Work/life balance is a commonly discussed concept among employees, employers, and labor market observers alike. A good balance between work and nonwork activities (i.e., family, hobbies, travel, personal health, etc.) is understandably desired by employees.
In addition, though, employers and those who study labor markets also appreciate the benefits that companies promoting a healthy work/life balance can accrue. These benefits can affect employee recruitment, retention, morale, and productivity.
In fact, Microsoft Japan actually found that productivity increased when it reduced employee hours in a recent experiment.
Does America Work Too Much?
It’s perhaps telling that Microsoft’s experiment, although conducted by an American company, was carried out in Japan and not the United States itself. There may be a practical reason for this.
A recent report titled “The Leisure Agenda” highlights some interesting disparities between the work/life balance of Americans and that of other developed nations, such as Japan, Canada, Australia, and countries in Europe.
The introduction to the report bluntly states:
Americans worked a collective 270 billion hours in 2017, 1,739 hours for every worker. These numbers mark an extraordinary burden of labor in our country: millions of people are spending far too much of their waking lives ensnared in needlessly excessive hours of work.
Too many Americans have no vacation days, or very few, or they are not paid enough to enjoy them properly. Too many Americans work hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, or are forced to choose between parenthood and employment. Too many Americans are spending their twilight years in front of a cash register because they can’t afford a real retirement.
The report then goes into greater detail, using statistics and data points to bolster its central argument. For example, as noted above, the average hours worked in 2017, per American worker, was 1,739.
Workers in other advanced economies like Germany, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden, though, all averaged fewer than 1,500 hours a year. Other countries, such as Japan, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom, fell somewhere between these two marks.
Considerations for Retaining Top International Talent
While such data are not necessarily new, they become increasingly relevant as technologies improve and the feasibility and acceptability of telecommuting continue to grow.
What would happen, for example, if workers in these advanced economies could just as easily work in their own country as in any of the others on the list? How would this impact American companies’ ability to attract and retain top international talent?
As the global economy becomes increasingly interconnected and opportunities for telecommuting become greater, American companies will need to pay close attention to the work/life balance offered not just by the company next door but also by the company on the other side of the world.