As the largest economy in the world, the U.S. has had a tremendous effect on the overall Norwegian culture, including the fact that Norwegians are craving American pop culture. But when honing in on a few specific areas related to working culture, i.e. labour unions, employment rights, work-life balance and equality, it is clear to see that there are big differences between the two respective cultures as well.
1 Work life balance
It is sometimes said that in America you live to work, whereas in Norway you work to live. To Norwegians, having a balanced work-life is crucial. And how you identify yourself is divided into two equal parts, namely, what you do for work and what you do with your spare time. When Norwegians are eager to get home at 4 pm (or even earlier), it is usually because they have a spare time agenda, typically including family time, or hobbies like skiing or trekking. Finishing at 4 o’clock also includes the CEOs, which you shouldn’t expect to get in contact with after this hour.
2 Work day structure
In the U.S., the chunks of work between breaks are often larger than what is typical in Norway. This means that we, in the U.S., keep our hands on a task until it is done. When we find a sensible time for lunch we occasionally spend up to an hour on it. Sometimes we eat lunch in midday meetings or at our desks.
Breaks are more rigid in Norway with a scheduled 30-minute lunch-break in the middle of the day, including all employees. The short lunch-break is complemented with several coffee breaks throughout the day, dividing our work into smaller chunks.
3 Employment at will
‘Employment at will’ is a U.S. term which means that an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason, i.e., without having to establish a “just cause”. This is very different from Norway where labour unions have given power to the employees. In fact, if you get hired in Norway, it is extremely unlikely that you will get fired after a three-month trial period. For that to happen, the employer would need to have legal reasons.
4 Paid time off
In the U.S. there are no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays, and it is left to the employers to offer paid vacation. The law requires some employers to allow 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. In contrast, Norwegian mothers are not allowed to take less than 9 weeks off after the child is born, including 100 % salary. The same principles apply to the Norwegian father, who must take at least 14 weeks off before the child turns 3 years old.
In Norway, 5 weeks (25 days) of holiday is required by law, not including sick days, which you also would be fully compensated for. When it comes to parental leave, Norwegian parents get up to 49 weeks with 100% salary, split between the parents (or 59 weeks with 80% salary).
The income gap is much smaller in Norway than in America. But an interesting point, which might help to explain some of this difference is that, according to a recent study, Norwegians and Americans see equality of income differently. Norwegians believe that when someone is, by bad luck, born into a poor family, or has, by bad luck, ended up in poverty, that person should have help from others. U.S. residents are more split on this idea.
This is similar to gender equality, where Norway works very hard to provide women with the same opportunities as men. Using parental leave and Norwegian CEOs as an example, this means that the CEO could be away for quite some time if she’s having a baby. This arrangement could make it easier for women to, e.g. pursue a career.
Having worked at a university hospital and a big auditing firm in Norway, I can say that working in the Boston startup WeSpire has been a completely new, but also a valuable experience. But I would also like to point out that WeSpire, as opposed to many American companies, has similarities to the Norwegian ones. This is well reflected in characteristics like work-life balance and paid time off. WeSpire has a flexible vacation policy, paid parental leave, and even meditation time at work. This approach emphasizes bringing your whole self to work, which without a doubt, leads to more employee engagement.