360° of a 9 to 5

By Krishna Pamidi

Exploring professional practices around the world

Illustration by Junyu Guan.

Illustration by Junyu Guan.

It’s 11:30 am and you haven’t had food yet.

You look around desperately for some camaraderie in brunch. Why did you have to wait for the friend? Why couldn’t you just go yourself if you were as famished as you were? The point is that there was a social cue, an unspoken rule which prohibited you from scarfing down the pancakes at 11:30 in the afternoon . However, had it been Liechtenstein, nobody would bat an eye at you sipping on your morning coffee at 11:30 am. This interesting change of pace comes, courtesy of the different social cues and practices at the workplace across the world.

As the Guardian brilliantly exemplifies it, the typical British workplace is how you expect it: neat and disciplined. A sneeze is typically followed by an ‘excuse me’ and eating anything larger than a burrito at the desk is just uncommon. But the folks over in Germany have a different attitude toward work altogether. As Anna, a multilingual individual who has worked both in Germany and Great Britain, notes, she was taken aback when she first saw her deskmate light up a cigarette and was genuinely surprised when she found out that it’s a common notion to want to light one up during work so as to relieve stress. Anna also notes about the differing ‘conferences’ that take place in a typical German office and a typical British office. According to her, a typical conference meeting in Germany feels more like ‘going down to the pub’ with friends, given the casual approach to the whole thing, whereas the island feels appropriately more structured. Conference meetings having a more definite place and a definite set of unspoken rules, again courtesy of the different social cues and attitudes in different countries.

Circling back to the punctuality issue, the Germans, arguably, know how to live. People would arrive at the office at around 10 a.m. since that would be when the doors would be open. Having said that, it wouldn’t be uncommon to have employees show up at 11 a.m. still droopy eyed. As Cole Lipsky, an employee of the Accenture management consultancy service who also has experience working in both Germany and Britain puts it, the main difference that he noticed was the lack of light in the office space:  “It feels like something out of a noir film,” he says as he appreciates the professional environment of the typical British office. Germany and Britain are just two countries with contrasting work practices. There are quite literally hundreds of these quirky celebrations of the differences in culture, across the world.

Whereas Germany was more laid-back, there is another country, a more studious country. This is a country that is so hard-core that it poured soil on top of shipwrecks to farm and make up for the lack of mainland square mileage. A country so intense that it trained fighter pilots to deliberately crash themselves into enemy lines. A country which is made up of over 6,000 islands according to factretreiver.com, I am talking about Japan. Japan is an interesting country for one particular reason: their almost religious devotion to their profession. ‘Shokunin’( pronounced, sho-koo-neen) is the Japanese term for ‘Mastery of one’s profession’. As Business Insider puts it, almost the entire Japanese workforce practices Shokunin because to them, work isn’t simply a 9-5 job. It is their life. It is the simple desire of the common man, to want to belong to something, to serve a larger purpose than oneself and the Japanese interpretation of this common feeling means to contribute to that ‘larger than oneself’ by doing their own job the absolute best. Absolute efficiency is the mantra and so is finding pride in the process, not just the outcome. Imagine working with that mindset. Where you are driven to work at your absolute best for a cause and every single thing you do right along the way fuels your self esteem and makes you that much better at your job.

Flipping that coin, lands us in the good old U.S. of A. As the article in Business Insider goes, the work culture in America is starkly different because there is a lack of shokunin in the American workforce. This leads to a certain inefficiency in employee behavior. Such is the case when a Japanese immigrant is flabbergasted when she notices a cashier on her cell phone as she processes the groceries. As David Flescher, an employee of a boutique accounting firm in Glastonbury CT, notes, “Everybody is out of the door by 4:45, 5:30 at the latest, on tax day.” Flescher further points out that sometimes the senior figures at the firm sometimes show up around 10:30 a.m. with a gym bag in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other. While this may lead to an impressive physique, what I notice is the hour-and-a-half of productive time lost. Going back to Japan, need I remind everyone of the ridiculous punctuality of the bullet train? The point here is that in Japan, work and profession is something of pride. They take pride in the efficiency and the time spent to get the job done the best way possible. In America, work and profession is a thing of status and money. The level of professionalism may be higher than Italy and Brazil but it trails the discipline and structure of Japan.

195 countries. A hundred and ninety five different cultural cues and 195 different set of work practices and social cues. Some of these produce meticulous efficiency rates and some these make for stress-free conference meetings. The differing work practices around the world, affect the workforce itself which takes a toll on the GDP of the country itself. It is only fascinating and maybe even eye-opening to realize how the small habits such as lighting a cigarette at work can bring about a difference of $1.195 trillion USD between Germany and Japan, as of 2017 as put forward by countryeconomy.com. How about that? The cost of a cigarette, the cost of a trip to the bar or a trip to the cafe for brunch. The cost of a refreshing morning gym session or turning on the lights at work, all equaling over a trillion dollars….food for thought.

Krishna Pamidi is a sophomore studying Finance in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.