What We Can Learn from the Countries With the Best Work-Life Balance

The Hubble Team
The Hubble Team|

No matter how much you love your job, it’s important for you to have the time and energy to have a life outside of work. Friends, family, Netflix, actually going outside. It’s all important, and it all contributes to a healthy, happy lifestyle. 

‘Work-life balance’ is a term that’s had a lot of press coverage these past two years, as we’ve all done our best to navigate the new world of work.

But since we’re in the business of offering access to a global network of on-demand and longer-term workspaces, we got to wondering whether some countries offer a better work-life balance than others.

The answer, of course, is yes—and we’re here to reveal the countries that top the league table.

Why do some countries have a better work-life balance than others?

Work-life balance can vary from company to company, and even from one employee to another. But there are certain factors that can make it more likely that you’ll have a good (or bad) work-life balance in a particular country.

For one thing, the amount of time that employees typically spend at work is different in each country. Similarly, the amount of paid holiday employees are entitled to can have a big impact on work-life balance—and this differs across countries as well.

There are cultural factors at play too. In some countries, it’s just not the done thing to work yourself into the ground, and staying at the office past 6pm would earn you some raised eyebrows, to say the least.

8 countries that take work-life balance seriously

The OECD Better Life Index is an initiative that compares data on various aspects of life in 40 countries around the world. The idea behind it captures multiple dimensions of socioeconomic progress, without simply relying on dry data like GDP and economic growth.

The index measures 11 areas that the OECD thinks are essential to economic and social progress, including health, civic engagement, and—of course—work-life balance.

In order to rank countries for work-life balance, the OECD considers the following factors: 

  • The percentage of employees that work 50 or more hours per week ⏰
  • The amount of time employees devote to personal care and leisure each day 🧘‍♂️

Each country is given a rating between 0 and 10 based on these factors, and according to the OECD, these are the eight countries that are getting work-life balance right:

8th place: Germany 🇩🇪

OECD score: 8.0

Germany is famous for its rich history, castle-speckled countryside, and delicious food and beer—and as it turns out, it’s also a top destination for work-life balance. Employees in Germany work an average of around 36–40 hours per week, and weekly hours are capped at 48. 

Velvet Space - Munich

Holiday entitlement is also generous. Full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 days of holiday leave each year, but in practice, many companies grant between 27 and 30 days. 

On top of that, there are nine public holidays each year, plus up to 4 regional ones depending where in the country you are. And to top it all off, working on Sundays or bank holidays is prohibited in Germany (with some exceptions).

7th place: Sweden 🇸🇪

OECD score: 8.1

Next up is Sweden, where employees are entitled to five weeks of holiday every year, in addition to 13 public holidays.

United Spaces - Uppsala

And if you thought Germany’s working hours were good, they can’t exceed 40 hours per week in Sweden, with overtime capped at 200 hours per year. That’s just over 4 a week! Oh, and if Swedes do work overtime, they can choose to be compensated in pay or with even more leave. Bliss.

With this in mind, it makes sense that workplaces in Sweden are typically informal, with casual dress codes and a focus on equality and wellbeing making them extremely pleasant places to work.

6th place: France 🇫🇷

OECD score: 8.1

France. Famous for its strong employee rights, a generous holiday allowance (five full weeks every year), and a short working week. That’s right, ’full time’ in France means 35 hours. Employees are also required to take at least two weeks of their holiday allowance in one chunk, so it’s common for whole offices to shut up shop for two or three weeks in August. Imagine that!

Anticafé - Station F

And if you’re sick of responding to Slack messages out of hours, get this: a law introduced in 2017 gives employees the ‘right to disconnect’—meaning their employers *legally* can’t pester them at the weekend.

5th place: The Netherlands 🇳🇱

OECD score: 8.3

In fifth place, it’s The Netherlands. The Netherlands is a liberal, relaxed country that sets a clear boundary between home and work life. A typical work week is about 36–40 hours over five days, although working longer hours over four days is becoming more common. 

Tribes - Rotterdam Blaak

That’s right, and although just 0.3% of employees work very long hours (50+ per week) in the Netherlands, full-time employees there are granted 20 days of holiday per year, and there are eight public holidays to enjoy too. Plus, there’s a new law that’s set to come into effect that will (more or less) guarantee employees the right to work from home if their job allows it. 

4th place: Spain 🇪🇸

OECD score: 8.4

Spain is one of the most popular destinations in the world for British expats seeking sun, sea, and a better work-life balance. And, like in The Netherlands, although the average working week is just over 40 hours, very few Spaniards work more than 50 a week (that’s 3%, compared to the OECD average of 10%).

Espacio GOCO - Valencia

Employees are also granted 30 calendar days (22 working days) of paid holiday each year, of which two weeks must be taken together. There is also a minimum of nine public holidays depending on where in the country you are, though some municipalities have up to 14. 

And if you ever start feeling sleepy around lunchtime, Spain might be the country for you: the siesta, where employees go home for several hours of relaxing in the middle of the day, is still surprisingly common in some areas—though it’s becoming less so in the big cities. 

3rd place: Norway 🇳🇴

OECD score: 8.5

The second Nordic country on this list, Norway is characterised by magical skies, dramatic fjords and dark winters—but it’s also a great place to live when it comes to work-life balance. 

657 Oslo

Employees in Norway typically work between 37 and 40 hours a week and often finish early on Fridays. Many companies offer flexible working around certain core hours, so employees can organise work around the rest of their lives.

Full-time employees get five weeks of paid holiday, plus 13 public holidays throughout the year.

2nd place: Denmark 🇩🇰

OECD score: 8.6

Coming in at a cool second place, Denmark has one of the lowest rates of employees working 50+ hours a week in Europe, at just 1% of the working population. That puts it well below the OECD average of 10%. 

Denmark is also known for its relaxed and informal attitude to work and is regularly voted one of the happiest places in the world. It’s probably no surprise then, that salaries tend to be high (though you will pay more tax than in other EU countries). 

The standard working week for most people is about 37 hours, and full-time employees get five weeks’ annual leave, plus 11 public holidays. 

1st place: Italy 🇮🇹

OECD score: 9.4

Ah, Italy… A country of beautiful scenery, mouthwatering food, and—as it turns out—the best work-life balance in Europe. Italians average about 36 hours a week at work, with hours legally capped at 48 (including overtime). Public sector workers get an even better deal, with most public offices opening around 9am and closing up just after lunch, at 2pm.

COWO NoLo - Milan

Workers in Italy also get four weeks of paid holiday and 12 public holidays, giving them plenty of time to tour the vineyards of Tuscany or soak up history in Rome… does anyone else want to move yet?

Culturally, there’s a big focus on family and time spent away from work—which could be why only 3% of Italian employees work more than 50 hours a week.

So, what can we learn from these countries? 

Realistically, most of us couldn’t simply up and leave to Tuscany in search of a better work-life balance, even if we wanted to.

But there are certain lessons we can learn from the countries that made this list. And by applying them as much as possible in your own workplace, you can make sure your team gets the work-life balance it deserves.

So, remember:

  • Long hours aren’t everything: Working super-long hours leads to exhaustion, disengagement and burnout. Instead, try to build a culture that doesn’t praise burning the midnight oil at the expense of physical and mental health.
  • Everyone needs to (actually) disconnect: When your employees leave work, do they feel like they’ve left? Properly disconnecting from work gives your employees the energy they need to achieve maximum productivity while they’re on the clock. Encourage employees to fully switch off when they’re not at work—and lead by example!
  • Better work-life balance doesn’t mean less gets done: Initiatives that aim to improve work-life balance can be met with resistance from some managers who feel their workforce won’t get enough done—but the figures show that this just isn’t true. In fact, many of the countries on this list also top European rankings for GDP. This tells us that having a good work-life balance doesn’t mean an employee won’t be as productive—it could even mean the opposite.

Give your team on-demand access to coworking spaces around the world

Sometimes work-life balance means being able to travel while you work—and allowing your teams to work from anywhere is a great way of helping them achieve the balance they need.

That’s where the Hubble Pass comes in, your all-access ticket to wonderful coworking spaces around the world. So, be it Berlin, Barcelona, or somewhere else on (or indeed off) this list, Hubble has an array of beautiful coworking spaces that are ready and waiting to welcome you with open arms.

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