The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent Better Life Index identifies those countries within the OECD that offer the best quality of life. To compile its index, the organization studies a range of government-level data and opinion surveys on a number of quality of life variables (23 indicators divided into 11 categories), variables which include that elusive goal common to us all: work-life balance.
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Work-Life Balance Indicators
The OECD’s work-life balance ranking uses two headline indicators to determine the work-life balance ratings of 36 countries. The proportion of employees working very long hours (the data excludes the self-employed who may choose to work long hours) is the first indicator, unsurprising since there is enough evidence to demonstrate the impact of long work hours on a person’s health and general wellbeing. Only 13% of OECD employees work 50 hours or more, the definition applied for “very long hours”. This suggests that the work-life balance in the region is pretty decent. Turkey is the country with the highest proportion of people burning the midnight oil (41%); by contrast, in Scandinavian countries, such long hours are rare, with around 1-3% of the working population working 50-plus hours on a regular basis. And it won’t come as a galloping shock that male employees work for much longer hours than female workers (17% for men vs. 7% for women).
The second indicator used to evaluate work-life balance is that of time devoted to leisure and personal care, using data collected from national Time Use surveys. The longer you work, the less time you can devote to having, well, a life. According to the OECD’s analyses, a full-time OECD employee invests more than three-fifths of the day (62% or around 15 hours) on average on what it describes as “personal care” (i.e.: eating and sleeping) and leisure activities (i.e.: having fun). Bizarrely, although women in the OECD spend less time than men in paid employment, they devote roughly the same amount of time to personal care and leisure activities.
Measuring work-life balance will always be a challenging task. This is because the way people allocate their time will be heavily influenced by a range of factors that cannot accurately be captured through surveys: individual preferences, cultural and social contexts, and necessity, for example. The results from the OECD analysis should, therefore, be interpreted in the light of these factors. Still, if you’re desperate for a better work-life balance, have a look at these 10 countries.
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Do you live and work in any of these countries? Do you agree with the findings? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Denmark remains the country to which we should all emigrate: an enviable 2% of its citizens work very long hours (i.e.: 50 or more hours a week as an average) compared with the OECD average of 13% - a percentage that crawls up each year. The standard working week in Denmark is also pretty short at 37 hours.
Danes in full-time employment spend 67% of their day (16.1 hours) on looking after themselves (the OECD average is 15 hours on personal care and leisure). It’s an added bonus for Danes that they can enjoy, on average, up to five weeks’ paid holiday, according to the website you should go to next: Work in Denmark.
Spain ranks the second highest country in terms of work-life balance. Only around 6% of the working population work very long hours, well below the OECD average of 13%. In Spain, employees spend more than three-fifths of their day (or 16.1 hours) on personal care and leisure, more than the OECD average of 15 hours.
3. The Netherlands
The Netherlands boasts the second lowest rate of employees working very long hours – at just 0.4%, second only to the Russian Federation (0.2%). Barely 1% of men work 50 or more hours a week on average, compared with virtually no women. Roughly three-fifths of women work on a part-time basis in the Netherlands. For the criterion of time devoted to personal care and leisure activities, The Netherlands ranks in the fifth position with 15.4 hours per day spent on personal care and leisure.
Belgium ranks fourth in the OECD’s work-life balance chart. Five percent of workers work very long hours, and full-time workers devote 65% of their day to personal care and leisure activities (15.7 hours). The Belgium government is highly progressive, actively promoting flexible working practices, an increased focus on results, and more flexible work patterns.
The various flexible working initiatives spearheaded by its FPS Social Security has generated a 30% reduction in office spaces and a saving of approximately €6 million per year.
Norway is seldom excluded out of “Best Places To” lists. The Norwegians are clearly “living the life” what with their long life expectancy, high levels of literacy, and enviable living standards. Norway also happens to be one of the best places for work-life balance. Only 3% of Norwegian employees work very long hours, compared with the OECD average of 13%. Furthermore, full-time workers here spend 65% of their day (15.6 hours) on themselves (personal care and leisure).
Sweden is a top performer in many measures of wellbeing, ranking above average not only for work-life balance but also for education and skills, jobs and earnings, life expectancy, and subjective wellbeing. Only 1% of employees work very long hours (2% of men and 1% of women), and the Swedes devote 15.1 hours per day on their personal care and leisure activities. Moreover, Swedes can enjoy a whopping five weeks’ paid vacation each year.
Famously socially progressive, the Swedish welfare system boasts an extensive childcare system that provides a guaranteed nursery place for every child under the age of six (and over the age of two), and parental leave is structured to encourage fathers’ participation in childrearing.
Only 5% of employees in Germany work more than 50 hours per week, considerably less than the OECD average of 13%. Furthermore, full-time employees spend up to 64% of their day (15.3 hours) on their personal care and leisure activities.
The country has made great strides in increasing fathers’ participation in childrearing and is now among the most generous of countries in the OECD for child-related leave entitlements specifically for fathers.
8. Russian Federation
In the Russian Federation, just 0.2% of workers work more than 50 hours on average per week, the lowest rate in the OECD. Workers spend just 15 hours per day on their personal care and leisure activities, in line with the OECD average.
Just 4% of workers in Ireland work very long hours, significantly less than the OECD average of 13%. Perhaps surprisingly, given their joie de vivre and the importance placed on the institution of family in this country, workers in Ireland spend little more than the OECD average on their personal care and leisure (15.2 hours per day). Still, Ireland ranks eighth out of 36 on this parameter.
Tenth in the list is Luxembourg, where roughly 3% of employees work more than 50 hours on average. As is the case in most of the countries analyzed, more men work very long hours compared with women. Time devoted to personal care and pursuing leisure activities is in line with the OECD average, at 15.1 hours per day.
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