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I moved from the US (high on the list) to the Netherlands (bottom of the list) a while ago. Different jobs and sectors vary, but the theme I can confirm is that the Dutch feel more productive, generally (I work in software development).

In very broad terms, the Dutch are more likely to plan and stick to those plans. Personal time and time off are valued, so you need to be efficient in your working hours. You can't really expect someone to respond to your emails after working hours. Having to work in the weekends at all is a sign of bad project management, and should be exceptional. Meetings have agendas which are sent out ahead of time.

Americans are generally more optimistic, which makes for worse time management and planning, which leads to overtime and stress. Being seen at work somehow equals working, and internal guilt for not working efficiently while at work leads to more weekend work. There's a big focus how much you've 'worked' this week. Interruption is common for things which could be structured.

To be honest, it's been pretty difficult to adjust, but the payoff is huge. Actual free time after work, real weekends, and longer vacations are all possible because people plan... whereas friends back home are often unable to plan vacations because they/their boss don't know how busy they'll be in 5 months.

"Having to work in the weekends at all is a sign of bad project management"

Technology is easy, people are hard.

Is planning and taking vacation really a problem for most people? In nearly 20 years, I've never had to delay a vacation, much less cancel one. Perhaps it's not a function of the company, but rather the worker, valuing work more than rest? The ability to forget work and recharge is critical for creative workers, something companies should be more aware of.

Same experience. I'm in the US and every employer I've worked for has allowed me to take my 2+ weeks off, no questions asked, no calls, no expectation to respond to emails (I don't have work email on my phone).

I've worked in the US and Canada for 20 years. I've never really cancelled a vacation, though at the senior level I've made a choice to delay one. It was a personal choice, however. Sure, it was for the greater good of the project, but no one pressured me.

In knowledge and creative work I find that if you take 4-5 weeks off a year (I've only done this once) work can bleed in to "off time" and it doesn't matter. When you take 2-3 weeks off a year you have to protect your personal time.

In this strawman of the US, it is. ;-)

I do see this in some of the startups in the bay area though.

I don't know how to change that feeling though (short of moving out of the US). I believe I could work 6-8 hrs / day and no one would care but I can't stop feeling guilty at home

Let me guess... You were raised Christian? Protestant perhaps? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic

(EDIT: It's about the feeling of guild, people. It's embedded inside the Protestant Culture, alongside with working hard. As mentioned in Wikipedia link)

Sheesh; why the downvotes? It's a very appropriate comment as the 'Protestant work ethic' is the canonical name for, and most likely significant source of, the exact feeling the GP described.

There are plenty of Protestants in Europe (obviously) and many of them are more conservative than the US as regards work & society - eg it's typical in small towns not to find any shops open on Sunday in the Netherlands or Germany, and IIRC Germany had pretty stringent laws against Sunday working until quite recently. Some of this is related to trade union history, but on the other hand if you're a registered member of a church your tithes (religious tax for the upkeep of the church) will be automatically subtracted from your paycheck by law.

'Protestant work ethic' is something I've only heard talked about in America, usually couched in the form of an indirect put-down of non-protestants. Northern Europeans are more likely to view predominantly Catholic countries like France, Spain, Italy as stereotypically lazy, but this is usually ascribed to the Mediterranean climate.

My father was raised Protestant, I went to a Protestant elementary school and was raised half secular, half Protestant and I generally recognize it very much in myself, my father and quite a few people in our surroundings (mixed religion area.)

The thing is that it's not necessarily so much about working hours here. It's the general feeling that every moment should be intentful, purposeful and, like our churches, generally without frills.

In a way it feels less like 'work hard' and more like 'don't endulge yourself' to me.

I feel "Puritan work ethic" would be more appropriate for Americans.

>Dutch feel more productive, generally (I work in software development).

Are they more productive though? That's the important part. I'm not familiar with the Dutch software industry, is it comparable to silicon valley?

I've had the same experience in Norway. Maybe it is a Northern European thing?

Edited: Scandinavian -> Norther Europe

The Netherlands are not part of Scandinavia.

Right you are. There is so much cultural cross-over that I forget that sometimes.

You know what happened to most of the people throughout the history of Northern Europe who weren't good at planning ahead by building great shelters and collecting food for long, cold winters?

They didn't contribute very much to the genetic and cultural pool that exists in those areas today.

It is a European thing actually. Sometimes it seems labor rights are perceived as socialism by Americans.

Maybe that's not it. I think it is American politics value businesses more than people.

I have the same experience in Switzerland. I moved from the u.s. (s.f., boston, dc, socal) and despite working less we get a lot more done than in the u.s.

We have an 8.5 hour workday in Switzerland which we strictly stick to - we get comp time if you work over. In the u.s. we were pretty regularly working 10 hour days and 12 wasn't unusual, but we were wasting so much time.

A good example is meetings - most people get to the meeting 5 minutes before the start time. As soon as enough people arrive (usually 5 minutes before the start time or right at the start time) the meeting starts. If the meeting doesn't start by 10 minutes after because someone is missing it's cancelled. There's no smalltalk at the beginning, no socializing, no standing around stuffing your face...

Our company was bought by an American company and some of the Swiss staff transferred to the u.s. for awhile. Meetings were one of the most confusing changes for them - they'd be waiting in the conference room with no one showing up, then a few stragglers 10 minutes after the start time, and then every stands around talking about non-work stuff like they were at a high-school mixer. One colleague asked to have them start the meeting the first few time but eventually gave up and just started doing it the American way.

And yet people complain about the pointlessness of meetings despite not doing anything to make them more efficient (cf start and end on time, avoid chit-chat, stick to the agenda, send actions quickly afterwards etc). It only takes a small about of self-discipline to get there but everyone has to exercise it.

I'm lucky to have learned from some excellent meeting-chairs but have only been able to reproduce the efficiency when I formed and ran my own team. Never pulled it off when joining someone else's.

The #1 thing to make meetings more efficient is not to have them. Very many meetings, IME, are held for purposes for which a face-to-face meeting is not an efficient tool, and for which decentralized, asynchronous mechanisms like email would serve better.

Most meetings are primate dominance rituals.

That means they're unproductive. On the other hand, if you force a venue change, you're just going to get hyper aggressive git commit messages or something equally stupid to show "who's boss". The only solution I'm aware of is to select employees for hire based on likelihood of not being "into" primate dominance rituals, at least not at work. This is pretty hard to figure out at the interview stage and once a company is eventually infected, its plague dynamics time, and much like a bad flu season, work grinds to a halt.

> Most meetings are primate dominance rituals.

I don't think that's necessarily even a subconscious purpose, but most human group face-to-face interactions end up involving some elements of such rituals, and in the case of meetings they are particularly dominant when the "rich interaction" that is enabled by face-to-face communication isn't used specifically for something else.

So what would be your rules of thumb for when meetings are worthwhile?

The simple two-part question to identify when a meeting is worthwhile and what the scope of the meeting should be (and what should be in other channels): Is simultaneous, interactive, many-to-many communication necessary, and why, specifically, is it necessary? (A followup, to make sure that people are ready to have the meeting -- another common problem that makes meetings a waste of time and results in inappropriate things being done in the meeting venue -- is to ask: "what needs to happen first so that people are ready to engage in that many-to-many interaction"?)

Lots of meetings, IME, are held by one person to gather information from many people or to distribute information from one person to many people -- these kind of one-to-many or many-to-one scenarios are the easiest thing to see doesn't require a meeting (many-to-one being the more inefficient.) There's even some cases of many-to-many communication where there isn't any real need for interactivity. And plenty of cases where a meeting that is held for a many-to-many interactive purpose spends much of its time doing top-down, one-to-many communication for much of the meeting because something that ought to have been distributed to be reviewed by participants to be ready for a productive meeting was instead distributed for the first time in the meeting, wasting most of the meeting time.

If two people can't figure out stuff they should ask third to join them. Then you are having worthwhile meeting. Meeting that are not about figuring out stuff or about figuring out stuff that can be figured by two people are not worthwhile except socially. But if you need social meeting why pretend you are doing work?

I hate meetings. A co-worker and I play a game whenever we are in charge of a meeting- see if we can end it early. It's amazing when an hour long meeting can be finished in 20 minutes. Unfortunately, there are a few people that like to drag the meeting out (unprepared, asking unrelated questions, making people wait for XYZ event that could be sent as an email later).

Ha, that's a great idea, to gamify it! Monthly competition to see who can end a meeting the earliest?

It's hard to get to the meetings 5 minutes early when they are back to back to back... :-(

Scheduling the meeting directly before lunch should take care of ending it on time.

In my experience how late you were for a meeting was a proxy for your status in the company. The longer you kept others waiting for you, the higher your status.

I've seen this play out in social groups, too.

Could you elaborate what "the American way" is?

This reminds me of my last remote job. Every day, we would have. Standup meeting. These are supposed to be 15 minutes, but typically would last well over an hour. On top of this, we would have: planning (4 hour meeting), review (3 hour), retrospective (3 or 4 hours), and the boss decided we weren't having enough meetings..so he added a soical meeting every Friday for an hour. We were all remote and this was a way for us to so somehow become closer as a team.

at one point, I was paid for more time in meetings than work. The only way this didn't happen was when we were putting out fires because mysteriously, we weren't making project goals and upper management was putting pressure on my boss.

Haha thats hilarious.

I currently work for a fully remote company and it's completely the opposite. We do one weekly status meeting which is usually 20-30 mins. Then project planning/troubleshooting/teambuilding meetings as needed usually around 2-4 hours per MONTH.

EVERYTHING else is discussed/solved very efficiently via IM.

I hope to never work for a company with meetingitus again, big waste of time and resources.


No, but they look like a cool company.

OMG, that sounds like where I work.

It's acceptable to skip a few of the meetings after things inevitably turn into a cluster bomb and somebody has to start writing the actual code.

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