These Are The Best Countries For Work-Life Balance

Surprise, surprise — guess who doesn't make the list?

In this post-pandemic era, many employees work remotely. Logging on from home can help people manage their professional and personal responsibilities, allowing someone to pick up their children from school, for example, or squeeze in a workout during a lunch break.

But remote work has also blurred the line that marks where the workplace ends and home begins, with many workers hopping back online throughout the evening and into the night to complete their assigned tasks before a deadline. The struggle to achieve that elusive work-life balance remains.

An employer’s policies and workplace culture have a huge impact on how you are able to juggle work and a personal life, but the country you reside in also plays a decisive role. Laws regarding paid leave vary considerably across the globe, as does the average number of hours that workers put in.

Compare the Market Australia, a company that provides comparisons of insurance rates, recently ranked 40 countries by the work-life balance they offer. Each nation’s 2024 standing was determined by eight factors: the average number of hours worked per year, minimums regarding paid annual leave and sick leave, maternity and paternity leave lengths and rates, and the country’s happiness score, based on Gallup World Poll surveys.

“Each of the factors was weighted equally when producing the final score,” Hannah Norton, a spokesperson for Compare the Market, told HuffPost.

Nations in Europe dominated the entire first half of the list, “which indicates that the region does a great job of supporting employees in maintaining a positive work-life balance,” Norton said.

Spain clinched the No. 1 spot, offering workers 30 days of annual paid leave and six (or more) weeks of paid sick leave, while also paying parents 100% of their salaries during their leaves. Most notably, Spain extends similar leaves to both mothers (16 weeks) and fathers (12 weeks), and grants significantly more leave to dads than most other countries. The next most generous paternal leaves are found in neighboring Portugal (five weeks at 100%) and Slovenia (four weeks at 100%).

The first 20 countries on the list are:

  1. Spain.
  2. Luxembourg.
  3. France.
  4. The Netherlands.
  5. Finland.
  6. Bulgaria.
  7. Slovenia.
  8. Estonia.
  9. Lithuania.
  10. Austria.
  11. Portugal.
  12. Sweden.
  13. Denmark.
  14. Poland.
  15. Italy.
  16. Romania.
  17. Belgium.
  18. Hungary.
  19. Latvia.
  20. Greece.

All of these countries offer 20-30 paid vacation days and six or more weeks of paid sick leave annually. Bulgaria offers the most maternity leave by far: 58 weeks at 90%. Greece offers no paternity leave at all, while the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and Romania offer only one week.

People in Germany (which does not rank in the top 20 overall) work the fewest hours annually, averaging 1,340.9. Workers in Denmark are next, logging 1,371.6 hours, followed by Norwegians at 1,424.6. Denmark also achieved one of the highest scores on the happiness index, topped only by Finland. Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria were high scorers as well.

South American countries (none of which appears in the top 20 overall) earned the top three slots for the most hours worked. Colombians log the most, with 2,405.5 hours a year — 1.8 times as many as German workers. Mexico (with 2,226.3 hours) and Chile (with 1,962.8 hours) are close behind.

In the U.S., the average for workers falls between their South American and European counterparts, at 1,810.9 hours worked per year. But it is our dismal lack of paid leave — annual, sick and family — that earned us the very last spot on the list overall. Canada and Ireland also ranked toward the bottom, Norton said.

Surprisingly, then, the U.S. “performed reasonably well when it came to happiness score — the nation was 14th out of 40 countries for this factor, with a happiness score of 6.89,” Norton said.

While we may be relatively happy overall, the early years of parenthood are a time of intense pressure for many U.S. families, who struggle to care for their children and make a living without the guarantees of paid leave or subsidized child care.

Sherry Leiwant, a co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, an organization that advocates for workers, described the situation to HuffPost: “At present, only 27% of private sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave, which translates to almost 100 million U.S. workers without any access to paid family leave.”

Yet these numbers have improved dramatically, Leiwant explained. In 2010, only 12% of private sector workers had access to paid family leave. These battles have been won not in boardrooms but in state legislatures, with 13 states plus Washington, D.C., having passed laws guaranteeing some weeks of family leave paid at a portion of a worker’s salary.

Still, the situation remains a “crisis,” Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All, an advocacy organization, told HuffPost.

“As it stands, the United States is one of seven countries in the world that guarantees no form of paid leave for its people,” she said. “Only 1 in 4 of us have paid family leave through our jobs — and among the lowest-paid workers, it’s only 6%.”

A mother returning to work just days after giving birth is a uniquely American phenomenon, Huckelbridge said. And the repercussions can be devastating. Families face losing their housing or food security if they are forced to take unpaid leave or quit their jobs to care for a family member.

Paid leave, on the other hand, not only protects families from poverty, but keeps women connected to the workforce.

“Paid leave is a tool for public health; it reduces infant and maternal mortality and postpartum depression, it improves physical and mental health for whole families and communities,” Huckelbridge said.

Though critics often suggest that paid leave would be bad for business, advocates say that the opposite is true.

Paid leave “enables employers to offer a benefit to their workers at very little cost to them,” Leiwant said. “The advantage for smaller or less profitable businesses is especially strong since those employers don’t have the resources to offer a strong paid family leave benefit and can’t compete on this important employee benefit with larger employers who can offer it.”

Because the premiums for such programs (in the states where they have been enacted) “are spread out over all workers and employers,” they remain low and affordable for businesses, Leiwant noted.

“The cost of premiums has been consistently small because it is spread out over all workers and employers in the state to pay benefits only when there is a covered need,” she continued.

“Premium costs have remained low in all states (under 1%) and if premiums were spread out among all U.S. workers the costs would be similarly low for a national program.”

Both Leiwant and Huckelbridge noted that the estimated economic loss of not having paid leave on a national level is around $22 billion per year.

“Nearly every other country in the world has figured this out,” Huckelbridge said. “If we want to remain competitive in the world and a 21st century economy, we can’t afford not to pass paid leave.”

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