American work-life balance is missing. The Center for American Progress says we’re not making any progress toward achieving a comfortable level between the hours we spend working and the minutes we’re not. Americans are working more, taking fewer vacations and generally falling behind other industrialized nations when it comes to working less and enjoying life more.
Land of the free… to work more?
American work-life balance remains top of the heap when it comes to the sheer volume of hours Americans put in each week. The majority of workers here put in more than 40 hours per week and there are no laws telling us when to stop, either, unlike 134 other countries that set the maximum amount of time workers are clocking in.
The International Labour Organization says American work-life balance is more lopsided than any other industrialized nation: 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 hours more than British workers, and 499 longer hours than the French population.
About one-half of the American workforce won’t use all of their vacations this year — even if it is paid.
It appears that we will need to venture outside the United States to find the kind of work-life balance we’re seeking. What is it like to work in other countries? Have they found harmony between relaxing and pulling the employment plow?
Work-life balance in other cultures
Let’s get one thing straight: the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not legally mandate that employers provide paid vacation time. The entire concept of work-life balance dictates that there is an even balance between the times we spend working and the time we spend doing something else.
If the numbers tell the story accurately, it appears Americans are not straddling the work-life balance fence, but have hopped it to land firmly on the work side.
But how do other countries balance working and not working? The stats tell us that Western Europeans work fewer hours each week than Americans. So, which Western European countries are leading the way in work-life balance?
Established in 2000, then modified in 2002, France’s labor laws cap the work week at 35 hours and anything more than that is overtime. More than half of their workers prefer it this way and culturally, the French believe flex-time helps employees achieve work-life balance. On average, 15 hours each day are devoted to “personal care and leisure.”
The country also has 11 to 13 national holidays (depending on the region) where offices close. Overtime is less common and it is also not common to take work home on the weekends. Finally, France offers health and social security insurance that covers all illness, retirement and unemployment.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), adults in Germany worked 1,356 hours in 2017, which averages to 26 hours a week. However, it is also reported that Germans work about 35 hours per week, though some firms are moving toward shorter work weeks. Germany also has 24 national holidays and, according to Business Culture, collective wage agreements have secured six weeks or more vacation days for employees. Most industries also have collective agreements that limit working hours.
Sundays and national holidays are all mandated as no-work. Rest periods at lunch are the generally accepted norm. Germany also has universal healthcare coverage, paid for through voluntary and compulsory requirements.
The typical workday is 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and “Norwegians are renowned for prioritizing family life.”
Norwegian maternity and paternity leave is also very generous. Parents are entitled to 48 weeks of leave at full pay or 56 weeks at 80 percent pay. Plus, employees in Norway are guaranteed 25 working days of paid vacation each year.
All of these stories stand in such stark contrast to American work-life balance because of the statistics. For example, here are some facts that illustrate our lack of work-life balance from the Center for American Progress:
- 38 percent of American men now work 50 or more hours a week.
- 32 percent of single mothers also work 50 or more hours a week.
- There are no federal laws mandating paid sick days.
All of this data points in the direction of a perpetually harried workaholic that is completely off balance. How can employers help pave the way toward work-life balance for their employees? And, how can American workers find it for themselves?
What can small business owners here learn about American work-life balance?
As a small business owner, it is probably difficult to find your own work-life balance — let alone making sure your employees have achieved it. But small business owners have more options than they might imagine for themselves, including:
- Outsourcing key tasks to third-party vendors or using software as a service (SaaS) to automate tasks.
- Setting boundaries between your home and work life.
- Allowing yourself breaks during the day and once or twice a year will help you avoid burnout.
- Scheduling all of your time including spending time with family and friends, time for exercise, or even 20 minutes every day to just stop working. It’s far too easy to skip any of these important balancers, so treat them as important parts of your schedule that cannot be missed just like any other appointment.
Research has shown us that American work-life balance makes for more satisfied and happier employees and less job turnover. While small business owners can set an example of how to achieve work-life balance for their employees, there are also a few things they can do to move workers toward a more balanced life:
- Do not contact employees after hours.
- Offer flexible scheduling that includes at least one remote workday per month.
- Offer paid vacation time and make sure employees use it.
- Talk about work-life balance as a way to actively promote the idea and the practice.
Why does American work-life balance matter? Working excessively is bad for your heart, according to the latest research. By encouraging employees to take more time off, the small business owner will reap rewards like less employee sick time and higher employee engagement.
For small business owners seeking their own work-life balance, this reward will also lessen the stress all entrepreneurs feel. While this won’t solve all of your problems, it should give you a nice head start.
Editor’s note: If you need some help becoming more productive, so you can maximize your time in the office, check out Microsoft Office 365 from GoDaddy. You’ll get all the tools you need to keep your work organized, so you can prioritize the rest of life.