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How Working Differs Around the World

21 December 2021

While the 9-5 routine may be the norm for many in the UK, that’s not the case everywhere! Around the world, workplace culture can differ vastly from country to country, and some traditions and habits can come as a surprise to those arriving from elsewhere. Let’s take a mini trip around the world, and take a look at some of the more unusual workplace practices across the globe!

1. Midday work naps are encouraged in Japan

Over here, falling asleep while on the job would normally be cause for at best an apology, and at worst, a stern meeting with the manager. However, in Japan, this is anything but the case. Japanese corporate culture encourages taking a break in the middle of the day to nap and revitalise. This practice is known the the Japanese as “inemuri” (“present while sleeping”), and is taken to be the sign of a hard-working and diligent employee.

2. Employees are required to log off in France

Far from encouraging overtime as a symbol of a good worker, France takes a different approach to ending the working day. The French have totally rejected the expectation for workers to be at their employers’ beck and call day and night, and mandate that employees must protect their work-life balance. Employees in France enjoy a 35-hour workweek and are legally afforded the right to disconnect and make themselves unavailable from phone or email contact once they are off the clock. This legislation was passed by the French government in an attempt to combat workplace burnout.  

3. Shifted work week in Israel

While Monday to Friday is the typical work week in most places around the world, Israel works by a different calendar. In order to keep the Jewish day of rest free, the Israeli work week takes place from Sunday to Thursday. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, takes place from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, so workers leave the office behind on Thursday to keep this sacred time free. Israel is home to many international companies and offices, whose workers may sometimes find themselves having to keep on schedule with their international counterparts, but for the vast majority of citizens, the workweek falls from Sunday to Thursday.

4. Coffee breaks are a matter of principle in Sweden

Workplace culture in Sweden treats coffee breaks with a degree of reverence found nowhere else. As opposed to being viewed as a way of slacking off and dodging work, coffee breaks are viewed as a valuable necessity throughout the working day, and are believed to encourage focus and productivity. Most workplaces in Sweden offer their employees several mandated coffee breaks per day, in order to encourage workers to move around and distance themselves from their desks. As Sweden consistently ranks among the countries with the happiest workers in the world, we wouldn’t be surprised if these regular breaks throughout the day indeed have a positive impact.

5. Prayer in the UAE

Just as coffee breaks are a staple of the Swedish workplace culture, so too is prayer a staple of working in the United Arab Emirates. This also applies to many other Muslim countries, and the designated time for prayer takes precedent over other business matters throughout the day. The Islamic faith calls for prayer to be practised five times a day, and as such this is incorporated into the daily routine. Business meetings and even answering phone calls take second place to daily prayer for businesses in the UAE and the rest of the Muslim world.  

6. Group fitness in Japan

Another example of differing workplace cultures around the world comes in the form of the group fitness practised by corporations in Japan. While many companies and start-ups are trying to win over their employees with perks like gym passes and exercise courses, the idea of working out at work has long been a staple of the Japanese work culture. Workers in Japan routinely practice 15 minutes a day of group exercise, which is usually performed alongside Radio Taiso, an exercise guide that is broadcast daily on the national radio service.

7. Iceland’s groundbreaking support for parents

While the richest country in the world, the USA, has yet to mandate paid leave for new parents, Iceland’s legislation is doing just the opposite. While most countries around the world offer new parents compensation so that they may stay at home and care for their new child, Iceland is taking this to new heights. The Icelandic government offers both new mothers and new fathers 3 months of paid leave, followed by an additional 3 months that the couple may share. During this period, both parents are paid at least 80% of their salary. The Icelandic government offers its paid leave in this way in the hopes of combating gender inequality and encouraging parents to take equal responsibility for the care of their newborn child.


Doing business around the world often requires keeping an open mind and learning to expect the unexpected. Familiarising yourself with different workplace cultures such as these is a great way of preparing yourself for what may lie ahead if you expand into the world of international business. While some practices might seem odd at first, there are certainly some - such as workplace naps and the right to rest - that we definitely wouldn’t mind adopting ourselves!