Listening Topic: Social Studies – Lecture about European and U.S. work habits

A. Listen to the lecture. As you listen, check on the list below the two reasons the speaker gives for the differences in working habits between Europe and the United States.

___ a   U.S. companies introduced the two-week vacation.

___  Most European countries have laws about vacation times.

___ c   U.S. workers earn more than Europeans do.

___  The U.S. workplace is more competitive.

___ e   Many more Europeans than Americans are unemployed.

B. Listen to the lecture again. As you listen, write T for true of F for false for each item. Listen again if necessary.

 The difference in work habits between the United States and Europe is getting smaller.

 Americans introduced both the 2-week vacation and the 40-hour workweek.

 In the past, Americans had more leisure time than Europeans did.

 Americans have more laws about leisure time.

 Workers in Britain work longer hours than workers in other European countries.

 All employees in the United States receive two weeks’ paid vacation.

 Some workers in the United States do not use the vacation time that they have.

 American workers have more job security.



b ✓   d


1 F   2 T   3 T   4 F   5 T   6 F   7 T   8 F


OK, today we’re going to look at the differences between the United States and Europe in terms of working hours and time off. As you’ve seen from the figures, there’s a substantial difference. Europeans, on average, work less than we do in the United States. They have a shorter workweek and better, longer vacations, and this does not seem to be changing in the near future. I’m going to suggest two reasons for this and then we’ll open it up for discussion.

OK, first I’d like to point out that it wasn’t … it hasn’t actually always been like this. In fact, it’s a fairly recent trend. It was American companies that introduced the two-week vacation first. And the 40-hour work week, in fact. Also, in the 1930s they introduced a 40-hour week at Henry Ford’s motor plants, and that was before, well, before most European countries. A lot of Europeans didn’t get all Saturdays off until the 1960s or … even the ‘70s. So it’s only been in the last 30 or 40 years, in fact, that you see Europeans with … passing us in terms of leisure time.

So what happened to cause this? Well, there are two factors that I’d like to talk about, to do with European attitudes, and the other one to do with the American workplace. Oh, and when I say American here, I mean the United States. I’m not talking about Canada here. Anyway, first the Europeans have legislation. They’ve introduced laws around leisure time. For example, in the 1990s the French government reduced the work week to 35 hours. The European Union actually requires now four weeks paid leave every year for all employees. Many countries have more than that. Workers have bargained for five weeks, in countries like Germany and Italy. And that time is very important to European workers. If you ever go to Europe in August, you notice it immediately: almost everything is shut down, and everyone’s on vacation.

Now if you look at the countries that have not had legislation, these are precisely the places where people tend to work longer hours. Britain is an example. They work longer hours there than in the rest of Europe. But they still work less – much less – than Americans do. They expect their four-week vacation in the summer, and if you took that away, people would get very upset.

Compare that to the United States. Well, here it’s up to the employer to provide or not provide that vacation time. So while some employers do indeed provide excellent benefits of all kinds, including vacation time for their employees, the majority stick to the standard two weeks. And something like twenty-two and a half million private sector employees don’t get any paid vacation at all.

Now let’s turn to the other factor in all of this, and that’s the American workplace. The situation here is that there’s less job security and workplaces are more competitive. So companies can demand more. It’s not unusual to see … for companies to demand more than 50 hours a week from top people. And workers are afraid of losing their jobs, so they want the boss to see them working hard. So in some cases even though they’re getting the vacation time, they don’t … they’re not taking it. There’s too much pressure, and that’s happening at all income levels. European workers tend to have more job security.

So I’ve described the main reasons for the differences between Europe and the United States in terms of working hours and leisure time. But really what is really comes down to is, I think, the Europeans have made a choice. Both Europe and the United States have become more prosperous, but the Europeans have chosen to take their prosperity in time, whereas Americans seem to just want to work harder and harder.

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