If you have the opportunity to work in the United States, you may notice that the American workplace differs vastly from your own. As you adjust you may also face unique social customs, corporate language, and unfamiliar workplace etiquette.
Here are some things to consider when working in the United States.
Depending on your internship or employment site, the workplace can range from very formal to casual. New tech companies have modernized the US work culture with many of its employees having flexible work schedules, a casual dress code of jeans and a t-shirt, no desk assignments, and even pet-friendly offices- don’t be shocked if your colleague brings their dog into the office! Other companies like financial firms are more formal and will expect you to dress in business attire. Researching your company can help you get a better understanding of their work culture. Also, take note of the office structure when you go in to interview or send an email to your supervisor to ask what the work culture is like in the office. If you are unsure, it is always best to be more formal on your first day and then adjust from there.
Americans’ work schedules are generally filled with meetings, phone calls, or other responsibilities. People are very busy, so if you have meetings it is expected that you show up on time or even a few minutes early. Lateness can be seen as disrespectful or rude, so it is important to be punctual. In the case that you are going to be late, it is a common curiosity to send an email notifying your manager or coworkers of your delay.
The saying “Americans live to work” encompasses the spirit of the United States’ work culture. Although the traditional workday in the US is from 9:00 am- 5:00 pm, most Americans work much longer. It is not uncommon for employees to arrive at the office early and stay late, sometimes this behavior is praised as hardwork and dedication. Often, employees do not take many breaks, they tend to eat lunch at their desks so they can continue with their work. With the introduction of the smartphone, American workers are now able to bring their work home with them. Don’t be surprised if you receive an email from your manager at 11:30 pm. You can use your discretion to either respond immediately or reply once you’re in the office.
American etiquette in the workplace is pretty casual. You will address most of your coworkers by their first name- even your manager! On your first day you should greet people with a smile and a handshake, but don’t be surprised if not everyone introduces themselves. It is also common for coworkers to be friendly and social with each other, sometimes even going out to lunch or happy hour together. Americans often chat about their plans for the weekend and families at work. This is a great way to build relationships with your coworkers, but also remember to keep it somewhat professional and don’t reveal too much personal information.
Most companies expect you to complete your delegated tasks on your own. Training may be quick and vary in companies, your manager may expect you to be able to do it yourself. Of course, you will have questions, so it is important to ask them and seek help when you need to. But do not expect your manager to know that you need help. In American workplaces, it is expected to speak up when you don’t know something or need more clarification or direction. Otherwise, people will assume you understand exactly what you need to do.
Lastly, it is important to be kind to yourself. Starting a new job can be intimidating, especially one in a work culture that is unfamiliar to you. An intern’s first day can be overwhelming and a blur of handshakes and paperwork. Don’t feel bad if you return home after your first day exhausted and confused. Take the time at home to rest up and prepare yourself for a fresh new day at work.
Author: Lauren Ratto
Lauren is a graduate student studying International Education at New York University. She is a graduate assistant for the International Student Team at NYU’s College of Arts and Science, where she helps run the International Student Mentor program. Most recently, Lauren has been awarded the International Student Ally award from NYU’s Office of Global Services.