America is the land of the free. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans who work 50, 60, or even 80 hours per week, you might not feel very free. This is the reality for a lot of people who have incredibly demanding positions, work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet, or feel they’d be punished for putting in a standard 40-hour workweek. Some countries are taking measures to help reinstate a sense of work-life balance into their citizens’ lives. In the United States, however, we’re asking workers to push the limits.
Recent surveys have found the average American’s work week is longer than the traditional 40 hours. In some cases, it’s much longer. According to Gallup, the full-time workers in the U.S. average 47 hours per week on the job. Additionally, 21% reported working between 51 and 59 hours per week. And 18% — nearly 1 out of every 5 American workers — said they work more than 60 hours per week.
For these people, a sense of work-life balance is a pipe dream. It’s a fantasy. Millions of people are working themselves to the bone, and it’s killing us. Literally.
In many other countries this isn’t the case. While we should encourage hard work and dedication, we don’t want people wearing themselves down to impress the boss. This is the norm in countries, such as Japan, but most western nations take a much more relaxed attitude toward work.
The proof is in the pudding, according to the latest work-life balance rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Better Life Index. The index ranks 38 countries on a basis of which provides the average worker with the greatest sense of work-life balance, and for Americans, it’s a bleak picture. Out of 38, the United States ranks 30th. As for the top 10? Here are the OECD report’s best countries for work-life balance.
Even St. Patrick had to take a break, at some point, during his quest to rid the Emerald Isle of snakes. At least, one would have to imagine that was the case. As such, the modern Irish enjoy a good sense of work-life balance, at least among OECD countries. The average Irish worker puts in 39 hours per week, and there is actually law forbidding a work week longer than 48 hours.
9. Russian Federation
Modern Russia is just that: modern. It’s a huge and diverse country that consistently ranks among the world’s “hardest working” nations. The average Russian works a 40-hour week, and like in Ireland, there are laws against working much more than that. Some workers work more than 50 hours, and all workers are granted 28 days of paid vacation per year.
The Germans are known for being punctual and hard-working. And evidently, they take the motto “work hard and play hard” seriously because they also have one of the shortest relative work weeks in the world. CNN Money reports the average German works 35 hours per week, and roughly 25% of the workforce works part-time. There are also government protections against layoffs, helping the unemployment rate remain low.
The Swedes don’t like to spend a lot of time at the office — or at Ikea. The country has famously tried shortening the workday to six hours, among a few other social experiments. According to a report from the BBC, Swedes are nuts about the concept of work-life balance, and as a result, they take measures to improve theirs as much as possible. Only 1% of the country’s workforce puts in more than 50 hours per week.
Sweden’s neighbor Norway ranks right alongside it when it comes to work-life balance rankings. Similar in both geography and culture, Norwegians take work-life balance seriously, just like the Swedes do. The average Norwegian works between 36 and 38 hours per week and a maximum of nine hours per day. There are also rules regarding working at night and on Sundays.
If you haven’t caught on yet, Europeans are leading the way when it comes to work-life balance. Belgium is no different. In Belgium, the average worker puts in 35 hours per week. In aggregate, this ends up being more than 200 hours less than the average American, according to CNN Money. There are also laws regarding the times and days you can work — typically between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
How do those Spaniards have all that time to throw tomatoes at each other and chase bulls down the street? They have an institutionalized concept of work-life balance. There was a traditional “siesta” period for many years, in which workers were granted a couple of hours to go home and relax. But the government has taken steps to become more like the rest of Europe, with similar work weeks and rules as Spain’s neighboring countries.
The French are notorious for taking a fairly lax attitude toward work. It’s not necessarily true — but the myth holds up when compared to countries, such as the U.S. or Japan. The French typically work a 35-hour work week, though many do work beyond that. The country also has many government-mandated rules involving paid leave and holidays. Interestingly enough, the French are far more productive, per hour, than the average OECD nation.
Folks in Denmark have plenty of time for life away from work. The average Dane works 37 hours per week, though there is a bit of a rift between women (35 hours) and men (41 hours). Like many other European countries, the traditional workday lasts from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., with some exceptions. There are also special rules for those working at night and on certain days of the week.
If you truly value your time away from work, the Netherlands is the place to be. The country ranks first in the OECD Better Life Index, though the average workweek is still 40 hours. There are a lot of rules and mandates granting workers sick leave and retirement, which help propel the Netherlands up the rankings. Workers also get a considerable amount of paid leave every year, allowing for plenty of time to kick back.