01/04/18 | Career, OOO

What Work-Life Balance Looks Like Around the World

This article first appeared on Fairygodboss and is republished here by permission. 

Work-life balance is an issue for people all over the world. Having a balance between career responsibilities and time spent with loved ones is a major compenent of a full, happy life — and some countries are more aware of that than others, it seems.

Here’s a look at how different countries rank in terms of work-life balance.

What is Work-Life Balance?

There are many different definitions of work-life balance. Most of them come to essentially the same conclusion, but they stress different aspects of the issue. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll define work-life balance this way: The ability to enjoy each of four aspects of a person’s life: work, family, friends and self. In other words, the demands of an employer shouldn’t overwhelm a person’s ability to enjoy a satisfying personal life.

How Can We Measure Work-Life Balance?

Actually, there’s an organization that has done this for us. It’s called the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This organization has 34 member countries that work together, along with 70 non-members, to promote economic growth. Part of its mission is to help its members design policies to make their citizen’s lives better and — you guessed it — more balanced.

The OCED gathers information from official sources like the United Nations Statistics and National Statistics Offices. Some information also comes from the Gallup World Poll, an organization that completes opinion polls in more than 140 countries.

To measure work-life balance, OCED ranks the percent of employees who are working long hours — defined as 50 hours a week or more — as well as the average number of hours a day of “leisure” time in that country, which includes time for leisure activities, sleeping and eating.

Legislation Affects Work-Life Balance

Some countries are more aggressive than others in terms of passing legislation that promotes work-life balance.  For example:

  • France has passed a law that allows employees to disregard work email when they’re not in the office.
  • France has 25 federally mandated vacation days.
  • The European Union has passed a Working Time Directive that enforces a maximum 48-hour workweek, including overtime.

As you can see, European countries are much more aggressive than the United States on this front. One result of this is the fact that in Germany and France, employees take almost all of their time off. In the United States, however, employees use only 73 percent of their available time off.

How Do Different Countries Rank?

According to the OCED, work-life balance is best in these 10 countries, in the following order:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. France
  4. Spain
  5. Belgium
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Germany
  9. Russian Federation
  10. Ireland

They also determined which countries have the worst work-life balance, which are as follows:

  1. Turkey
  2. Mexico
  3. Israel
  4. Korea
  5. Japan
  6. Iceland
  7. South Africa
  8. Australia
  9. United States
  10. New Zealand

It’s interesting to note that, according to the OCED’s findings, 11.7 percent of employees in the U.S. work long hours and people enjoy an average of 14.5 leisure hours in a day. (We’re sure this number would change pretty dramatically, though, if the OCED honed in exclusively on working moms, and also controlled for where in the U.S. respondents lived.)

Keep in mind that work-life balance is only one of the 11 factors the OCED ranks on a per country basis. However, it is clear that many countries could do much better to ensure that their citizens are living full, enriched lives.

Wanda Sealy

Wanda Sealy

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