The American work culture standard is under threat, and this has implications for how we view work-life balance. Cultural norms vary from one country to the next. However, in America, personal needs often outweigh employee output and performance. As we navigate the COVID-19 epidemic and move toward a remote future that allows us to work from home, the boundaries between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred. This has led to a national push to redefine what American work-life balance could look like in the coming months and years.
Nearly half of U.S. workers have considered changing jobs to achieve a better work-life balance. This could lead to the potential for the entire workforce being dislocated. Many corporations like Adobe and Twitter have announced permanent remote work arrangements to meet changing needs during the pandemic. Kickstarter is also testing four-day work weeks in order to improve productivity.
Lauren Pasquarella Daley (PhD), vice president of Women and the Future of Work at Catalyst, says that people’s expectations regarding work and life are changing. “The most important thing to do at this time is to explore, shift, and adapt elements of corporate culture in order to create more equitable and flexible workplaces for the future.”
Are American workplace norms likely to change? We looked at how life and work could or should coexist around the globe to expand our ideas.
Australia’s employees look forward to four weeks of vacation each year, as mandated by federal law. One can earn an additional 8.67 weeks paid leave after 10 years of service to one employer. This makes a total of three calendar month’s worth of paid vacation. Australian workers have the right to up to 18 weeks paid parental leave. They also have the option of choosing unpaid parental leave up to one year. All residents have access to universal insurance, which provides health insurance.
These benefits are sure to help employees get time off to recharge or start a family. Institute for Workplace Skills Nicholas Wyman, Innovation America president, grew up in Australia but now lives in California. He says there are pros and cons to these benefits. Wyman clarifies that there is a misconception that Australia has a relaxed work culture. “In Australia, people work long hours and start early.”
Recent studies support this conclusion. Recent data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (Better Life Index) showed that only 13 percent of Australians worked more than 50 hours per week compared to the global–and U.S.–averages of 11 percent. It doesn’t help that there has been an increase in remote culture. The Australian Government surveyed men and women in 2020 to find out how they balance work and family. Nearly two-thirds (or more) of respondents work from home at least part time. Child care is the most difficult.
A recent survey conducted by ADP Canada and Maru Public Opinion found that Canadian workers rank work-life balance higher then salary in a poll. As you can see, 15 percent of Canadian workers have changed jobs, moved into different industries or quit the workforce entirely since the pandemic. 29 percent said they needed to reduce stress and workload, while 28 percent desired more flexibility. Except for Saskatchewan, all provinces offer two weeks of paid vacation. The guarantee of paid parental leave for mothers is not available. It offers up to 17 weeks unpaid maternal leave and up to 63 weeks unpaid parental leave.
OECD’s study ranked Colombia last. The data shows that Colombian full-time workers spend less time on average for personal care than the global average of 15 hours per days. Colombia has a very low number of vacation days, with only 15 per year. Colombians are relatively new to the idea of work-life harmony. Although maternal leave is 18 weeks in length, paternity leave was recently expanded to only 15. The goal is to increase that number in the next five years.
France’s idea of working to live is stronger than the idea that one should just work. France used to prohibit eating lunch at one’s desk. Existing laws, such as 2017’s “right-to-disconnect,” require organizations with 50 or more employees to prohibit employees from replying or sending emails after certain hours or while they are on vacation. France has a law that requires overtime to be paid 25-50 percent more per hour.
Hong Kong, which ranked at the bottom of Kisi’s survey, is the most overworked nation in the world. More than a third claim to work more then 10 hours per day. There is only one day of rest per week. A study done by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions revealed that 20% of Hong Kong workers work an average of 55 hours per weeks. Note: Security guards can work up to 72 hours. Standard is only seven days of paid leave per year. Recently, the standard for maternity leave was increased from 10 to 14 weeks.
The 2019 OECD Better Life Index ranked the Netherlands as the top country for managing work-life balance. The Netherlands scored 9.5 out 10 on the scale of work-life balance. Data also revealed that only 0.4 percent of Dutch employees work longer hours than 50 hours per week. Dutch companies work a standard 38-hour work week. Overtime is not common. Part-time work is also an option in the Netherlands, particularly for parents with young children. Some unions even push to standardize a 30-hour week.
The Dutch child care system is very supportive of family life. It offers free daycare for up to 10 hours per days, five days a semaine. Flexible maternity-leave policies are available to women that allow them to take up to six weeks of leave before their due date, for a total period of four months. A new law allows partners to take an additional six weeks of paid time. Partners also get extended benefits.
Russia places work-life balance as a top priority. Only 0.2 percent of employees work more that 50 hours per week, according to the OECD. Only 58% of those under 24 believe they have achieved a good work-life balance. All other age groups are at around 50%. Overwork is prohibited in Russia. It’s illegal to work more than four hours overtime on two consecutive days. The overtime law also requires double the overtime pay. Russia does not allow more than 120 hours of overtime per annum. Russian workers have 28 days of vacation paid for each year. This gives them almost a month off.
According to Kisi’s 2021 study, four of the top five cities in the world for work-life balance were found to be in Scandinavia, including Stockholm, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Recent research shows that Norwegians work on average 1,424 hours per annum, 20 percent less than Americans, but still achieve a higher per-capita GDP. Because of the emphasis on “hygge”, the Danish word meaning coziness, Scandinavian countries have 40-hour work weeks. Although often referred to as home decor, the concept can also be applied to being comfortable at work.
Flexible work arrangements promote work-life harmony. The Finnish Working Hours Act allows employees to change their work hours by as much as three hours. Recent updates allow employees to choose the time and place of work for up to half of their normal working hours. Denmark, Sweden and Norway have mandatory vacation laws that give employees at least five weeks of vacation. This makes it one of the most popular vacations in the world. However, productivity has not suffered. Research shows that productivity has not declined.