What U.S. Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Foreign Countries

The U.S. was recently named the most entrepreneurial country in a study on global entrepreneurship. But it's falling short on work-life balance metrics.
November 19, 2014

We’re number one! We’re number one! When it comes to having a climate hospitable to entrepreneurship, that is.

According to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI), the United States has the best “entrepreneurial ecosystem” out of 130 countries, beating out Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Sweden for the top spot. Not only did the United States maintain its “most entrepreneurial country” superlative, its score grew by three points on the GEI scale, hitting a “historical high,” according to the report.

But even though the U.S. has this new ranking under its belt, it can still stand to learn a thing or two from other countries on the Index when it comes to job training and work-life balance.


Germany (No. 11 on the list) was recently lauded by The Atlantic for being better than America at training its workers. The country has an apprenticeship system, known as “dual training,” which is far removed from America’s conception of manual labor. In America, “fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices, the overwhelming majority in the construction trades,” The Atlantic reports. But 60 percent of Germany’s young adults are apprentices in all sorts of industries for big-name companies such as Siemens and Bosch. The Atlantic describes the setup:

“Trainees split their days between classroom instruction at a vocational school and on-the-job time at a company. They also learn work habits and responsibility and, if all goes well, absorb the culture of the company. Trainees are paid for their time, including in class. The arrangement lasts for two to four years, depending on the sector. And both employer and employee generally hope it will lead to a permanent job—for employers, apprentices are a crucial talent pool.”

Though cost and cultural attitudes may make this form of institutional training a nonstarter for America, the benefits are hard to ignore. German businesses are cultivating the new talent needed to stay successful and fuel its economy. With 4.8 million U.S. jobs unfilled due to skills gaps, it's something worth considering.

Digital Detox

Technological advances like smartphones and tablets have extended the workday far beyond 9 to 5. This has created a 21st century phenomenon known as "technostress," when you feel as if you're on call 24/7.

Interestingly enough, Americans don't seem to mind. (Maybe we suffer from a bit of techno-Stockholm's syndrome.) Nearly eight out of 10 "full-time U.S. employees are upbeat about using their computers and mobile devices to stay connected to the workplace outside of their normal working hours," considering it a "somewhat or strongly positive development," according to a Gallup poll.

But spending so much time connected to our devices and being on call makes it difficult to enjoy our lives outside of work. France (No. 12 on the GEI rank) has addressed this by giving tech employees the OK to disconnect after the workday is over. That means managers aren't allowed to bother their employees during their "legally mandated rest period." Germany has similar rules that protect employees from being reprimanded for not responding to work communications after hours.

Engaged Workers

For business owners, having engaged workers is tantamount to success. Without a team of employees who are as invested in your company as you are, your business is pretty much treading water. Latin America has the most engaged employees in the world, according to a report by human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt. Seventy percent of employees in the region are engaged, compared to 65 percent for North America (and 63 percent for the United States). 

That may have something to do with Latin American companies' benefits packages. In a MetLife study of companies in Latin America's biggest economies—Brazil, Chile and Mexico (Nos. 100, 19 and 75 on the GEI, respectively)—an overwhelming majority of employers said "offering benefits is tied to their efforts to increase employee productivity" and that “'increasing employee job satisfaction' is a top ... objective for offering benefits," the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports. 

"[Businesses] in Latin America face a competitive environment where success is dependent upon maximizing worker productivity, winning the war for talent and retaining valued employees,” Maria Morris, MetLife executive vice president for global employee benefits, tells SHRM.

American business owners should understand the long-term benefit and value of providing voluntary benefits to their employees, too. Whether that's a 401(k) retirement plan, or the ability to work remotely, it makes a big difference in how engaged and productive your employees are.

Vacation and Leave Policies

Another difference between America and European countries is Europe's generous paid vacation and parental leave policies. Every country in the E.U. has at least four weeks of mandatory paid vacation, while America has zero, USA Today reports. And it's the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't legally require paid parental leave. According to the Huffington Post:

New parents in the U.S. are guaranteed their jobs for 12 weeks after the arrival of a new baby, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, but they do not have to be paid during that time and exemptions apply for small companies. Only about 16 percent of employers offer fully paid maternity leave

New parents in the U.K. (No. 4 in the GEI ranking) get 280 days of paid maternal and paternal leave, with 90 percent of pay for the first six weeks and a flat rate after that.

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