Pinching from Across the Pond

I just returned from several glorious weeks of travel throughout Europe. Like all experiences, I want to observe and assess what I might learn, share and use to enhance my own life and further my insight. Below are a few lessons I gleaned from our jovial kin across the pond.

1. Service is a profession. In Europe, waiters and waitresses, hotel service clerks, concierges, cooks, taxicab drivers, etc., are performed by mature men and women who see their jobs as professions—professions they have enjoyed and sustained for decades and look forward to continuing for decades to come. In America, most of these positions are perceived as demeaning and possessing little value. They’re usually held by high-school or college students or low-wage immigrants. I think the difference stems from a social attitude. Europeans consider a service position more respectable than Americans. Thus, they pursue it as a career and find satisfaction in their work. Furthermore, the organizations they work for also respect their positions and compensate their employees accordingly. As a result, this diminishes the high volume of turnover, significantly reduces costs (hiring, training, administration), and allows European organizations to maintain a consistency of service, operational efficiency and financial stability.

Lesson: Treat your service positions as professional opportunities for prospective employees. Create career opportunities with long-term benefits and satisfactory compensation. After all, these employees will be the front line of your business. Cultivating dedicated, loyal and skilled professionals in these positions could give you an incredibly unique advantage—that is, in the American market!

2. Work to live. There is a much different attitude, outlook and expectation about work in Europe than I believe we have here in America. Many of us tend to “live to work” instead of the other way around. We are defined by what we do and achieve, rather than by what we experience or share. Once again, the cultural attitude is entirely different. In Europe, you are not expected to be reachable during nonworking hours or during holiday (vacation). Thus, they don’t have the same “guilt” pangs we might experience when we aren’t working. As I have written many times before, culturally, we have nearly obliterated the line between work and personal life in America. The result has caused burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, destroyed relationships, and induced stress or stress-related ailments, such as depression, heart disease and stomach ulcers, reaching record levels.

Lesson: Since work expectations have become a bit perverse here in America, we need to proactively manage our work-life boundaries. As an employer, you should not only recognize and respect these boundaries, but you should help your employees establish and honor them as well. The ultimate result is better and greater productivity—and a much more sane and satisfying life.

3. Homage to the “old.” More important than Europe’s monopoly on “old” things is the reverence and respect it has for them. The European desire to preserve for posterity their emblems of the past far exceeds ours. Our attitude in America is one that regards the old as far more disposable—be it culture or community—than what I observed abroad. When something becomes old or tired, we tear it down and build something new. We tend to build using materials with short expiration dates. However, Europeans continue to build with stone. They lay down new cobblestone sidewalks with painstaking care. Meanwhile, we take the shortcut using stucco and pouring asphalt. Mind you, Europeans are no less modern or contemporary. Walk into any of those old stone buildings, and the interiors are designed and modernized with technologies and innovations that still remain to be seen in the States.

Because they are surrounded by their history, I think Europeans gain a better understanding and wisdom about their past—and their future—than we do in the United States. Rather than building for speed or cost reduction, they build for posterity and with integrity, benefiting from durability, longevity and stability. These are handmade customs that would benefit us all.

Lesson: Refer to Jim Collins’ Built to Last

For those who have traveled to Europe, what were some observations you made that we could positively incorporate into our professional and personal lives? Please comment below.

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