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Revealed: Best European countries for work-life balance

Global employment specialists Remote set out to reveal which European country has the best work-life balance focused statutory benefits for workers looking to improve their life-work balance.

Life-work balance is an evolving definition, designed to challenge and change the way we juggle our personal lives alongside the demands of our careers. In their latest data study, global hiring specialists Remote have coined the term to help workers reclaim their life-work balance and put life first, as they’ve analysed how European countries are looking after the life-work balance of their employees. 

A strong life-work balance extends beyond the ability to work from home. To measure work-life balance accurately we need to take into account the holistic, and life-focused rights workers are given by their employees, and this is exactly what Remote has done. 

Working to empower employees and companies alike, global employer of record leader Remote conducted the 2022 European Life-Work Index to reveal the top countries to live and work in Europe. 

The study gave each country a score out of 100 and considered factors such as minimum wage, maternity leave, statutory annual leave, sick pay, the country’s healthcare system and the country’s overall happiness level to help workers determine the best locations for life-work balance.

More people are relocating abroad than ever before, but for what reason? Well, almost 40% of people cite work-life balance and pursuit of adventure as their motivation. 

If you’re looking to relocate or are inspired to explore working in a different country, Remote’s employer of record services make it easy for you and your employer. Remote’s new study can refine your choice and help you reclaim your own life-work balance.    

Top 10 European countries for life-work balance 

Here are the top 10 countries in Europe that can offer you an ideal life-work balance: 

1. Luxembourg

Luxembourg ranks #1 on Remote’s life-work balance index: it performs well across all key metrics, particularly regarding statutory maternity leave (100% of your wage for 20 weeks) and statutory annual leave (37 days). With a happiness score of 7.32, Luxembourg is also one of the most content nations in Europe.

2. Spain

Spain has a strong business culture geared towards putting home life before work when it counts. The nation has a universal government-funded healthcare system, as well as a significant minimum wage (the equivalent of $10.71/hr). This is particularly impressive given that Spain has a far larger population compared to other countries in the top 10. 

3. Norway

Norway values a strong life-work balance and this culture is enshrined within its employment laws, and long working weeks are rare across all industries. The country does not have a standard minimum wage like many other European nations. Instead, Norway has a collective agreement among nine key industries that cover 70% of workers. 

With a happiness score of 7.39, Norway has one of the most content populations inside our top ten. They also have a renowned universal government-funded healthcare system, with health expenditure per head being higher than most countries.  

4. Germany 

Germany has the largest population in the top ten countries (83.8 million), which serves to showcase the impressiveness of its commitment to nurturing a strong life-work balance. 

This nation provides workers with 30 days of statutory annual leave and 14 weeks of statutory maternity leave (at 100% of their wage). If you’re sick, companies are required to pay 70% of your wage during your absence. 

5. France 

Like Germany, France is one of the larger European nations to make our top ten. A generous statutory annual leave allowance of 36 days, as well as a high minimum wage ($12.23), are key factors in this nation’s ranking. 

In 2017, the French government passed a law known as the right to disconnect, which requires companies with more than 50 workers to create a “charter of good conduct”: a document stopping workers from answering emails outside of hours. 

6. Poland 

Poland arguably provides the most generous statutory maternity leave in our top ten. The nation allocates parents 20 weeks of leave at 100% of their wage. As for annual leave? Workers receive a significant 33 days, though this is at 70% of their base wage. 

7. Slovenia 

Slovenia is making great strides in developing a strong culture around life-work balance. Though the country prescribes to a relatively long 40-hour workweek compared to other European nations, Slovenia offers good statutory leave in return: 33 days of annual leave at 80% of your base salary, and 15 weeks of maternity leave on full pay. Plus, the majority of full-time workers and employees enjoy the ability to start and end their day according to personal requirements.

8. Iceland

When it comes to statutory annual leave, Iceland is unmatched in the top ten: they offer a generous 38 days of paid leave at 100% of your base wage. And with a happiness index score of 7.55, Iceland is also one of the happiest nations in the world, likely helped by the fact that much of Iceland shut down through July when you can experience the best weather with your friends and family.

9. Italy 

Italy protects workers looking to start a family by offering strong statutory maternity leave (21.7 weeks at 80% of your base salary). On top of that, Italy has a universal government-funded healthcare system known as Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). You also receive 32 days of statutory annual leave, though only half of your salary is protected during your absence. 

10. Denmark

Denmark is the happiest nation in the top ten, with a happiness index score of 7.62 (second overall behind Finland). Workers also receive 36 days of statutory annual leave on full pay, as well as 18 weeks of paid maternity leave (53% of base salary). 

Work-life balance is a cornerstone of Danish culture. The Scandinavian nation has a high taxation rate that serves to fuel a strong welfare society, benefitting its citizens through free education and healthcare, as well as a smooth public transport system and sprawling recreational facilities. 

Why is life-work balance important? 

The world’s best employers strive to foster life-work balance for their team. The most effective HR teams understand the importance of your commitments outside of your career and work to support each employee in all aspects of work and life. Motivated and healthy teams deliver better results.

In a country that facilitates strong life-work balance, your time will be respected, both during working hours and in personal time, such as annual leave, public holidays, sick pay and maternity/paternity leave. 

Ultimately, you should have enough capacity to look after yourself and those close to you, as well as sleeping properly, exercising and eating a well-balanced diet on a regular basis. These fundamental support mechanisms provide the platform to help you thrive in your career.

However, the journey to a truly successful life-work balance is still a widespread challenge in the modern workforce. Many employees work long hours and enjoy little time separated from their work-connected devices. According to a study by totallymoney, the average UK worker put in 10.1 hours of overtime per week, 59% of which is unpaid. In total, 61% of people feel they have a poor work-life balance. 

An inability to successfully combine work with other responsibilities and needs is likely to negatively impact personal health. For example, if you’re worried about work at home, this may impact your sleep. Poor sleeping patterns (and general sleep deprivation) are linked to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. 

There is also strong research to suggest that regularly working long working hours (55 hours or more per week) can also increase the risk of suffering a stroke, demonstrating the physical toll of prolonged workplace pressure. 

As remote and flexible work is normalised, the current workforce is pushing for a more inclusive life-work balance. Employers that are able to provide more inclusive and value-based benefits packages are primed to take advantage of this trend and attract the best global talent to their team. Across Europe, many workers have experienced a strong and widespread change to increased hybrid and flexible working situations, the tentative introduction of four-day working weeks and even legislation to “disconnect” from work and protect workers’ personal lives. 

But is each country’s legislation going far enough to protect workers’ life-work balance? 

The UK for example, ranked in position 27 of the top 30 countries, seemingly has room to grow and develop a stronger employee life-work balance. Holiday allowance is the ideal example of an area where the UK falls behind with the second-lowest annual leave allowance of the top 30 countries at 28 days per annum. This legislation is a contributing factor to the UK’s lower life-work balance ranking. After all, London (UK) was named one of the World’s top 20 cities experiencing burnout and was the only European city to feature in the list.    

By analysing the life-work balance offered to workers across Europe, Remote hopes to inspire countries and companies to reconsider their benefits packages as a total rewards program that looks far beyond compensation and statutory minimums. Employers trying to attract and retain quality talent should consider the lifestyle they are offering for their workers. Any nation or business that can improve the life-work balance of their team members can expect significant increases in morale, productivity, and staff retention rates.

Commenting on the research, Job van der Voort, CEO of Remote stated:  “It’s interesting to see central European and Nordic countries featuring heavily in the top 10 destinations for life-work balance, as it’s likely that their statutory benefits are strongly linked to their wider cultural values of support, quality family connections and avoiding working overtime. It’s great to see this shining through the legislation and employee benefits. So, if you’re inspired to relocate to improve your life-work balance, then why not take the plunge? 

“Working abroad or for a global company is not just a dream: this opportunity allows you to establish a harmonious life-work balance in a bucket list location and fresh environment all while allowing the individual to experience a strong global working connection.”

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