USA Work Culture

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Work Culture

To do business in the USA, it is vital to have a good understanding of its business or work culture. Making the right impression with the right people is the key to success in the USA, and it is important to back this up with the right research on the market and potential business associates. As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the American work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in the US to start your expansion well-informed.

Work Culture in the US

The US is the most powerful economy in the world and spans six time zones, with Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and land borders with Canada to the north and southwards to Mexico and Central America and the nations of South America. The US’s free enterprise system encourages invention and innovation. American workplace culture blends teamwork and individual responsibility and it is not uncommon for professionals to identify strongly with their work. Higher level management typically draw on their university and college contacts for business.

US office environments can be intensely competitive, with workers striving to be the ‘employer of the year’ or in line for other recognition. Hierarchical office structures can nevertheless be quite open in the relationship between employees and managers. It is time to ‘get down to business’ so here are a few tips on taking the right steps, and avoiding the pitfalls! Here are some tips and information on the work culture in the US:

  • Punctuality: It is important to be on time or even a little early, as it displays you are eager to make a start on the negotiations.
  • Business Meetings: These follow defined agendas and, because of the ‘time is money’ philosophy, negotiations can quickly conclude. Communication should be direct, straightforward and to the point. Conflicts tend to be dealt with directly and openly. Switch off the mobile and do not send emails from your phone or laptop.
  • Hierarchy: structure is clear from the number of acronyms attached to positions in a company. From vice-presidents downwards there are SVPs, EVPs, AVPs and EDs before you reach the more usual MDs. It is as well to get them in the right order.
  • Introductions and Greetings: Firm handshake with a friendly smile. First names are often used even at initial meeting, with a little small talk.
  • Business Cards: These can be swapped but in the digital age, not everyone uses them – it is no longer standard practice but may still be performed.
  • Dress Code: Varies with location and sector. Business attire tends to be formal for men and women, but whereas Wall Street banks expect suits, California’s Silicon Valley techies will not be out of place in shorts and t-shirts. If unsure, err on the side of caution. Casual smart is growing increasingly in office dress code.
  • Gift-giving: This is rare, and any gifts should be modest and symbolic.
  • Sealing the Deal: Handshakes are largely symbolic; signing the contract is the closer.
  • Business Meals: Business is often conducted over breakfast, lunch, or dinner – the golf course is another popular venue.

US Minimum Wage

The national minimum wage of US$7.25 per hour varies across the 50 states and Washington DC. For example, in California the minimum hourly rate is US$14 for companies with more than 26 employees and US$13 per hour for companies with fewer. In 2021, Idaho applied the national minimum, but Hawaii had a rate of US$10.10, Illinois US$11 and Washington DC US$15.20 per hour. Where employees are subject to both state and federal regulations the higher rate applies. For example, Georgia has a minimum of US$5.15 per hour, but companies who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must pay the federal minimum of US$7.25. These are employers who have yearly sales totaling US$500,000 or more or those who engage in inter-state trade, which encompasses most companies.

Probation in the US

Probation, trial, or introductory periods are not covered by federal law, but employers may use them to evaluate new staff before permanent employment. A typical period of 90 days depends on mutual agreement or whether a collective bargaining or union agreement is in force. United States employment is generally ‘at will’, meaning the employer or employee can terminate without reason or cause, as long as it does not violate an individual’s rights on such as race, gender, age, pregnancy, or religion and is not retaliatory. Companies implementing a probationary period must ensure policies and procedures are carefully worded and new hires understand that during and after this trial period the employment remains ‘at will’.

All states have the same ‘at will’ policy, except for Montana – where employees, following a probationary period, can only have their employment terminated for good cause. If no time period has been agreed between the parties, then the default probationary period is six months from the date of hiring.

Working Hours in US

Normal working hours or standard shift is a 40-hour week comprising five eight-hour days with at least eight hours rest in between, although employees often work longer hours. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), hours exceeding 40 in a 168-hour period are considered overtime. Flexibility in the standard nine to five working hours or ‘flexi-time’ depends on individual contracts.

Break times for lunch or dinner are not mandatory under federal law but state laws may provide for minimum meal periods.In states which does not mandate breaks or meal periods, benefits are agreed between employer and employee. Employer / employee agreements for coffee breaks usually do not exceed 20 minutes and are paid as working time. If agreed, breaks are considered part of working hours when calculating any overtime. Unauthorized breaks are not counted.

Overtime in US

US employees generally work more hours annually compared to the rest of the world, working longer shifts and taking fewer vacations. Except for a few occupations (such as transportation) there is no federal restriction on hours worked. Overtime is paid at one-and-a-half times above the usual hourly rate if the employee works more than 40 hours a week averaged over a 168-hour period as covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or regular days of rest is not automatically overtime unless overtime is worked on such days.