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Work Styles Across the Country and Around the World

By Dan Morgridge

Labor Day might be a celebration most associated with family vacations and grilling, but it's a tribute to the hard work and sometimes violent clashes that workers had with owners to create the modern workweek.

Some people might not appreciate the nine-to-five, but it's a marked improvement over some of the awful working conditions at the turn of the century. But is it perfect? We take a look at some of the different work styles found around the world, and a couple unique ones that the US has homegrown.

The Siesta

Probably the most famous work alternate schedule (and most envied by Americans right around lunchtime) is the siesta. Primarily a Spanish tradition, the practice of a mid-day two-to-three hour break can also be found in Latin America. Some regions of Germany have a two-hour Mittagspause, and even some people in China indulge in a wujiao afternoon nap. Of course, the siesta has its downfalls too - families complain that with the much later hour in which they get to finish work, their time spent with the family is severely limited.

The Sabbatical

New mothers are often allowed a large amount of time off for maternity leave to be with their newborns. But what if you could have a month just to yourself? Or even better, two? Companies like Intel are flexible enough that employees who've been with the company for seven years can take a whopping two-month break to do with as they please. Other companies like American Express and PricewaterhouseCoopers offer anywhere from three months to a year off, but with the stipulation that it be used for charitable or non-profit work.

Paid Vacation

The average American might think that paid vacation time is hardly a radical idea. But how much of it we get and how much we actually use are vastly different from the rest of the world. Americans get roughly half the amount of paid vacation that countries like France and England do, and actually use even less of that time. Workers in France got a whopping 37 days off a year on average, and used 35 of them. Americans? The average worker gets a mere 18 days off, and only uses 14.

Google's 20%

One of America's biggest companies is also one of its most radical in terms of office time. Google is committed to hiring the most creative people on the market, so they want to encourage them to keep innovating on the job. They facilitate this by offering workers 20% of their time (one whole day of the work week) to work on their own pursuits. The reasoning? Google expects that its employees will come up with valuable innovations that the management couldn't have thought of. So far, it's turned out very well for them - popular Google services like Google News have come directly from these 20% sessions.

The Four-Day Work Week

In 2009, Utah decided to become the first state to switch most of its government workers to a four-day workweek. This means that for four days a week, they would work ten hours, but then they'd have one extra day of the weekend. This set-up saved costs on office electricity, transportation for the workers, and a whole lot of mysterious Friday sick days. But the actual amount of money saved was disputed, and the senate finally voted to return the workers to a five-day workweek. Much like the siesta, some of the workers had trouble seeing their families during the ten-hour days, and others simply wanted to visit government agencies like the DMV on Fridays. However, many other governors and private companies have inquired about the four-day workweek, so it could make a second showing somewhere in the future.

Aside from these examples, advancements in technology are changing people's work weeks more than ever. Telecommuting, video conferences, and smart phones are making offices more flexible, but also blurring the lines between free time and work. With any luck, many workers in the future will be able to get their work done from the office or a beach in Cancun - and that should make for a pretty nice siesta.

Dan Morgridge is a writer in Chicago's Ukranian Village. He enjoys eating and drinking above his means, finding new music, and socially conscious hedonism.

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