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Which European countries have the best work-life balance?

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Seven in 10 white-collar workers in the US are still working remotely, as are 14% blue collar workers, according to a Gallup poll.

People have never had more flexibility in location and, therefore, relocation.

Additionally, international firms are increasingly moving teams from traditional hub cities to places where governments have created business-friendly environments to attract more foreign investment and skilled workers - for instance, Milan.

Often part of the lure of relocation for workers are the associated beneficial lifestyle changes a move can offer.

Today nine of the top 10 happiest nations in the world are in Europe. With some countries known for food and family, others for efficiency and innovation, which manage to strike a true life work balance, according to researchers?

Whether you're thinking of making a move or not, it can be useful to take a look at which countries are getting it right, and some of the principles anyone can lean into.

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Norway

Long working weeks are rare across all industries in Norway, and its culture values a strong life-work balance. Health expenditure per head is higher than most countries and likely contributes to its national happiness score of 7.39.

4. Spain

Coming in at #2 on the life-work balance index is Spain. It has a strong business culture, a universal government-funded healthcare system, and a $10.71/hr minimum wage.

5. Netherlands

The Dutch generally have clearly defined working hours and managers respect them. The 2019 OECD Better Life Index ranked the Netherlands the best country in the world for managing work-life balance.

6. France

In 2017, the French government passed a law known as the right to disconnect. At companies with more than 50 workers, it is illegal to ask people to answer emails outside of working hours. France also has an even more generous annual leave allowance at 36 days, plus a high minimum wage of $12.23.

7. Sweden

A flexible approach to working hours is one of the reasons Sweden comes out high for work life balance. Swedes on average spend more than 15 hours per day in leisure or sleeping and only 1% of citizens works more than 50 hours a week. Gender equality and generous parental policies and benefits are also considered key contributors.

8. Germany

With a large population (84 million people), Germany has its work cut out maintaining good work life balance. However, it legislates 30 days annual leave, 14 weeks maternity leave at 100% salary and 70% salary during sickness absence.

Other countries with notable high happiness scores and good work life balance are Luxembourg and Iceland.

Luxembourg offers 37 days statutory annual leave, while its statutory maternity leave offers workers 100% salary for 20 weeks. Luxembourgers are also some of the most contented people in Europe, with a happiness rating of 7.32.

Meanwhile Icelanders have an average happiness score of 7.55 and enjoy 38 days of paid leave, with much of the country shut down through July for citizens to enjoy the best weather.

What many of these countries have in common are both policies and cultures that are geared towards putting home life before work when it counts - and a fundamental understanding that a balance between the two leads to less stressed and more contented workers.

Get support unlocking your own work-life balance, wherever you are in the world

Meet with an ELANZA coach 1:1 by video, for life-changing conversations around family, balance and the future. Learn more here


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