5 Healthier Work Habits Americans Need to Steal from Europeans

If you work past sunset most days or neglect to use all your vacation time, you're probably American.

Young man working on computer at night in dark office. The designer works in the later time. A young man sits at the computerSG SHOT/Shutterstock
There are some work habits of successful people you’ll want to steal, and none of them involve leaving unused vacation days or wolfing down sandwiches at your desk. Unfortunately, Americans are known for these unhealthy work habits. In fact, a Gallup poll reported in the Washington Post estimated that the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week—one of the highest figures in the world—and significantly higher than the rates in Western Europe.

So, what do other nations do differently that U.S.-based companies can embrace to reduce their employee’s stress levels and improve their work/life balance?

Set limits. In Europe, for example, the Working Time Directive states that employees in the European Union cannot work more than 48 hours a week. If you’re the boss, set an example by leaving the office at a reasonable hour, ideally between 5 and 6 p.m. Give yourself a hard deadline—arrange a meeting with a friend, reserve a spot at a fitness class, or buy a ticket for an earlier train—so you won’t be tempted to stay longer.

Take your vacation days. In Sweden, workers get five weeks of paid vacation a year—and they use them. Not only do Americans get the fewest vacation days—usually two weeks per year—but according to Glassdoor, most of us don’t even use all of them. One company, InspireHUB Inc., in Dallas, is trying to change that culture. “We offer our staff unlimited vacation, and our Canadian employees enjoy things like a year off for maternity,” says company Co-Founder Karolyn Hart. “Employers need to understand the competitive advantages they receive from having employees who are well-rested. You get a better quality of work.”

Work less to be more productive. In 2015, nine of the top ten most productive countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organization with 35 member countries, were in Europe. The United States ranked sixth. Data published by CNBC confirms that more time off doesn’t mean lower productivity in the job market.

A recent Project: Time Off survey of more than 7,000 Americans found 43 percent of workers didn’t take vacations because they feared returning to tons of work. However, medical experts recommend employees take a vacation (at least) twice a year to improve their overall health by reducing their stress levels.

Time off doesn’t have to mean vacation. Daniel Kraciun, CMO of Cleveland-based .JOBS, says the majority of American companies that he works with include paid time off, and other perks, as part of their compensation negotiations. “We see the exact opposite in competitors from other countries, where a minimum can be set to as much as four weeks. Some countries outside of the United States offer travel stipends and extra time off for volunteer work. Implementing these types of incentives creates a work culture that embraces time away from the office.”

Leave the office. In France, Spain, Greece, and other countries, lunch breaks can last an hour or more—and rarely take place in front of a computer screen, according to Travel & Leisure. Recently, Canadian-based company CBRE Ltd., made a new company policy that banned eating at your desk. As a result, employees have been more productive throughout their workday.

If you can’t make time for a walk or another break during the day, at least avoid eating lunch at your desk. According to PayScale.com, humans weren’t meant to sit all day long, so grab food from down the street or eat your lunch outside and enjoy nature. It’s one of the smart ways to prevent office weight gain. As a bonus, getting up and moving promotes creative thinking.

(Source: Project: Time Off’s 2017 State of American Vacation report; CNBC)

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