9 Tips for Working with European Companies during the Summer

Work with Europeans in the summer

How To Work With Europeans in the Summer

It’s not easy for Americans to work with Europeans during the summer months. Paid vacations slow down the pace of work significantly, leading to misunderstandings on both sides of the Atlantic. How and why should you overcome this challenge?

The United States is the only economically developed country in the world where there is no legal obligation to provide paid vacations to employees. Employees working for big companies often have two weeks of vacation (paid vacation), but it’s far from the reality in SMEs. I noticed that the number of vacation days is positively influenced by their qualifications, their seniority and the size of the business in which they work. An American government study found that employees working in SMEs or on a part-time basis (read lower salaries) have less vacation than those with good salaries working full-time in large corporations.

Americans therefore work more days per year than their European counterparts. This is particularly evident in August when factories and offices in Southern Europe are closed. This phenomenon is virtually non-existent in Germany, but the pace there also decreases in the summertime.

Cultural misunderstandings

It’s not that easy for Americans to work with Europeans in the summer! Americans might have a few days off, while their partners in Europe will take two or three weeks vacation.

I see two problems: A lack of market understanding and a lack of understanding of the cultural dimension. This leads frequently to poor summer planning. Furthermore, the team based in the United States may become frustrated because it cannot make progress, while the European teams may feel like their American colleagues are rude.

Often multinational teams work on a common business project without considering each other’s cultural background. It seems easier to grasp technical differences like the voltage and the electrical outlets than those about paid vacations and holidays!

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For the last 20 years, I have worked for and with French, German, Swiss, Polish, Dutch, British, Italian and American companies. Only one of these companies ever organized a two-day intercultural training session for the German team. In another case, I attended a one-hour presentation about the Dutch management style. That’s not much considering the level of almost daily interaction required during inter-border projects.

How to work with European colleagues during the summer?

The key to success when working on a project with European colleagues is to know that the pace slows down significantly in the summer. For this reason, Americans must:

Accept that Europeans see vacation as a time for rest…not for working.
Vacations in Europe are made for relaxing, spending time with your spouse and children, and especially for recharging low batteries. If your European partner does offer to be available, pay attention to their conditions. It will usually be a “You can call me in case of a real emergency”. The higher this person in the hierarchy, the more likely they are to suggest this. Otherwise, observe if he/she writes emails, calls the office and monitor their behavior.

– Explain to your European colleagues that paid vacations don’t exist in the United States and that you never go on vacation for more than a few days in a row. Make them understand that it is no problem for you as you can make the most of it!

– Lower your expectations:
In France, Italy and Spain, factories close for two to four weeks in the month of August. Offices often close for two weeks during this period, so it is useless to expect a prototype or any samples during this time.

– Integrate school breaks into the calendar.
They are the best indicator of downtimes
- don’t plan any important steps during these periods. Germany is a federation with 16 Länder, each of which provides different vacation timeframes for children. They run anywhere from the end of June until mid-September.

– Also integrate the public holidays.
European holidays can fall on every single day of the week. In both France and Germany, many people will extend the weekend to four days when they have a Thursday holiday. That means they’ll also take the Friday off. Keep in mind that public holidays are not harmonized in Europe. http://publicholidays.eu/

– Six months in advance, plan for the respective vacations of the project’s key people and integrate their absences into the calendar. Many employees with children plan their vacations far in advance.

Assign someone to handle any emergencies over the summer, if necessary. But don’t rely on them to fill in for everyone else who is absent!

Organize a meeting before the summer to clarify expectations and to define realistic steps for this time of the year. It’s a good time for Americans to make progress with product development, market studies and data analysis to present when everyone is back.

Schedule an update meeting for the first week after the summer break in order to rebound quickly.

Here is some final advice to help you build quality relationships with your European colleagues. Ask them about their vacation plans before summer arrives, don’t forget where they are going and ask them about their vacations when they return. They will appreciate your interest and will be even more motivated to work with you!

Do you have any experience to share? Don’t be shy, and leave your comment below. What you think matters to me!

Foto credit by Zarya Maxim

You may want read the original post here: 8 Tips for Doing Business with European Companies during the Summer 

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  • These situations are quite familiar yes, As the article mentions, it can be well organised on both sides. I think the biggest difference is that In Europe all people are convinced that everyone should take at least 2 to 3 weeks of Holiday in a row once a year, to provide the needed rest every working human being needs, whereas in the US this is not considered to be needed. With a good plan and organisation this problem can be overcome, but than you encounter the next challenge: the willingness to organize it ! And here I agree with what is mentioned in the article as well, we need much more intercultural trainings during our daily business in order to be able to understand the situation and increase the willingness to do so. This problem is not only present in overseas situations but also within Europe as well. Working in Germany for the Benelux market, it is always a challenge to explain that when we have a public holiday in Germany, the office will be closed to the market 🙂

    • Thank you Folkert. I met once Americans working with Swedes, they had a lot a trouble working together. Vacation time was probably once of the easiest point to solve…

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