Europe is celebrated for many things. From cultural diversity to great food to historical monuments to beautifully dressed people, this is a continent that holds a lot of attraction for students and professionals worldwide. But did you know that the European Union is famously a fierce defender of work-life balance? That’s right. Not only is it a continent where you can reasonably visit the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum in one day (it’s tight, but you can!), but European countries also boast great working hours. This is actually quite enshrined in EU law through the Work-Life Balance Directive and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
We dug into the OECD’s Better Life Index to find out which EU member states have the best work-life balance. Here are the top 10.
The Netherlands scored a high 9.5/10 for work-life balance. Their average work week is only 29.3 hours, making it one of the shortest work weeks in the world. Local governments and employers put a lot of emphasis on employees being able to maintain a healthy balance between having enough work, honoring and enjoying their personal commitments, parenting, taking care of their health and well-being, and more. According to the OECD, only 0.5% of employed people in the Netherlands leave their workplace which they are supposed to.
Italy ranks second with a staggering 9.4 on the Better Life Index. Employment rates are quite high across the country, with 67% of men and 49% of women in full-time, paid employment. As family time is an important aspect of Italian culture, the country limits the number of hours you can be asked to work to 40. However, in most companies, employees will likely work less than 36 hours. Only 4% of employees work long hours. They also have a whopping 12 national holidays and offer employees an average of 4 weeks of paid vacation time.
74% of people aged 15-64 in Denmark are currently in gainful employment. Denmark has a fixed 37-hour work week to take into account working parents. In fact, many employees leave the office around 4pm to pick up their children from school and spend the afternoon with them.
Businesses essentially shut down throughout the summer, and anyone employed by a Danish company (or self-employed in Denmark) is encouraged to take their 5-week holiday allowance every day. Presenteeism isn’t something that plagues Danish workers—in fact, working overtime or not taking your vacation days is frowned upon!
The country of bullfighting and sangria is more than Spain! It is one of Europe’s premier work-life balance locations. Flexible working arrangements have long been the norm in Spain, with many companies offering benefits such as summer Fridays all year round, shorter office hours during the summer months, 10 national holidays a year, and an average of 3-5 extra days for locals. Regional holidays.
The working week is usually around 40 working hours, although recently the government has approved a trial period for a four-day working week. Companies may participate in this trial period and offer a shorter work week at their own discretion. Spain will also introduce week-long fully paid carers leave for family members. Salaries are low compared to other European countries, but the cost of living is also significantly lower.
Oh-la-la! Isn’t it everyone’s dream to live in Paris at some point in their lives? Well, the good news is that if you’re lucky enough to land a job there, you can actually enjoy your free time! With extremely high employment rates—69% of men and 62% of women aged 15–64 are paid, full-time employees—France is considering reducing their current 39-hour to 32-hour workweek. The law protects French employees from working more than 10 hours in a day or more than 4.5 hours continuously throughout the day. All said and done—you’ll have time for a cafe au lait and a croissant!
A bit of a wild card on the list, Lithuania ranks 6th on the OECD’s Better Life Index. In fact, more than 70% of people aged 15-64 have a job, with the balance between men and women roughly equal at 70%.
The workweek lasts five days, 28 holidays a year and a legal framework is established to protect workers from working overtime. Working longer than your average hours is a very strict scheme to be justified following the Lithuanian Labor Code. Most employees work around 8 hours a day, making it the perfect place to relocate for those who want more of a family life and have childcare responsibilities in mind.
Norway tops the list for a number of reasons, one of which is that the country’s median household net-adjusted income is significantly higher than the OECD average. The norm for working hours is about 40 per week, although Norwegians work about 37.5 hours a week.
With 5 weeks of paid leave, working in Norway (be it full-time or part-time) can give you all the flexibility you need to work there and return home to visit your family. Norway is also generous with family leave, with up to 11 months of parental leave for mothers and up to 10 weeks for fathers. What’s more, Norway has a very high level of sick pay, covering 100% of a worker’s salary for up to one year.
Few countries enjoy free time like Belgium. On average, Belgians enjoy 8.6 hours of free time per day, while they only have to work 7 hours a day! There’s no need to worry about burnout in this labor market—Belgian employers place great importance on their employees having enough time to enjoy their personal lives. There is no concept of “living to work”, it’s about “working to live”. The country is home to some of Europe’s leading institutions, including the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
As you can imagine, Germany has very clear regulations and guidelines on working hours and conditions within its national laws. The longest hours you can work per week is limited to 48, with strict restrictions on working on Sundays and national holidays. Average annual earnings are slightly higher than the OECD average, and flexible working hours were fairly common in Germany even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Overtime is often compensated in some way, such as with overtime off.
Surprise surprise! There is one more Nordic country on the list. Employment rates are extremely high in Sweden, with 77% of people aged 15-64 finding themselves in paid employment. Working hours cannot exceed 40 hours per week – and this is covered by Swedish law. Overtime is capped at 200 hours per year, and employees can choose whether to be financially compensated for it or with additional vacation time.
What’s more, the country boasts of 480 days of parental leave which can be equally distributed between maternity leave and paternity leave. So, is it surprising to know that Sweden ranks first on the continent in terms of gender equality and female employment rates?
A few more contenders
Other countries that ranked in the OECD’s top 20 European countries with the best work-life balance include Switzerland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Greece. For example, the United Kingdom ranks lower than expected due to relatively low annual income per capita compared to expected working hours and cost of living.
Countries outside of Europe that rank relatively high on the list are Canada, Brazil, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Chile.
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