Balancing work and personal life have become increasingly challenging to many of us. The shift in work dynamics, especially after the pandemic has come with its fair share of concerns. For example, with the increase in remote work culture, more meetings take place at work leading to a constant need to be ‘online’ all day long – all of which are just the tip of the iceberg causing burnout. The OECD Better Life Index on Work-Life Balance has put together the top countries with a better ecosystem to manage professional and personal life for improved overall wellbeing. Let’s dive in to learn more!
What Is A Good Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is the desired balance between one’s work and personal life. It can be considered a type of workplace restructuring that involves promoting the employees’ wellbeing.
The concept of work-life balance was first introduced in 1972 by John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey. They found a strong correlation between hours spent at work and indicators of stress, such as mental health and marital satisfaction.
A good work-life balance is when we have a good mix of both professional and personal life. By definition, work-life balance means having a happy and healthy life outside of work that can affect wellbeing and performance at work.
According to experts, it means finding a happy medium or balance between what we need in our personal lives and what we need in our professional lives. It is achieved when one finds a healthy work routine that allows them to have enough time for family, friends, hobbies, and self-care leading to personal fulfillment.
Achieving a good work-life balance can be hard these days because of our fast-paced lifestyles. It takes some time to make it happen, but the benefits are definitely worth it in the end.
Is Worklife Balance Better Deal Than A Heavy Paycheck?
When we think of a promising career, we usually imagine working in a country with high salaries, but the trend is changing now. So, what’s more attractive than a hefty paycheck? A better work-life balance to integrate both work and personal lives.
Especially after the pandemic, people are looking for opportunities that offer better work and personal life balance more than ever.
Almost all of the Nordic countries are famous for their policies that foster work and personal life integration. This is also mainly due to cultural aspects, which are pretty different from other developed nations like Japan, the USA, or Canada. Many factors contribute to this, including the long winters followed by much shorter summers, the high quality of life, and the mindset of balancing work and life in general.
The OECD Better Life Index ranks the best countries by their work-life balance. Some of the factors considered to evaluate the balance between work and personal life are:
- Time off
- Long unpaid working hours
- The gender gap in total hours worked
- Satisfaction with time use
- Work-Life Balance inequalities: gaps between population groups
Based on the above factors, here are ten countries with good scope to integrate work and personal lives well.
10 Countries With The Best Work-Life Balance
In a recent OECD life index, Italy has ranked one of the top countries in the world for work-life balance with an extraordinary score of 9.4 out of 10. The workweek hours are now less than 40, with 5 weeks of vacation per year.
Earlier, Itlay was marked by a strong work culture known for its intense work ethic and long working days. However, in recent years there have been signs that this trend is changing.
Italy’s Parliament approved the “Job Act” in 2015 to make it easier for workers to negotiate flexible working arrangements with employers. As per this law, employers should offer more benefits such as:
- more paid holidays
- more-predictable schedules
- rest periods at work
- time off after more than 12 continuous hours of work, etc.
The Italian government defines the number of hours that employees are allowed to work in an eight-hour working day. Employees are entitled to at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest per 24 hours. Employees are entitled to 30 days paid annual leave per statutory holiday year, though this entitlement increases by one day every five years until it reaches 39 days.
All of this can be embedded deep down in the Italian culture and thinking that work is secondary. A common motto one can hear in the country is “You work to live; you don’t live to work.” Hence, Italy still has a solid connection between work and family life, where many people use their lunch break to spend time with their children instead of eating at home or going out.
2. The Netherlands
Dutch work to life balance is one of the most desirable in the world. They enjoy four day work week, which is a 30 hour, 4 day work week.
The Netherlands has always been known for their liberal values, and are indeed one of the most liberal countries in Europe.
- 50% of Dutch people support gay marriage
- 92% support euthanasia
- and 85% support abortion rights
The Netherlands has a 4-day-work-week policy implemented in order to improve work-life balance for their citizens.
The Dutch generally enjoy a relaxed life with a good work-life balance. In general, Dutch society values equality and has respect for individuality as well as differences in opinions or lifestyles.
While the culture is generally open about how they want to spend their time, there are still some differences among work cultures in various sectors, such as banking and finance vs. the nonprofit sector.
Norway is a country that offers many opportunities for its residents. It offers a high quality of life and has a free and accessible higher education system.
Norwegians enjoy what they do, and most of them have a good work-life balance. Norway also has the highest percentage of women in management positions in the world. Women in Norway can also enjoy maternity leave and paternal leave, which they can use to take care of their children while staying in the workforce.
With a good balance between work and personal life, the Norwegians are among the happiest people on earth – and it’s not hard to see why! With low crime rates, high levels of social welfare, and an excellent healthcare system, Norway is one of the best countries with good quality of life to consider moving to.
But what does this mean for work and life balance?
The Norwegian workforce is one of the most productive in Europe, yet some clock long hours at the office. So if you’re considering moving to Norway, here are some insights into work-life balance there.
The Norwegian work culture is entirely different from the American one. Firstly, there are no strict work hours in Norway. Secondly, the Norwegian work culture is based on trust and strong interpersonal relationships rather than deadlines.
General differences between the work-life balance of Americans and Norwegians are summarized below:
- The working week for Norwegians is 37 hours long, while for Americans, it’s 40 hours.
- The salary of an average Norwegian worker is more than double that of an American one ($51,000 vs. $23,000).
- Most Norwegians are entitled to 4 weeks holiday each year, while most Americans have 10 days off per year.
Finland is one of the countries with the highest work-life balance in the world. People there only work for 7 hours a day, and they get 30 days of holiday every year.
The Finnish government wants to make sure that people have a chance to enjoy their lives outside of work. As a rule of thumb, the maximum number of working hours, including overtime per week, is 48.
The country is a pioneer of a healthy work-life balance, including flexible working hours and remote working.
The Finnish culture is founded on trust and cooperation between employers and employees. This trust stems from a robust social safety net, which provides excellent education, healthcare, childcare, housing, and pensions to its citizens.
Part of Finland’s success can be attributed to its excellent work-life balance. Finnish citizens enjoy flexible-working arrangements and are entitled to generous paid leave periods. They also have a generous maternity leave policy that allows mothers up to 18 months of parental leave if they spend 12 months on maternity leave before giving birth.
Malta has become one of the most sought-after destinations for expats. Not only has the country won the title of the best place to work, live and raise a family, but Malta is also one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, especially with its Mediterranean sea views.
When it comes to work-life balance, Malta is the perfect destination. It is one of the few countries in Europe that offers a high quality of life with zero income tax rates for people looking for a place to retire.
Malta is one of the few countries that provide workers with a five-day workweek. In addition, every Saturday is a public holiday, and employees are granted an annual leave allowance that can reach up to 6 weeks per year.
The working hours in Malta are not as stringent as other European Union countries, with no restrictions on night shifts or weekend work. However, regular weekly hours are usually between 40 and 45 hours per week.
Working hours in Malta are mandated by law, including limits on overtime, which can last no more than two hours a day and 10 hours per week. Employers have to pay their employees 100% extra if they have more than two consecutive days of overtime or more than four consecutive weeks where they go over 10 hours of overtime a week.
Malta’s work-life balance is indeed attractive. Many reasons contribute to this, but one of the most important is that Malta has no formal working week. While other countries have 40-hour workweeks, Malta has an average of just 33 hours per week. The country also has shorter working days since lunch breaks can be as low as an hour or two. Plus, there are plenty of public holidays to be enjoyed each year.
6. New Zealand
New Zealand offers a wide range of work-life balance options, with expats working up to 37 hours per week on average.
Expat employees in New Zealand are offered flexible working hours and work-life balance strategies, including shared leave entitlements, flexible working arrangements, and emergency childcare subsidies.
The country has several laws regarding work-life balance:
- legislation mandating 4 weeks of annual leave for full-time workers after being employed for at least 12 months
- 3 weeks for casual workers, excluding public holidays
- 10 paid days or 10 days with pay where an employee or their child has an accident at work
Kiwis enjoy the average working hours of 37 hours per week. This is slightly higher than the average for most industrialized countries which is 34 hours per week. However, the OECD average shows that people in Finland and Norway tend to have fewer working hours per week than people in New Zealand.
The funny thing is that the working culture in New Zealand is very laid back and relaxed, and some expats find it difficult to adjust to this type of environment initially.
In regards to the gender gap, men in Norway, New Zealand, and the Netherlands spend slightly more time in total work than women.
The Scandinavian country offers paid parental leave from day 1 of being a parent. Sweden offers parents 480 days of maternity leave to take time off from work and spend time with their kids. In addition, the country has figured out how to split unpaid and paid leave so that women have an equal amount of time off as men.
Other government policies like unemployment benefits, free health care, and education create a support system for its citizens. Besides work, Swedes enjoy Fika (have coffee breaks), get outdoors, and spend leisure time outside of work.
Among other things, Sweden is also one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world.
France is the most visited country in the world, with over 83 million tourists annually. It has a rich history, excellent food, and beautiful beaches. France is also known for its work culture, which is fueled by its passion for life.
For all those looking for a good balance between work and personal time, France is the place to be. The French put their private life first, but at the same time, they have one of the longest working hours in Europe. As depicted in the Netflix series ‘Emily in Paris’, the French work style can be laid back and they start working after 10 am.
France has one of the most generous paid vacation allowances in Europe, with a legal entitlement to 30 days’ vacation each year. In addition, the French are entitled to five weeks paid leave for two children, which is twice as much as any other European country.
Alongside the government, employers also try to recreate this balance between work and personal time so their employees can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Belgium has one of the best tax systems in Europe, which makes it a beautiful country to work and live in for expats.
The Belgian labor market provides a perfect work-life balance with the below holidays each year:
- 4 weeks paid vacation
- 24 days paid holidays
- 4 national holidays
- 20 regional holidays
The lunch break is usually around one hour, which increases productivity by at least 25% after lunch break due to increased alertness and decreased fatigue levels.
Work and life balance is a big topic in Belgium. Like Sweden, it is also one of the few countries where men can opt for paternity leave.
Belgium has some of the most generous parental leave provisions in Europe. Fathers are entitled to take 5 weeks (non-cumulative) of paternity leave, with five additional weeks reserved for mothers who want to split their maternity leave.
Belgian governments have always been very generous with time-off plans, including a mandatory four-week holiday for employees, two weeks of paid vacation per year, and five days to take care of sick children or elderly parents.
Spain is a country with a work-oriented culture. However, Spanish society is changing gradually with the number of students and stay-at-home moms growing. As a result, the need for work-life balance is also on the rise.
The Spanish government has been trying to address these issues by implementing new legislation that includes measures such as flexible working hours and mandatory overtime pay caps.
Spain is a country in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest democracies in the world.
4 main factors influence the Spanish work culture:
- Roman Catholicism
- Spain’s history as a monarchy
- The Franco dictatorship, and
- Europe’s welfare model
The Spanish Constitution recognizes that work-family balance is crucial to society and family life. Article 39 of the constitution states that “the public authorities shall take measures to ensure quality working conditions and work-life balance.” This commitment to work-life balance prohibits employers from requesting or insisting on overtime from employees.