fit more things in their tiny apartments and closets!) So, from the American point of view, brainwashed as we are by big biz that says 'more stuff = better life', we crow about our higher standard of living.

But what they have, and we don't, is time. Time to take a leisurely vacation with family and frends. Time to travel. Time to have 2 hour lunches. Time to have 3 hour dinners. Time to truly have a life that isn't defined by work. My friends pity Americans. They think we are crazy to give up our lives to work. I think they have a point.

I also question the assumption that being in the creative business gives one more freedom in terms of time off. In the always-on society we are currently living in, that is currently adding up to more hours, not fewer.
Walker's dad - 7/8/2004 7:00:48 PM
Leisure society- no
What they created was a socialist society that has proven it cannot be sustained.
Do the math- months at a time off, mandatory 35 hour work weeks, gov't intervention into every conceivable crevice of life. Why did 10,000 people die in France from a relatively mild heat wave? Because everyone thought the gov't would help out their neighbors.
Wake up, capitalism works. The average European country has about 12-14% unemployment. Liberals have crucified President Bush for 5.6%.
Ben - 7/8/2004 4:31:58 PM
I also read that article yesterday and was dissapointed to see it heading that way. I was recently in England on business and got cornered by a few blokes in a pub who wanted to know how many hours a day I typically work. 'As long as it takes' was my reply. They rolled their eyes and said they wouldn't do a thing after quitting time. I feel passionate about my work, and it was sad to see the lack of it there. What I create means a lot to me. Even if their beer is better than ours!
sam - 7/8/2004 1:00:23 PM
hmmm...from the nub

Tom - 7/8/2004 11:24:44 AM
I work for a multi-national and I've had the chance to visit facilities in other countries. I may have had a fraction of the vacation and holiday time that my counterparts did, but my standard of living was considerably higher. To my American sensibilities, the tradeoff was worth it. I'm sure they saw it a different way. Given that a lot of these changes are being driven by corporations, I'm sure they still do. But with the only choice more hours or lose your job, what else can they do but go along?


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