Five reasons I love working in Switzerland
Working in Switzerland has been a completely different experience for me compared to working in the US. I really feel like the work/life balance is better. Or maybe it is just that coming home each day still feels like vacation when you live someplace so beautiful. Either way, there are a lot of little differences that contribute to why Switzerland is consistently ranked as one of the top places to live/work. Here's what I appreciate about working here:
1. Cultural diversity - Of course not every company in Switzerland is culturally diverse, but for us Ex-pats, we tend to end up at the larger international corporations where English is the corporate language. In my department of 10 people, we represent 8 different nationalities (American, Austrian, Bermudian, British, Colombian, German, Swiss, Zimbabwean) - how cool is that?! Even when I worked for a huge international corporation in Milwaukee, the people that I actually saw every day were pretty much from Milwaukee or the Midwest area. I absolutely love being in an environment where I get to meet so many people from so many different countries and cultures - it's something I absolutely never would have been exposed to in Wisconsin. It's also intimidating (inspiring?) to hear how many languages everyone here speaks...it really puts us English-speakers to shame.
2. Commuting by train/bus - Again, some people do drive, but the wonderful thing is: in Switzerland you don't have to! There is incredibly reliable and efficient public transportation, which is way less stressful than being stuck in traffic jams every day. Coming from the US, where I drove to work every single day, I was worried that being confined by a train schedule would limit my flexibility/freedom, but it's actually way less hassle. I take the 8:02 train every morning (and I walk into the office every day at exactly 8:24) and the 5:36 train home almost every evening. And those 20 minutes on the train each direction can be spent listening to podcasts, reading a book, catching up on Netflix, drinking my coffee, or just enjoying the beautiful Swiss countryside pass by. The trains are so predictable that I know I can leave the office at 5:33, walk at a leisurely pace, and arrive at the train platform exactly as the train pulls up. It's amazing. And on the rare occasion that the trains are 2 minutes late, the conductor inevitably professes his sincere apologies for the huge inconvenience. This country gets me.
3. Hour lunch breaks are enforced/taken - In the US, I almost always ate lunch at my desk and it usually lasted about 15 minutes. And it was the same for everybody else. The mentality was, "if I take a short lunch break, I can be more efficient and leave earlier in the evening." It's completely different here. If you even try to eat at your desk, you'll be politely reminded that that is what the kitchen/break room is for, and they'll express concern that you must be so overloaded with work. Once I realized that everyone actually does leave for lunch and that they take at least an hour and that that is completely accepted/expected, I was totally on board. I've come to love my hour lunch, especially when the weather is nice. In less than 10 minutes, I can walk to the lake from our office and sit in the sun and read. And you know what? The work day is way less sucky when you actually take a break. I come back feeling refreshed and more motivated than I ever would have if I hadn't taken a break. The majority of my colleagues use their lunch break to exercise and I often use the time to go grocery shopping (or clothes shopping since we have an H&M and Zara within walking distance). This is one practice I wish American work culture would enforce more. People actually do work better when they are encouraged to have some time to themselves to sit in the sun and relax!
4. Four weeks' vacation is standard - For the same reason as above, the US could really learn a lesson here. Work is way more tolerable when you always have a vacation in the near future to look forward to. In the US, I had to work at the same company for five years before I was granted my third week of vacation. Here, four weeks is standard, but most employers offer five - even for entry-level employees. And on top of that, we have about 10 additional public holidays throughout the year - as a catholic kanton (county), we get every single catholic holiday off and there are a lot! Happy and relaxed employees are more productive employees! Holiday destinations are always a big topic of discussion, because there is plenty of time to travel to exciting places! In the US, people only have time to take about one trip a year and that is usually to Florida (it was for me growing up at least!). Here, everyone is going to Thailand, Croatia, Patagonia, New Zealand, Zanzibar, etc. It's crazy. The whole world has literally been opened up to me as a result of living here and I'm incredibly grateful. (Our next trip is southern Portugal, by the way, at the end of May).
5. Flexible work options are normal - When I first started my job here I worked 60%, which was 3 days a week. I have other colleagues who work 80%, 50%, etc. One of my teacher friends is able to work one week on, one week off through a team-teaching approach. Of course it is mainly women with families who are working part time, but the concept is fairly common. And it's a nice option to have. I work full time now, but how nice is the idea of one or two extra days off during the week? Especially for those with children, the multitude of part-time work options makes it a lot easier to have both a career and family time.