Two weeks of work have gone by, and not one day of work has been spent without one of three essentials of Italian daily living: gelato, panino, and caffé. After about six days of working at the office, I can tell that no Italian could possibly survive a day without these valuable food groups. While my time working has not been characterized by food or drink, observing small nuances and intricacies like this are helping me to understand the Italian work environment.
In stark contrast to what Americans do in the work environment, Italians often surf the web, chitchat, and take breaks (in addition to doing their work of course). The American work environment may allow for a few breaks, but time wasters are seen as inefficient and indicative of laziness. The American boss thinks that you wasting your time at work is a waste of the company’s time and sees dollar signs being washed down the drain. Socializing is to be done during lunch and outside of the office, but not more than a minute or two in passing during the workday. Work is strictly professional, and almost completely separate from a social life (or what social life remains after the number one priority of working). While Americans may be more efficient and succeed in getting more done overall, working in Italy is showing me that quality of life is not a separate entity from work; all of your time spent, including work, is important in effecting your happiness.
In many ways, I find the Italian work environment to be a breath of fresh air. Work is important, but it is not the only important thing. My co-workers will be working for a half hour so and then a conversation will start. Perhaps it starts with one person talking to another, but in our small office almost every conversation turns into a group discussion. While I do not understand much of the Italian language, I often find myself laughing along with my co-workers. A combination of me picking up on certain words (such as swear words or funny adjectives) and the infectious laughter that fills the small office is enough for me to feel sudden happiness.
Just to set the record straight, my co-workers do a lot of good work. Work is not all fun and games. Last week I was submitting my research for the week, and my supervisor Mario commented that he would not likely have time to review it for a week because he was so busy. Italian politics is constantly evolving; even keeping up on the bare minimum could be a lot of work. Between the mass resignation bluff by Berlusconi and the threat of Angelino Alfano to contest Belusconi in supporting the government, I now know Italian politics is a mess yet strangely entertaining. Despite the language barrier, I can somewhat see my co-workers are passionate in politics and it makes sense to me why even more with time.
Diligence is a virtue, but so is happiness to the Italians. I tend to agree with them. A successful work-life balance is the envy of all Americans and I now believe this is because Americans tend to have more weight placed on work than life on this metaphorical scale. While I cannot fully endorse the Italian style of work, I honestly believe their attitude on work and life could be more usefully implemented into the American work environment. Just as with the work-life balance, the ideal balance on the American-Italian scale lies somewhere in the middle.