How good are you in juggling work with the rest of your life – having time for family, seeing friends, going to the gym or church, doing laundry, and taking a chill-out time for yourself? The struggle of work-life balance is common in the US, but it turns out that it’s a cultural thing that other countries are also going for. Different nations in the world have different ideas of what work-life balance and a healthy working week looks like.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance means different things for different people. It’s a subjective thing for every individual, and also for every culture. But for simplicity, work-life balance means is the ability to enjoy these aspects of a person’s life: work, family, friends, and self. This means that the demands of the job or an employer or boss should not overwhelm a person’s ability to enjoy a satisfying personal life.
How is Work-Life Balance Measured?
There’s a metric for measuring work-life balance called the Better Life Index, comparing the work-life balance for countries around the world. This Index is put together by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD has 34 member countries that work together, along with 70 non-members, to promote economic growth. Part of their mission is to help member countries design policies to make lives better for their citizens and to make it more balanced.
The OECD states that a lot of factors are considered in calculating the work-life balance in the world’s nations, particularly the availability of flexible work arrangements. The ranking for work-life balance uses three primary sets of statistics: the percentage of hours worked per week, the number of times people spend on personal care, and the amount of working moms. Work-life balances are also formed by the laws and structures in society, available employment, holidays, gender roles, economic health, and many other things.
Countries with the Best Work-Life Balance
According to the OECD, here are the countries with the best work-life balance:
Countries with the Worst Work-Life Balance
The OECD also determined the countries with the worst work-life balance, which include:
- South Africa
- United States
- New Zealand
How Countries View Work-Life Balance
The Netherlands offer the best work-life balance from all the countries in the world. Less than 0.5 percent of employees in the country work very long hours, compared to the overall average of 13 percent. They define long hours as over 50 hours a week. They have a short workweek at just 30.3 hours. They also offer generous parental leave policies. The Dutch culture doesn’t put as much emphasis on work until you’re exhausted, but they encourage having leisure time.
French employees enjoy a minimum of five-week of paid vacation time. They devote 16.4 hours a day for personal care and leisure, so they work less than eight hours a day on average. Also, only 7.7% of full-time employees work long hours. Plus, the French law has established a 35-hour workweek, and it allows employees to disregard work email when they are not in the office.
Japan is known for its intense cultural work ethic, so you can expect this country to be on one of those with the least work-life balance. Workers in Japan says that their life satisfaction is 5.9 out of 10, which is below the average. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that it wasn’t uncommon among Japanese workers to spend 99 hours of overtime a month, though the government has made strides to help shorten working hours. Long hours away from home seems to contribute to low fertility rates.
When Australians were asked to rate their general satisfaction with life, they gave it an average score of 7.3 over 10. It’s higher than the OECD average of 6.5, but the country isn’t actually great with work-life balance. On average, full-time workers in Australia spend 60 percent of their day to personal care and leisure, which is less than an average of 15 hours. Also, a 2017 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 35% of men and 42% of women felt significant stress or lack of time to do the things they want to do.
Korea doesn’t do very well in providing work-life balance because of long working hours. More than 13% of the working population work more than 50 hours a week. While the government has cut its maximum working hours per week from 68 to 52, this is still higher than a lot of nations. Also, the government attempts to make life better for its citizens by making parenting easier. The OECD reports that government-funded childcare now accounts for 92% of Korean kids aged three to five years old. They also extended maternity leave, paternity leave, and general parental leave to help parents cope after childbirth.
South Africa still fights against high unemployment levels. Only around 43% of the population at working age has a full-time job, according to the OECD. About 19% of the employed people work long hours, with 23% men and 14% women putting in additional time on the clock. Also, a third of employees in South Africa feel that their employers do not value their work-life balance, according to a Targus NoMoreExcuses Survey. The same survey revealed that 63% of employers do not allow remote working.
Turkey is the country with the highest proportion of people working very long hours, which is around 34%. The country does offer paid maternity leave, but only for 16 weeks in total for one child, or 18 weeks for multiple pregnancies. The work-life balance in the country is dire, which is caused by a woeful governmental and social policies.
In Mexico, 61% of people between the ages of 15 to 64 has a paid job that is lower than the overall average. The Index shows that 30 percent of workers work over 50 hours a week, which is a large increase on the average. The maternity leave granted to Mexican women is very short, and only those in formal employment has this opportunity. The country has one of the highest child poverty rates in the OECD, as one in four Mexican children lived in poor households in 2011. Mexico also has one of the longest average daily commute times, adding a lot of time working and commuting. Employers in Mexico don’t usually offer flexible work arrangements for parents and have an imbalanced work culture.
Generally, Americans need to take a break. The US is the only OECD country without a paid parental leave policy. About 11.7 percent of employees in the US work long hours, and people have an average of 14.5 leisure hours in a day. It’s one of the countries that have the worst work-life balance attributing to long work hours and a lack of social activities. The country also has no federally-mandated sick leave policy or a maximum number of hours employees can work per week. Americans have got more productive in the past few decades, but the wages have not increased that much.
The Danes are lucky to have one of the shortest workweeks in the world at an average of 39.7 hours. The employees in Denmark devote 15.9 hours to leisure and personal care. Also, the country provides childcare for children up to the age of six, allowing parents to go back to work with ease. Also, the parents are entitled to get 52 weeks of paid maternity leave.