Diversity & Inclusion

What U.S. Employers Can Learn About Work/Life Balance from These 6 Countries

For most career-driven women who are also proud members of a family, maintaining a proper work/life balance can feel like an uphill battle. To say that things have gotten exponentially more difficult during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—a time when women have to be professionals; caregivers; and, in many cases, full-time educators for their kids—is a massive understatement.

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Employers in the United States are a bit behind the curve in terms of work/life balance for all workers but especially women. However, that trend is beginning to change, with progressive employers offering benefits similarly seen in their European counterparts. Read on to learn about how six European countries are implementing benefits to support their employees’ work/life balance. 

Iceland

No discussion of the world’s best countries in terms of work/life balance would be complete without a mention of Iceland. This location offers no fewer than 24 days of paid vacation and leave per year, among other notable benefits.

Icelanders only work an average of 1,697 hours per year, which is less than the average of other countries at 1,749. Icelandic workers also benefit from one of the best medical care systems in the world—everyone is entitled to free medical care wherever available.

It’s also important to note that the gender pay gap in Iceland is the smallest in the world, with women making 87.7% of the salaries that their male counterparts enjoy.

Norway

In particular, Norway is a notable entry on this list for its parental leave policies—something that allows women (and their spouses) time away from work to both adjust to and bond with their new family member. Mothers in Norway can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay, depending on their preferences. As one would expect, Norway also has very generous paid vacation day allotments, with the average worker getting 21 days per year and all other paid public holidays.

Norway also has a minimal gender pay gap, with women making approximately 84.2% of their male counterparts.

Finland

Finland is notable because of its parental leave policy. In 2021, Finland will give all parents leave regardless of their gender and whether or not they are a child’s biological parents. They’ll get 164 days per parent, equaling about 7 months. Finland workers also get 25 paid vacation days per year to relieve stress and boost productivity across the board.

To top it all off, the gender pay gap in Finland sees women making about 83.2% of their male contemporaries’ take-home pay.

The Netherlands

According to the OEDC Better Life Index, the Netherlands is the best country for work/life balance, ranking 9.3 out of 10. One of the biggest contributors to this high ranking is the country’s preference for appropriate working hours.

The Netherlands has comprehensive workweek laws to ensure no employee works over 60 hours per week. This practice allows all employees, especially parents, to benefit from spending enough time at home with loved ones.

Sweden

Sweden is another country on this list that offers a very high number of vacation days at 25, in addition to all paid public holidays. New parents in Sweden are entitled to a massive 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. Keep in mind that this is in addition to the 18 weeks mothers already get.

The gender pay gap in Sweden has women taking home 82% of their male counterparts’ pay.

New Zealand

Finally, we arrive at New Zealand, a country with a minimum wage of NZ$17.70 regardless of position. In terms of new mothers, they can take up to 18 weeks in 1 continuous period, beginning on the date the child is born.

The gender pay gap in New Zealand is not perfect, but it outperforms many other countries, with women taking home about 79.9% of the salary that men get for performing the same job. To put that into perspective, the gender pay gap in the United States is 72.4%.

A Matter of Perspective

While working in the United States undoubtedly creates many benefits for employees, there is still a significant disparity in the benefits offered by European employers. A lot of these benefits, from hours worked to closing the wage gap to paid time off and beyond, aren’t necessarily difficult to implement but can go a long way toward developing a productive, happy, and efficient workforce. In fact, workplace productivity increased as much as 12% on average in countries that incorporated these types of benefits into their employee packages.

Work/life balance is achievable in the United States, and thanks to our European neighbors, we can look to their systems for ways to incorporate more balance into our own. 

Savannah Flynn is a Content Marketing Manager at Velocity Global with more than 7 years of experience creating custom content strategies.