Achieving A Work-Life Balance in Italian Culture


IMG_0901Sorrento, how do I describe Sorrento… It’s beautiful, it’s unique, and it’s mysterious to the outsider looking in. Sorrento is its own little world on the cliff side of the Southern point of the Bay of Naples and we had the chance to embrace this beautiful culture for just two short weeks.

I arrived in Italy on my own, a day early than everyone else to ensure that there were no bumps along the way as well as to give myself 24 hours to escape from the jet lag the overall 14 hour flight from Denver–> Chicago–> Rome gave me. This is how I am and this is how I always have been. My classmates and I come from a society that praises us when we arrive early and shuns us if we miss two days of work. American culture is based on a high status economy. We are robots to our society and we are ticking time bombs waiting for the day we can stop working. We work to live but more importantly we live to work. We live our lives on repeat; we wake up, we go to work, we come home, we go to sleep. Repeat. As for a work-life balance the United States is mainly situated on the Status side of spectrum, our status is everything to us, it evades our personal lives and it conflicts with how we maintain a steady balance and when we say enough is enough. We go through school and college always thinking ahead to our future. Where will we be in 5 years, 10 years, where is our path in the career world and when will we achieve it? These are all questions my fellow classmates and I ponder everyday. Coming to Italy and especially in Sorrento, you see things a lot differently about one’s future.

Half way around the world in the little town of Sorrento in the Campania Region of Southern Italy the locals showed us Colorado students just how to find an equal balance between working and living. While working is a very important part of their life so is taking time out of work to spend with their family and close friends. Sorrento is not filled with fancy 6,000 sq. ft. plywood homes decorated for show and filled with unnecessary items, it is actually the exact opposite. Every apartment is a home and every home has a past. “If these walls could talk…” I asked myself everyday as I walked through the alleyways and side streets of Corso Italia, Sorrento’s Main Street in town. The apartments are unique, they are individually beautiful in their own way and the buildings have character and so much history behind the sturdy, built up walls. The description presented by the buildings and homes also represent the people of Sorrento.

Beauty and pride fill this town and it’s because of their old habits and family traditions that have never crumbled down due to an intense technological advanced society, instead of conforming to meet the extensive competition, Sorrento has vowed to never drop the traditions their ancestors once taught them that have been passed down over the years from generation to generation.


A very quiet town during Siesta

Siesta: a time of rest, a time of sleep and relaxation. A tradition that once took place in America now overpowered by multiple business meetings, running later than planned and running the clock into overtime to get the job done. Sounds about right for our culture, doesn’t it? I was walking around Sorrento one day just right after we all had lunch, as we were walking down the rather quiet street we noticed that every other shop was closed. “Closed?! But I have to get souvenirs for people! I need that dress I saw in the storefront the other day! And I need all of this now!” I was quick to learn that patience is a virtue and I see it now after being in Italy for two weeks. The stores close for several hours during the day to take a siesta, a break from their job, a time to start prepping for dinner for the night, to get their laundry hung up to dry and a time when families can get together to enjoy an espresso macchiato or a cappuccino after their midday nap.

What a beautiful thing, a tradition to lock up their shops to take time out for themselves as well as their families. It was a real culture shock to see their balance between work and life and how impeccable it is, we could really learn a lot from the people of Sorrento.

There are churches on almost every corner in Italy and I would say there are almost a hundred in Sorrento alone, you can hear the church bells ring all day and into the night and everyone in the town takes time out of their day to go to pray in the church and keep their religion to God close to their hearts. The values and morals of Sorrento are a lesson we can all learn from. While the United States is on the high-status side of the spectrum, Italy in general is just about in the middle having a different in work and personal life but also have motivation and dedication to work. Sorrento is not commercialized compared to the larger cities in Italy like Rome; Sorrento expresses the opposite values that the United States has within business and keeping separate from personal life.


Taking time out to enjoy an Espresso Macchiato

In our textbook, Managing Across Cultures: The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset, the chapter about Motivation/Work-Life Balance discussed a case study, Espresso Culture at Work, done by Joshua Sturtevant who was at the time a student at New York University. He was completing his master’s program in Genoa, Italy with other Italian students in the music technology program, while a big culture to him was trying to communicate effectively with the natives, another shock to him was the fact that they never worried about specific deadlines the Professors gave them and of course the fact that the students would take extensive periods out of the day for lunch and a coffee break. Joshua never understood and being from the United States he was always on time, early at that, he would turn his homework in early but was confused when he didn’t get the response he wanted out of his Professor. The semester went on and the big show day was here, he was prepped and ready to go and checked everything once and then twice more but he couldn’t find the other students anywhere. Frantically he went all over the main streets looking for them and there they all were sitting in a cafe sipping on espresso a few minutes before the show was suppose to go on. There was conflict but the show went on, a few minutes late. With no mess-ups the show and the students did a fantastic job and this was a complete eye opener to Joshua. While he expressed unnecessary stress and anxiety, the Italian students leisurely walked to the final show.

This goes to show that in Italy, no matter what setting it is, you always take time out for yourself. Coffee breaks and long meals are important to this culture just as important as meeting a deadline at school or work but if you don’t take time out for yourself you can’t take care of others properly. I saw this example glorified when we walked the Corso Italia street and saw no shops were open during Siesta and when I went to school and wanted a water from the small market that was suppose to open at 8am but it was 9am. It completely opened up my eyes to see that different cultures work differently. Like Julia says, its not weird, it’s not wrong, it’s just different. It is so important for us, no matter what culture you associate yourself with, to take time out of the day and focus on YOU. Sorrento brought a new light into my world of work, even if you just back away from the computer, close your eyes and take sometime to think about something other than work. If you don’t do some things for you, how do you expect to do so much for others?


The Beautiful Coastline

According to an article published on May 31, 2014 on The Hamilton Spectator website, “work/life balance has been the number one career goal among students in the Global Surveys by Universum, more than leadership opportunities, security or prestige, these college graduates seek balance.” (, 2014). The article goes on to state how more and more college graduates are asking potential employers in interviews what their policy is for work/life balance, if there is any.

We are the future of the work status in the United States being apart of Generation Y, we can basically control how business and technology will power our lives. For our generation to ask questions and get the right answers about having a precise and consistent idea of what we want will get us on the right track to successfully having a separation between work and personal life. Being here in Italy it has shown me that we need to take more time out for ourselves, stop rushing and look at the beautiful things life has to offer us. Take time out for our families and loved ones, stop at a local coffee shop and sip on espresso, walk instead of run, open your eyes and look at life in a new perspective, challenge yourself every chance you get. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fall. Stand up for your self and take pride in your achievements, this and more is all that Italy and the beautiful italian culture has taught me.



About the Author:

miller5Christie Miller– Hi everyone! I am in my senior year at the University of Colorado at Denver and will be completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations and Organizational Communication as well as a Minor in Political Science. When I first heard about the 2014 Maymester program going to Italy, there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be here in Sorrento for two weeks. I did everything in my power to make sure I could go and I am so happy with my decision. It has really been an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. With a slight international perspective and an open mind I broke out of my shell and out of my comfort zone to be able to experience the wonderful and beautiful Italian culture. I am so excited to come back to Colorado and share my wonderful experiences with everyone and show them all what we have learned. When we came into this program we didn’t know what to think, little did we know we would make long-lasting bonds between members in our group. This two weeks has opened up my eyes to the World that we live in and not only has it helped me break out of my comfort zone it has helped me develop business and communication skills that I will take with me throughout my academic and business career.

Special thanks to our wonderful Professor and business mentor, Julia Khrebtan and Philip Hoerhager for letting us gain an astonishing amount of intercultural perspectives within these past two weeks. The knowledge that we gained in Italy will be with us throughout our lives, this was an unforgettable trip and we appreciate all that you have done for us! Grazie! Also special thank you to Sorrento Sant’Anna Institute and all of the wonderful italian teachers, mentors and directors in the program. Thank you for your patience and kindness towards us.