Work-life balance – Will the 30-hour work week be the new normal?
Harmonizing their careers and personal lives is becoming increasingly important to employees. However, this is often easier said than done. It helps when the government supports flexible working hour models. The latest edition of the OECD’s "Better Life Index" shows which countries are ahead regarding work-life-balance.
Oh, to be Dutch. They won the title of country with best work-life balance in front of Denmark and France. Right behind them was Spain in fourth place. Germany reached eighth place and thus made it into the top ten. According to the OECD study, the number of working hours per week has a strong impact on work-life balance. The more time you spend at the work place, the less time you have to rest and regenerate. This increases the stress level and can create health problems. One in eight employees in the OECD region works at least 50 hours per week. In Turkey, the share is particularly high at 34 %, while in the Netherlands it is only 0.5 %.1 The result: those who work less feel better, fitter, and more productive. Many trade union representative and scientists therefore demand a 30-hour work week. What a heavenly outlook for employees. But is it even possible to implement this concept?2
Sweden is testing the 30-hour work week
A Toyota shop in Sweden shows that the 30-hour work week can work: employees alternate in two six-hour shifts, which helped to extend business hours. The result is promising: productivity and quality have increased, the number of sick days decreased. The advertising agency Till Oss is also thrilled. The altered working environment increased both the collective awareness and the concentration of employees. The number of unnecessary meetings, on the other hand, is at an all-time low. Another Swedish pilot project in a retirement home shows similar results: more energy and fewer sick days among the nursing staff. However, these productivity increases also resulted in added costs of about 10 million kronor (approx. 1 million Euros). When employee’s salary is held constant, the 30-hour work week corresponds to a salary increase of 25 %. Companies cannot be sure whether employee productivity will increase at the same rate.3
Lately entrepreneurs are no longer speaking of work-life balance but rather of work-life harmony. They believe a forced permanent balance between career and free time is not a realistic goal for entrepreneurs. Instead, there should be times in which you focus mainly on your career and times in which personal life is the priority. An important project should be followed by a rest period. Flexible working hour models also play an important role in this scenario.4
By the way: while people are fighting for the 30-hour work week, the work week in South Korea was recently lowered from 68 to 52 hours per week. In addition to quality of life and productivity issues, the government is mainly trying to counteract the low birth rate.