July 8, 2014

Work-Life Balance: An American Advantage in the Quest for Jobs by Prof. Jay Prag

By Jay Prag

[From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin]

Earlier this month I took a group of students from the Drucker School to Prague in the Czech Republic to study the business climate in that beautiful Central European city.

The Czech Republic has been a free country since 1989, with a complicated history since forever. Each of the three generations of Czechs alive today remembers a very different world.

The grandparents, those over 70, were part of Nazi Germany — having been offered up to Hitler as part of the Munich Pact appeasement in 1938. The parents, those in their 50s, were an unwilling part of the Soviet Union’s Communist Bloc buffer zone, having been given to the USSR during the Yalta conference toward the end of World War II. And the younger generation has mostly known the freedom to determine their government and their future.

But what can “free” possibly mean to a people who have been treated so cavalierly for most of the past century? Proud, intelligent, and well-educated, the Czechs are rightfully skeptical of authority and wary of outsiders claiming to offer a better way.

I think a lot about my economic beliefs when I visit places where history and culture make those beliefs hard to apply. “Education, skills, and hard work are the key to success.” Well, yes but that assumes you get to keep the fruits of your labor. If your income is shared by the collective or stolen by evil or corrupt governments, there is perhaps very little point in working hard.

That the young here still go to school and get college degrees is somewhat surprising. For while the message, “stay in school and improve yourself” is typically passed on from parent to child, communist-era parents did not, on the face of it, get much of a reward from their personal investment in school.

School here is a cultural thing. Education through college is free and readily available. Every Czech you meet is well-spoken and capable. That is one reason they were sought after by various regimes. Even using an iron fist, you can make skilled workers produce.

But capable isn’t the same as happy and educated isn’t the same as passionate. The great divide between the Czech Republic (most of Europe actually) and the US is “work to live” versus “live to work.”

These intelligent, capable Czech people punch the clock. It’s Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 then off to the pub — and there are lots of pubs! Passion is reserved for life.

While talking to my mostly Executive MBA students in Prague, and thinking more generally about people I know in the US, I was struck by the difference in attitudes toward work that many people in the US have.

On a good day, many people in the US really like what they do for a living. While I might not be completely representative, I light up like a Christmas tree when I get in front of a class and I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years.

Watch a good carpenter like my friends Mark and Mike, a good landscaper like my friend Arturo, a topnotch PR man like my friend Lou or my father’s wonderful caregiver Teodora. They are personally invested in their work. Many people in the US are happy and proud of doing their job well.

I didn’t expect to come to the Czech Republic and see great things about the US but I feel better about our future after my visit. When pundits give advice about work-life balance in the US, they are trying to get us not to take our work home all of the time.

In Prague and in much of Europe that discussion is about trying to get people to put a little of their passion into their work.

I understand the need to balance work and life but if I’m a business trying to decide where to locate, I would rather go somewhere that has the work-life balance skewed toward work. The US does have that advantage over many other countries in the world. I will continue this discussion in my column for the rest of the summer because there are changes afoot in the US that might be affecting this US advantage.


Jay Prag is a finance professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management at Claremont Graduate University and serves as academic director for the school’s Executive Management Program.