How do Old Europeans, New Europeans, Americans and Australians balance life and work?

July 16, 2008 — 5 Comments

3,5 weeks for me was maybe slightly to long to take a vacation, but I for my honenymoon it was really great. This is something we in the Netherlands, and in other European countries, are lucky enough to be able to do. Yeah, in Holland the standard minimum is to get 25 vacation days a year based on 40 hours work per week, as many sick days as you need to be really sick and some companies add 5 – 10 more days for their most dedicated team members. And some companies also register overwork, making it possible to even have 5-6 weeks of vacation. I guess the amount of vacation days also shows a certain level of prosperity. The Dutch governmental bodies have all this and to top it they have a standard 36 hour workweek. I’m not sure how long they can keep this up though, as also in Holland it’s hard for the working class to pay for all the elders who have their pensions.

‘Old Europe’ knows how to care and relax, but have forgotten how to be strong …
In generally I believe in a good work / private balance where we work hard and have enough time to enjoy life. The latter is something I think the Europeans do best, compared with all other continents. In America and Canada, both strong economies, you start with having approximately 10 vacation days. There you really see that people ‘live to work’ where in the Netherlands and the richer countries of Europe people ‘work to live’. I do believe that we should work to live, but I think that because of prosperity many people in the old Europe take things for granted and forget that sometimes suffering and sacrifices are needed to keep the things we value. But imho this attitude is induced by decades of social governments, who rightfully wanted to get the whole country out of the ashes of WOII. The result are ‘care-states’ that have rules and regulations to sustain all the weak and poor, while strong people are stimulate NOT to make LOTS of money (60% taxes over the higher incomes). This is leading to a trend where many stronger professionals and enterpreneurs are moving abroad to countries like Canada, Asia, Australia, America where hard work is still appreciated. How to change it, I don’t think it’s easy. I think it’s about time Old Europe has to become ‘poor’ again to really learn how to be ‘strong’ again.

‘New Europe’ will save Europe’s position in the world
I personally think Old Europe is blessed with the new Europeans as these new economies will eventually keep the whole of Europe strong! We should not be afraid to take more new countries like Ukraine and Turkey into the EU. The ‘Old Europeans’ are just to short-sighted when they complain about how the EU is investing millions into these new EU members. But Europe MUST invest, to preserve their position in the world. These new Europeans have the background that Europe is old and great (remember the great empires of the past), but because of lack of democracy have been kept ‘asleep’ for such a long while. Now with democracy into their lives again, they can see and take chances again. And here in Old Europe we are just lucky enough that they remember the old times when Europe was the strongest in the world.

Americans are used to fall and climb, but they might fall too far …
I guess the Americans possess the spirit to sacrifice more to get more, as it’s quite normal to see elder people (60+) still at work and to see how many people have 2 or 3 jobs at the same time. But then again their confidence of their capacity to continuously work more to get more, makes it less necessary for them to manage everything to have a steady foundation and a good balance. This is quite obvious now with the extreme situations related to the credit crisis, where banks that were just not managed decently are now saved by the governments at any cause. A new American acquaintance of mine, Jonathan Locke, is very worried about the current situation and is now asking questions about the American financial system that he has never thought to ask before. Although I love the ‘American way’, I do hope that this time they will not fall too far this time. But maybe America need this freefall now, to make them really change their self centered policy to have more and more for themselves …

Dutch advisors for America and American advisors for the Netherlands
I believe in situational management, different leadership for different situations. And as America is trying to have more financial stability and a more decent financial policy for the next decades, I think they should ask former Minister of Finance Mr. Gerrit Zalm for advice. The Dutch have always delivered good managers who are well known for their ability to achieve consensus and to save money for bad times. I think America would really benefit from such management styles to build a stronger foundation. Maybe then they can build new GM’s that will STAY THE BIGGEST for more centuries.

But vice versa, as the Netherlands are saying they want to stimulate and support entrepreneurship, they might have a better chance of really doing it when they take in real BIG entrepreneurs like Donald Trump as advisors. Hmm, maybe it’s just better to swap the Ministry of Finance and Economics between countries for a few years :). Then the Dutch might really have a chance to still be a country that counts in the world. Maybe then we can build new ABN AMRO’s or Corporate Expresses again and keep Unilever and Heineken from falling in foreign hands.

It’s good to balance, Australia is doing a good thing here …
In Australia the trend is that everything is going faster and faster, the economy is becoming more like ‘America’. It was actually quite a surprise for me to see the vast amount of American fastfood chains in Australia and how stores are open untill really late. I think on average Australian professionals work at least 50 hours per week. But then again, they have 20 days vacation each year and they can easily travel to nice places like Whitsunday Islands or Daintree to really relax and enjoy the real beaties of mother nature. A comforting thought for me was also to see that Australians value their entrepreneurs and really give different benefits for self-made people, probably something they also have taken from America.

I guess it’s logic as the whole continent only has 22 mln people, only 40% than in the Netherlands, while they have hundreds of times more space. So there is still enough space for Australians to develop, I just hope they are strong enough to preserve their beautiful landscapes like the Daintree rainforest. Especially with the rising level of seawater endangering a lot of natural wildlife habitats, where there is a delicate balance between fresh and salt water.

Componence is blessed, we get the chance to really mix
At Componence we are lucky to have Old (Dutch, German, Swedish), New Europeans (Polish, Romanian, Ukrainian), Asian (India, Vietnamese) and Americans in our network. We have the ability to mix and match:

  • Dutch for Ukrainians -> Decent management, where we try to create awareness for ‘long-term’ development;
  • Dutch for Indians -> Fair leadership, where we see that India needs new opportunities from us so that they will return the favor in 5-10 years from now;
  • Ukrainian for Dutch -> Boldness and strength, where we see that young people always think they can do a lot more than just standard;
  • Indian for Ukraine -> Willingness to learn and do any job, where we see that young people are thankful for any opportunity of work and appreciate the chance to learn;
  • Indian for Dutch -> Obedience and dedication, where we see that team members will listen and follow their leaders with practically no hesitation;
  • American & German for Dutch, Ukrainian & Indian -> Inspiration and confidence, where we see that expert architects show us the way to realize the technologies and solutions we want to deliver in our Enterprise vision;

For me personally, having 30 vacation days a year would be cool when you combine it with an average working week between 50-60 hours. I think I more support the ideas behind the book ‘The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works‘ by Ricardo Semler.


5 responses to How do Old Europeans, New Europeans, Americans and Australians balance life and work?


    Why not make it work AND live, instead of work FOR live, or the other way around. I think making 50 hours a week for your work is no problem, but you have to be able to incorporate the work in your life and your life in your work.

    In the Netherlands it is still considered strange when you handle some personal stuff during work time. This makes it harder for employees to manage their life. If instead we’d be able to mix personal life and work more then we can now life would be easier.

    I try to do more work on a terrace in the sun when I can, but I also don’t mind working on an interesting document during the weekend. I hope this mixing will work better then keeping a strict separation.

    Alexander Arendar August 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Nice reflection of your experiences.
    Thanks for a good words regarding inception of UA and other new countries into EU, that’s really important and matters.

    For each person the desired ration of work/life could be different, this is very subjective. Maybe we humans are not that simple to measure everything by ratios and Martin is right in suggesting that “live to work” and “work to live” are not the only choices…

    Personally me, if considering work/life ratio, would like to tend always to have it Decreasing. You tell you are happy with having 30 days of vacation, what about 60? 🙂 and what about 100? 🙂


    Hello Alexander, I guess we all should try to find working / living environments where we can stop dividing these two categories. We are alive! We should just do good things in the world while we live.

    Many people have chosen to do voluntary work in hard circumstances. I’m talking about Doctors without borders, Amnesty International. Some of them live in very hard circumstances and just live and help people. But I think they find it worth their while as saving people’s lifes, changing societies to become better have more humanity value.

    So I think I would love to have a job that I can call life at the same time, then maybe 2-3 weeks vacation in a year might already be enough 🙂

    Alexander Arendar August 29, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Hello Ha,

    I always thought of those people who do any voluntary work for the society as the best ones.
    Few years ago I’ve been visiting a centre of handicapped children treatment. That was a real shock for me and few days after that I’ve been under impression. People who work there are doing a lot, they are putting there life for others. In majority of cases we limit our involvement in such things to submission of some money and then isolate ourselve from those facets of a manifolded-life.
    So you have pointed out a good example regarding mixing work, life and rest. Everything is relative, like always.


    The Americans are always so shocked when they get more taxes. Phh … it’s nothing compared with the Dutch. This blog shows how Americans can really make a fuss out of it:

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