US expat reveals biggest culture shock of Aussie work life

When it comes to a healthy work-life balance, one country is streaks ahead.

Laptop computer, phone and coffe mug at a work station, and Kerrene Taylor
An American expat has praised Aussie attitudes to work. (Source: Getty/supplied)

An American woman working Down Under has praised Aussie bosses for a comparatively lax approach to sick leave, revealing that she always felt guilty when taking a sick day back home in the US.

Originally from Seattle, Kerrene Taylor now works as a brand stylist and photographer in Perth. Having moved to Australia for love, marrying a local framing store proprietor, Taylor admits she's become awfully fond of the fabled sickie.

"Today, I took a sick day from work," the brand stylist recently shared with her TikTok followers.

"And I always say that the biggest culture shock living in Australia is the work-life balance. When I needed sick leave today it was just completely like a non-issue. Which is pretty much the opposite of my experience working in the US."

Speaking to Yahoo Finance Australia, Taylor explained that, although she was entitled to some sick leave in the US, she always felt taking it was frowned upon.

"In the US, I was personally entitled to paid time off (PTO), which included two weeks of sick and vacation days per year," she said.

"However, there was a general sentiment that requesting PTO would impede productivity, and I personally felt pressure at times to not request leave for fear of being perceived as difficult to manage, especially in the early stages of my career.

"Before I moved to Australia, I had heard all about the great work-life balance. It seemed to be a big part of the culture here. Experiencing it first-hand has shown me the direct impact it has on overall happiness and good mental health."

Kerrene and Andie Taylor
Kerrene Taylor married Perth artist Andie Taylor but says she was also drawn to Australia by the prospect of a great work-life balance. (Source: Supplied)

Taylor doesn't think Aussies are slacking off though.

"It's clear that employees can both produce at work and enjoy a healthy work-life balance," she said, as long as the "broader culture values both".

Aussie work-life balance still not perfect

However, as Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson from University of Technology Sydney's Faculty of Law, points out, the average Australian works a full four days of unpaid overtime for every sick day they're entitled to by law — and most of those sick days don't ever get used.

"When the language of wage theft is used, employers often retort that many employees dishonestly take sick leave," Schofield-Georgeson explained to Yahoo Finance Australia.

"But, if we look at the OECD figures on Australian working hours, on average, each Australian worker does eight 38-hour weeks of unpaid work every year or six hours per week.

"Now compare that to the 10 sick days that employees are lawfully permitted to take every year ... most of which are not used at all."

Harder slog in some industries

Indeed, Taylor notes that, while Australia is miles ahead of the US when it comes to workers' rights, that shouldn't get in the way of progress.

"What I have observed is a culture that is much closer to a healthier work-life balance than the US, but it is not perfect," she said.

"I can see from even the comments on my TikTok that the experiences of Australian workers vary based on industry. Hospitality and healthcare workers as well as teachers seem to be doing it the toughest.

"From my view, Australian workers overall would like to see continued progress when it comes to workers' rights. I strongly support this, as I can see the positive impact it has on mental well-being and the level of happiness in a society."

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