Between Success and Failure - Work experience in the USA
In 2015 and 2016 I had the opportunity to experience the work life in the USA (Beverly Hills, CA). Now since february, the only news and information many people get refer to politics and the new president Donald Trump. I, however, will try my best to avoid this topic and focus on describing and analyzing 'American' business values and the work life as I have experienced it. Questions I try to discuss are: How is the communication between management and staff? Which business values play a major role? How strong is the American Dream still present? We will find that for some questions it is easier to find answers than for others.
Welcome to the American Dream!
Who doesn't know the American Dream?! A metaphor for working hard and you get what you deserve - no matter who you are or where you come from. Whereas the exact description of what the American Dream is can only be defined by every individual itself, but all in all it is an institutionalized ideal that provides the opportunity to expand one's potential.
,,We hold these truths to be self-evident,that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
(Thomas Jefferson, Decleration of Independence)
Isn't it crazy that this right has already been articulated and guaranteed in the Decleration of Independence? Shouldn't we all have this right by now? In the year 2017? Does America really offer equal opportunities for everybody? Firstly, how and that this right has been verbalized 250 years ago was definitely visionary and important for the development of society. At the same time, the fact alone that racial segregation was part of American law in some states until the late 60s underlines the contradictory reality. Even today it is very difficult to speak of equality. Alongside sociocultural discrimination, we can also identify sociodemographic segregation in the school system. While wealthy districts generally have good schools with enough inventory and great teachers, schools located in poor disctricts have to struggle for every item and every well-educated teacher. For many people this may not be something new (since it is subject of many movies and books), but regarding the employability and worklife it is a very important aspect that needs to be kept in mind.
Work hard, be successful
But what does it look like in a business? Can we identify equal opportunities? How is the workplace moral? Admittedly, my personal experience relies on the direct contact with only one company. Nevertheless, I was also able to exchange thoughts with many citizens and employees from other companies and branches. However, I would never say that my experience can be taken as a represantative example of an American working culture (if such a generalization even exists).
Anyway, my impression is that the worklife is highly performance-based. This is not really a surprise if we regard that the ideal of working hard is still present in the people's minds. Especially in a city like Los Angeles where success, wealth and freedom meets rivalry, pressure and stress, one can experience the need to succeed. Performance enhancing drugs (Ritalin, Cocaine) are also commonly used in order to cope with this heavy performance pressure. "Wer bremst, verliert" - the one who hits the brakes loses; the one who stops working loses. Only few people would think of decelerating their everyday life, making a break once in a while.
There is another aspect, that has to be mentioned. Los Angeles is a city of divergence. Success and failure, cooperations and rivalry, wealth and poverty. Everybody who comes to Los Angeles can see this right away. But this is not the worst part. Once I have heard someone say: "These (homeless) people, they have just worked not hard enough." I was shocked. Surely, such a statement is clearly not a good representation either, but yet, I find that the citizens are highly affected by the just-world hypothesis and/or the matthew-effect.
A light at the end of the tunnel
...is quite frankly a misleading headline. Especially because my personal experience was a bit contradictory to the general impression I got. I am very glad that I worked for a company, where many of the previously mentioned aspects played a minor role. Certainly, nobody can completely forget about performance and efficiency in a district like Beverly Hills - and they shouldn't! Nevertheless, I can assert that the work-life balance was taken into consideration very carefully. Only three things the management expected every employee to have: competence in their field, understanding of work guidelines and a will to work. To my mind, these are very basic expectations and can be fulfilled pretty easily. It is then indeed the people's choice, if they want to make a competent and committed impression or not. I, however, can say that I not only felt welcome, but also had the best management and employee relation I have seen so far.
What should we remember?
First of all, there is much, much more to say about the American working culture. And I do know that the effect of the American Dream onto the American working culture is highly debatable and diverse. But I still think that it should be considered in any way. Following these assumptions, there are some key aspects that everybody should remember when interacting or working with American companies and businesses.
First: What you should have
- an open mind,
- learn and work motivation,
- confidence and
- the ability to cooperate
Second: What you should know
- that the American Dream is not necessarily reality, but it is still somewhere in the mind of society,
- that performance pressure is a real and ubiquitous danger especially in metropolitan areas,
- that commitment and the will to work hard is always expected and
- that it is sometimes not common practice to create space for relaxation and breaks for the employees (yes, I know that the American culture has produced some companies that exhibit the complete opposite during the past years).
Let´s improwe together!