Office Evolution

Workplace culture: How 9 countries compare to the US

From Japan to Sweden.

Originally Published: 
Business people walking through a city at dawn.
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Ever wonder what it’d be like to work in another country? Prepare for a learning curve. There's not only a language barrier, as even the English speakers will likely communicate differently, but also a cultural one.

Here is a quick look at office cultures from nine countries.

9. Japan

Japan is a country of rules, especially when it comes to work. Some rules, which are also found in other Asian countries, include conference room seating based on rank along with allowing guests and superiors to enter and exit the elevator first. Office workers are also expected to go out with their colleagues for dinner and drinks. One of the more fascinating rituals is the daily recitation of a company mantra and song in the morning, before the start of the workday. Some co-workers also exercise together during this time. This ritual aims to pump up employees for a good day of work, which can last a while — Japanese workers tend to clock a lot of hours.

8. Britain

Due to our common tongue, British and American office culture tends to look similar. But there are key differences. Most notably, Brits, much like other Europeans, tend to work a set number of hours, whereas Americans tend to clock well over their 40 hours a week. British office workers also frequently socialize with each other, with co-workers drinking together at nearby pubs on a weekly basis.

7. France

The biggest difference in French office culture can be summed up in one word: booze. Office cafeterias in the country have wine or beer available to enjoy during meals. Speaking of meals, French workers will take breaks to eat, sometimes for up to two hours. Colleagues are also more reserved with each other. They don’t discuss their personal lives or even keep photos of family members on their desks.

6. Germany

Germans may be even more reserved at work than the French, to the point where small talk barely exists. Workplaces in the country are very structured, to the point where if someone wanted to visit a particular department, they’d need the permission of its supervisor. Likely due to Germans’ seriousness toward work, they put in around 35 hours per week.

5. Brazil

Office culture in this Latin American country can depend on the region, but it generally leans toward more laid back. People may be a little late coming to meetings, which can run late. Work hours are typically between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour lunch break. Appearance and attire are important factors, with better clothing usually denoting higher status. Workplaces are hierarchical. Brazilians tend to be physical with one another, with back slapping common among men. It’s also acceptable to interrupt someone while they’re talking.

Compared to the US, lunch breaks can last up to two hours for some countries.

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4. China

Like many countries in Asia, the Chinese often work a lot of hours, but two-hour lunch breaks are typical. Meanwhile, personal and professional lives are blended. Job interviews and business discussions can focus a lot on private life, because people like to know someone before doing business with them. China also has a tradition of drinking with colleagues, but that’s starting to change with younger workers.

3. Spain

Dispel the notion of the siesta — the long break for naps that split the traditional Spanish workday — it’s just not that common anymore. The BBC reported in 2017 that almost 60 percent of Spaniards never have a siesta, and even fewer nap. Still, Spaniards actually clock more hours than their European counterparts due to the idea that more hours means a deeper commitment to employers, with workdays ending as late as 8 p.m. Fortunately, many Spaniards tend to develop friendships with their colleagues.

2. India

It seems like there’s no set working hours in India. People come in late, spend hours in the office, take long breaks, and sometimes are still working after midnight. Essentially, work-life balance is not really a concept in India. Relationships between colleagues can develop into friendships once trust is earned. The power structure is hierarchical, but that doesn’t mean discussions don’t get heated, as Indians tend to be emotionally engaged in work.

1. Sweden

Swedes value their time outside of work; people in the country typically take summer vacations. That’s not to say there aren’t breaks during the workday. Fika are coffee breaks in which people have a cup of joe and eat something sweet while interacting with their colleagues. Swedish offices have flat hierarchies and promote decision-making at every level. Individual well-being is very important as well.

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