international readers: tell us your workplace customs

An international reader recently mentioned in the comment section that in her country it would be bizarre to bring food from home into the office to share with coworkers; she found the U.S. custom of office potlucks very strange.

And we often hear about how in some countries, job applicants are expected to submit a photo along with their resumes. And in France, we recently learned that it’s not unusual for employers to request a hand-written cover letter, so that they can analyze your handwriting. And I will never forget the commenter in Japan, whose story of taking a communal bath with her boss still haunts my dreams.

So, readers from outside the U.S.:  Tell us about workplace culture in your country. What have you read here that’s at odds with how you do things?  What do you find weird about U.S. workplace culture, and what do you expect we would find surprising about yours? (And thanks to the commenter who came up with this idea.)

[Caveat: Since this isn’t a political blog, let’s keep the focus on customs and practices and avoid the U.S.-bashing that often accompanies discussions of different labor laws. Thank you!]


{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. EngineerGirlUK*

    I’ll lead with this one from the UK perspective. One word psychometric testing is really common especially for entry tier and graduate jobs.
    Also not wanting to ignite the issue but tights are optional in most workplace environments for women and trousers are much more common.

    1. jesicka309*

      It’s the same here in Australia! I work in an office environment, and quite regularly people come into work wearing leggings as pants, jeggings as pants, jeans, midriffs tops, hoodies, thongs…. I hate it, but it seems to be the in thing to do in all ‘funky young offices’ in Australia.
      I’m not a fashion nut, so I long for an office where all the girls wore a nice dress and tights…which is what I do anyway. I must look dowdy compared to my fashion forward coworkers! :S

      1. Catherine*

        Not dowdy, just not 12. I applaud you for not giving in to leggings pants! I work at university (in the US) and if I see one more young woman – or man (yes they do this too) – wearing non-pants I’m going to scream and staple file folders to their shirts so they’ll cover up their bits.

        1. Anna*

          Ditto (and I almost called it “same here” — perhaps not the best choice of words!). In the U.S., “thongs” are either a kind of underwear or else a kind of bikini bottom-half.

          1. Jessica*

            Not all areas of the U.S.! I grew up calling the shoes “thongs,” not “flip-flops.” I didn’t hear flip-flops until I was in college. (I did know about underwear thongs, but it wasn’t a thing people usually talked about a ton, so it didn’t normally become an issue in conversation.)

        2. Sophie*

          Don’t worry – she meant thongs that are shoes. I’m Aussie too, and I have never heard any Australian use “thong” to mean underwear. We say usually g-string, or something else. Thongs are a true blue Aussie summer footwear staple!

          (I have to admit to being guilty of wearing Birkenstocks, which are just slightly more substantial thongs, to the office on occasion in summer. But I always wear conservative dresses and tops with them!)

    2. Emily*

      Here in my part of the US, DC, practically nobody wears pantyhose/tights. But we’re a very pragmatic/no-nonsense city that is essentially built on a hot, muggy swamp.

          1. perrik*

            Ah, you mean the standard plumage of the female Washington professional doing the Metro-to-office stroll: conservative navy skirt-suit, simply bobbed hair, and huge white Nikes. I love this town.

            1. Emily*

              Exactly :)

              As a 20+ year resident of this fine town who has never once set foot in the Capitol or White House, I don’t really consider the Congresscritters who commute in from McLean VA and Potomac MD, or the little insular campus they inhabit down by the water, to be representative of DC. I suppose people who live elsewhere in the country think of Congress first and everything else second. It seems to be related to the same phenomenon where people from here say “DC” and people from everywhere else say “Washington.” (I actually have some friends who bring an elaborate theme camp to Burning Man from DC every year; their camp name is DC Not Washington.)

              I love this town too.

              1. Laura L*

                YES! I’ve only been here about a year and a half, but I immediately picked up on the DC/Washington distinction. Although I was under the impression that Washington is used to refer to the federal government (esp. Capitol Hill and the White House) and DC is used to refer to the rest of the stuff that makes it a regular city. Meaning, locals say DC, everyone else says Washington. If that makes sense.

              2. OtherJamie*

                Reminds me of how nobody -from- California calls it “Cali”. Barf. :P

                That’s a really interesting distinction though, it’s good to know! *files that away for later*

  2. jesicka309*

    One thing I see you guys talking about are ‘phone screens’, which I’ve never heard of happening ‘Down Under’. I wish we did though – it would take a lot of the pressure off face-to-face interviews if you already had a sense of what the interviewer and the company were like!
    Another Aussie oddity is that nearly all job postings are through company websites – websites like will point you to the company’s website to go through their internal system. There almost always isn’t an option to include your cover letter, though you always need to upload your resume. The company website procedures usually ask questions too, like ‘explain your suitability for this position’ which kind of negates the need to have a cover letter. Does this sort of thing happen in other countries too? I haven’t really seen much discussion about these sorts of things. Sometimes they ask for salary ranges too! Bleugh.

    1. EngineerGirlUK*

      Often I’ve had to submit to the “electronic inquisitor” when applying for jobs. In the three years I’ve been job hunting I’ve not needed a cover letter once.
      Another thing that is getting more common is the competency based interview. Out of 9 interviews last year only one I had was traditional.

      1. jesicka309*

        I guess that would be because you’re an engineer? I work in the media (only 2 years since I graduated) and I’ve had interviews that were traditional, and one where they gave me a short ‘questionaire’ relating to my knowledge of the industry. I didn’t get the job, but I’d love to work for them, as that one little test gave me so much more insight into what kind of work they did there than any traditional interview. I wouldn’t have taken my current job if I had known exactly what kind of work the job entailed.

        1. EngineerGirlUK*

          No its pretty common I was desperate for a job after I graduated and have had competency based interviews for such jobs as car park attendant and supermarket shelf stacker.

          1. Brightwanderer*

            On the other hand, I’ve never had one in the fairly large number of interviews I’ve done over the last five years or so – so it may still be industry-specific in some way.

            1. Anonymous*

              I hire in the UK for an organisation that has a very wide range of professional disciplines, and we use competency-based interviews and assessments centres for most roles.

      1. Julia*

        I’ve routinely had phone screens in both Australia and New Zealand so I guess it’s industry based rather than a national quirk.

    2. Kou*

      In the US you end up applying through their online systems a lot of the time, with extreme amounts of redundancy. More often than not you have to upload a resume (cover letters are usually optional but as AAM has pointed out before, they’re not REALLY optional) but then also fill out your entire work history and other information in a long, tedious process. Sometimes they’ll also have you answer questions, but usually not.

      1. cf*

        Sometimes, they even ask where you went to high school – for a job that requires a master’s degree.

        Many times, I have had to sneak my cover letter in by combining it with my resume in one document, as the system does not let you upload a cover letter.

        1. Hari*

          How has that worked out for you? I would think although some would appreciate it, others might find it annoying.

    3. Catherine*

      More often than not, I have to fill out questions like you said, providing information that was already in my cover letter. You have to get really creative to come up with something that doesn’t sound like you just copied and pasted.

      And while many websites like and will have you apply through them, I still prefer applying on the company’s website, as I feel you can glean important information from that instead of going through a third party.

  3. John Quincy Adding Machine*

    Good call posting this in the middle of the night to catch more of the international posters! ;)

    I’m Canadian, so I barely count as international, but I did spend a year working in Thailand, where it is expected to submit photos with resumes, where colleagues are often expected to take weekend road trips together (my husband’s school went to the beach!), and where shoes are often removed in the workplace.

    1. cf*

      As in, shoes are removed and this is acceptable, as opposed to, the admin in my office removes her shoes in the afternoon and I think, “Really?”

      1. John Quincy Adding Machine*

        Acceptable. Shoes are usually worn in hallways (since they’re often open to the elements), but removed for going into rooms or offices. Many staff had slippers or flip-flops that they’d wear around during the work day.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I would LOVE to remove shoes in the workplace as a matter of course (I actually have my shoes off right now, but under my desk, so nobody can see). And just inside in general, I absolutely despise wearing shoes inside. In the winter I keep ballet slippers under my desk so I can change out of my boots ASAP.

      1. Jamie*

        Indoor/outdoor shoes are common here (Chicago) in winter – because boots are often necessary. And I always have a pair of sneakers or flats under my desk if I’m wearing heels and the day takes a turn for the worse and I have to do a lot of walking…but lack of footwear would bother me.

        I’ve seen people walking in their stocking feet at work and I can’t really articulate why it bothers me – it just seems unseemly for some reason (to me).

        1. fposte*

          I work on a concrete basement floor that’s *freezing* in winter, so I have sheepskin slippers for in-office use.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I agree it’s totally unseemly, I unfortunately do do it sometimes though. (I went to school in Chicago, and I probably took my shoes off in class occasionally there! I’m the worst!) I just hate the feeling of hot feet encased in heavy shoes, it makes me kind of claustrophobic just thinking about it.

        3. Kelly O*

          You mean aside from the whole “how clean do they REALLY get this carpet?” issues of general grodiness?

          Because I do NOT want to find out what’s crunching around on our office floor.

          xoxo, Slid my shoes off this afternoon, but they are right there for sliding back into if someone walks up or I need to get up.

        4. Anonymous*

          Pair of flats under my desk for similar reasons only its the Scottish winter rather than Chicago. I’ve always thought wearing shoes in the office was for safety reasons and many years ago I worked in a shop where open toed sandals and flip flops were not permitted because of that.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I left two different jobs with a significant reason being that I couldn’t stand having to wear closed toed shoes at them. Never again.

        5. CRP*

          I’ve lived across the midwest (Chicago included) and echo this. Especially with sloshy winters and hopping on the EL trains in Chicago. We often wear boots to work and either bring our shoes or leave some at our cubicle.

      2. Emily*

        I hate wearing shoes, too. I only wear them when necessary and 90% of my shoe collection consists of some sort of slip-on format so that I can remove them whenever I’m sitting. (I like to sit cross-legged and I hate putting my dirty shoes up on the seat and against my pants.)

    3. AgilePhalanges*

      I’ve been to Thailand a couple of times now, and on my most recent visit (since my school-aged son was along for the trip, too), we visited a school. I was SO pleased to learn that students, teachers, and administrators all remove their shoes at the fronts steps of the school and spend the majority of the day barefoot in the hallways (even though they are open to the elements), classrooms, and hallways. I LOVE being barefoot, and love Thailand. I actually seriously looked into how feasible it would be to move there, if even for a short time, but alas, teaching is about the only job I would qualify for, and I’m sure I would hate it.

      1. Ariancita*

        I like this too. I don’t allow shoes to be worn in my home. I think it’s so dirty to walk around trudging in outside stuff from the shoes. Have no control of that in the office though, but I often take my shoes off in my desk area in order to keep the area clean.

    4. Hari*

      When I was studying abroad in Japan indoor/outdoor shoes were common, especially in homes. One thing I found that was that shoes you wear in the public gym cannot be old running sneakers you would wear outside, they had to be a new pair of shoes. It was odd to me but upon reflection makes sense when it comes to keeping the gym, which people are already working up a sweat in, clean.

      1. Jamie*

        This is the same as schools here. Elementary – high school we needed to keep a pair of sneakers at school for gym because you weren’t allowed on the floor if your shoes had been worn outside.

        1. Hari*

          In the US? really? I’ve never heard of that and I’ve been to quite a few, both private and public schools in different states, albeit on the West Coast.

          Also In Japan though you have a different pair of shoes, part of your uniform, that you put on once you get to school as well. It wasn’t like that at the universities though.

          1. Jamie*

            Yep – public schools in Chicago suburbs and private boarding school. I thought all schools were like this – maybe I just had a series of very particular school admins. :)

      2. BW*

        I’ve encountered this in dance studios as well. The reason is to keep the street crud off the floor to keep it reasonably clean.

        I live in the city and walk a lot. When I stopped wearing shoes inside the house, there was a lot less dirt on the floors and rugs, especially in winter when the sidewalks and roads are treated for ice.

    5. Anna*

      Speaking of barely counting as international, I take it your user name is a riff on the sixth president of the U.S. (I’d be very surprised indeed if it turned out to be something else.)

  4. CindyB*

    Here in NZ we’re known for our ‘number 8 wire’ resourcefulness and creativity. This shows up in our workplaces, which are quite down-to-earth, ‘let’s get on with it’. Hierarchy is less obvious. We tend to suffer from Tall Poppy syndrome. We don’t look fondly on those who ‘skite’ about their achievements (‘let others talk you up – that says way more about you than what you have to say’). The company I work for was recently acquired by a global organisation with their head office in the US. From what I’ve seen and heard, we are far more likely to speak up and challenge the status quo. We’re less ‘political’, though that’s not to say we don’t experience office politics, it just seems to be easier to recognise and navigate here.

    BTW, where I’ve worked we love ‘shared lunches’ (our version of the potluck), especially as we have a highly diverse culture here: food from around the world – yum!

    1. fposte*

      USAn question–what the heck is “number 8 wire” resourcefulness? Is that like the Kiwi equivalent of duct tape–it’s the hardware store substance that’s used to fix everything?

    2. AMG*

      I love this. I agree that your work should speak for you, instead of having to run around making sure people know everything you have done. But I work in a credit-thieving office, so maybe I am hypersensitive about it.

      I also have loved workingplaces where ther is more of a team environment and less of a heirarchy.

    3. OtherJamie*

      Cool! Okay, sorry, I just read this book “Culture Shock! New Zealand” (one of a series) and it mentioned the ‘number 8 wire’ thing and Tall Poppy syndrome, so I feel prepared (somewhat, lol) to visit. I was sort of worried that it might be full of weird outdated stuff that only happened to the author, but I feel better now.

      I think I’d really like NZ office culture…down to earth, resourceful, speaking up, potluck lunches…

  5. Kat*

    I’ve lived/worked in Australia and New Zealand.

    Thank goodness we don’t have ‘at will’ employees. There is pretty much no legal way that you could show up at work tomorrow and be told that your job is gone (unless you had done something illegal yourself).

    Redundancies have to follow a fairly lengthy process, as does firing people. Generally, you have to be able to show that you followed a documented and fair process.

    1. CindyB*

      Yes, and we have minimum annual leave entitlements (20 days here in NZ) plus 5 days sick leave. Both of which can be rolled over into following years, although as many organisations try to manage their leave liability effectively, you are encouraged to use annual leave. But we’re a national of travellers, so it’s not uncommon for people to save up leave for a long trip away.

      1. jesicka309*

        Ah yes, we have ‘unlimited’ sick leave at my office! Pretty much – if you’re sick, they don’t want you here. So stay home. Obviously there are people who abuse that system, but they are usually slackers or people who have checked out of the job mentally, so management are usually aware of who is doing it.

        Do other countries have ‘the walk’? Many companies will walk you off the premises immediately if you have quit to work at a competitor. Also, most offices require one months notice – this ‘two weeks’ I see people talking about on the site sounds amazing!!

        1. BW*

          Yes, some companies in the US will make employees who give notice do “the walk”. My mother worked for one such place. Anyone who gave notice was told immediately to pack up their things, and then escorted out of the office. It did not matter why you were giving notice or where you were going to work. There really was not much or any competition locally. They just wanted you out the door ASAP.

          1. cf*

            It varies. I gave a long notice before I quit to go to grad school.

            When I was laid off, I had three months’ notice. A colleague read the tea leaves and got a new job with a competitor, but gave a long notice and they kept him until the end of his notice. They trusted him not to be a jerk.

      2. Kat*

        I’m currently working in NZ – in my company, we don’t get our sick leave rolled over (generous of your employer, though!).

        The annual leave is brilliant, though. Getting paid to go away for a few weeks, and being able to save them up, is awesome.

        1. Sara*

          I had a sick day approved for looking after my sick cat!! NZ culture does have a more understanding sick leave policy.

          1. Liz*

            I think that depends on your manager too. I (in the U.S.) took a day off when my cat had to be put down, with the blessing of my manager. Other managers make people stay till closing, even if tornado sirens are going off and schools are closing.

            1. Taria Shadow*

              I think that does depend on your manager – I work in the US, and at my last job, we had unlimited sick time (although occurances were tracked to help identify people who were abusing it), and we could use it for sick children, etc…. whatever your manager approved as sick time.

              1. Jamie*

                Same for us. We have no official sick time on the books, but there is no issue with being out if you’re sick – as long as it’s not being abused.

                Better to be sick at home than to bring your germs to work – that’s our motto.

          2. Anonymous*

            I’m took a sick day to take my cat to the vet’s. Even before FMLA went in to effect, my employer unoffically allowed people to take sick days off to take care of sick children/relatives. (I’m in the US, so FMLA = Family Medical Leave Act, which gave people the right to take time off for maternity leave, being sick or taking care of a sick relative and not get fired.)

    2. T*

      Except we do kind of have ‘at will’ employees – casuals. I’m in Australia and I’ve only ever had one job that wasn’t casual (permanent part-time research assistant). All of the other jobs (fast food, in an office, exam invigilator) have been casual. So yeah, I got a higher hourly rate for the casual loading, but then the jobs could just stop giving you shifts if they didn’t want you any more.

      From my understanding of ‘at will’ employees, isn’t that kind of the same thing?

      1. snuck*

        I don’t think it’s the same T, because as a casual in Australia you can still claim unemployment/social services etc if your hours drop or if you don’t get shifts. In the US I believe that this isn’t a given at all – and that having almost *any* job means you aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, and that if you are fired for any reason that also affects your ability to collect. Another factor is that in many (US) states the employer is expected to pay some form of contribution (not sure how it works) towards an ex employees unemployment benefits, so it suits (some?) them to remove them for any reason that isn’t seen as legitimate for claiming unemployment benefits.

        The other thing is that the ‘at will’ status applies to all employment categories except contract (which is similar to our contract roles – more for professional categories of employment/Enterprise Bargaining Agreements etc) – so anything other than a casual is at will also. Sure casuals in Australia can be terminated technically by having their hours cut, but the casual workforce isn’t the primary form of employment here once you get beyond a few years experience/qualifications, and just cutting someone’s hours isn’t deemed termination by Centrelink etc.

        1. Natalie*

          As with all things, unemployment is tricky to describe in the US because it is different in every state. Employers pay federal and state taxes to support the unemployment program, but they don’t typically pay any benefits directly to the unemployed worker. Any full time employee theoretically qualifies for unemployment benefits but lots of low-wage workers (the type that sounds like what would be classified as “casual”) are classified as part time no matter how many hours they work.

        2. fposte*

          That’s not actually true, about the dropped shifts and unemployment in the US. I can’t say categorically, because unemployment operates state by state according to each state’s policies and tendencies, but often you *can* get partial unemployment if your work hours have been cut back. However, it’s not widely known, I think.

          1. Ariancita*

            But in many states, it’s not really feasible to get partial UI benefits because you have to make less in a week what you would be getting from UI. And UI rate is much lower than your pay rate. So even if you lose shifts or drop hours, you’re probably still making more than you would receive in UI benefits, even if it’s not liveable for you.

            1. fposte*

              That could certainly be true; I’m not familiar with the details. I’m just saying that eligibility doesn’t require you to have no income whatsoever.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            There is a program in Missouri for that, although I can’t speak for other US states. It’s called the Shared Work program, or something like that. At Exjob, we had to put our shop people on it when orders dropped off sharply due to the recession. It kept us from laying off people who had gained very specific skills that we needed to manufacture our product. They worked part-time and drew unemployment for the hours they were off.

      2. BRK*

        Well in my (US) experience, at-will employees aren’t just hourly jobs – it’s the default. I’ve had salaried with benefits full time professional jobs that were “at-will” – it’s much more common to be “at-will” than not, unless you’re in a unionized industry like teachers or manufacturing. But yes, it sounds like casual jobs are functionally “at-will.”

      3. Sophie*

        The thing with casuals is that it’s not the most common standard form of work (except in retail / food type industries) while from what I understand of the US, the vast majority of work is at will? Also, T, if you’re a casual for a long time, and have the same shifts every week, you do get some rights under the Fair Work Act and the NES. If you’re interested or concerned you can speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman who will give you advice for free.

        As to unemployment benefits – I thought in Australia you have to prove to centrelink that you are looking for a job and unable to find them, so very few Aussies actually use centrelink? (But correct me if I’m wrong, I only ever used centrelink when I was in uni for youth allowance).

  6. MissJ*

    I love this topic :) I am from Germany and have been reading your blog for 2 years now – absolutely love it!!
    I find the differences very interesting. For example, most people here get about 25 days of paid vacation a year (required by law are 20, but I have 29, my husband 30) – I have no idea how one could do with just 5 or 10 ;)
    Applications are a bit different as well. Most of the time, you still need to submit a photo which I think is ridiculous. Letters of reference are very common too, I think calling up references is mostly done for high level positions. Hm, what else? Oh, two week notice, I did not know this before either. In Germany, it usually is 3 months – on both sides, which means if you are laid off, they need to tell you 3 month in advance – good for the employer :) But is really sucks when you about to start a new job and have such a long period.
    Looking forward to reading about other countries as well!!

    1. Yvi*

      Fellow German here and yeah, those notice periods in other countries always make me wonder how employers find substitutes so fast. I know people with 1,2 , or 3 months (I have 3) notice periods.

      Also, the concept of an actual physical paycheck is really weird to me. As is being paid weekly instead of monthly.

        1. Brett*

          That’s interesting because marital status and photos would give a lot of information about “protected” traits that employers can’t discriminate against, which I think is why employers want nothing to do with them in the US. They’re not really job relevant and could only lead to potential accusations of discrimination.

          1. Jamie*

            I’m very curious as to the logic behind the photo as it’s so pervasive in many countries.

            Brett stated why we don’t do it, but what is the upside for those who do? I’m assuming most employers want to hire the best employees and aren’t screening for hotness…so what information are they getting from the pictures that adds value?

            (Obviously my question doesn’t apply to jobs like acting or modeling where you’re being hired for your looks.)

              1. Jen in RO*

                This is probably not PC, but the median age in my team (of 6 people) is around 26. A 40-year old would probably not be a good fit. We won’t reject a person outright, but we wouldn’t get our hopes up.

                (I don’t see any reason for the picture and marital status, though.)

              2. Liz T*

                My British advisor was shocked to learn that this raises American eyebrows, but couldn’t really articulate why they did it. He seemed to think it was just…nice. He liked that when people were waiting for interviews he knew which person was which, or something. Really he made it seem like a tradition that no one thought about either way.

                1. Anonymous*

                  As a Brit, that surprises me. Photos, marital status, kids, dogs – none of this has any place on a CV! Unless of course your dog is an integral part of your capability to do your role – maybe a gamekeeper – and even that’s pushing it. And photos – just no! If you are a an actor or model, fine, if not, stop it.

                2. Jamie*

                  I would love to get pictures of dogs.

                  I am glad we don’t do that here since I would have a hard time suppressing my bias to hire the person with the cutest pet picture!

                  Salary bump if it is funny enough for icanhascheeseburger.

              3. Henning*

                As somebody who hire people in Germany, I use the photo mainly to get a first impression about the candidate. Does he/she dress professionally, and things like this. Of course its also really helpful if you actually invite somebody, if you know the look of the person.

                With regards to the age, for many positions its important that somebody fits inside the team. If the age in the team is for example around 20-30, somebody over 50 will probably have a bit harder time to fit in the rest, and you probably would like to invite him again to meet the team as well.

                The marital status just helps me to get a more detailed picture as well. Do I expect the person to stay longer time with the company or will he move quickly to something new, is he/she bound to a certain location and things like this.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This is so interesting. Does it seem weird to you that in the U.S. we’re so concerned with making sure we DON’T appear to be considering age, marital status, appearance, etc.?

                2. Jen in RO*

                  @Alison (we reached the nesting limit): I don’t find it weird that you don’t want to know this stuff. Since the law allows people to sue for discrimination, I think it’s natural for companies to do their best to avoid that.

                  (Do people in the States really sue as much as the media suggests? I burnt my hands with a McDonald’s coffee so I’ll ask for $3 million in damages?)

                3. Yvi*

                  @Jen in RO:

                  That McDonals’s case you mention is a lot more complicated than you seem to think. The coffee left *third* degree burns within mere seconds, for one thing.

                4. Jen in RO*

                  @Yvi: I wasn’t even sure if that’s a real case or just an urban legend. But still – how is it McDonald’s fault that you spilled your coffee? Or any similar thing, really.

              4. Pamela G*

                It’s really common when applying for teaching positions in Australia to have to include a photo. I’m not entirely sure of the logic behind it, but I know when my boss shared some resumes with me when he was hiring for another teacher in my department, we certainly looked at the photos to see if they seemed energetic and friendly (as I teach a specialist subject we are constantly trying to attract and retain students to choose our subject throughout high school, and having teachers who are engaging and popular with the students is essential). Of course anyone who had an impressive enough resume would score an interview, regardless of appearance, but it certainly creates an initial impression. (We didn’t do phone screens either.)
                One guy submitted a photocopy of his Working With Children card as his photo, and he looked like a stereotypical child molester! Before anyone yells at me – yes, I know they come in all shapes and sizes, but on TV shows they will often be balding, middle-aged men, slightly overweight, glasses, with a dull expression and shifty little eyes. This guy ticked all the boxes! (I believe my boss did end up getting him in for an interview – he stammered and muttered terribly, read questions slowly and without inflection off a sheet of paper held about 2 inches from his nose and was generally as unimpressive as his appearance had implied.)

                1. Andrea*

                  Jen in RO (sorry, wouldn’t let me reply to you directly) do a few minutes of research, and you’ll discover the facts about that interesting case. Start here:'s_Restaurants
                  To begin with, the restaurant knew that they were serving their hot beverages at a temp that was hot enough to burn people, and there had been numerous complaints.

                  (Most Americans don’t even know the story, either. But it’s interesting.).

              5. MissJ*

                I like the American way much better – no pic, no birth date etc. I don’t see why it should be in at all. There is no way that a potential employer does NOT judge you by looks (whatever this may mean in the individual case) after s/he looks at the application phot. Plus, they are expensive ;)

              6. Student*

                I’m US, but I spent some time working in Germany and I currently work with lots of Germans in the US.

                In Germany, especially “West Germany,” there is a very heavy cultural tradition of women not working after they have kids. I’m sure there is variance in how much it’s socially enforced, but the German women I’ve talked to who want to have a career essentially must forgo children. If they attempt to work while they have young children, they get heavy pressure from neighbors, relatives, and bosses to stop working to go back to the kitchen. Literally. As a consequence of this, the kitchen is considered the most valuable and important room in your average German family-sized house, and Germans will spend an amazing amount of money for large, well-designed kitchens.

                In short, they are asking for this personal information for exactly the reasons you would expect – it influences their hiring decisions, and they don’t want to hire young mothers. I’m not sure why we’re all so hesitant to face up to that reality.

                I’m told that this effect is not as strong in “East Germany” where communism briefly required women to pitch in equally with men.

                From my personal experiences in Germany, I can say I encountered a lot of very casual sexism, both in and out of the workplace (and I don’t have a husband or kids). I got kicked out of a machine shop for being female, among other incidents.

        2. Lori*

          And don’t forget to add religion. (Or has that stopped? It’s been close to 10 years since I lived in Germany.)

      1. Yvi*

        I keep thinking of more.

        As for customs, I am not sure if that counts, but Germany is a lot more formal when it comes to addressing people by name. I cringe when I read about addressing people by first name in cover letters and such things. In Germany, that would get your application deleted right away. (My company tries to be less hierarchical by having as call everyone by first name – it makes me uncomfortable when talking to people quite a few steps up from my position)

        Bringing cake etc. to work for birthdays and such is normal.

        Breaks are usually not counted as work-time, I am always surprised when I read about an 8-hour workdays being 9-5 – here it would be 8:30-5 or something like that because the lunch break dows not count.

        Phone interviews are rarely done and except for a few companies, I doubt many places do more than one interview per candidate.

        1. BW*

          I’ve never worked at a US company where lunch/breaks are counted at work time. 9-5 is a myth, at least in my state where we have a 30 minute break mandated by state law. Hours are more like 8:30-5, 8 hours of work and 30 min for lunch. In some environments where employees are paid hourly and are punching the time clock, you might be expected to clock out for lunch and then clock back in.

          In some US states breaks times are mandated, and companies will have an official policy that your work day must not be less than be 8 1/2 hours to accommodate a 30 minute state law mandated break (in MA).

          Other states don’t have mandatory break laws, and you can get away with working 8 hours by not really taking a break. I have a friend in another state who does straight 8 hour days. Her manager unofficially allows people 15 min to grab lunch during their shift, but they really are supposed to be working the entire time. There is no “break” time.

          1. Jessica*

            In my state (and the previous two I’ve lived in), there is a law that if you work 8 consecutive hours, you have to have a lunch break of some kind. The length isn’t necessarily mandated, but anything 20 minutes or less is PAID (you don’t clock out for it or dock it from your timesheet) and anything more than 20 minutes is unpaid. My dad used to work a straight-8 (much earlier in the morning than 9:00), but he got a morning 15-minute (paid) break and a 20-minute (paid) lunch. I tend to think these shifts are more for factory workers and things like that, though, so maybe that is where the 9-5 idea comes from. (Reminds me of Dolly Parton’s movie.)

            I currently work 8:30-4:00, with a 1/2-hour for lunch in there, unpaid.

            1. Jessica*

              That should be that my dad’s morning break was 10 minutes, not 15. Morning 10-minute break and a 20-minute lunch, both paid for a straight-8.

          2. Liz in a Library*

            The only job I’ve ever had where lunch and breaks “counted” in the 8 hour day was when I worked for the state. Even then, though, the full-time workweek was considered 37.5 hours, with a half hour break each day adding up to 40.

            Then again, that was also the only job I’ve ever had that was truly a limited 40 hour week.

        2. TracyDee*

          I am an hourly worker in the US and my work hours are 0700 – 1530: eight hours of work plus a half hour for lunch. I do get two 15 minute paid breaks, though.

          I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s the salaried people (the ones who get paid the same amount regardless of how many hours they work) who have the standard day.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I am an American and I am baffled by the concept of 9-5 made “famous” by the 80s song and film. Do these people not get any lunch break at all? Do they have to bring or order in lunch and eat at their desks while working? Also who starts work at 9am? I have shifted my personal schedule to the latest I think is reasonable and that an 8:30 start. Even then I kind of feel like a slacker because that’s a late start!

            I was in the military and in state-side, staff/office type jobs the norm was usually 0730 – 1630 with an hour break for lunch, but there was flexibility where we were allowed some extra out of the office time to work out during duty hours by taking a slightly longer lunch or coming in a bit later (Of course deployed and operational jobs are entirely different.)

            Now I work for a government organization (not the DOD) and I have an 8.5 hour “duty” day with a half hour lunch (and two paid 15 min breaks allowed during the day). I find it kind of annoying actually because in half an hour you can’t go out for lunch although you do have time to drive through a pick up window and be back at your desk to eat the meal there while working. As it is I am pretty busy so I end up bringing my lunch and working at my desk through lunch or taking a brief break by surfing the internet at lunch.

            I think I’d be pretty annoyed to bascially be told that I didn’t have any break at all during the day.

            1. Liz*

              In the UK the standard work hours are 9-5, with a minimum of 30 [paid] minutes for lunch. Most office workers will get 45 minutes to an hour.

              1. Anonymous*

                Not always. 35, 37.5, or 40 hour weeks are standard in the UK – I’d suggest 9-5.30 is more common outside of public sector. Paid lunchbreaks are actually not that common. A 37.5 hour week will typically be 9-5.30, 5 days a week with an hour unpaid for lunch (hence the 8.5 hour day). However many employers are happy to flex this, so long as they cover the Working Time Regs which mandate a break (unpaid) of 20 mins when you have worked 6 hours.

              2. Min*

                I’m an American working in the UK and my hours are 8 – 4:30 with an unpaid 30 min lunch. I’ll admit I’ve only been here 6 years and certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but in my limited experience, paid lunches don’t seem to be standard.

            2. AgilePhalanges*

              It seems that in the US, start times (and therefore end times) are somewhat regional by time zones. I hear east coast folks making comments that sounds like 8:00 is ridiculously early, 9:00 is normal, and 10:00 is a nice late start, but still fairly reasonable. And their ending hours reflect their start times.

              Here on the west coast, since we have contacts whose day is three hours ahead of ours, it seems that 7:00 is an early but non-unheard-of start time, 8:00 is normal, and people who come in at 9:00 are thought of as people who work a later shift than the rest of the world. Here at my west coast office of a company with a location in Central time, there are a few people who come in at 6, quite a few who come in at 7, almost all the rest are in by 8, and there’s a straggler or two who come in around 8:15 or 8:30 (those with longer commutes). No one has an official schedule of arriving at 9 or later, though some people work from home for a bit, then arrive on site later in the day.

              Daily schedule seems to be regional here in the US, with variants, of course, for company culture and even individuals within the company when allowed.

              1. Elizabeth*

                It definitely depends on the industry, too. My observations of Silicon Valley tech company culture is that coming in by 8 is super early, and even 9 is pretty early. Then again, those software engineers will routinely work until late into the evening.

              2. Laura L*

                I think it depends what you do, too. I worked at a non-profit on the West Coast and all our clients were local, so we came in at 9. Although people who did direct client work probably had a slightly different schedule.

            3. Liz T*

              I once work a (salaried, American) job where it was 9-5, with a paid hour of lunch. During orientation, HR made sure to point out that we were being paid for 40 hours a week but only working 35. That place was heaven.

              1. Sarah B*

                My company is that way :-) I work 8 – 4 and take a paid hour for lunch every day. So I’m getting paid for a 40 hour week, but only working 35. I totally realize how lucky I am to have this job.

                Of course I’ll occasionally bring work home at night or on the weekends during a release, but it’s not an every day thing.

          2. BW*

            I am salaried. Even us salaried folks are expected to be in the office 8 1/2 hours if we take 1/2 hour for lunch. This has been the case in every place I’ve worked.

          3. Yvi*

            I suppose my confusion comes from the fact that the equivalent to a “salaried employee” does not really exist here. If I work only 30 hours a week, I need to compensate by working the remaining 10 hours at another time.

          1. KayDay*

            Yes, I agree. The phrase “9 to 5 job” really just means an office job with regular business hours.

            Most offices I know of (in the U.S. on the east coast) have business hours of 9-6, 8-5, or something similar.

              1. Ariancita*

                Yep, yep. Same here, even though the positions I’ve had have typically required more work anyway for deadlines. But yes, most of what I’ve seen in my work life is the typical 9-5 rules, lunch included, usually an hour, and paid.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                8-5 for me. Most of those have had an hour lunch. Food service jobs where I worked 7-3 or 3-11 (roughly) usually had only a half hour lunch, but you got breaks. At the 8-5 jobs, you usually got two 10-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

                US here.

            1. Ellie H.*

              I am “supposed” to be at work from 9 to 5 but that includes an unpaid hour of lunch and a paid 15-minute break (but nobody, NOBODY pays attention to the idea of taking this break – it is just an ad hoc thing where people don’t feel like they are chained to their desks). So I only get 35 hours a week; I wish I got 40, but on the other hand I think 5 is a nice time to get out in order to actually be able to do something after work, ditto with 9 and before work.

              My previous job, an eight-hour shift was scheduled from 9-6 or 1230-930, and you get an unpaid hour of break.

              1. Anon2*

                Years ago I worked a 36hr shift and it was the BEST! Not working those 4 extra hours kept me in a lower tax bracket and my take-home pay was only decreased by about $10 every 2 weeks. Brilliant! The only downside was the difficulty of getting overt-time, but I was going to school full-time then as well so it was really a moot point for me. I hope you’re in the same boat, so those 5 hrs aren’t really missed. :)

          2. Jamie*

            fposte is correct, 9-5 is just typically shorthand for a typical work day as opposed to shift work.

            I’ve never had an hourly position where the hours scheduled didn’t include an unpaid lunch – and I’ve never had a salaried position where a straight 40 was the norm.

            IME 9-5 is just an expression.

            1. Jessica*

              It may be in some places, but factory workers (generally working in shifts where some may start at 5:00 am while others start at 9:00 am and so on.) do have overlapping schedules where they work what is called a “straight-8” where you get 20 minutes for lunch, paid. (All states I’ve lived in have had a law that any break 20 minutes or less must be paid.) All of my dad’s jobs have been straight-8s, where he would get a 10-minute break earlier in the work period (sometimes he worked third shift, so he was over nights) and a 20-minute “lunch” period in the latter part of the work period. No matter what time he started, he worked a straight eight hours and was paid for the two breaks that were 20 minutes or less.

              When my mom started working (a different factory position), she also worked a straight-8, but with a 15-minute break in the beginning and a 20-minute lunch in the ending period. I think the straight-8 with diminutive break periods is very odd to people who maybe aren’t familiar with many “blue-collar” jobs, such as factory workers, mechanics, and so on. I’ve never seen an office job that was straight-8, however, so YMMV.

        3. Ariancita*

          Unlike some of the other U.S. comments, I have mostly worked at places where lunch is counted as time worked. The issue usually is that most of the industries I’ve worked in (graphic design and academia), I’ve always worked way longer anyway. But I did have one in-house design job where the set hours were 9-5 (no overtime! yay!) and that included a one hour lunch. But that was in California and I understand the state has better employee laws.

          1. Aimee*

            I’m in CA, and yes, generally we do have better employee laws. But employers here are not required to give you a paid lunch – they are only required to give you a lunch break (paid or unpaid is their choice) if you work at least 6 (I believe) hours in a day.

            I’ve had hourly jobs where I got a 30 minute unpaid lunch break, an hour unpaid lunch break, and a 30 minute paid lunch break. I’ve had jobs where I was the sole person running a retail shop most days, so lunch was whenever I could find 5 minutes to close the shop and run over to the restaurant down the street to pick up my order and then eat while I worked (and I could always guarantee that even if we didn’t have a single customer all day, as soon as I sat down to eat, at least 5 people who all needed a lot of assistance would come in).

            Now, I’m in a salaried, exempt position and my hours are not tracked at all. I come in whenever I get here, leave whenever I am done for the day, work from home when I need or want to (which is nice when I’m sick and can still work but don’t want to infect the rest of the office, or when my kid is sick and can’t go to preschool), etc. I work fewer than 40 hours some weeks, more than 40 others, and travel when needed. I work from home in the evenings once my kid is in bed if necessary, and keep up with my e-mail during vacations. It’s a trade off – I get flexibility as far as being in the office most days, but have to make sure I’m available as much as I need to be in order to get my job done and am willing to travel whenever necessary (usually that means several weeks in a row of leaving on Sunday and returning home on Tuesday or Wednesday, then several months with no travel at all).

        4. Jamie*

          You mentioned the more formal nature of German customs. This fascinates me, as it has been my experience with Germans in my own family as well (my father was a German immigrant, so while we were all born here were have a lot of German influence in how we were raised.)

          What are relations like between German and American businesses like? I know it’s a broad question, but my only experience with overseas business has been China – and the communication protocols were difficult to get used to at first.

          I’d love to work somewhere where I’d get the occasional business trip to Germany – but as it’s not likely in my industry I’m just wondering how comfortable relations are between German and US business partners.

          1. Jamie*

            Sorry – this was in response to Yvi – but the thread has kind of nested so I’m not sure that was clear.

          2. Yvi*

            While I work for a big, international company (based in Germany), I don’t have much contact with the US, so I really couldn’t say.

            I certainly don’t use first names when writing mails to other countries, though.

            1. US/German Worker Bee*

              I used to work for a student exchange company both in the US and in Germany. Since HQ is in the US and we had an international team we had customs closer to the “American way” We did call each other by first name. But I can tell you when I started working there (in Germany) it freaked me out. I am used to a way more formal environment. To address people with the first name who are way older, made me feel so uncomfortable. Usually you are being offered to use / talk on a first name bases. Also generalizing of course only the older person (or in business environment the higher position) is the person to offer to call her/him by the first name you should use the first name. It has a lot to do with respect. We even have a saying. Quick explanation you address somebody with “sie” which is the formal “you” and “du” informal. The saying goes like this: it is way easier to say you “du” asshole than “sie” asshole. Which basically means that it is easier to be disrespectful to somebody you are closer with,. And respect is defined by how you address people. As for business relations between germans and American, usually pretty good. We learning English in school and we learn about the culture as well. I am working in the US right now.
              PS AAM love your blog!!

              1. Jamie*

                “Also generalizing of course only the older person (or in business environment the higher position) is the person to offer to call her/him by the first name you should use the first name.”

                This is so interesting. Does age play any role in this at the office? For example if I am much older than you, but you have a much higher position is it all about the higher position or does the fact that I’m older matter?

                I think I would be so afraid of making a mistake I’d call my own husband Mister!

                1. US/German Worker Bee*

                  Jamie, I had to think about this for a moment too. Tough one.. But I’d say go with the higher position, that is the one that counts in business enviornment. At least that is what I would go with. But I am pretty sure that this could backfire in some cases, especially if you as a young manager haven’t “proven” yourself yet.. But this is generalizing plus some people might say this is all “old” school. (As well opening a door for a woman, serving the oldest first woman then man )

      2. Natalie*

        As far as replacement hires, I think most US employers don’t even try to find a replacement in 2 or 3 weeks. You use the notice period to make sure other people in the office can perform the leaving employee’s critical job functions. If absolutely necessary, you hire a temp while you look for a permanent employee.

      3. Catherine*

        They don’t often find substitutes. On my team, we spent about a year trying to fill 2 vacant positions. I would LOVE to give my employers a longer notice time, so that we could accommodate finding a replacement, but the nature of the beast is that we are often afraid of getting punished – not just be being fired, but in other subtle ways – for putting in our leave that 2 weeks is a blessing to the employee.

      4. Jessica*

        It depends on your employer for your pay periods. I now get paid every two weeks, but I have jobs where I was paid once a month or twice a month (the 15th and the end of the month, regardless of where it fell) without regard to the weeks in the month.

        I also don’t get a physical paycheck and haven’t for many years, fortunately. It’s so out of habit for me to even go to a bank these days for anything! (Of course, my bank is also solely online, so that helps.)

      5. Lala*

        it makes no difference how long the notice period is vs how to find substitutes!
        ok i guess i make this comment in a country that has low unemployment.

        if your notice period is 1 month, the next employee they find would also have a 1 month notice period.
        so, by the time they advertise and interview and extend the offer, and wait for incoming employee to finish serving notice, outgoing employee is long gone.

        i guess if there are a lot of unemployed people who don’t have to serve notice it makes a difference.

  7. Sarah Miller*

    Oooh fun topic! I’m an Aussie working in Singapore.

    How I perceive Aussie workplaces to be different from US:
    – Aussie enthusiasm is 1% of US enthusiasm. Those US product presentations kind of freak me out when a CEO is screaming on the stage like an evangelical preacher – and so would working in a place where the ‘culture’ and customer service mentality is so prolific it would start to feel like a cult. Aussies tend to distrust over-enthusiastic people for some reason… tall poppy culture probably.

    How I perceive Singapore workplaces to be different from US:
    – Singaporeans are closed off to outsiders, taking years to let someone into a group of friends or colleagues, opposed to US openness and friendliness. It’s common that no matter how nice you are, or good you are at your job, you will be systematically excluded by colleagues until you’ve proven yourself… usually by something like tenure or seniority.

    I have lots of US friends, but I’ve never worked in the US, so apologies if this is totally inaccurate!

    1. jesicka309*

      This! Tall Poppy Syndome! I’ve always been a head down, bum up kind of worker. This got me through school pretty good, with other nerds like me as my friends.
      Fast foward to my first job, and suddenly, I have no one. It seems like anyone who is praised by management ‘for working the hardest’ or promoted/given rewards for this reason will suddenly have no friends in the office – the slackers get ahead though because they ‘fit in’ with the relaxed Aussie culture. Ugh.

      1. Sara*

        jesicka309 I can relate! Am a lot like you head down get to work. I had a performance review experience in NZ where I was told I was too professional and not letting loose enough, not sharing about my weekends and not sounding very genuine as I didn’t get into details about my weekend enough. Ironically I was classified as a high performer but was not considered to be fitting in well with the NZ culture. I left shortly after that review and found a better fit at another company, it’s not necessarily an all of NZ thing, but in some places they really do value different things.

        1. Sarah Miller*

          Yeah, Aussies & Kiwis really like people who can party hard, and work hard afterwards. I think there’s some affection for the ‘larrikin’ stereotype, where if you’re a likeable person, get into a bit of mischief and can have a good laugh, then it’s much more ok for you to be good at what you do.

          Unfortunately, this seems to be a remnant of the homogeneous white male workplace of years gone by. Nowadays, people of all religions, family types, full time/part time, studying etc are working together – and their priority isn’t to win the office popularity contest. It’s hard to be the person with different priorities to everyone else though…

          1. Another Aussie*

            Yeah in Australia people seem to be less professional. The dress code is more relaxed and it seems like the boundaries of what you share at work is less strict. People will often spend the first couple hours on Monday talking about how drunk they got on the weekend or like what parties they attended

    2. Catherine*

      I love the term Tall Poppy. From the descriptions of Australian and New Zealand work places, I think I would fit in very well.

  8. Eva*

    Stretching the bounds of the ‘work culture’ phenomenon, can I say that the biggest acclimatization experience I’ve had reading this blog has been the general attitude toward employment and unemployment which I find so impressive and refreshing? I live in Scandinavia where everyone can collect such generous unemployment benefits that people hold out for a good job rather than take any job, and some people spend years, even decades collecting benefits rather than paying their own way. I won’t dwell on the negative mental effects our welfare system seems to have, but seeing the can-do-and-will-do attitude which readers in the U.S. and other countries bring to their job search is a real wake-up call and .

    I don’t mean to get political and start a discussion on which system is better or worse; this attitude difference is just the most salient difference I notice when reading this blog.

    1. MissJ*

      It used to be like this in Germany as well but they cut the benefits and also the time you are entitled to it so this did change.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. This is interesting to me to hear; I feel like here in the US you typically hear people lionizing the employment culture of European countries esp. Scandinavia which is stereotypically thought of as having REALLY good government services.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I have to say, I’ve been very grateful for the US’s extension of the unemployment benefits this time around, due to the recession. Without that, I’d be in deep doo-doo. I’m having to take my time since I’m out of the running for any jobs that involve accounting–which, lately, is most of them.

  9. jesicka309*

    Haha I seem to have a lot of differences for this topic.

    Paid interships are non-existent in Australia. If you are in university doing work placement, or internships, or what have you, you will not get paid. At all. Otherwise what’s the incentive for taking on interns?

    It leads to a lot of uni kids struggling financially during these mandatory placements, or simply going out and getting a rare part time job in thier industry as their ‘work experience’ (which is what I did)

    1. Tori*

      I think this might be field specific. I am Australian and have done three paid internships while at uni, related to economics. They weren’t university requirements or work placements though, I just applied to do them over the summer to get experience. My friends have also been paid for their internships. I’ve never seen any unpaid ones advertised or talked about. So maybe only work placements for uni are unpaid? Or certain fields (I admit I never go to the science/engineering/IT side of campus)?

    2. Kat*

      This depends entirely on what you studied (I studied Civil Engineering).

      The Institute of Engineers won’t let you graduate with an engineering degree unless you’ve done at least 12 weeks of work experience. They mandate how much you get paid – at the end of your first year of your degree, you must get 50% of what that company would pay a graduate (hourly). 60% after second year, etc.

      It’s still not much, but it’s definitely paid work. If you are lucky, you can continue on with them part-time during term, but as engineers are in class for up to 36 hours per week this can be hard!

  10. CatB (Europe)*

    A Romanian here. Some things that got a “weird” shade in my eyes:

    1. “At will” employment and the lack of written contracts. Here an employer that cannot present work contracts (written in 3 copies, one for each part and one for the state institution in charge of labor control) is liable to hefty fines and / or jail (criminal offense).

    2. Lack of obligation for paid vacation / PTO. Here there are 20 working days mandatory (but the employer can choose to offer more), the first chunk in a year has to be at least 10 working days long (mandatory by law, though often firms do not respect that).

    3. Lack of notification when leaving / letting go. Here there is a 15 days (non-executive positions) / 30 days (executive positions) mandatory notice period. You can leave / be let go instantly, but only if both parties agree in writing.

    4. The romantic implications linked to flowers. That freaked me out, since I looove giving flowers for the sake of the smile.

    5. Potlucks / bringing party leftovers in the office. We do sometimes share take-away lunches, but it would supose quite a close relationship with the person I share my lunch with. For the rest, it’s pretty much everyone keeping oneself to oneself while eating (though this might vary by province; Bucharest, the capital, is closer to the US in many regards than then rest)

    6. Phone screening and reference checking. Many companies skip all the steps and go straight to in-person interview (though, again, things might differ in various parts of the country).

    7. Interning and volunteering: very rare (and mostly formal, for interning). Not many employers take into account these experiences, even for recent graduates.

    Having the opportunity to review my take on this subject I can only imagine how weird I must come across, from time to time, to international commenters here.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Every time I read this blog, I wonder what parts of my and my coworkers’ behaviors shocked our American boss :)

      (Oh, and another difference, though not directly work-related: being a vegetarian in Romania is hard work! We always have trouble deciding where to take our boss out for lunch when he’s visiting, since he doesn’t eat meat…)

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Every time I read this blog, I wonder what parts of my and my coworkers’ behaviors shocked our American boss :)

        Nah, that’s impossible! How can he be shocked? :-)

        Ah, one more thing: in the country, often times we address others by family name. First-name-based speaking takes some doing, and you might never get to call someone “John” or “Jeannie” if the age difference is big enough (or if the hierarchical levels are too far apart). How’s that in Bucharest?

        1. Neeta(RO)*

          Oh yes, I often have trouble with calling bosses/ older people their first name. It just seems to disrespectful to me, when I’ve been brought up to call Mr./Ms. everyone around me.

        2. Jen in RO*

          My boss is American so I just call him Daniel :P I sometimes wonder how people deal with this in Romanian companies – do you use “polite you” (dvs) with bosses or not? All my top management is in the US, so I don’t have this problem – yay for English’s all-encompassing “you”!

          I haven’t had another *real* boss before (I was a freelancer after university), but when I did my internship I called my boss Mrs X. There is no way I could’ve called her by her first name (and she would have found it weird too).

          1. Neeta*

            If it’s my department manager (who’s about 5 years older than me), I try to avoid saying either his name, or you (tu) when I am talking with him.
            I called him the polite you (dvs) during the hiring interview, and he actually stopped me and asked not to be so formal.
            When I talk about him to others, I just say his first name.

            As for my Team Leader and Project Manager, I just treat them like most colleagues, since we’re the same age.

    2. Neeta(RO)*

      Also from Romania here, and for the most part totally agree with the points you presented above… whit a few exceptions.

      5) It’s customary to bring some light snacks and juice, around one’s birthday to share with colleagues. Some people even do this when their children are born.

      As for keeping to oneself during lunch… I think this depends on the company. At my current company, we are being offered lunch daily (as part of the benefits package), so we all eat in the kitchen/dining area, since we’re not allowed to eat at our desk. I actually quite enjoy this part of the day, as we do lots of socializing.

      At company I previously worked, this was not the case, but I frequently saw groups of people eat together and chat. Sometimes even ordering catered food together.

      6) Agreed, I’ve never gone through this either.
      Heck, I never had to write a cover letter either. But perhaps this is industry specific (I work in IT), and practical tests are the norm here.

      7) When I finished university… so about 5 years ago, interning was not a very widespread practice, even in IT. But, since a couple of years ago more and more IT companies offer summer internships to students. Sometimes, a few of these even get hired after the internship has ended.

    3. Ilf*

      Oh, please, let’s not forget to mention: those contracts in three copies and all, often understate grossly the true salary being paid to the employee for the purpose of avoiding paying taxes in full. And that’s quite common. The practice is making tax cheats out of people who may not want to be that, but really need a job. This also affects the amount of unemployment one can receive. Laws may be wonderful in Eastern Europe, too bad nobody cares about the law.

      I’m native Romanian and moved to US in my early thirties. I do miss the twenty something vacation days, after eight years of doing with ten days or less – zero when I worked as a contractor. I guess I could have taken unpaid vacation at times, but I chose not to.

      Many people deplore the at will employment, but I don’t see the reason. The very fluid employment market in US helps both employers and employees. It’s easier to hire if you’re not going to be stuck for a long time with an employee that’s a bad fit. Plus my experience is (after four different companies I’ve worked for in US – midsize and large): employers are very slow to pull the trigger on firing somebody. Most companies put under-performers on improvement plans for months or years sometimes before making the decision to terminate.

      1. GeekChic*

        I’ve managed in the U.S. and foreign countries and I’ll tell you why I deplore “at will” – it’s too easy for the bigots and misanthropes that can populate management to do real damage. I have seen at will used to fire people for being “too black”, “too brown”, “too pregnant”, “too sick”, “too homosexual”, and plenty more.

        It’s frankly disgusting.

        And since we’re all biased in some way (it’s just whether we admit it or not and thus whether we address it or not) I would rather not manage or work under a system that makes it easy for bigots to practice their craft.

        1. fposte*

          I think it’s worth pointing out that at-will is not enough to allow you to legally fire somebody for many of those reasons, though. So these are people who are comfortable breaking the law, and the existence of a contract might not be enough to stop them any more than the existence of a law does.

          1. GeekChic*

            At-will makes it easy to do so though because you don’t have to give a reason. In areas that don’t have at-will, there is a requirement to justify termination. Bigots can’t justify their termination reasons nearly as easily…

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              For what it’s worth, if you want to fire someone, you can always find a “fair” reason to justify it. I once completely freaked myself out by realizing someone COULD find a “fair” reason to fire every high performer I’ve ever worked with, if they were determined to. At-will employment just means you don’t have to do the documentation process, even though most employers still do anyway.

    4. Ellie H.*

      I would love the culture of keeping to oneself while eating. I might be a little weird/unusually private about food (I used to have an eating disorder so maybe that’s it) but I really hate it when people at work comment on what I am eating. One woman in my office EXCLAIMS over how good the smell is and interrogates me about what it is every single time I toast a bagel or anything in the toaster and it really, really, really bothers me. I don’t like it when my roommates notice or comment on what I eat either. I’d really prefer just to do my own thing and not be ever feel socially obligated to go to lunch or order in with other people.

      1. Neeta*

        This is actually what I did at the company I previously worked at, and it ended up being a bad thing.

        I mean normally it shouldn’t have been, but it was kind of one of those unwritten rules, that people got along better with people who they hung out with (both professionally and otherwise).
        Perhaps the coworker is asking because she’s genuinely interested in your cooking though. :)

        1. Ellie H.*

          Maybe I was too harsh; I really like my coworkers and enjoy socializing with them esp. outside of work and I think eating together occasionally is a nice way to do it. I’m not one of those people who is always seeing potential problems, but there are some food related things that make people feel uncomfortable when they can’t/don’t want to participate in food sharing (allergies, veganism, diet, etc.) and you can easily feel pressure to participate when you’re at work. Mostly it’s just having my food commented on that I hate so much, not any kind of food related social activity at work.

          1. Jamie*

            I totally get this. I have the same type of issues with food – for the same reasons.

            It’s one of those things where people have no idea they are tripping triggers, but I wish they would stfu about food what I am and (way worse) am not eating at any given time.

    5. Miss Displaced*

      Wow! How lovely it must be to receive 20 paid days vacation a year.

      The most I have EVER received at any job is 10 days vacation 5 sick days.

  11. Brett*

    Qatar (but similar rules apply throughout the gulf)

    Resumes include photo, nationality, religion and marital status and jobs are often specifically offered to certain ethnic groups or restricted by religion or national origin.

    All jobs are ‘sponsored’ by an employer who has an exclusive right to the employee for the period of time of their contract, usually 1-3 years. In order to switch jobs you must get a No Objection Letter from your previous employer. Most of the western companies have various contractual elements that allow at-will employment (taking into account the complications of getting and leaving the country)

    Your employer has to sign off on your leaving the country through an Exit Permit, you can be prevented from leaving the country due to unpaid debts or legal proceedings.

    Logistics will often be a complete nightmare, you may be able to get all your big parts (in our case furniture) but suffer for months waiting for specialized bits (RFID tags, bar-coding equipment, printers, fasteners)

    While I don’t have this at my work, it’s very common to have a “tea boy” in the office who’s sole job is to push a trolley around with tea, coffee, water and biscuits.

    Annual leave is generous, and can often be banked until the end of the contract if you desire, but 50C/100% humidity summers do encourage a nice long vacation.

    From my experience (which has been very good) you either need to go with a western company out here, or really, really do your research and modify your expectations. It’s not a place to assume anything.

    1. J*

      Hey! I’m in Qatar too! It is very different here, as there are so many different nationalities (the population is about 80 per cent expat).

      I’m always baffled on this blog when I see stuff about dress codes: because Qatar’s a muslim theocracy, the idea of wearing revealing clothes (ie anything that showed my shoulders, knees, midriff or too much cleavage) is entirely foreign. You cover up here, for work and for everything else.

      Things also take a bit longer: back home (Canada), I could get in and out of a meeting lightening fast. Here? You must have the cup of tea (brought by the tea boy of course), and talk about the weather and each other’s families before getting down to business. And it will all end with a resounding ‘inshallah’ and no actual decision made.

      In my sector as well, there’s a definite sense of entitlement. Last year, nationals working in the goverment and military were given massive raises– up to 120 per cent! Getting interns has become a struggle, as more and more student refuse to go into fields that don’t come with guaranteed jobs and massive pay packets. The idea of an unpaid internship, for many, is ludicrious, even though that’s the norm for my field in other parts of the world.

      We do get a lot more holiday however, and it isn’t uncommon for your package to include allowances for things like housing, transport, or even an apartment or villa provided by your company! So you might end up living in little gated compounds surrounded by your coworkers.

      Then there’s Ramadan. the entire country basically shuts down, and it’s illegal to eat, drink, chew gum, etc during daylight. Which means most offices will ban food and provide small closed off areas for non fasting employees to eat and drink– there’s a special kind of humour required to sneak your bottle of water back to your desk like a beverage ninja. the hours are also shortened or changed during Ramadan: which means a lot of business will get conducted late at night.

      In my field, it’s also common to get gifts– we get gift baskets or presents at all major holidays from clients, as well as little tokens when you attend client events etc etc. It’s all part of that famous Arab hospitality!

      On the other hand, there’s the evil NOC problem. . . I say with some bitterness, as my last employer didn’t give me one, despite my finishing my contract, giving four months notice, and finding and training my replacement. For many Qataris, losing an employee to another sponsor is losing a massive amount of face: so it’s up to their discretion whether they grant you the NOC, and if not, welcome to the 2-year sponsorship ban. This in turn means quitting for a better opportunity really isn’t an option: and there are many employers who don’t see raises, better hours or conditions as things that need to be given regularly to maintain a good workforce. I worked for two years for my previous employer, and had three promotions, but never a raise– there was no need to give me one as if I tried to leave, I’d just be deported without an NOC.

    2. Kimberley*

      I like this concept of a “tea boy”. I would love to have someone come to me with a tray of beverages rather than having to run across the street in -20C (or worse) temperatures in the winter! (Canadian here).

      1. cf*

        In Chile, this person was called the “junior” and also ran errands for the people in the office. Considering it takes (or took, in 1994) three people to sell one pencil, delegating this sort of task to a lower-paid employee is not a bad idea.

      1. J*

        the No Objection Letter is for expats only. Nationals (Qataris) are the only ones allowed to be sponsors (except husbands may have their wives and kids under their sponsorship, regardless of nationality, although they need their sponsors permission). But remember- Qatar is 80 per cent expat. there is a lot of pressure to update this for Qatar. when taken to extremes, particularly when we’re talking labourers and certain nationalities, it’s basically legalized slavery. If you’re a Filipino maid or an Indian construction worker. . .

        And tea boys have basically ruined me for Canadian employment. the one in my office has a freaking cappucino maker. In my old office the tea boy was also responsible for tidying up my desk at the end of the day, stacking everything neatly, etc etc. At least in my office they don’t have to wear weird bowties, vests or other uniforms– that happens in bigger buildings.

      2. J*

        Oh and just to clarify: the explanation I’ve heard a lot as to NOT giving people NOC’s is that your employer has paid to bring you over (true, as must international hires get their flight to Qatar in their package, as well as an annual trip home), the time and money to train you and aclimatize you to the country, so why should another employer benefit? the idea is basically that the sponsor has purchased you for the duration of the contract, and it is up to them what you do during and even after your employment is over. It’s a huge problem as it means many workers, who know Qatar, know the culture, and know their industries, have no choice at the end of their contracts but to pack up and go home if they want to advance or even be treated fairly: meaning we’re in a constant state of newbies.

      3. Arti*

        I work in the US now, but I’ve heard from my Indian friends that the No Objection Letter applies to everyone in India.

  12. Anonymous*

    As an American working in Spain, I find things a bit more relaxed here. Barring business and exec-type jobs, it’s okay to wear jeans to work (I’ve worked at NGOs and schools). Work-life balance also has more priority here. There’s a saying, “work to live, don’t live to work.” Also, people are usually given about a month of vacation time and are expected to take it (sometimes I feel like US vacation time is the real life equivalent of the Office Space pieces of flair scene). I’m thinking of moving back and am a little worried about the reverse culture shock, especially in terms of the work-life balance aspect.

    1. US/German Worker Bee*

      The reverse culture shock is something I fear too. Especially since I don’t want to go back.. But I have to.. :(

  13. Jen in RO*

    Some differences between Romania and the US (I’m nowhere near an expert in this stuff, so take it with a grain of salt).

    * No “at will” employment. The concept sounds very scary to me. If you want to resign or if you’re fired, there’s 1 month of notice (20 working days). Firing someone is very hard – it goes something like bad review, improvement plan, another bad review, and then maybe you can think of firing the person (this would take up to a year). Usually people are just told that it would be better if they resigned.

    * 21 days of paid vacation a year. My company doesn’t have the concept of sick leave (you can’t just call, you need a doctor’s note), but that might be something internal.

    * No references checks as far as I know, but I’ve never worked in HR and haven’t applied to many jobs either.

    * For maternity leave you can choose between 1 year paid at 75% of your average salary for the last 12 months (capped at a certain sum) OR 2 years paid at an amount decided by the state (very low).

    * Something that my upper management (in the US) seems to struggle with is our… lack of communication, maybe? When the higher-ups visit our office in Romania, we have these big meetings with 300+ people. After the presentation, the bosses ask if we have any questions or comments. Silence. We really, really dislike speaking up if we’re in a crowd. Probably a result of those years of Communism when being noticed was a Bad Thing. School doesn’t really encourage personal opinion either, so as a result we clam up if we’re in a formal group setting. (I’m generalizing, of course, but I don’t think I’ve very far from the truth.)

    * Judging by the comments on this blog, all Americans seem so committed to their jobs! I can’t find the right word for this, but I’ve seen discussions where leaving 5 minutes early was considered unconceivable and being at work later than 9 AM was not even considered. Maybe I’ve just worked with slackers, but people trickle in from 9 to 10 and no one cares if you stay 15 minutes extra at lunch. I feel very irresponsible when I read the comments sometimes :)

    1. Jen in RO*

      A couple more:

      * It took me *years* to understand that in (American?) English there’s a difference between resume and CV. What we call a CV is 1-2 pages of jobs + achievements, only the ones relevant to the position you’re applying to. I think this would be a resume in the States.

      * Despite what CatB said, I would find it weird to receive flowers in the office without a special occasion (Women’s Day or something). Maybe it’s because we’re in different regions of the country…

      * I don’t know if this is something common or not, but the American side of my company has a 7.5 hours work day, and in Romania it’s always 8 hours. Overtime is paid in theory, but in practice that never happens. Sometimes you might get a comp day of PTO, but only if you really bust your ass.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Yeah, Bucharest tends to differ in office culture from the rest of the country. Or maybe it’s my local culture (Brasov) at stake here? I don’t really know…

      2. Neeta(RO)*

        Totally agree on the flowers thing (I’m from Cluj, btw). Then again, I’m extremely suspicious by nature.

        To be fair, overtime pay is mandated by the law… only most employers tend to get out of this with “well you should’ve finished this in the allotted time”. So it only gets paid, if the client specifically requests overtime (at least where I work).

      3. Ilf*

        Thanks for saying it – hated the flowers thing too. It looks like women don’t enjoy it as much as men think they do. Or maybe it’s a generational thing.

      4. Ilf*

        To answer about the hours: it varies. Of four companies I work for, one did 8 hours plus 1 lunch, another did 7.5 plus 1 lunch, another did 7 plus 1 lunch. When I worked as a contractor I was paid for the hours I worked, I could have taken lunch or not. At my husband ‘s workplace they do 7.5 plus .5 lunch.

      5. Jen in RO*

        One more: when we talk about salary, we refer to the monthly sum, after tax. When my boss tells me I got a raise from xxx a year to yyy a year (before tax), I have to use an online calculator to figure out if I should be happy or disappointed.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s the same for us – we’re told our raises in the gross and have to calculate it ourselves.

          Is being paid monthly the most common method in Romania? Here some people are paid every two weeks, twice a month, weekly, monthly…it just depends on how your employer does it. I’ve only known a hand full of people paid monthly, in my industry weekly or every two weeks is standard.

          1. Neeta(RO)*

            I’m also paid monthly (and have always been), but my dad who’s an engineer (doesn’t work in IT) is paid every two weeks. Haven’t heard of people being paid weekly either.

            Personally, when it came to salary negotiations, I have always talked about it in net sums. Even on my contract, I have the sums written after tax.
            AFAIK, this is the custom in a lot of IT companies in the city I work in (which is not the capital, like in Jen’s case).

    2. danr*

      Jen in RO… don’t be scared of being “at will”. I worked for the same company for 30 years as an “at will” employee. I couldn’t avoid the final layoff when the company was bought and then the ‘local’ office was closed. There were people there at the end who had been with the company nearly 5o years.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I pondered this on my way back home from work and I realized why it sounds so bad to me: I keep reading these stories about people being told they are fired and not even being allowed to collect their personal belongings. That sounds unnecessary cruel and I just can’t understand it. (This happened to my company’s branch in India during our recent layoffs – we were worried too, but at least we didn’t have to face the prospect of being escorted out by security!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That can happen even without at-will employment there; you could be fired for cause and treated that way. Smart employers don’t do this to people though, because their biggest audience for a firing is the rest of their employees, who are staying and will pay attention to how the fired person is treated. (Of course, there are plenty of non-smart employers who do do this.)

  14. Henning Michael Just*

    I’m from Denmark, and continuing on the message from Germany, here we have 25 paid days of vacation (by law, once you’ve worked a calendar year at the place). Most have an extra 5 days, and some people even more. If you have kids and they get sick, you have the first day off (paid – some have two days), and your sick days are paid as well.
    When you get a job your first 3 months are usually a trial employment. In that period you can get fired with a 2 week notice. You give a 2 week notice yourself in that period of time. After that you have to give a (calendar) months notice, but the employer has to give (at least) three (calendar) months notice when firing you. There are exceptions but there are also regulations about firing. After some years employment the three months increase till finally six months.
    Most people work 37 hours a week. There are no general rules about overtime, some places you get equivalent hours off, some places you get paid extra. Some places you just work more. Some places the 37 hours include half an hour lunch time every day – it is many years since I’ve worked at such a place and currently my work week is 37½ hours.
    At work we do not call our seniors “sir” or anything equivalent. Work hierarchies are obviously different for each organisation but I’ve been lucky enough to only work at places where the CEO is someone you can approach, if needed.
    Photos with applications is not required and I seldom see it. It does happen and I don’t think it’s always a good idea.
    Sharing food from home? Absolutely – it’s mostly cakes and cookies but it’s very common and generally encouraged.

    1. Anonymous*

      This is fairly similar to the UK. Minimum holidays are 28 days (accruing from day 1), with many companies increasing that with service. Notice is similar – by statute, it’s one week per year of service, to a maximum of 12 week. It tends to be 1-3 months notice (outside of the probation period), with senior roles being 6 months +. Full-time roles tend to be around 37.5 hrs per week. Most companies pay sick pay, anything from 1 week to 6 months full pay (sometimes more), often with insurance schemes to cover when someone can’t return. Statutory sick pay (which is all they have to pay) is somewhere around £70 a week – not great if you are already worried about your health.

      Dismissal is often hard – when someone has two years service (was one, but hey, Tories in power now!) they cannot be dismissed without good reason and fair process – from an employer’s perspective it can be a pain.

      Food is always good! But definitely not phots on CVs – that’s just odd.

      1. Bluesie*

        People in the UK tend to assume that good sick pay is standard and are shocked to find out it’s not required by law. After 3 days the state-funded Statutory Sick Pay kicks in but, as Anonymous points out, it is not a great deal of money.

  15. Henning Michael Just*

    Oh, forgot this from Denmark: If you get sick before your vacation starts, you can reschedule your vacation !

    In fact, due to EU legislation, this has now been expanded so if you are sick for more than 5 days *during* your vacation, you get to reschedule some (I doubt anyone but legal specialists can tell you how many) of those vacation days !!

    1. Lydia*

      yes the new sick leave stuff is interesting. However if your company policy is something like ‘you must notify your manager on the first day of absence’ or you need a sick note this may be harder to manage in practice.

  16. Beth*

    Poland – 20 days of paid vacation rising to 26 after 10 years of work experience (with non-mandatory education after age of 15 counting as work experience), sick time is practically endless but requires a doctor’s note and is paid at 80% of salary, and 3 months’ notice for long-time workers. Definitely written contracts!

    And no office potlucks, but there’s a habit of bringing something sweet to work if it’s a special occasion like your birthday or last day. Photos on CVs, no phone interviews, and big professional corporations tend to do a lot of hiring via external recruitment companies. Office culture tends to vary a lot, with some holdovers from the past, some people completely in love with the model from American TV series, and some between the two. Dress code tends to be more casual than the US or UK, with cardigans and slacks for women acceptable when the men have to be in suits.

    One quirk I like is that when family-event holidays are approaching – like Christmas Eve, which is a Thanksgiving-equivalent family event but not officially a free day, or Easter – most companies will let people leave early to cook and clean at home.

    1. CatB (Europe)*

      Same here: every religious event (we’re majoritary Orthodox, so we tend to follow that calendar), like Easter or Christmas means a lot of scrubbing / cooking / family reunion. Name days are celebrated at office by bringing in sweets + soda/juice, and so are birthdays. Mandatory PTO for the major holidays, both civil (like National Day and New Year) and religious (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost or Whitsun and several others), though non-governmental entities can choose if they give that day / those days free or compensate with OT / days off in a different period.

        1. Meg*

          My family is Russian Orthodox, and name days were usually if you were named after a saint or similar, you would celebrate a name day in honor of that saint.

          The US equivalent would be like, if your name was George, and your birthday was October 1, BUT you were named after George Washington (first president of US, for non-US readers), so your Name Day would be February 22 (George Washington’s birthday).

          Basically, you celebrate your name vs the day you were born.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            One thing I find interesting about this is it implies an expectation that you’ll have a fairly traditional name — contrary to the U.S., where some parents want to find unusual or unique names.

            1. Jamie*

              In Catholicism there are Saint’s Days – which is when you theorehtically celebrate the saint you were named after.

              Traditionally it’s a requirement that your child had a saint’s name – either first or middle. Back when I was born you couldn’t have gotten a child named i.e. Taylor Madison baptized in the church.

              While I’ve heard of them I’ve never seen actual Saint’s Days practiced in the US – but mileage may vary on that.

              Personally I’ve been trying to get April 4th declared a holiday for me for years – it’s St. Isadore of Seville’s day and he’s the patron saint of computer professionals – but I just can’t get it in the handbook.

              Heck, I rarely get cookies on System Admin’s Day – so no wonder I’m failing.

              1. GeekChic*

                Saint’s Days were very common in the area of Texas I used to live in (strongly Roman Catholic).

                I was raised Roman Catholic and the tradition in our area (Canada) was that the middle name – taken at first communion – had to be a saint’s name. Baptismal names had no such requirement but that was after the Vatican II changes.

                1. Jamie*

                  Interesting – I’ve never heard of that.

                  We took confirmation names at Confirmation – and first and middle names are given at birth and used at baptism.

                  Our diocese took a little while to get around to adopting everything involved in Vatican II. I was born after that, but you’d never know it growing up in my house. :)

              2. Erin*

                I’m 28 and from the northwestern U.S. Our (Roman Catholic) priests are in general quite stern/traditionalist, but they seem to have given up in regard to the saint’s names. One very weird thing I’ve noticed, though, is that once in a while when a kid’s been baptized during a Mass they’ll add the name to the litany of saints even when I’m 99.99% sure there’s no such saint. (I mean, I know there’s thousands of them, but…) I don’t know if the implication of addressing ‘St. Taylor’ is ‘maybe BABY Taylor will be a saint, someday, and we’re getting our prayer request in early’?

                1. Jamie*

                  I personally wouldn’t have noticed the typo – I was too busy laughing at the preemptive prayer requests! That was awesome!

              3. Ellie H.*

                I have always wanted an Orthodox name day . . . my “Russian name” is “Lena” which is May 21 so maybe I should start celebrating that. I think you should totally institute April 4th as a personal holiday.

            2. Jen in RO*

              The common thought around here is: “Why give your kid a weird name that no one will be able to pronounce and scar him/her for life? Let’s just use a traditional-but-modern one”. I can’t understand parents who insist of inventing new spellings from common names and then get angry when people get them wrong! One example (from an old season of Amazing Race) – how is “Caite” pronounced “Katie” and not “Kate”? Would that distinction be obvious to a native speaker?

              (On the downside, I always had at least one girl in class with the same name as me … made things a bit confusing.)

              1. Meg*

                The same way Jaime is Jamie and not Jame. But depends on pronunciation, like how terrible is “ter-ri-bull” (YMMV) but in spanish, it’s “ter-ree-bleh” (again, YMMV, I can’t type accent). I suppose it’s based on the national origin of the same that dictates its pronunciation, but also preference.

              2. fposte*

                Many people who like creative naming cheerfully transgress orthography, so native speakers have just as much trouble as non-native with such names.

              3. Neeta(RO)*

                So we’re not counting those poor kids who ended up with names from Latin American soap operas? :P

                Alison: most of us are named after some saint. So basically, whenever that saint is celebrated in a Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant calendar, is when your name day is held.

                Personally I always forget mine… and know very few people who actually celebrate it. Maybe if they’re named after a fairly notorious personality…

                1. Jen in RO*

                  I always celebrate mine! The perks of having a very well-known saint :D

                  (And ugh, I really hope there weren’t *that* many kids named Alejandra and Marimar and whatever…)

                2. Kelly O*

                  I am fairly sure if there is a St. Kelly, she is the patron saint of those with zero coordination. Or maybe the patron saint of cats with odd personalities. (If I could bring Demon Kitty back from the great beyond, I’m pretty sure he would confirm that.)

                3. Jamie*

                  Actually, we learned about St. Kelly in CCD; She was the patron saint of insight, organization, and humor.

                4. Jamie*

                  Hit send too soon…anyway there is a St. Kelly – actually St. Celsus (Kelly in English). I wanted to see what he was a patron saint of and apparently he didn’t get his own department – but one link did say he was a friend and co-worker of St. Nazurius of Rome.

                  How weird is it that even St. Kelly had a co-worker? I’ve never seen that verbiage before!

                5. Neeta(RO)*

                  Kelly O: it doesn’t necessarily have to be the EXACT same name. There are lots of variations.

                  Eg: Take the name Ion (John in English): we have Ion, Ioan, Ionel, Ionut, Ioana (female variant)…

                  So chances are you’d be able to find SOME saint with a name resembling yours.

            3. clobbered*

              Re name days: “One thing I find interesting about this is it implies an expectation that you’ll have a fairly traditional name”

              You don’t really get a free choice of name in many Orthodox countries – there are strong cultural norms for naming children after their grandparents. Also most kids get christened as babies, and the Orthodox church has rules about what names are allowed.

              So, name days are a big deal because unlike birthdays you know whose name day it is for sure. So on on the feast day of St Alison, the morning news will announce, usually just before the weather report, “it’s St Alison day” and then you would congratulate all the Alisons you know.

              [Note: St Alison is not an actual Orthodox saint]

              1. Bluesie*

                Ooh, this has just reminded me the same thing happens in France! Generally the morning weather presenter will say something like “and today we celebrate the Benedictes”, and on the screen just under the weather symbols it will say “Ste Benedicte” or whatever saint it is.

            4. Ariancita*

              Although almost every name is designated its own day in some countries, so it’s not about being named after specific people/saints/etc, but just celebrating the day your name is assigned. I’ve seen this in Sweden and even looked up my name day (though can’t remember what it is now). It’s fun!

              1. Laura L*

                Yeah, when I studied abroad in Sweden, someone told me that new names were being added to the name day calendar in order to accommodate immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. So, not necessarily based on saints.

        2. CatB (Europe)*

          Name day: the day of the saint whose name you have (if your name is Benedict and St. Benedict is on Feb 30-th every year, then each Feb 30-th you come to work with snacks and soda/juice).

          1. Jamie*

            I’m curious about the soda and juice. Is that uncommon for your workplace to provide that?

            I’ve never worked at a place that didn’t have a fully stocked fridge with free soda and bottles of water – and there is typically juice as well. In addition to the necessary coffee/tea.

            Say what you will about other issues, my workplaces have always kept me hydrated.

            1. Anonymous*

              None of my offices in the US have provided this (social science research and child development-related facilities), but my husband’s (tech) workplaces always have.

            2. Jen in RO*

              My office (big corporate open space) offers a water cooler and coffee/tea. We also have vending machines (not free) for sandwiches, juice, coffee and the like. I’ve never heard of free juice in the office, but then again, my experiences in the corporate world are limited. Around here, “office culture” (actually, my team’s culture) is that the birthday boy/girl buys pizza and juice for the rest of us. For name days we just bring candy.

            3. Kat M*

              We have free coffee and water, and we also keep cookies on hand. Those are mostly for clients (massage therapy typically makes blood sugar drop 30-40 points, so we like to have sweets on hand just in case), but we’re welcome to them as well.

              My last workplace often had free fruit or baked goods, but it wasn’t an everyday thing. More like a few times a month.

            4. Laura L*

              My workplaces always have vending machines and they usually have free coffee/tea, but no free soda/juice. I’d love it if I could get free juice here.

          2. Meg*

            February 30th. I had a former boss that kept telling employees things would be done on February 30th. No one ever got the joke.

            1. Laura L*

              That’s awesome.

              There’s an episode of Parks & Rec where April thinks that March only has 30 days, so she schedules 97 meetings on March 31st. Everyone shows up that day and chaos ensues.

  17. Tina*

    I’m an American in the UK, and have worked in the public sector (large university) and private sector (2 small IT companies). In my first job here, in a small IT company, I was in my first week, and looking forward to 5:30 because the phone calls would die down and I could clear up my task list, but my bosses turned off the lights on me and told me they were locking up and I had to leave!

    Here it is very much a 9-5, you work your hours, you aren’t expected to give 110%. You are expected to have a life outside the office. I know someone who works for a large American bank, and he works crazy hours, but I suspect he could benefit from AAM’s advice about “I have time to do X and Y but not Z, is this the right priority?”

    You also don’t go crazy selling yourself in cover letters here. People find it very off-putting. Understatement is the rule of the day.

    I also worked in an office where, if you were going to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea (or coffee), you asked everyone in your team and made tea (or coffee) for everyone.

    And, furthermore, guaranteed maternity leave and unlimited time off for prenatal appointments and they can’t require you to make up the hours lost!!

    Life is pretty good here as a worker, but then again, if you’re on the other side of it and are a customer, it can be frustrating.

    1. Also UK*

      It does depend on the size of the business and whether it is private or public sector.

      Public sector with big offices do have strict opening and closing hours. Private sector depends more on the bosses and whose got keys etc. I have several friends in programming who are pretty much ordered to work really late and then start really early no matter what the official laws say.

  18. Shackleford Hurtmore*

    I am British, work in I.T. and have been used to going for social drinks out at the pub after work, and even sometimes, long liquid lunches on sunny Friday lunchtimes with my management.

    I’m currently working in New Zealand, and something that surprised even me: At 4pm my employer opens the beer/wine/soda fridge *IN* the office, takes the cover off the pool table, and all departments are invited to socialise before leaving for the weekend. The CEO/CFO/etc join us to chat. It appears that this is not unusual here. And this is not a “young male” workplace. As far as I know, everyone is responsible, and it has never ended badly.

    1. Tina*

      Oh yes, I forgot about that! In my other job in a small IT company, Friday at 4:30 was time for everyone to have a beer or one of those Bacardi Breezer things IN THE OFFICE whilst working!

      In my current public sector job, when it is someone’s major birthday or a retirement, we all go out for lunch at about 2pm, wine will be ordered, and we can usually call it a day after that. My current boss also occasionally suggests that everyone go out for coffee on a Friday in the middle of the day.

      1. Sara*

        Oooh this reminds of my first NZ job, first day on the job when the beer arrived, via delivery. Everyone stopped to grab a beer (about 3:30pm) and continue on.

      2. snuck*

        Smirnoff Ices in the office, while playing Xbox in one office I worked at – a major IT provider – nothing like getting lightly drunk with your work mates playing Katamari and letting the HUGE week wash over you (and then coming in on a Saturday to carry on with the work usually).

        And the long lunch/Friday afternoon ‘quieten down/close out’ is great unless you are the only one on a deadline. Oh man, having to come back to the office after a too large glass of white on a hot summer’s day (Melbourne Cup lunch!) and crunch numbers – brutal!

      3. Ariancita*

        Here on my team in the U.S., we always have champagne at our 9 am meeting when it’s a birthday or other occasion. But then, we’re academia. :)

    2. BW*

      One of my previously workplaces was started and owned by a couple from NZ. It was very common to have beer and wine in the workplace during work hours, and the CEO was definitely more social with employees, and thought nothing of interacting with anyone. Every place else I have worked in the US, you are not allowed alcohol in the workplace, and in some cases that extends to on-site officially organized parties or social events.

  19. Sara*

    I have been living in New Zealand for over a year, and for a large part of it worked closely with a human resources team. Resumes are referred to as CV’s and often they are 3-5 pages or more, and include a photo. I made comments to the recruitment team on how this would not be acceptable back in North America and they didn’t see why. Also, vacation time is annual leave, and it’s standard for 4 weeks plus national holidays. They are shocked that we would have only 2 weeks. They also think sabbaticals are strange. Though I much prefer the relaxed approach to annual leave. The sick leave policy is also better. You are often sent home if you show up sick, and they expect you to know better and not come in and share germs…. I feel like back home unless you are dying you should show up, or take a day off. Here it’s common that sick people are out for days a time and it’s understood you are sick, not slacking.

    1. Tina*

      Yeah, in my office (in the UK), you are considered a fool if you insist on coming in when you’re really too sick. People come in with colds, but they often apply common sense when it comes to something worse. The sense of “my job is so important that I must come in sick” or, rather, “*I* am so important that I must come in sick or else the entire office will fall apart” just doesn’t exist in many places.

      1. Aja*

        The sense of “my job is so important that I must come in sick” or, rather, “*I* am so important that I must come in sick or else the entire office will fall apart” just doesn’t exist in many places.

        I do think that mind set is part of the come in when you are sick mentality in the US, but I also think that having less sick time/time off here plays into it. Where I work, we get 25 days a year but everything comes out of the: Holidays like Xmas and Thanksgiving, vacation days, sick days. If you took 3 sick days when you got a bad cold, that’s 12% of your time off for the year gone! Needless to say, that makes people loathe to take sick days. Unless you’re lost a limb or a major organ, it’s rare for people to take full-fledged sick days. They are pretty good about letting people work from home when sick, but we still get a lot of coughing and sneezing going on in the office during winter and colds get passed around easily.

        1. Natalie*

          If you get any PTO to begin with. Many service industry jobs (retail, food service) provide zero PTO so staying home sick means you will be getting paid less if you don’t plain get fired.

      2. Anonymous*

        Agree. There are some odd workplaces in the UK though that pay an attendance bonus – and there was me thinking that turning up was part of the deal on the salary! It encourages people to come in and share germs – not good. There are food service roles where certain illnesses require you to stay at home.

        1. Jamie*

          Thank you for saying this. I’ve always been irate about schools giving perfect attendance awards to kids for the same reason.

          You are either awarding a kid for having an excellent immune system (and nature has already awarded her for that) or you’re awarding parents through their kid for sending her to school miserable and sick and spreading germs to my kids…who do stay home.

          It’s not like you’re awarding a kid for not ditching – an excused absence is there for a reason. Rest, get better, and contain the germs.

          Huge pet peeve of mine.

          1. KellyK*

            Mine too! I hate the whole concept of perfect attendance. Not to say you should say “heck with it” and stay home for every cough or sniffle, but 1) other people don’t need your germs and 2) you will recover faster if you rest when you’re sick!

            I had a classmate in high school who came to school with mono. There she was, head down on the desk, pale as all get out, saying “I’m fine” in a soft, weak-sounding voice when the teacher said, no, really you should go home. There comes a point when it’s just silly to try to tough it out.

          2. UK hr bod*

            Daft isn’t it? Although colleagues of mine with kids might say that schools / nurseries here are too quick to send them home when they sniffle a bit! We used to get sent to sick bay (and basically told to perk up a bit) and sent home only when an hour’s boredom in there showed it was real and not an attempt to get out of PE.

  20. Sara*

    Ooh noticed a few other NZers here, yay! Also quitting, very common for four weeks notice period, often longer.

  21. snuck*

    Australian, worked in large corporates in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane… in engineering/IT Project Management environments primarily.

    1) Pot lucks… not something I’ve seen a culture of here at all – people might bring stuff in for a morning tea or whatever but it’s not a company/floor/large group wide thing – it’s more likely a small team at most (and not notices and sign up sheets!). More likely if it’s a larger event to have catering organised.

    2) The obsequience that I perceive in manager/employee relations (especially reading this blog) – it’s not so much the general ‘do what your boss wants, s/he pays you after all’ as much as the ‘do what they want and thank them for paying you as well’ that seems to come across. It feels like a more equal exchange of work for wages/less subservience here as far as I’m aware. (Is this because we have more employee protection in labour laws, so you don’t have to suck up to a grumpy boss all the time?)

    3) Maternity leave/leave entitlements – in large corporate Australia these are pretty awesome in comparison on the US. Three months full pay/six months half pay (or six months half pay + six months unpaid) is the norm, 20 days annual leave, 10 days ‘sick/carers leave’ (including caring for sick family members), 3 days bereavement leave, volunteer leave, study leave etc – these are all the ‘norm’ and may even roll over. Then there’s long service leave too – full pay for three months after 7 or 10 (or whatever – this changes a little) work for the same company.

    4) Redundancy payments are protected by law, and enforced. The lack of ‘at will’ employment massively changes things here – if you are a checkout operator you are protected if you are pregnant, and will remain so – there’s got to be a reasonable ‘reason’ for firing/laying off, and redundancies can’t be made up for convenience.

    5) The hip hip hurrah all singing all dancing egotasticalness isn’t as… enthusiastic here – we aren’t fans of strong self promotion, and tall poppy syndrome (already mentioned) is rife. If you ARE good at something let everyone else say it for heaven’s sake don’t toot your own horn!

    6) Thankyou notes – especially at every stage of the recruitment post – we don’t really do that here. You might follow up, you might say thankyou, you’ll certainly try to make it a personal email to the right person, but you don’t bend over backwards like it’s the greatest gift on earth to be given an interview. (Maybe because we have lower unemployment/I’m in high demand industries?)

    7) Gift giving – some places do gifts for birthdays/secret santa etc, but we don’t have a culture in many places of gift giving unless it’s for a major event (first baby, leaving the company, major birthday etc) and then it’s usually just an envelope with a card attached sent around and people drop whatever money they want in the envelope and someone buys a group present. I think the best ‘system’ I’ve seen for birthday cakes has been “if you want to have a cake then you bring it in” that way there’s no arguments about who gets a cake bought/not/gets to eat it etc.

    8) Dress. We dress in a suit for an interview (or a very smart/high end dress with stockings/heels), but unless you are in certain industries it’s likely even at senior management level you’ll wear open cuffs/shirt sleeves (and have a suit jacket if you need it). Stockings are optional if the weather is warm, but flat open toed ‘casual sandals’ are not really seen as acceptable. Mind you – in younger/less engineering stuffy places these might not be the rules. Skirts shouldn’t be too short, shirts shouldn’t be too sheer, hair should be neat and tidy – but overall it’s perfectly ok to wear a knit top and a pencil skirt with a pair of heels and call it done – even on days with meetings with senior management. Casual fridays are common and depending on your commitments jeans, t shirts (without offensive sayings), sneakers etc are fine.

    9) Job searching (in my industry) is usually done through recruitment agencies, and you might find three agencies putting you forward for the same job. There can be high demand for your skills, or sudden silence – depending on financial markets, mining taxes blah blah blah and you have to pick when to move along carefully. It’s a small world and word gets about so if you are hard to work with it gets known.

    10) Sleeping with the boss is frowned on here too. And usually the others in the office will assume you are an idiot if it’s the best skill you have to seek promotion. Not much you can do about it though aside from go out, have coffee with the others, and mock you.

    1. snuck*

      One more!

      11) Internships/volunteering – it’s not the norm… not as ‘free’ or ‘incredibly lowly paid’ workers. If you are going to put someone in a legitimate role with a legitimate job description you pay them the award wage (government mandated wages specific to job category, based on skill level). If you are taking on a graduate through a graduate program or similar then you pay them the standard starting salary in the industry with all the standard inclusions. The alternative is a traineeship where you get paid at least a minimum wage (whatever it is in your state – it’s very low – about $600/wk) and have specified training as part of your employment with a qualification at the other end with clearly defined nationally accredited recognition.

      1. Realistic*

        $600/wk is not “very low” by American standards. Minimum wage in the US would be $300/wk for fulltime work. Some employers in the US schedule employees for just under 32 hours a week (the hours needed to qualify for benefits such as employer-subsidized health insurance and vacation time). There were a lot of times in my non-profit career when I didn’t make $600 a week, and I have a masters degree.

        1. snuck*

          Nods… but in Australia – where I indicate I am from – $600 a week pre tax IS low.

          Average costs here can be twice the US ‘listed’ price – and we earn about twice as much, but pay twice as much. We also have fairly high income taxes (and a flat 10% GST on everything and a carbon tax is bounding through) – we’re a high tax paying nation (but have higher social benefits as a result). $600/week here is probably similar to $300/week in the US.

          1. Sophie*

            Also, I think we have a much higher cost of living in Australian than in the US in general. I’m from Melbourne and the cost of living here is high.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      ” You might follow up, you might say thankyou, you’ll certainly try to make it a personal email to the right person, but you don’t bend over backwards like it’s the greatest gift on earth to be given an interview. ”

      No one should be writing notes that way in the U.S. either — hope I’ve made that clear!

    3. khilde*

      5) The hip hip hurrah all singing all dancing egotasticalness isn’t as… enthusiastic here – we aren’t fans of strong self promotion, and tall poppy syndrome (already mentioned) is rife. If you ARE good at something let everyone else say it for heaven’s sake don’t toot your own horn!

      I’m curious if there’s a real culture then of peer-to-peer recognition in these countries/regions that have referenced the Tall Poppy thing? That’s one of the things I think some US workplaces struggle with: genuinely and frequently recognizing the contributions of each other. If there is such a societal norm to not toot your own horn, then I’m wondering if people are generally better at recognizing and appreciating others? Hope that made sense.

      1. snuck*

        I’m not sure – because I can’t compare it to other work cultures outside of Australia.

        Examples I can indicate (in my field of engineering/IT in large corporates): Regularly in team/group meetings etc people update on their project milestones, and someone might pipe up and say “I heard from Joe that they really appreciated your help on X” and someone else might say “The way you’ve presented this makes sense – mind if I steal your ideas because it really works!” and so on. Of course this is in a workplace that’s functional.

        It’s also not uncommon to drop a quick email to someone and include their manager (and maybe the rest of the project team or the managers manager) saying something like “Hey Phil, love how you handled this!”

        There’s still plenty of glory stealing and self promotion – but these people are universally disliked in the office and basically get treated with suspicion by their peers and aren’t trusted. They have to be very good at ‘managing upwards’ or they wind up also being untrusted by management/used for problem projects etc.

      2. Neeta(RO)*

        I think the idea is that you shouldn’t (just) SAY you’re really good at X,Y,Z. It’s more like you should DO something that actually proves your abilities in those fields.

        I have a friend in the US, who’s working to get a Phd, and she said one of the oddest things she encountered was how a lot of people would say “Oh I’m really fluent in German” (for example). My friend would not say this because… she doesn’t consider herself “really fluent”.
        And in the end, it turns out that “really fluent” just means that they are able to find stuff in the dictionary really fast.

        In my country, when you say something like that, people generally assume that you can hold a conversation on your own without any help from dictionaries or conversation guides.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Don’t get me started. We’re trying to hire a technical writer. A Romanian technical writer to write documentation in English, for an English market. “Advanced English” on a CV means “I took English in school and maybe I remember something”. All candidates take a test before we interview them and oh, the things I’ve seen. Our ad says we need people with excellent English skills. Why oh why would you apply if you have no clue? I can get by in French and Spanish, took classes and all, but I wouldn’t try to get a job writing in those languages!

          /end rant

          1. Neeta(RO)*

            *cough* I’m the resident (English) grammar-nazi in the office. I think I’ve started to develop a nervous twitch every time someone uses “did” with past tense (eg: I did started to work on this).

            But to be fair, I see lots of native speakers make horrible mistakes, so maybe we the expect too much?

            1. Jen in RO*

              My other coworkers (developers, QA) speak OK-but-not-great English and I don’t care, they only need to communicate in a clear way with the rest of the company. But for someone whose job is writing in English… it’s not expecting too much, it’s absolutely mandatory. I guess our applicants didn’t really understand what the job is about…

              1. Neeta(RO)*

                Oh I totally agree. Perhaps it’s just kind of our mentality, that “oh everyone knows enough English to be understood”. Maybe they figure: how hard could such a job possibly be?

                On the other hand, I guess I also have higher expectations. My English teacher in high school used to really hound us about grammar, idioms… and just generally about proper English speech.

        2. Laura L*

          Gah! I’ve heard this in the US, too. I’ve heard people who are complimented by native Spanish speakers on their Spanish say that they aren’t fluent, when they are (for practical purposes).

          Then, there’s an old acquaintance of mine who told me she was fluent in Spanish when I know we took the exact same amount of it in high school and she never studied it after that.

          I think it’s one of those things where people who only know a little about something don’t know what they don’t know and those who know a lot are well aware of what they don’t know.

    4. littlemoose*

      For point #2 – I think it’s absolutely the job security/better labor laws that lead to a more equal relationship between managers and subordinates. Not that every American worker is obsequious, but it seems to me that there is more of a power imbalance, and that imbalance may partly come from the knowledge that you could be fired or laid off with little or no notice (though in practice I think that’s uncommon).

      Also, I’m an American woman, and I cannot tell you how envious I am of other countries’ generous maternity leave practices!

  22. CJ*

    I’m in the UK and like other posters I find the idea of ‘at will’ employment scary. Here you have a contract and normally at least four weeks notice to quit or be laid off, however if you are fired your employer will often ask you to leave that day and just pay out your (4 week) notice. You also legally have 20 days vacation (I think this is now in European legislation) but many places will give you more. Also most jobs are subject to the European Working Hours Directive of not working more than 48 hours per week. (I once worked 66 hours a week for 10 weeks – there’s no way I could keep that up).

    I work in a really casual atmosphere and wear jeans most days, and although I’m supposed to work 9-5, I can have some flexibility. In my office we have pot-luck lunches every few months (although we call them bring and share lunches) but in my last job we would all go to a cheaper restaurant to have lunch together instead (everyone would pay for their own). The only time the company would pay for my food would be if I have to be away from home overnight.

    Lastly – no photos or marital status on resumes and most places don’t do phone screenings. Most applications now are by application forms online which will ask for employment and education history and a space or question about how you fit with the job description / person specification. There may be a space for uploading a CV but not always.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      My last job was fixed term for “up to” 52 weeks (i.e the whole year) but they can give you a week’s notice to leave (if, like my job, the organisation was undergoing “restructure”) but you as the employee still had to give 4 weeks notice if you wanted to leave.

  23. Tina*

    Oh yeah, I remembered another one. People in my office in the UK will take their full lunch hour. People will often eat lunch whilst working, but then run errands on their “lunch hour” and will not be in the office during that time. This is exactly what I plan on doing today!

  24. Tina*

    Sorry for so many posts, but this is a rare and wonderful opportunity!

    Most of us outside of the US have been talking about workplaces being more relaxed, having better working conditions, kinder cultures regarding sickness and family obligations, but there is a downside.

    I know “at will” employment is scary, but working in a place where it is SO hard to fire someone means that institutional cultures become entrenched, stagnant, resistant to change, and generally drag any decent, motivated worker down to the level of doing the bare minimum. It’s really frustrating, and I experience this across my wider institution (a university) all the time.

    My own team is actually really vibrant and well-run, and is completely counter to the institutionalized jobsworth way of barely working that we find elsewhere in the place, so I count myself lucky every day!

    1. Anonymous*

      Working in an “at will” state doesn’t mean people actually get fired. It just means they could. It’s still sadly common for the worst people to hang around forever and people who complain to leave (voluntarily or otherwise).

      1. Jamie*

        I think this is a really important point, that is often missed.

        The problem I’ve seen is underperforming people being kept on and never getting fired – but I’ve yet to see anyone fired on a whim which is often the argument against at will employment.

        There are financial repercussions for firing someone, when the UI premium is raised it can be drastic – so it’s not like this is happening right and left.

          1. Jamie*

            Absolutely – it is very expensive to fire someone. That’s why a lot of businesses use trial periods, because getting rid of a temp is straightforward – but once an employee is on your books it’s real pain to get rid of someone. Employers actually make it harder on themselves to fire people than the law requires, because of the expense with both UI and sometimes frivolous lawsuits which are involved.

            It’s a topic for another day – but I’ve always been fascinated with the cost of turnover. For all but the most entry level positions it can cost between 3x and 4x the yearly salary to replace someone (hiring costs, terminiation costs, loss of productivity while the new hire is on a learning curve, etc.) If someone makes 100K and it wil cost you between 300k – 400k to replace them you have a real incentive to do everything possible before resorting to letting someone go.

        1. GeekChic*

          Like I said above, I have seen people fired on a whim – plenty of times. And I knew the real reasons because they would talk in managerial meetings – the person fired was “too black”, “too brown”, “too sick”, “too homosexual”, “too pregnant”, “too not related to me”.

          So…. yeah….. I will never be a proponent of at will. I’ve seen too many misanthropic bigots benefit from it.

          1. McGuest*

            I was fired back in my youth because my company found out that I was looking for work with a competitor. (They found out because I sent the email inquiry from my work email account. I was so young and so stupid.)

            It was a poor fit, and clearly I wasn’t happy, but I am not a fan of the U.S. firing process, as you can imagine. I was just sitting at my desk on a Tuesday morning when I got an instant message to come into my boss’s office where I was given the sack. I was promised two weeks’ pay as severance, and escorted out. (The HR woman who delivered the news, who I’d never seen before, helped me carry my belongings out, since I had more than I can carry.) I don’t disagree that I deserved it, but I was still stunned and humiliated. I just wanted to get out before any of my coworkers saw me carrying all my things. (I never saw or spoke to any of them again since I moved soon after. I idly wondered how they took it, but decided it didn’t matter.)

            Luckily the job market was good back then, and the job I’d emailed about came through four weeks later, so I only had two weeks unpaid. Funnily enough, a recruiter from that company contacted me on LinkedIn a year or so later. I wrote back that I had left them off my LinkedIn work history [out of both spite and humiliation] that I didn’t think I was eligible for rehire.

      2. some1*

        Yes, but some U.S. employers lay people off (where you get severance & unemployment) for some made-up reason, but really they are canning. My old job did this all the time.

  25. Brightwanderer*

    UK! Some big differences I’ve noticed:

    1. Generally, white collar jobs here involve a written, signed contract which lays out sick day allowance, holiday allowance, notice period (on both sides), and code of conduct. There are also statutory minimums for these (e.g. 28 days holiday, which includes the national bank holidays I believe) and whilst your contract can expand on these (I get a very generous 38 days) it can’t give you less.

    2. As far as I’ve been able to tell, legitimate firing/not firing people follows similar patterns to what gets discussed here – if you’ve got a competent manager, they’ll be able to get rid of a problem employee (after due process) – if you’ve got one who won’t step up, that employee is going to linger on ‘securely’ because they haven’t specifically violated any of the Big Deal issues. What contracts do tend to protect against are firings by abusive managers “just because” (although of course there are a million and one ways someone can be forced out of a job without explicitly being fired).

    3. Healthcare/insurance is never an issue to consider when leaving or starting a new job – it’s covered by national insurance and we are entitled to the same level of care regardless of whether we’re working or not, or where we’re working. We don’t pay for doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, or diagnostic tests. We pay a percentage on our income (taken automatically from our pay cheque in most cases) towards national insurance, but if we are unemployed or earning below a certain level, we’re exempt (and still entitled to care).

    4. Similarly, unemployment benefits are state-run and not dependent on the generosity/lack thereof of the company you leave/were fired from. Layoffs don’t affect your basic rights to unemployment benefit, but may come with extra payouts depending on what’s in your contract.

    5. Random thing I only just realised (and it was confusing the hell out of me in stories from the US) – our student loan system is nationalised and operates under one very important specification: you do not have to make payments back on your loan if your income drops below a certain level. I’ve got a £25,000 loan which I’m barely making headway on, but if I lost my job tomorrow (or rather, in a month from tomorrow, as my notice period is 30 days) I would stop making payments until I had another job.

    6. Notice periods are a) specified in the contract and b) tend to be 30 days or so – the standard recommendation of 2 weeks here seems short to me! (Of course, if you’re temping through an agency you’re under no such obligation and can just fail to turn up one day… or they can say “don’t come in tomorrow, we’re done with you”.) Managers above a certain level are likely to be required to give 90 days, and high ranking executives anything from six months to a year. You can leave with shorter notice, but your contract usually says they can hold you liable for any expenses incurred if you do (for example, the pay cheque of the replacement they had to get in a hurry).

    7. Except! You can be fired on the spot for “gross misconduct”, which covers the sort of things that AAM has said in the past should be instant firing offences – fraud, theft, assault, etc. The exact definition of this is often laid out in the contract/handbook.

    8. Oh, and if an employer offers you a job verbally? Technically that is a contract and they must honour it. That doesn’t necessarily stop people from sudden take-backs (and it’s still contingent on a reference check) but in theory, at least, you’d be completely justified in taking that verbal offer as your cue to hand in your notice.

    9. Speaking of references, the standard practice here is to get a written reference from the people listed, not to call them. Employers may also only contact people who are explicitly listed by the applicant – to call up previous managers or places of work listed on the CV, as per AAM’s standard practice, would violate the Data Protection Act. (Which says, in a nutshell: Party A may not release data about Party B to Party C without Party B’s express permission. So if you’ve put someone down as a reference, you’ve given permission.)

    10. Back to holiday leave – you have to take all of it. If you don’t take all your 30 days, some employers will let you cash that in for extra pay, but they usually have a limit on how many you can do that with (and those employers will often let you ‘buy’ more leave as well). A number of businesses, particularly financial, have a requirement that you take at least two consecutive weeks of holiday per year (to make it harder for long-term fraud to go undetected).

    Overall, our working environment favours the worker rather than the employer. I think the lack of at-will firing ability probably does result in a lot of stagnation and people staying in jobs they ought to be removed from, but I also think, from what I’ve seen, that managers willing to actually step up and do it have the tools to remove problem employees – they just have to do it via the sort of system of warnings/evaluations that AAM recommends here anyway. I don’t know how that translates if you’re in a situation where someone just isn’t quite right, though. It might be impossible to get rid of someone who just isn’t working all that hard, but isn’t actually violating any rules or making mistakes.

    One consequence though? If you’re fired, you will have a hell of a time explaining it to future employers. There is much less slack for “my boss was awful and unreasonable” (though it still happens), and people tend to assume that a firing was due to the aforementioned gross misconduct.

    BIAS: I have only worked white-collar, admin/office type jobs, as have most of my family. I’m also currently in a city dominated by one employer (whom I work for) that is very bureaucratic, so my perception of standard systems may be skewed. I’ve tried to double-check my assumptions as I’ve gone through, and the Citizens Advice Bureau is a great resource if anyone’s interested.

    1. Brightwanderer*

      Addendum to 5: The thing that I only just realised, specifically, was that US loans are NOT like this. I initially couldn’t understand all the talk about the studen loans crisis because I was thinking “well, but if you can’t make the repayments, it just goes on hold until you can, right?” which is how ours operate. (Ours are also held at a low rate of interest and are automatically written off on death or at the age of 65. I think it’s the safest form of loan you can get.)

      1. Natalie*

        We have similar forbearance and forgiveness programs, but only for loans taken through the federal loan program. The student loan crisis basically exists because the federal loan program has not kept pace with the rising cost of college – students can’t qualify for enough loans to actually pay their tuition so they turn to private lenders. Loans through private lenders do not qualify for any government program, although the lender may have their own programs, and functionally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

          1. Natalie*

            I’m not sure which programs you’re thinking of. Income Contingent Repayment is available to anyone at any time, provided they make under a specific dollar figure. If your income fall sunder a specific threshold, your payments will be $0, and after 25 years the remaining balance is forgiven. Given Brightwanderer’s description of their loan program, ICR seems very similar.

    2. TL*

      In the US, if your student loans are federally funded (and a lot are), you don’t have to repay if your income drops below a certain level. (They do income-based repayment plans, so the lower your income, the less you have to pay per month and there is a certain point where it’s zero.) I’m not sure if interest still accrues in nonpayment, though.

      1. Natalie*

        Interest will still accrue, but if you make payments for 25 years and still haven’t paid your loan off you can have the remainder forgiven. There are other programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Americorps that can help, too.

    3. Also UK*

      1, 8, 9 and 10 are mostly right for the UK.

      1) A contract is inferred after a certain amount of time even if you don’t get a written copy (which you should).

      8) Try enforcing it… very difficult.

      9) If the new employer wants to contact your former employer and you say no… guess what…. they don’t have to give you the job even if they already promised it.

      10) The statutory minimum is 20 days holiday and 8 bank holidays. If your employer gives you more than that you can carry it over. However if you haven’t asked to take your holiday and haven’t use it the standard rule is you DO lose it. You can’t keep rolling it into the next year. All the employer has to say is “you didn’t ask to take it” and they are covered.

      Yeah, it’s all a little less pretty. But it really does come down to what can be proved in a tribunal .

      1. UK hr bod*

        It’s a legal requirement in the UK to provide at least a statement of terms for all jobs, not just white-collar, and since this is practically full contract, most employers just do that. If they don’t, as Also UK says, it’s inferred. What some people don’t realise is that turning up to work infers your acceptance of the contract – and then they say ‘but I didn’t sign it’ – no, but you’ve been taking the money!

        No 6 – that clause is a bit worrying – I’d challenge it if it’s in your contract! That would be unlawful withholding of earnings. A company could, technically, sue for losses if you left without notice, but this would probably (if it succeeded) be your earning for that period, which you wouldn’t have been paid, so there weren’t losses…. I’ve never known a company to do this, they just stop pay if someone leaves before the agreed end date (unless it’s garden leave).
        With reference to no. 8 – you can’t make them honour the verbal contract if the job’s withdrawn, but you can require the notice – would usually only be one week at that stage.

        On number 9, the data protection act isn’t that prescriptive. It’s only confidential data that an employer can’t share (e.g. sickness absence), but if you’ve been fired, that’s a fact that can be shared. There’s a common misconception in the UK that the DPA and other such things mean you can’t be given a ‘bad’ reference. You can’t be given a malicious reference, and if a false reference damages you, you can take it up in court, but a reference that is provable, no matter how damning, is absolutely fine. With regard to not giving the job promised, that goes back to the verbal contract.

        Employers can also enforce holiday – the 28 days are the legal minimum, so they should be ensuring people take it – hence why employers often allow a small carry-over. There is no requirement to pay out untaken holiday except at the end of employment.

  26. SAgirl*

    I’m South African, and I must say our workplace culture seems most similar to the Australian/New Zealand model. Must be a commonwealth thing.

    1. We don’t include photos, but use full CVs of several pages, which include marital status, driver’s licence and date of birth.

    2. We also have no ‘at will’ employment – dismissal must be for a fair reason (misconduct or inability or company re-organisation – you can’t dismiss someone for being pregnant or old, and will have to pay huge compensation if you do), and follow a fair process (disciplinary hearing or performance improvement plan, or if it’s retrenchment, follow the government-mandated process of negotiation with employees).

    3. Low-grade workers are nearly all unionised, and unions have government-imposed rights. Even so, they are paid incredibly low wages, which is possible because with high unemployment there is always someone else willing to take over that low wage. Strikes are common, and are protected by law if they follow the right processes. Black striking workers dance and sing protest songs. White striking workers picket. Professionals generally do neither; they just stay away from work.

    4. There is a high level of antipathy between managers/supervisors and manual labourers. Supervisors often leave manual labourers unsupervised for days and then show up and yell some instructions. Manual labourers, in turn, will work incredibly slowly or not at all until the supervisor shows up.

    5. We don’t have potlucks, ever. But we do bring cake if it’s our birthday, and it is common for professional fields like law and engineering to have Friday-afternoon socials with work-sponsored drinks and snacks before going home.

  27. Racheel*

    Great topic!

    I live in Sweden. We have 25 paid vacation days by law (minium for an monthly paid employee), and some have more. I have 30.

    I have 3 months notice period if I decide to leave. It may be shorter during the probation period and after that 1 or 2 months is common.

    If the employer wants to let someone go, it can often be up to 6 months of notice. And letting go is heavily restricted by law.

    There is no limit to being sick and the employer pays 80% of the salary for day 2 – 14. No pay for the first sick day.

    When you have a child you will often get a small salary from you employer, for instance 10% for 2 months. More if you have a high salary.

    And you have the right to be on parental leave for as long as you recieve money from the social insurance buraeu, which is for approxemately 16 months.

    1. JT*

      I think the level of formality in dress varies a massive amount within the US, and between industries. I’d find it hard to say the US is generally more or less formal than any other country, not only from not being familiar with the other country, but due to the diversity of practice in the US.

  28. Andrea*

    North American in Japan here. The communal bathing thing really isn’t that big a deal. You get used to it, and it’s actually really nice! Of course, you would only do it with your boss if you are the same gender!

    Some other interesting points in Japan–

    1. Photos on resumes are a must, along with age and marital status. They start with elementary school and include everything you’ve done since then. Things are changing a bit, but until recently, all resumes had to be handwritten!

    2. Bringing in food: Not for birthdays, and never handmade, but you are “socially required” to bring souvenir sweets / snacks from every trip you go on, from your own vacation to business trips. Only for your own department, though, not the whole place.

    3. It’s not unusual to see people take off their shoes and run around the office in slippers!

    4. Management-level people are addressed by their titles only usually– to the point where I’d actually forgotten my manager’s name because for 3 years, the only way anyone ever referred to or addressed her was “manager.”

    1. Yuu*

      I used to work in Japan.
      I quite liked going to the hot springs bath as well! I wanted to add that I only did so with co-workers during bonding trips that my section would take (3 days long, about once a year).

      #2 Just wanted to add that you only needed to bring back the food gifts when these trips happened during company time. It is thought of as a thank you to the coworkers who covered for you while you were away.
      Because of this, there are lots of foods in Japan that can only be found in one place – for instance, melons grow in Hokkaido, and you can only find melon flavored Kit-kats there, making them a good souvenir. I found this an ingenious way of pushing local tourism!

        1. Hari*

          The apple vinegar ones were the best! But the mango pudding kit-kats were also delish!

          I’ve been saying for years we need flavored kit-kats over here!

        1. Hari*

          The nori (seaweed) flavored potato chips are proof of that! One thing to stay away from is the Cheetos, in Japan they come with sugar on them, its gross.

    2. cf*

      I have to know – is this bathing with bathing suits? Or naked? Because I really wouldn’t want to be naked with the women I work with. Or the men.

      1. N*

        I cracked up at that. I used to think the same thing until I had to go in a bath with my professor when I lived over there (I’m a Japanese American).

        It’s disrespectful to wear bathing suits in the hot springs so yes, you have to be naked. But in their defense, you really don’t know how clean the other person’s bathing suit is.

        1. Ariancita*

          Uh, but you also don’t know how clean the other person is. No way could I do that, but big ups to those who easily can!

            1. Hari*

              Lol you are supposed to shower before you get into pools in US but rarely people do.

              Not just shower though, you are expected to thoroughly clean your body with soap/shampoo and rinse before getting into the bath. The bath is for relaxation purposes not to clean yourself. The shower area is separate even in home baths.

              I totally understand the history behind it(WWII and lack of water resources) but one thing I could never get behind (and politely declined when offered) was reusing the same bath water as the rest of the family. They would only change it every few days. Ick.

    3. JT*

      “3. It’s not unusual to see people take off their shoes and run around the office in slippers! ”

      Wearing outside shoes inside the home is kind of barbaric (sorry if that sounds harsh, but…) so I can see how this would spill over into the office.

  29. Penguin*

    Thank you letters would be very odd in Ireland, and the boss would probably get suspicious.

    People in the USA tend to work many more hours (average in Ireland is 39, with 20 days vacation/ year from the start), but they also tend to do more social stuff during work: pot lucks, baby showers, even just surfing the web or making personal phone calls, which is frowned upon in Ireland unless it is an emergency.

    1. Also UK*

      Yeah, it is frowned upon to do non work stuff during work hours in the UK.

      Most firms log web browsing time, most will only have a small amount of patience for personal calls etc. (far too much sometimes!) and most companies very much expect you to be at your desk at your start time and ready to work (whether you have done unpaid overtime lately or not).

  30. KatInEurope*

    As a Brit in Germany working for a NGO, it can all get rather confusing.
    Like last week. Our new VP came to say hello – he’s Spanish and every woman got a kiss on each cheek coming in and going out.
    He also said to help yourself to his red wine – at 11am :D
    So thing are a littttttttttttttle different.
    My job has 32 days of annual leave NOT including state holidays (that’s 18 on top).
    Yes, we get parental leave and unlimited sick leave, well, up to 2 years *ahem*. Notice is 2 months in my current post, 3 elsewhere as a rule. You can negotiate to get out of a contract quicker or to take redundancy with a payout (I got out of my notice period once via contract). Redundancy has minimum legal levels based on monthly rates.
    You don’t need to be unionised, many industries are unionised for you – so there is block wage negotiation. To get a different payment you’d have to specifically outside the tariff. There is no current minimum wage here, but it is discussed a lot. Taking tax and health cover (obligatory, but not specified from whom, unless certain conditions are fulfilled), you can say goodbye to ca. 50% of wages, but the social safety net is excellent and there are great roads – some of which you can drive as fast as you like on.
    Photos are standard on CVs as are dates of birth. Marital status less so these days. Copies of all certificates are submitted with the CV and short cover letter as a file, this is for every exam and course since the year dot – gaps are BAD.
    With German nationals, there is a big thing about having a meeting, discussing everything to death, not making a decision and then planning another meeting. It is not my favoured working method.
    Yes, about the bringing cake and drinks in for your birthday, or inviting everyone out for lunch or coffee and you paying. Yes, it is my birthday, but everyone else gets the presents.
    Work and home life are kept separate as a rule, there isn’t an after-work drinks with colleagues culture like in the UK.
    Dress codes are more casual – I still wear suits and formal dresses because I like to, although in many German offices I’d look overdressed.
    What you are qualified to do is more important than what you can actually do – everything needs a bit of paper. So you better be sure when you pick your subjects at 16! And titles are important. Don’t forget that German has a formal form of “you” and don’t ever forget it. An ill-placed Du can kick off a long grudge.
    Finally, not all placements are paid, especially for crappy start-up in Berlin *ahem*, but many are, especially for people writing a thesis.
    It is very different, much prefer working in an international environment – I’m not the novelty hire as the German-speaking Brit any more, I’m just me.
    Love the site btw!

    1. KatInEurope*

      Forgot to mention job references. In Germany and Switzerland, there is a legal right to a reference. Seriously.
      It is actually illegal to give someone a terrible reference HOWEVER the more seemingly neutral a reference is, the worse it is. There’s something call the “secret language of references” where specific word order or phrasing can make the difference between a hire or a knockback.
      Verbal references are a different kettle of fish.

      1. KatInEurope*

        Oh and our canteen sells beer and wine at lunch. And beer with breakfast (hey, we’re in Bavaria…).

        1. US/German Worker Bee*

          KatInEurope, I am so sorry to hear that your German experience is not the greatest! A lot of what you said, I totally agree. Only the dress code makes me wonder if you are working for a small business. I used to work for student exchange and we were dress more casual too.
          But in general I would say for every other field: suit up! Oh and especially for an interview, always always a suit (for every office job at least!) You might be overdress but it won’t cost you any points.
          For good or for worse the writing and reading of a reference letter is a science. Helpful? I guess you don’t have to spend the time to prep the people who are willing to give a reference for you. But besides that, it doesn’t help. Especially since every HR person reads those statements different. There is one famous and often discussed sentence. “s/he fulfilled his/her task to our full satisfaction” Some would read it as the grade A for a worker. BUT there is also the incorrect (in regards to grammar) wording: “s/he fulfilled his/her task to our fulEST satisfaction” And some would say this is a grade A worker and the former one indicates the grade B. But then again there are HR people who don’t want a grade A worker because they think this implies the worker has no resources to grow anymore. And hell yes this is crazy and stupid!
          What came as a total surprise to me is the whole “write a good cover letter” if you want to separate yourself from the rest. In Germany applying for a job only with a resume? You will be unemployed for the rest of your life. You are not getting anywhere without one. If HR can’t find your cover letter, your documents go straight on the trash pile.
          Love this topic. Different cultures are so fascinating!

  31. Jennifer*

    I’m an American working in Belgium and while I do appreciate all the vacation days and flexibility, I do miss the motivation and spark of many Americans. There is little to no class mobility here and most are satisfied with the system as long as they hold on to their established social benefits. At the end of the day it seems less about producing extraordinary results and more about just showing up. Maybe I’m idealizing the motivation of American workers, I have been away for a while, but it is missing here in Belgium. (I should also add that take home pay for a similar job is less than half in Belgium as in the US due to taxes and lower wages for professionals in management functions).
    Also, if it’s your birthday, you’re expected to treat others to a drink, cake, cookies, meal etc instead of being treated.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I’m intrigued by this: “I should also add that take home pay for a similar job is less than half in Belgium as in the US due to taxes and lower wages for professionals in management functions.” Are the living costs comparable too? Or are they proportionally smaller?

      1. Jennifer*

        Living costs are higher mainly due to the need for heating in the winter and the fact that we pay 21% tax on utilities as well as everything else (except food, it’s 6% unless you eat at a restaurant). There’s less space, lots of traffic issues, so if you want to live near a city where the best jobs are, you pay more for housing. For government jobs or blue collar jobs or for the long term unemployed, Belgium is great. Early retirement at almost double the private sector and lots of benefits and subsidies. If you are more ambitious and willing to work more than average to get ahead, it’s probably not the best environment to stay motivated. (my personal opinion of course). Also, as mentioned, you only keep 50% of your wages, which are on average lower for professionals to begin with. Unless you work for the European Community in Brussels (that’s a whole other ballgame).

        1. fposte*

          Is it that heating costs are higher there or that you came from a part of the US where you didn’t have any?

          1. Jennifer*

            Both! Utilities costs are higher and taxed at 21%. Gas, Electricity, Water, Internet, Mobile phone, Cable television together will set you back 600 euro min/month. If you use electricity after 10pm or on weekends it’s a slightly lower rate than during working hours.

    2. Tina*

      As an American in the UK, I agree, it’s kind of deadening at times, the lack of motivation here. You put it very well when you say the “spark of many Americans”.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        That’s… kind of an unfortunate generalisation? I can say as a Brit that I know many people with that “spark”, in a range of careers. And I’ve seen enough evidence that workers in the US can exhibit the same lack of motiviation on this blog alone – even with the far less favourable employment terms. Pretty much everyone I’ve seen comment on here about government work in the US has tarred it with that brush (you can’t get fired so no-one bothers) – I don’t think it’s a fundamental cultural difference.

        1. Bridgette*

          As an American, I agree with what you are saying – I think it mostly depends on the job. Jokes are made about lack of motivation in government jobs for a reason. But then there are other sectors that lack for motivation, but some that make up for it in droves. Also, it can vary from company to company in the same sector, and also from department to department in the same company.

          I, for one, think this more laid-back attitude towards work and not working over 40 hours, as described by many of the European comments, sounds hella awesome and I want to move over there right away. I don’t have much of the American spark and I don’t think I ever will. The spark is not bad at all – there are downsides to a more relaxed environment, which are typically that things move slowly. But Europe sounds like it’s more what I prefer.

          1. Jamie*

            I can see the appeal of the conscience decision as a culture to be more focused on balance and less…urgent.

            I wouldn’t say American’s necessarily have more of a spark than others, but (from what I’ve read) we tend to pursue things with a bigger sense of urgency. Sometimes warranted, sometimes not. Maybe there is something to be said for knowing what can wait until tomorrow.

            I’ve found this whole conversation so fascinating and I’m absolutely intrigued by the differences as well as the similarities.

          2. Bluesie*

            I’m in the UK, and it depends so much on the job and the company.

            In theory I work a 40-hour week and overtime pay at my company only applies if the hours are approved in advance by a manager. But if the work has to be done it has to be done, and at peak times most of the team work much longer hours.

  32. Ashley*

    I used to teach for years in Japan and one of the workplace customs that stuck the most in my mind was the tradition of giving ‘omiyage’ – edible souvenirs. Anytime someone went on a business trip or vacation – no matter how short – they had to bring back a box of omiyage, usually cookies or crackers in a beautifully wrapped box for the office. The treats would usually be individually wrapped and have a loose connection to the place you went.
    Tourist locations eagerly cashed in on the custom and you could pick up boxes of stuff at stalls all over the place.
    Distribution of treats varied but my school had a table where treats would be placed with a little sign saying who they were from. People would also personally distribute gifts as a way of ‘checking in’ with the person, to thank them for something or to reinforce relations with them.

    A lot of things baffled me in Japan, but I did like the use of treats to grease the wheels in the office.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I don’t know if it’s a Romanian custom either, but my mum always bought candies/chocolate on holiday and brought them to work, so I do the same. I think it’s a nice custom and almost everyone enjoys getting goodies!

        1. Jamie*

          This is done a lot here, also – it’s just a nice gesture and seems pretty universal.

          Of course in the US there is a greater diversity of cultures of origin in many work places. For example, I work in a place with a lot of people of Polish descent. So every Shrove Tuesday work overflows with Paczki – which is a nice custom but I’m weary of the exhausting explanations I have to offer when refusing.

          Having a Polish last name doesn’t mean I have to like jelly filled anything…despite what my husband says!

          But just based on the make-up of America as a nation primarily of immigrants cultures for things like this will differ from office to office.

            1. Laura L*

              Oh, I miss Chicago. I almost missed Casmir Pulaski Day because no one in DC knows what it is!

              Also, I don’t know of any Polish delis around here. I’ll have to look into that.

              1. Jessica*

                I remember when we used to get the day off school for Casimir Pulaski Day in IL. (I’m a down-stater, though.) No one in the other states I’ve lived in even knew who he was, so I’ve done a lot of explaining. My niece says that they don’t get the day off school anymore, so that’s a tad sad.

                1. Laura L*

                  Yeah… Most districts in the Chicago area don’t get it off anymore, although I’m pretty sure Chicago Public Schools still do.

                  My suburban Chicago elementary district gave it to us for a while, but they stopped around the time I was 8 or 9 and I don’t think the kids get it off now.

                  I wish Casimir Pulaski would show up in pub trivia. Then I can put my knowledge of him to use!

                2. Jamie*

                  My suburban grade school never had it off when I was a kid – and my husband who went to catholic schools in Chicago always had it off.

                  I never even knew who he was, aside from someone they names a street after, until my Chicago educated husband schooled me on this.

                  The anniversary of his death is coming up October 11 (thanks wikipedia) so maybe I should lobby for the day off. I could use a break.

                3. Jessica*

                  That’s so weird! I graduated in 1998, and we had the day off K-12 even though I lived downstate (West Central IL). I thought it was an all IL thing, but maybe the individual school districts can decide if they will take that day off (or counties, maybe? All the districts in my county had the day off.)

                  I have a friend up here (Minnesota for the past seven years) who is of Polish descent, so I asked her if she knew about Pulaski, but she had never heard of him. I had to give her a mini-Casimir lesson, so she would know about him.

          1. Jen in RO*

            Oh, we have those here too and I looove them! I wish people brought them to the office (especially if they were home-made)!

            Then again, I hate Indian food, so I would have the same problem if someone kept coming in with curry :P

            1. Jamie*

              My only problem with paczki is that they look and smell delicious…so they are masquerading as something yummy but there is always something sticky or gooey hidden inside and I hate that. Like they are trying to trick me!

              But I did just learn to like perogis this year – only one specific kind – but my husband calls it progress. So I’m slowly evolving. :)

              1. Bridgette*

                Ahh, perogis…if only there was someone in my office willing to bring those…and keep them on tap for me…I have a Ukranian-Canadian friend who gives me my perogis fix but I don’t see her often enough.

      2. John Quincy Adding Machine*

        At my Canadian workplace, too, though to be fair it’s a tradition started by and more often observed by my co-workers from China and the Philippines. I wonder if it’s an Asia-specific thing.

    1. Anon*

      Our Japanese interns (from our parent company) have done this! So glad to understand now. Is it rude if we didn’t reciprocate (in the US)? I no doubt offended them if I did.

      1. Natalie*

        I wouldn’t worry too much about it – I’m sure they’re aware that the US has different customs and didn’t expect you to intuit their customs.

      2. Kou*

        In my experience Japanese people know that Americans are very casual and expect totally different behavior from us.

    2. EB*

      My office (in California) does this too, though whether it’s a gender effect (we’re predominantly women) or we’ve picked it up from ou Asian coworkers is up for debate. I did have a moment of panic once because of this when at the hong kong airport I realized i hadn’t bought anything for the office and raced through the airport looking for something that wasn’t chocolate. I ended up with salted plum something or rather which meant I had to go through the special CA customs line where your luggage gets scrutinized because you have a fruit based thing.

  33. Julie*

    As a Canadian from Quebec, most of the US customs are quite familiar to me. The two things I find most jarring are the vacation time and maternity leave conversations.

    In Quebec, there’s a mandated amount of vacation time (10 days for new employees, increasing with seniority). It’s not as much as some European countries, but it always seems strange to me that there are absolutely no laws in some states mandating vacation time.

    Also, Quebec has an extremely liberal maternity/paternity leave policy: 18 weeks for the mom, 5 weeks for the dad, and 32 weeks that can be split between the parents. (Mom can take it all, Dad can take it all, or they can each take some portion of it.) About half of this time is at 70% salary, and half at 55% salary.

    I find it so strange when moms talk about going back to work when their babies are only 2-3 months old. I’d be heartbroken! (And exhausted!)

    1. UK hr bod*

      It’s actually illegal in the UK to go back to work until 2 weeks after your baby is born, or 4 weeks in certain industries. There is also fairly generous maternity and adoption leave, and paternity is getting better. The statutory maternity pay is poor though, so it’s not so easy to take it all unless your company pays enhanced. Many do, although they may require x months service after you’ve come back, otherwise you have to pay it back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, really? If I have a baby and for whatever reason want to return to work before 2 or 4 weeks, it’s ILLEGAL? Is that because they assume that if it’s not illegal, employers will pressure people into doing it? That’s the only reason I can think of that doesn’t offend my admittedly very American sensibilities.

        1. Lala*

          i was just reading on it (Singapore) because of this post,
          it states that
          “An employer cannot employ an employee at any time during the four weeks immediately following her confinement. ”

          and it’s called confinement, cos traditionally (Chinese) we are not allowed to even leave the house for 1 month.

          i would guess that it is for the reason you mention.

        2. UK hr bod*

          The 4 weeks is mainly for manufacturing, so I suspect it’s a bit of a holdover from the days when people would get pressured to go back into work. And because some companies don’t pay enhanced mat pay, there might be a financial imperative for people to go back to work, so it’s trying to safeguard wellbeing. Or ‘elf ‘n safety gorn mad, depending which papers you read!
          It is a bit patriarchal though – the due date used to be referred to as the expected week of confinement (it’s not just you Lala) – it’s still EWC but mostly the C is childbirth these days – except in very old-fashioned places.

  34. PJDJ*

    From Mexico, with love…

    Under Mexican labor laws, we are entitled to the following benefits:
    – 6 days/year paid vacation, 2-day increments per consecutive year at the same employer until the 4th year, then 2 day increments every 5 years. An employer may offer more, but that is the law requirement.
    – 80 days (40 pre, 40 post) paid maternity leave for women.
    – National health system. Quality varies, but at least it’s something for low-income families.
    – Housing contribution. Yes, your employer and the government pay a small percentage that you can use to buy a house; you can also apply for a low interest, federal housing loan.
    – Sick days: non-regulated, it’s up to the employee and employer to reach an agreement.
    – Paid holidays. There’s about seven national holidays a year.
    – 15 days Christmas bonus.

    Keep in mind that there are many types of work contracts and formats, but all legal, tax-paying, decent, non-contract full-time jobs should include these benefits. There will always be cheapskate, dishonest employers of course, sadly.

  35. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Question for people in countries where employees need to give long periods of notice (like one to three months): Is this required by law or is it just the custom? And if it’s the law, what happens if an employee doesn’t give that full amount of notice? Are there any practical repercussions?

    1. Brightwanderer*

      UK: “The notice you should give your employer before resigning should be in the contract. If your contract does not say how much notice you must give your employer then, if you have worked for one month or more, the minimum notice you should give is one week. If you have worked for less than one month, the notice period should be reasonable. If your contract says you must give your employer more notice than this, you must give the amount of notice in your contract. Your contract may set out how much you must give, whether it must be written, and/or when you should give it.” (From Citizens Advice website)

      And my employee handbook states, “The period of notice which you are required to give to terminate your appointment is one month unless your offer letter states otherwise. [Employer] exercises its discretion to accept a shorter period of notice.” and then “If you terminate your employment without giving or working the required period of notice, you will have an amount equal to any additional cost of covering your duties during the notice period not worked deducted from any termination pay due to you. This is an express written term of your contract of employment.”

      The way I have seen this play out in practice: if someone for some reason had to leave without giving enough notice, whether for personal reasons or even “look, I’ve got the perfect opportunity here for my career, would you be willing to let me go early?”, management is generally sympathetic.

      1. Jesicka309*

        Yes, that sounds like what we have. It’s in your contract how much notice you must give. Sometimes you can negotiate it shorter, for example, one guy at our office was moving back home to Sydney, and needed time to move before he started his new job. He got two weeks. of course, our office was fully staffed at the time. Another girl wanted two weeks to start her new job (same city) but the office had lost 4 people, and needed her to work the full month. She called in sick one day, got her fiancé to call in the next, then didn’t show up again. I can’t imagine if she would dare to ask for a reference!

    2. Jennifer*

      In Belgium, if you can’t agree to leave earlier than the leave period with your employer (that is, they let you out of your legal obligation) but leave anyway, you have to pay them compensation. This is a calculation based on the Claeys & Engels formula. If you have a higher salary and have worked longer than 5 years in a company this can be 4 months. If they lay you off in this situation they can pay out as much as 8 months salary to the employee. In this case as well, they can require you to work out the time paid out or let you go immediately. You are then only eligible for unemployment payments (which are limitless in time in Belgium) after the total payout period. You can, however, start working somewhere else immediately after being let go, even if you’re paid the remaining months salary. This “double” income is very heavily taxed.

      1. AgilePhalanges*

        I’m curious about what you mean by the “double” income being heavily taxed. Here in the US, each company would tax their payment to you at the normal withholding rate based on the forms you’ve filed with them and that salary/payout alone (though if it’s paid out all at once, it CAN result in higher taxes if their payroll system thinks that one payment is what you earn for one pay period and extrapolates it out to your income over a year under that assumption). In any case, you’d file your taxes at the end of the year, based on your ANNUAL income, which would include the portion of the year at only the old job, the portion of the year at only the new job, and the portion of the year in which you were effectively earning at both jobs. What you really owe is subtracted from what you paid via payroll withholding, and you either owe or are owed accordingly, strictly based on the annual income and total payments over the course of the year. Depending on the length of the payout and the time of year that it was paid, it could result in that one year’s income being effectively higher, but you would still only be taxed as if the income you earned that year, though anomalous, WAS your annual income (and the next year, you’d pay only on what you earned that year). There’s not a special tax rate for having gotten paid “double” for a certain period of time. Is a special tax rate applied to your payouts?

        Random aside:
        US income tax brackets are INCREMENTAL, a fact most people don’t realize. So maybe you’re taxed 15% on the first 20,000 you make in a year (these numbers are TOTALLY made up, please don’t read anything into them!), then 18% on the next amount up to 25,000, and so on. If you make 25k, you’re not taxed 18% on all of it, which would be 4,500…you’re taxed 15% on the first 20,000 (3,000) then 18% on the remaining 5,000 (900), which equals 3,900 on 25,000, an effective tax rate of 15.6%. This continues all the way up the brackets, if the next bracket is 25-30k, and is 20%, and you make 30k, you’ll pay 15% on the first 20k (3,000), 18% on the next 5,000 (900), and 20% on the next 5,000 (1,000), for a total of 4,900 on 30,000, an effective tax rate of 16.33%, still not much higher than the original 15%, and not even close to the tax on that highest bracket, which is what scares people about being bumped up a tax bracket.

        Of course, deductions, exemptions, credits, and other computations for certain situations (which especially affect people on the low and high ends of the scale) mean that it’s not actually that simple, but it is a concept that confuses people often enough I figured I’d include it real quick while we were talking about taxes. :-) Maybe someone here can post what their country’s tax structure is like, on a super-simplified basis. :-)

        1. Jennifer*

          Well, I would guess that taxes in Belgium are more complicated than most countries.
          Just google taxes and Belgium to find out ;)
          But the double income during the overlapping months is indeed taxed annually, albeit at a different rate than regular salary.

        2. Lala*

          In singapore, the employer does not take out the taxes of our monthly salary.
          we file at the end of the year and pay after that.
          the tax rate is not as high as in the US though.

    3. Jen in RO*

      I googled a bit to see what the law says for Romania. As far as I understand, if you turn in your 1 month notice, but stop going to work without your employer agreeing to that, they can fire you (i.e. not pay you anymore for that period). Otherwise, you’re supposed to work as usual and get paid as usual for that last month. I guess that, if they really want to, they can sue you for damages if you leave before your notice period is up and that causes them a prejudice.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Luxembourg based, and here, notice periods correspond to the length of service. (1 month for up to 5 years, 2 months for between 5 and 10 years, and 3 months for over 10)

        However, depending on the job, you may be asked to leave the office before the notice period is up, although you will still be paid.

    4. Lala*

      For us, it’s in the contract, similar to in the UK.
      in the contract it usually states to pay in lieu of notice on both sides.

      i had an ex colleague who tried to do that (give 2 weeks notice instead of 1 month when he resigned), apparently the contract stated that pay in lieu of notice requires mutual agreement, and they did not agree.

      they were quite unhappy with him, and the whole thing took a long time to resolve, by the time they let him go, it was almost a month already.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is the part I don’t understand — that they wouldn’t allow him to him go. What if he just went anyway? What would happen? They could sue him, I guess? But how likely would that be to really happen? It seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth.

        1. Lala*

          bridge burnt i guess, bad rep throughout the industry if they could be arsed to. it’s a small country.
          they wouldn’t sue him most likely.

          we were working in an IT company and they wanted him to finish the programming work he was assigned, as much as possible anyway.

        2. Lala*

          the new company wanted him to give 2 weeks notice, so they were willing to pay the 2 weeks pay in lieu.

          also, if he just left and refused to pay anything, they would still be owing him from salary from the days worked after resignation, assuming he didn’t just take off after pay day.

    5. Lala*

      by the way, do you think that the custom of 2 weeks in the US is due to salary being paid every 2 weeks?

      it’s just cleaner and easier to pay for one full month, which is equivalent to our notice period. for the companies that i work in, normally people quit after pay day.

      i agree 2 weeks is a comfortable time for handover to take place generally.
      1 month includes time to try to complete your shorter projects and outstanding work a bit more.

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t think so, because it’s typically two weeks from when you give notice so it only makes it easier for payroll if you coincidentally give notice on the day which ends your payroll period.

    6. MissJ*

      In Germany, there is a law plus we all have written contracts that include this. It is possible for the employer to get rid of you faster but there have to be very good reasons. If the employee wants to leave faster there can be a written agreement. BTW, in some places, when you have been there for a long time like 10 yrs, the notice period is 6 months. On the opposite, there is usually a probation period of 6 months during which you can be let go really easily and also within 2 weeks.

      1. Jamie*

        What fascinates me about this is how the entire hiring structure accommodates this.

        It’s a rare job here which will scout for an employee, make an offer, and then wait months for the employee to be able to start. At least in my industry things aren’t mapped out that far in advance. Your people in charge of talent acquisition must be really good at forecasting. We’re far more seat of our pants about that here.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        How does a six-month notice period before you can leave work in practice? I’d think things would frequently come up that would make even half of that impossible — a move with a spouse, a job offer that will only wait a month (or two at most), etc.

        1. UK hr bod*

          To be honest, you get used to it. You know that at certain levels, you may have to wait a minimum of 3 months for your new hire to start, and you work with that. Realistically, most companies will negotiate, but they can require you to work the notice period – the contract goes both ways! Personally, I’d always try to support the earlier leaving where possible, but sometimes managers want the full 1, 3, 6 months, whatever it is.

            1. UK hr bod*

              Yes, you can do, which is why I try to encourage managers to agree to earlier end dates where possible. Having said that, most people know what they signed up for and play the game fairly well! It does protect the employee as well – if you are dismissed (except for gross misconduct), you will be dismissed with notice. You probably won’t have to work it, but you have that slight safety net.

        2. Neeta*

          It really depends on how good a candidate you are… and the industry you’re in.

          I work in IT, and the company I work for has a 3 month notice requirement (this is by contract, legal notice period is 1 month). When I got hired I figured that if I ever wanted a different job, I’d have to first resign and hope that I’ll find a new job in 3 months.

          However in this industry, in Romania, headhunting is extremely common most especially if you’re experienced. So if you’re contacted by HR/recruiting agency, chances are they know where you’re currently working, and the accompanying notice period.
          That doesn’t mean they don’t try to ask if there wasn’t any possibility. Of course, this is one of the perks when the company really wants to recruit you…

          1. SAGirl*

            They can sue you if they are mean. They can’t force you to work that time, because the employment relationship is too personal.

  36. Sandra*

    another German here,
    to add another difference to what has been posted before:
    6 weeks before and eight weeks after giving birth, women are not allowed to work in Germany, but are still being payed by theit employer. Both parents are entitled to parental leave, 12 month (if both parents take at least 2 month, a total of 14 month – to encourage fathers to also take some time off) payed by public sources, and a total of three years per child (the rest unpayed, but the employer has to take you back in a similar position afterwards). Starting 2013, a right for childcare for kids younger than 3 years has been established, but it looks improbable that it will be fulfilled as yet. So it is not uncommon especially in Western Germany for women with more than one child to be on parental leave for 6 or 9 years, and that come back working part-time (as school often ends at 12, and after-scholl childcare is also not too well provided for). In Eastern Germany women often start to work again sooner.

  37. uk chick in mex*

    Thank you for finally having an international slant to your writing.
    In mexico girls dress to impress, just short of what you would where to a night club. So amazing make up, jewelry and nail work along with the highest thinnest heels you can.
    On you birthday you are expected to go out for lunch with your whole department weather you talk to them or not along with that they decorate your desk with what (they think) you will like and come round and hug you.

  38. Ariancita*

    I lived in India for a number of years, and this what I observed, from my own situation (in an NGO) and friends’ (professional fields in major cities), though don’t know how generalizable it is:
    -6 day work week (only Sundays off)
    -tons of holidays, sometimes regional (for different deities in different regions), but covering most religions
    -CV: photo, marriage status, age, region born in, and last name scrutinized
    -scrutinizing last name to determine what caste they person was from and then making generalizations about work abilities
    -women’s ages + region born were much debated because of the sense that younger women not from the area would be called back home for a marriage, and thus not a good long term bet (already married and/or from the area reduced this likelihood in their minds)
    -not sure about vacation time: vacations were generally taken in summer when it was hot and people headed to the hills, but not sure how much time was allowed. Also not sure that it was paid.
    -yes, the chai boy. Not awesome for me who doesn’t like milky chai, but definitely a big part of the office.
    -some places: lunch canteen as a perk.

    1. fposte*

      Was the tiffin man actually a thing anywhere? I’ve been besotted with that idea ever since I’ve heard of it–tasty hot lunch food coming to me!

      1. Ariancita*

        Yes! Not just for work, but you can get your neighborhood tiffin wallah too (usually a housewife who sells tiffin dinners to singles and expats and whomever). Also, interestingly enough, there is a tiffin service in my neighborhood in NYC! :D

  39. Sparky629*

    FTR, some of us Americans really really hate potluck lunches. I would rather walk through hell barefoot than to be forced to do potluck lunches. It grosses me out.
    I was raised that you never ever ever eat food from anyone where you haven’t been to their house to see the overall cleanliness of the house and kitchen.
    I don’t mind if you bring treats/snacks because I have the option of passing on them but potlucks *shudder* yuck!

    1. Ariancita*

      OMG YES!!! I hate them as well. For the reasons you stated, plus I’m a very long time vegetarian and I feel weird having to keep asking what is in it (and detailed questions because a non-veggie person wouldn’t think to mention that their casserole has a base of chicken broth since there’s no meat in the actual dish). Just awkward for everyone. Plus, I HATE cooking. Hate it. I often choose just not eating over cooking because I don’t like it and am often too tired to rally for a loathed task. So I hate the obligation of having to bring something in (plus my commute, when I go to office, is HUGE–no thank you to carrying a big dish of something for a 2 hour train ride).

      1. Catherine*

        There are also political undertones to potlucks (yes, it happens and it’s terrible). Someone makes her “special” dish that’s really gross and no one wants us, then gets upset that no one is eating her dish, and in order to be fair you feel like you have to try every dish, lest you offend someone, blah blah blah. Then TONS of food left over that no one wants. Potlucks can be stressful.

        1. AgilePhalanges*

          Part of the reason I eat at my desk for potluck events, even when most of the office gathers wherever the food is, or on our patio–I’ll take a little bit of everything that appeals to me on sight, but if I end up not liking it, I just toss my plate at my desk and no one’s the wiser as to which dishes I finished off (and maybe took seconds of) and which I spit the single bite back out. :-)

          I’m vegetarian, but partly due to regionality (west coast US) and partly due to luck, there has always been at least one other non-meat-eater or at least non-red-meat-eater around, plus there are a couple of gluten-intolerant people, and other dietary considerations, so people are thoughtful in making the dish, and write out cards with ALL ingredients listed so you can tell what you can eat or not without having to ask. :-)

          1. Catherine*

            Lucky. I don’t eat pork just because I don’t like it, and I was so happy when my halal-eating coworker was here – everyone did their utmost to make sure the food didn’t contain pork. She left and now I’m just considered weird and it’s pork overload on the buffet line.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I love ’em. If I can’t cook something (no time, no place to plug in a crock pot, etc.), I’ll just buy something like a fruit or cheese tray at the grocery store and put that out for everyone. I’ve never gotten sick from a potluck- maybe I’ve been lucky, I guess.

      I might have mentioned this, but someone at Exjob organized a Chili Dog Day one not long before I left. OH MAN so good. I stuffed myself and nearly fell asleep at my desk.

    3. Christina*

      I actually love potlucks because it’s a chance for us all to actually take some time and sit together as a team to relax. Then again, my team typically don’t take off for lunch and we end up working essentially 9 hour days due to the workload.

      Something I saw mentioned on thee Kitchn a while back, if you don’t like to cook, or just don’t have the time/inclination, is to pick up a veggie platter. Most people will nosh on plain veggies to avoid the carb or fat heavy dishes, and if not, well, it’s just veggies and can store well for days, in case others do want to nosh!

  40. Sandrine*


    There’s one thing that stuck with me ever since people started talking about it here… friendship in the workplace.

    Here, I could be friendly with pretty much anyone in the office if given the occasion. I mean my boss and his boss’s boss, and the support people who are “over” us in the hierarchy… no probs.

    Sometimes we bring random food items (once I brought candy to share, Moroccan coworkers brought some pastries from there when back from vacation) … sometimes we do things in the office (celebrated Boss’ birthday with a cake I baked and he almost cried) .

    Working over 39 hours is seen as insane (law says 35, previous was 39 so depending on the industry you might do one or the other) .

    Then it’s not so much culture but maternity leave stuff that usually make Americans’ heads spin (I know. One day I read off a website to an American friend and it’s as if I could hear her neurones snap in confusion haha) .

    I’ll try to think of other things :P .

    1. Jen in RO*

      I was talking to some friends who are working in France and they said something that sounds very weird to me: their work day is 7 hours, but they work 8 since that’s the custom in the rest of Europe. Because of that, they get some kind of compensatory days off on top of the PTO in their contracts. It added up to so much for them (2 months or something) that they couldn’t even take it all in a year!

      1. Anonymous*

        France again: we have something called “Works Council” (Comité d’entreprise) in all companies over 50 employees, made up of elected employees’s representatives.
        It is meant to defend and voice employees’ concerns, but it also has a big “fun” part: organizing social and cultural activities for employees, usually at a discount price (like travel, going to a theatre, sports activities, Christmas parties for employees’children…). And it is funded by the employer, by law (pro-rata of the total of employees’ wages).
        So in my company it is not so unusual to go on holidays with coworkers!
        Is there anything similar in the US?

        1. Jamie*

          The employee concern part sounds like our labor unions – but most American workers don’t belong to a union.

          The other stuff…I don’t think our unions do that. :)

        2. Bridgette*

          I have not encountered any official, sanctioned Works Council type group in any job I’ve had, or that my friends/relatives have had. It’s unheard of to me. Like Jamie said, it sort of sounds like a union, except for the fun activities. Sometimes there is an informal “party committee” or just a group of people who take it upon themselves to plan these types of things.

          And holidays with coworkers!!! Never in a million years would I consider that, except for about 3 people I have worked with, and they are close friends outside of work. It’s painful enough to just go to the Christmas lunch!

        3. Bluesie*

          Yes, there was a Comité d’entreprise in all the companies I worked for. I was not involved in the Union side of activities, except for once preparing admin for the annual Comité d’entreprise leadership voting.

          What I did experience was the social side: one company had an employees’ library and CD library; two ran choirs which I joined; one paid for a bunch of us to have a day doing fire safety training; there are ususally subsidised memberships to gyms and swimming pools; subsidised cinema tickets; trips, holidays and sporting events…

        4. Kat M*

          My former workplace had an elected committee called Better Together that was like that. It was partially funded by the employer and was a major part of the culture there. They had no real authority, but were able to voice concerns, and they did a lot of fun stuff and community service. They were also pretty involved in welcoming new employees and making sure they were integrated socially.

      2. Bluesie*

        UK, but I spent some years working in France in various organisations.

        Yes, that is pretty accurate. In France if your working week adds up to more than 35 hours you receive compensatory time off in addition to your annual leave. It’s known as taking an RTT day ( jour de réduction du temps de travail = day of reduction-of-time-of-work).

        These may be taken on a regular basis i.e. the last Friday of every month, or ad hoc in the same way as regular annual leave.

        The legal minimimum annual leave is 25 days; this does not include public holidays. You are expected to use all of it.

        French public holidays may fall on any day of the week; if they fall on a day you would not normally work (ie weekends) there is no compensation time. This is different in the UK where most public holidays are fixed on a Monday, and if Christmas, Boxing Day, or New Year’s Day fall at the weekend the next working day is given as compensation.

        1. Bluesie*

          Oh, and in addition, if a public holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday many people in France will take a day off on the Monday or Friday and have a 4-day weekend. This is known as a “bridge day”, or “jour de pont”. One of my contracts gave me two of these per year in addition to my annual leave.

          There are a lot of public holidays in May, and depending which day of the week they fall and what dates Easter and Pentecost are, you might only have one full working week between 1st May and early June!

          1. Jamie*

            ” you might only have one full working week between 1st May and early June!”

            How does this impact customers? I am assuming that European citizens aren’t as accustomed to 24/7 service and extended business hours as is typical in the US. Is that correct?

            1. Bluesie*

              Yes, this is one of the issues!

              Certainly as far as domestic business is concerned you take into account that not much will get done in May (or, indeed, from mid-July to August).

              I wasn’t involved directly in internationally operating departments and there may have been a skeleton staff in these places.

              I would expect local shops and services to be closed or have restricted opening hours on public holidays. The boulangerie, for example, might open only in the morning.

              24/7 service is much more rare than in the US. For example in Paris a lot of places (banks, museums, libraries) are closed on Mondays and few shops apart from late-night corner shops (and perhaps major superstores) would be open late at night.

              1. Jamie*

                That’s really interesting – the only thing we can’t do on Monday’s is get a haircut. (at least salon’s used to be closed Mondays – maybe that’s changed – I’m just so in the habit of no haircuts on Monday’s I never asked.)

                Maybe that contributes to the management of hours. Because here with so many things being 24 hours and running three shifts it’s easy to end up working later because that’s when the person at the customer or vendor is available and it’s a slippery slope of 5-10 minutes turning into a 60 hour work week before we know it.

                I love Christmas Day in part because everything is closed and I have no guilt about staying home and puttering around my house because there’s nothing I “should” be doing. I wouldn’t mind a few more days of being forced to do that.

                1. Bluesie*

                  I’m sure it must be different in companies that have a high global activity. I have no experience of working in places that have 24-hour coverage, and things are changing gradually as international expectations filter through the system. But certainly the French attitude places strong emphasis on leisure and family time – people will be very strict about taking their RTT hours, for example.

                2. Natalie*

                  You will also have a hard time seeing live theater on Mondays (Equity, the actor’s union, says no shows on Monday) and, because of that, it used to be a tradition that restaurants would be closed on Monday.

                  I visited France over Bastille Day, and even in the very touristy areas of Paris everything was closed until noon or so.

            2. The IT Manager*

              This reminds me (and is related to that story someone posted about Dutch women working only part time.) I lived in Belgium as a single person and it was very, very inconvenient. There seems to be some holdovers from the days when women stayed home like the water meter being located inside my home and I had to be there to let the meter reader in. (They actually worked around this problem by reading the meter only once a year and averaging water usage for the rest. You could also contact them with what your meter read so they can bill you more accurately.) This is just one example of a service only being offered during normal work hour when I had to be at work too. To be honest, Belgiium seemed kind of backward, though, even in comparison to some other western European countries.

              1. Jen in RO*

                The meter reading guy (for electricity, in my case – Romania) always showed up at crazy hours like 2 PM. I figured that if he didn’t care that I had a regular working schedule, I wouldn’t care that he couldn’t find me at home. I read my own meter when I can be bothered and submit the reading online.

    2. Maggie*

      Sandrine (or others working in France), is it common practice to include a picture or other details, like birthdate, marital status, etc, on a CV/resume there? My (EU-national) husband and I are moving to France soon, so this is a very timely thread for me personally!

      1. Bluesie*

        Maggie, I haven’t reponded to this because I believe it is changing and it’s some years since I was applying for jobs in France. I hope someone downthread will be able to comment.

    3. Bluesie*

      More on France:

      I got the impression that hierarchies are very clear. All the large companies I worked for would have an “organigramme” or organisational chart showing the company structure, departments, and roles. Departments and roles were usually very clearly delineated and you had to see the right person to ask about a specific thing.

      It seems also that in many cases the right qualification is a prerequisite for any role; for example, to be a bilingual secretary you would have to have a “BTS secretaire bilingue” qualification. Cross-career mobility seems to be a bit more restricted than in the UK, where it is extremely common to follow one path at college or university level and then change careers entirely, and the level of qualification or experience is more important than the subject. (I am aware that this is beginning to change in France.)

    4. Bluesie*

      Me again…

      Employment law in France is very much on the side of the workers, such that it can be extremely hard to fire anyone. This gives great job security, but is less good for the company: you can get stuck with people who are poor workers or have departments that are inefficient because they can’t make redundancies. A probationary period is common before signing a permanent contract, which I guess helps.

      There are fixed term (CDD) and permanent (CDI) contracts, and I believe there is a limit to the number of times you can re-engage someone on a CDD without offering them a CDI, although my memory is a bit hazy on this.

      (French contributors may be able to supply more details on this.)

      Social security is quite good in France, but also many contracts will include as standard a good health insurance package for a percentage of your paycheck. This tops up most things not completely covered by the state, either by a direct agreement with the provider or reimbursed on submission of receipts.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I had an online friend in France who was taking a lot of vacation time, and in our chat room, we told her most of us in the US were lucky to get two weeks a year. Some places don’t even give one week. She said “That’s BARBARIC!” I kind of agreed with her. :P

  41. Marco*

    Italy here. I have been quite around the US workplace though, and here are some customs around here. They may vary by region and industry, so I can speak for those I have had a firsthand experience.

    First, the job market in this country is stagnant. Not only in terms of new positions, but also in terms of mobility. The amount of people that relocate in another region than the one they’ve been born into is very scarce. Statistically, italians hop between jobs a lot less than their european neighbors. This is a cultural thing: find the right job, get the money and live your life outside. Over 40 years of assistance by the government, that provided jobs to everybody regardless of their skills, created a difficult situation. Put in another way, competition, willingness to self-improve and reward by merits are largely absent in most areas of the work landscape. The euro crysis seems to be changing that, but I suspect it’ll take two or three generations before we re-gain the will to bite.

    Other stuff:
    – Resumes rarely go together with a cover letter, although this is slowly changing. More widespread is the custom to attach a “recommendation letter” from somebody that knows you AND knows the prospect employer. At a certain level, you don’t get the job by just applying a job post, but practically only by reference. Also some low-level jobs, which are very well paid because linked to government institution, are accessed only by presentation. One or more picture in the resume is generally asked for those jobs where appearance is important (e.g. receptionist).

    – Online applications are still rare.

    – Nobody really eats at their desk. On the other side, if you’re out in maternity leave, it’s typical to show up in the office few weeks after giving birth to introduce the infant to the other colleagues. Also, working long hours is not associated to lack of efficiency or ambition: rather is usually deemed as just idiotic behavior, because after all who would really sacrifice “me time” for just a job?

    – It is customary to have a 3 or 4 months notice before quitting. This is not imposed by law, and oftentimes this clause is linked to a monetary fee that the new employer pays in order to shorten the notice period and have the new hire onboard in a more reasonable timeframe (eg. one month).

    – This may sound like a common place, but I miss US offices’ productivity and organization. It’s of course great to be flexible and creative, but sometimes management techniques and precise roles and responsibilities go a long way. If you complain about not having that in your office, think again.

  42. JB*

    Mexican-American here, but I spent a year in Mexico after college. I had such was culture shock when I saw the job postings there. A “help wanted” sign or ad will say something along the lines of “Seeking Single Young Woman under 30, No Kids, Catholic, to be a Waitress”. I asked my Mexican friends about it and they were really surprised to hear that it’s the custom in the US not to ask about marital status, age, religion, or sexual orientation for fear of being accused of discrimination.

    1. anon-2*

      Used to be that way here in the States – somewhat.

      Asking your “religion” could have been on applications in the 60s, the guise being that they needed to know if you were to take unusual religious holidays.

      Yeah, right.

      Civil rights and anti-discrimination regulations wiped those questions out.

      1. UK hr bod*

        There are a few instances in the UK still where you can select by religion and gender: for instance religious schools might require teachers of the same faith, and a women’s refuge could select by gender, but these are very specific instance covered by legislation.

    2. Laura L*

      It’s not that they are afraid of being accused of discrimination. It’s that having a posting like that IS discriminatory and is illegal and the company will get in trouble for it.

      The example you use actually affects three protected classes (in the U.S.): gender, religion, and age.

    1. Bluesie*

      Yes, Hofstede is one of the key names when it comes to this type of issue, and his work can give a useful introduction to the different kinds of underlying assumptions and perceptions you may come across when moving to a new culture. It also makes fascinating reading.

      If you do any academic study on cross-cultural communication in the business world you will find schools of thought that strongly criticise both his underlying data and the absolutism of his conclusions, but I feel it’s still considerably better than nothing if you haven’t time to do your own detailed research.

  43. some1*

    I have a question I haven’t seen addressed for people outside the U.S. Today in the U.S. it’s generally frowned upon, if not outright forbidden, to have even one beer or cocktail at lunch and go back to work. (Barring special occasions like Office parties). This wasn’t always the case (like Mad Men), and I realize this isn’t the case at every workplace, but it has in my 10 years of professional life in an office environment. What is the custom in other countries?

    1. Anonymous*

      In Latin America, it’s perfectly fine to have a drink if you go out to lunch…and then head back to the office.

    2. CatB (Europe)*

      No company I ever saw in Romania, as an employee or as a consultant / trainer, did approve of alcohol in the office, maybe excepting a small sip of champagne on a birthday. I saw, but as exceptions, rare after-hours Fridays (but it was risky anyway) and mainly in small companies where the owner of the company started the thing. I even know of people fired or reprimanded severely for drinking in the office.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I worked in Mons, Belgium for NATO ten years ago. You could buy a little bottle of wine at the cafeteria for lunch. Not at all frowned upon at all.

    4. Sophie*

      In Australia, I think it is fine, unless you’re clearly affected by it. I.e. coming back drunk is unacceptable, but one drink is rarely going to make anyone drunk.

      1. Jessica*

        Although officially illegal, alcohol is acceptable in Belgium during business lunches (in moderation) and office birthdays and anniversaries (special ones…). At office parties in the evening, a bit of drunkenness is tolerated. I work in the event and entertainment industry, so that might have an influence as well. ;)

  44. Anonymous*

    * Psychometric testing is VERY normal for many positions.
    * You bring your own cake to the office when it’s your birthday.

    Mexico, and probably much of Latin America:
    * Feel free to freely discriminate in your job listings. If you want a “Female PA, between the ages of 21 and 26,” you can just go ahead and say that in your ad. And then proceed to turn down every applicant who doesn’t fit that description. If you’re male and/or 28 years old and you still applied, well…you clearly can’t read the requirements.
    * Your photo should most definitely be included in your CV. Many job listings will say “Please send CV and photo to X email address.”

    1. JT*

      Yeah, I was helping the head of a related organization to mine (both in the US), who was from Argentina, write an ad for an assistant and he kept saying to write we want a woman only. I was able to talk him down from writing that, but couldn’t influence his vetting/interview process.

  45. Anonymous*

    I live and work in Canada but my parents are from Taiwan. They were SHOCKED that I didn’t invite my coworkers and especially my boss to my wedding. Apparently you MUST invite the boss and you may put up a note in the lunch room to “survey” who amongst your coworkers would be interested in attending and then send out invitations accordingly.

  46. anon*

    I have been reading for years without commenting, but this is a topic dear to my heart!

    I am American and work in the US – but I work at an international organization here where I am one of the few Americans, and I’ve worked in the past in East and South East Asia, as well as for short periods of time in other countries around the world.

    It is really interesting to talk to colleagues about what they find strange in the US and to see what happens when you work somewhere that is something of a bubble within the US and a true mix of nationalities.

    Apart from differences in laws, and more obvious differences in things like directness and attention to hierarchy, a few different customs I’ve noticed (just my perceptions, and I know these are generalities):

    – Different approach to gender norms. In China and Taiwan, it seems more common for women to act in a way that I think many Americans would find girly in an office, ranging from tone of voice to dress. Some guys, however, would do things that would be considered not masculine enough in the states, such as have a pink teddy bear from their girlfriend on their desk. In Thailand, people seem more aware of gender diversity than in many places. I had a friend whose company had a special day where people who were cross-dressers/transgendered were encouraged to come into the office as the gender with which they identify.

    – Different understanding/awareness of workplace diversity and political correctness. I saw how US/international companies and organizations try to translate their idea of diversity in the workplace abroad, with sometimes odd results. For example, Chinese colleagues look baffled at lectures from a US HQ on racial diversity and multiculturalism- it is not clear what this would mean there. Diversity in some countries can be perceived as more about what city you are from, your dialect or your religion in some countries compared to the US.

    – Differences in how comfortable people feel with interrupting each other at work and multitasking. Answering phone calls during meetings, interupting others (including your boss) and starting side conversations during meetings seem to be more common in some places more than others.

    1. fposte*

      On the last–there’s a fascinating story of the Prospect Theatre Company going to China in the late 1970s to do Shakespeare, and they thought they were flopping completely because the audience talked the whole time. Then the translator told them that they were absolutely absorbed, and the talk was all peanut-gallery discussion of what this character did and what was going to happen to that one.

  47. JT*

    Since China came up, I can mention some work experience in China, but from so long ago it’s probably out of date. This was in a top-level university (thus a government organization) in the south of the country. The main thing different that the US was the workday – a long siesta was planned both at my school and other government offices/institutions. Many people would go home for lunch and a nap if they lived on campus or nearby. People who lived far away would often had a cot in their office for a nap. When I told one of my pupils that we didn’t do that in the US he was shocked and deeply concerned for our health.

    Another thing was expense account dinners. My boss had an expense account that he had to spend every month or quarter (I forget which) and so he’d blow it out in somewhat rich dinners right toward the end of the accounting period. He seemed to like these, as did I, but they could be tiresome if you had to go to too many, as some top officials in the school did. Oh, and my boss put himself into the hospital with high blood pressure in part from too much restaurant food.

    The organization provided bonuses in the form of fancy foods at certain times of the year, tied to certain traditional holidays or changes in the seasons. So at mid-Autumn we’d all get a bunch of boxes of mooncakes (a kind of pastry) and at other times a kind of rice product. Sort of akin to holiday fruitcakes in the US, but given to all employees in my department in fairly large quantities.

    In part these dinners and food gifts were due to problems low salaries in the organizations, with the organization spending money on those things instead of salary. I had the impression that the food gifts also involved some economies of scale, with the department or school able to buy in bulk more cheaply, or even getting the food in barter with other organizations.

    But this was 20 years ago and things have changed massively in China. So for historical relevance only.

    1. Jamie*

      About 5 years ago partners from China visited the US plant where I worked at the time and were surprised about the lack of places for us to nap at work – and our hours. Also concern for our health.

      So as of relatively recent this was still going on some places.

  48. Elizabeth West*

    This is a great topic, Alison! So many interesting comments. Re holidays: one thing I tried to do at my last job, since we had clients in Canada, and a lot of Jewish ones on the east coast, was mark the calendar for those holidays. I could not ship stuff to them to arrive on those days, because their offices would not be open. Our sales rep for Canada (who also handled a lot of the New York clients) was aware of them also.

    Since companies are doing more global business nowadays, it’s good to know these little things. It helps a lot!

    1. Ariancita*

      Yep! We have research partner sites across the globe and we have to keep an active calendar of each regions holidays and vacation policies. Small thing but tremendously helpful!

  49. Anonymous*

    Parental leave can be had by men or women and can last over a year. You don’t collect a full salary during that time but can go on unemployment and good workplaces offer ‘topups’ so you make close to your old salary while away.

  50. Anonymous*

    Oh, interns: generally does not exit as an unpaid position. They are paid positions with small stipends. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do get a paycheck.

  51. Azuki*

    I work now in Japan. The regular omiyage/souvenir/gifts and public bathing thing also applies to me, but there is one thing that my office does that I find…. different.

    I work in an office that manages a lot of schools in a large area. Like many Japanese offices, our office is just a large open room with many desks pushed together in rows. These rows are shaped like Ts with the manager/section chief at the “head of the table”.

    We have many important guests like principals and vice principals and other government officials come in our office. Sometimes these guests are just other teachers. But when every single one of these guests enters the office, all ten of us from my section must stand up from our desks and bow to them. We must remain standing until the guest has either left the room to meet with the director or taken a seat at the meeting table in the center of the room. When they leave the office, we bow again. We aren’t allowed to sit down until they are gone.

    Basically, my office is really serious about standing and bowing. I think one day I stood and bowed about 20 times. It’s a workout!

  52. CS*

    I lived in France for six months. For your resume, you include your (non-smiling) photo (same for passport), your marital status, number of children, nationality. When I asked my prof about the marital status and number of children, she said it was to discriminate. If you have children, some employers might look at you unfavorably. It’s one of those very sad things that is still part of the culture.

    I also heard another prof tell a classmate that he needs a resume to apply to work in any restaurant –and we’re not talking about head chef positions.

    I don’t know if this is true for every sector (any French readers, please correct me), but for school teachers and architect positions (I know of people who were trying to get into both) you need to take this national test to even apply/be considered for job and it’s usually done at the end of your university studies. Probably similar to what anyone who wants to go into law has to take bar exam in U.S. Makes things very competitive.

    1. HH*

      For the picture and marital status, as a recent graduate I’ve applied to internships and jobs without these and it was fine. Recently there were some moves to implement “non-discriminatory resumes” so things have changed a bit in educated circles I guess. Don’t know about jobs at a restaurants and such, although my mom, who runs a restaurant, doesn’t really ask for a resume, people just show up and have a chat with her.

      As for architecture, yes there is a kind of professional licence to be obtained at the end of the studies but as far as I know it’s much, much, much easier than the exams you have to take in law or even for professional engineers in the US. And they changed the architecture curriculum recently, the “licence” is obtained after a minimum of 6 months’ practice, coupled with some classes (150 hours).

      1. CS*

        No, not the Licence. It’s not the exam to obtain the diplome. I believe it’s called the concours. Unless there has been a recent reform, anyone who wants to teach in secondary schools has to take the CAPES(?). For the teaching position, the number of people who pass the CAPES usually corresponds to the number of openings which is why it’s so competitive. My friend (non-French citizen) is an architect. She couldn’t get a position or apply to work in a firm because she hasn’t taken the concours (this was only two years ago so I don’t think much has changed with requirements).

  53. Tokyo*

    Your previous post about inappropriate sharing in out-of-office emails made me realize that I have never encountered that in Japan, in Japanese or in English. Maybe Americans are more likely to be oversharers? (I am American, btw.)

  54. Sonya*

    Australia: References are checked after the face-to-face interview, and the job offer is usually contingent on a good reference. If your references aren’t called, you generally know you didn’t get the job. In addition, you don’t generally list your referees on the resume or cover letter – they’ll be ripe for spam from recruiters who will start sending unsolicited resumes to any hiring manager you list. You generally write “references available on request”, and to contact the current employer without permission, or anyone on the list, is Just Not Cricket.

  55. Anonymous*

    I work in the Australian Government (public service).
    Leave-I have 4 weeks paid leave a year. I can take these at half pay and then I get 8 weeks. I can then “purchase” 2 weeks leave. All up I can have 10 weeks leave a year. We accumulate sick (personal) leave, which can be used to care for family. Bereavement, moving house, cultural activities are all acceptable forms of leave. If your partner gets a posting in another country, your job will be “held” for you for up to 12 months without losing any entitlements. When I donate blood, I am considered to be at work.
    “Potluck” – we don’t call them that but we have them often. Occasionally it will be for charity. People will bring in food and you purchase a plate for your lunch and proceeds go to a nominated charity. Or it will just be because we want to socialize and have lunch together. We also often go to local restaurants for lunch and it is ok if you have an alcoholic drink.
    Flowers- my executive manager gave me flowers and chocolates for working hard and getting some unexpected work done in a short amount of time. Quite unexpected but very appreciated.
    Grads/interns – I got my job as a grad. One year of three rotations in different areas. Starting salary was approx $45,000 gross.
    Promotions – are through a merit process. You have to apply for the position. Selection criteria need to be answered – set of questions that are assessed against a set of capabilities for that level. How you answer these questions does not count towards your candidacy and are only used to get you to interview stage. At the interview everyone gets the same question so there is no advantage. There is a written test after the interview. The recruitment process can take up to six months or more.
    Internet- social media, YouTube, taking care of personal things like banking, buying tickets, shopping are all allowed within reason.

    People often bring their children to work and they either watch TV in the common room or sit at a spare desk.

  56. Russian person*

    I work in the U.S. now but in my previous job experience in Russia it was very common to bring food to the office or pitch in to go buy snack for everyone, etc. It was also common to ask how everyone was actually doing (not just “how are you? – how are you?” thing) and help people outside of office – my co-workers helped me move a few times. Here I find office culture much more distant and reserved. People tend to keep to themselves and dislike sharing.

  57. Anonymous*

    Also, it’s almost impossible to get fired unless you do something illegal. You get put on performance management, counseling if needed, extra leave or “special projects”. “Special projects” people are generally ostracized because they don’t get along with people.

  58. Lala*

    I’m from Singapore,
    mostly a mix of all the comments above
    for office workers,
    – minimum 14 days annual leave is common, 14 days sick leave (you need to see a doctor and get a Medical Certificate)
    – we generally work 42ish hours – 8.30 to 6 is common, including 1 hour for lunch ( 1/2 hour is unimaginable for me). we usually go out.
    – it’s not too common (at least for me) to submit my photo when submitting a resume, but on the application form, it is generally required. usually this is when you are already at the workplace, interviewing.
    – we get contracts, no at-will employment. notice period is generally 1 month (2 weeks if on probation) . mutual agreement required for early termination, or even pay in lieu of notice period. people are normally “asked to leave”, i.e. resign. firing is for very specific “offences”.

    1. Lala*

      oh i missed out something different

      we don’t get to collect unemployment.
      welfare is only for the poorest of the poor.

      i’m not too sure what the rules are in the countries that do provide unemployment benefits and how it affects people here hanging on to their jobs even if they really hate it…

      1. MissJ*

        In Germany, you cannot collect unemployment for 3 months if you quit the job ;) Only if you are fired/laid off. Plus, you have to have worked for at least one year and you can collect it for a maximum period of one year. Important to note is that everyone is deducted 3% of the gross income for unemployment insurance so it is the employees that pay for it, not the government or the companies.

      2. SAGirl*

        In SA you pay unemployment insurance as 1% of your salary. If you lose your job for any reason, you get paid out 60% of your earnings for a few months until your insurance runs out. After that you’re on your own, unless you qualify for a childcare grant of around $30/month/child.

  59. Louis*

    Sometime the same word means two diffrent thing is different places.

    In Quebec, a “5 à 7” is a happy hour. When I worked in France I learned in an very akward way that a “5 à 7” means a quicky with a colegue at the hotel before going back home.

    Also in France, the have a lot of vacation time but they work long hours of unpaid overtime. For a “cadre” (which basicly means manager but you can get the title without managing anyone) it is very commun to work 9-10 hours a day without getting paid for overtime. It was considered bad form to leave before your boss. So if the boss leave at 7 pm, the office start to empty itself in hierachical order.

    Also, smoking in the office. For a canadian, it felt as a timewarp back to seventies.

    1. Anonymous*

      Well, smoking in the office has disappeared almost completely in the last 5 years.

      The thing about leaving after your boss is indeed quite frequent.

  60. Alphager*

    As it hasn’t been mentioned before: In Germany, it is practically impossible to fire someone (except in *very* special circumstances like trying to murder your boss). To fire someone for poor performance, you have to give he poor worker a formal notice that his work is unsatisfactory (in the form of an “Abmahnung”); this formal notice has to contain concrete objective examples of what part of his/her work is unsatisfactory. You also have to give the employee a chance to redeem himself/herself; you usually create an action plan and set concrete objective goals. If the employee meets these goals, he/she cannot be fired.

    Terminating somebody because of a restructuring or because the economy is tanking is also ver complicated. You cannot just terminate the bottom X%; terminations have to be given out according to social criterias. It boils down to the fact a young, healthy, unmarried male that hasn’t been with the company for long has to be fired before firing the disabled, married old woman with 2 kids that has been with the company for many years.

  61. Christopher Zieja*

    Thank you for writing this, Alison! I was about to write you a message about this, as I’m applying for an opportunity with a large organization within international government. I think I’ll end up placing the photo and personal data (just date of birth, nationality, and marital status) on my resumé. It’s for a new graduate position, so I figure the data won’t do me harm, but I hope it’s not unprofessional to include the photo. Thoughts, anybody?

      1. Christopher Zieja*

        I wouldn’t. It’s with the European Investment Bank. Enjoy the beautiful day here in Washington!

  62. Marketing_Chica*

    I’m the only one in my office (in California) that likes to alternate ‘standing’ at my desk since I’ve had back problems at this lovely stage of my mid-twenties. I think a lot more offices in the US offer raised mechanical desks now for health purposes, but certainly not my office as I get a lot of questions when people walk by (“yes, I made my own computer stand, yes it is more comfortable than sitting”…)

    Do other countries /states encourage more ergonomic forms of cubicle arrangement or do I just work for a really non-progressive company?

    1. AgilePhalanges*

      The standing cubicles are really popular in my company. It started with one person quite a few years ago, then another a year or two after that, and then there’s been a rash of them lately. They range from someone raising just part of their desk, and only using the standing portion part time (and/or having a higher chair so they always use a higher desk, but sometimes standing, sometimes sitting), to a few people who stand the whole day, and don’t even have a chair in their office/cube. One guy is like 6’6″, and his desk is so tall it’s pretty funny seeing the 5’few” IT woman standing there working on his computer. It’s a nice feature of cubes, though–they generally are pretty moveable. Ours aren’t adjustable like drafting tables–it takes a few hours, but it’s simple enough it’s something we ask new hires about during orientation, apparently.

  63. NosilyCurious*

    I only recently found this blog and I’m reading through the archives, trying to catch up before commenting. Just wanted to say that I really hope there is another thread like this further ahead! Having lived/worked in Saudi Arabia, Japan and the US, my fingers are itching to share! :)

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