Contrary to sitcoms, work life balance isn’t about sitting in coffee shops contemplating life and complaining about work. However, there are plenty of jobs where you can work from or in a coffee shop. The rise of virtual, remote, and contractual roles has contributed to the demand for work life balance. But, sometimes, in our tech-led world, where business can follow us anywhere, the balance becomes more about setting boundaries. It’s about putting down our mobile phones, closing our laptops, and dipping our toes into other waters. Where Does Your Country Fit on the Work-Life Balance Scale?
European countries have been leading the way with work-life balance for some time, with the Netherlands topping the list at number one. With the US sitting at number 30 out of the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), what’s tipping the scales?
- 11.4% of Americans work 50 or more hours per week versus 0.5% of people in the Netherlands work those long hours.
- The average American is therefore only setting aside 14.4 hours for leisure and personal care (including eating and sleeping) a day versus those in the Netherlands who dedicate 15.9 hours.
- Countries in the Nordics work a maximum of 48-hours per week. However, the reality is significantly lower, with the Finnish working an average of 36.2 hours a week, the Swedes 35.9 hours, Norwegians at 34 hours, and the Danes just 32 hours..
Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland have become renowned for fostering optimal work-life balance
. But, though the Netherlands sits at the number one spot on the OECD, the Danes top the list as the happiest in the world.The Danish welfare model
, characterized by quality of life and a good work-life balance offers:
- Flexible working conditions and social support networks, including maternity leave and childcare facilities.
- A high degree of flexibility at work – often including adaptable start times and the ability to work from home.
- Lunch breaks are often at a designated time each day, enabling colleagues to interact, eat together, and get away from their desks.
- There is a minimum 5 weeks’ paid holiday for all wage earners.
- The Danish welfare society is characterized by quality of life and a good work-life balance.
Work-life balance for the Danes is a healthy balance of priorities. As important as career and ambition is, are is just as important to balance life outside work (pleasure, leisure, family, and health). This understanding of balance not only puts Denmark at the top of the international equality table, it also contributes to a generally high standard of living.Further research shows
33% of working American adults work over the weekend and on holidays. This, in turn, has led 66% to say they don’t feel they have a good work-life balance. One of the main drivers contributing to the need to always be “on” and available is 24/7 technology.
For example, if an employer emails, texts, or rings an employee at dinnertime, the employee often feels compelled to answer straightaway. While 57% of those surveyed feel technology has ruined the family dinner, 40% believe it is okay to answer an urgent call or email at the dinner table. So, it comes back to boundaries and not feeling guilty about ‘switching off’ for a few hours or a few days to ‘recharge’.
What Companies are Doing to Improve Work-Life Balance
Nordic businesses remain at the top of the list for best work-life balance. Though much of it is dictated by strict Nordic Labor laws, companies outside the Nordics are beginning to take pages from their playbook.
At a business in Helsinki, Finland, employees are encouraged to go home on time at the end of their day. Often this falls around 5:00pm, though leaving earlier to say, go to a child’s sports activity, is always a guilt-free option. Like many European businesses, employees also receive five weeks of paid vacation each year. Everyone gets stock options and teams are small with the ability to make autonomous decisions. The theory: this team is closest to the project, they know what is best for it. No management approval required, but only to help share in lessons learned.
Many Nordic businesses have shortened hours and a focus on family. By putting family first, businesses report improved productivity and innovation, less absenteeism, and reductions in staff turnover. Other benefits can include:
The ability to leave work 30-minutes early to pick up kids from school or take them to sports practice
The ability to use sick days to take care of sick children
Businesses regularly offer gym memberships, event discounts, leadership classes, and team-building exercises as well as opportunities for employees to take courses and further their education. At one business, in Sweden, for example, employees have access to a leisure center and recreational activities such as fishing, tennis, and swimming.
Though everyone has their own definition of what work-life balance means to them, it can be difficult to follow without government mandates, like in some European countries, or if you’re a small business.
Our UK and Europe Salary Guide showed that, with over 98% of respondents working full time, at least some flexibility is now expected. We found that 53% of respondents work at home at least one day a week, and 56% have flexible working hours, highlighting that these ‘benefits’ are now becoming the norm.
As a business, we try to both reflect, and the lead the way with, developments that we see across the Data & Analytics industry. From ensuring our consultants leave on time two days per week to participate in pursuits outside work, to offering one fully-paid Charity Day per year, we place emphasis on creating an environment where our teams feel like they have a good work-life balance. By building a culture where a consultant can set up a book club or arrange a night out on the town, we have formed a business where employee welfare is prioritized.
Though everyone has their own definition of what work-life balance means to them, it can be difficult to follow without government mandates like in some European countries or if you’re a small business. The important thing is to do what’s right for you and sometimes turn off your phone, close your laptop, and meet up with some family or friends in that coffee shop.
Whether you’re looking for a role with more benefits or a better work-life balance, we can help