By Lorenzo Alia
My life experience in the United States would not have been complete if I had not found a job in an American company. Why? Because it’s an excellent way to understand American society better—how working influences the culture, how the culture influences the way we work and what the role of companies is in the lives of Americans.
To be hired I had to alter my way of presenting myself. Interviews here in the US are more accomplished-oriented. Companies are more interested in what you have done and in your successes than in your previous role or the name of your former company. They want to be sure that you are the right person for them and you can resolve their problems. Once I joined the company I realized that the work organization is very similar to what I had already experienced in my professional career. The way you are asked to perform your job is the same and also the dynamics inside the organization work the same way. So what is different?
What surprised me was the effort of the company in empowering its employees. There are meetings with the senior management, time for recognition and awards as well as internal campaigns to reinforce the value of the employee for the company and the customer. Employees can really feel part of the organization and understand that they are important to make a difference and provide added value to the business. As part of the professional growth the company promotes technical courses and “Launch and Learning” sessions to improve knowledge and the personal skills. Also, because I think in the US there is a special sensitivity in preventing any kind of harassment, dedicated trainings are prepared to explain the behaviors that are not tolerated, especially in the workplace.
Another notable difference is that in my experience the companies strive to be well integrated in the community and provide a contribution in the area where they are located. They promote fundraising for charity or scientific research and volunteer activities, host other organizations that want to promote their business with discounts to the employees, cooperate with the major universities in the area and collaborate with the municipalities. I believe this is a win-win situation where the company can manage stakeholders, improve its business and provide benefits to its employees.
When I worked in Europe the coffee breaks or the lunches were opportunities to meet the other employees, socialize, and catch up on the latest rumors. Here it is less common to spend time together for a coffee or eat together at lunch; however, there are a lot of chances to network within the company. In fact team-building activities are organized throughout the year, as well as fun initiatives such as “Wear your Ugly Christmas Sweater”, activity challenges to walk a minimum number of steps per day per team, and “Selfie & Spirit Day” to take pictures in selfie stations wearing your favorite jersey or sports-team colors.
As most of you know in the US, companies usually offer limited vacation compared to many other countries; however in my experience they try to facilitate your time at the workplace. For example we have an onsite clinic which has a wellness screening program and free flu shots for all the employees. At headquarters you can find a gym as well as volleyball, baseball and tennis facilities—to be used outside working hours. Also it’s possible to reserve a twenty-minute massage, and there is a room for new mothers. Finally, we have access to free coffee and popcorn after 3pm!
The American workplace is something I never would have understood or appreciated without this first-hand experience. Throughout my workday—through the business of working itself, I am also observing and learning about the culture around me.