How Do Different Countries Approach Work-Life Balance?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined “burnout” as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It lists feelings of exhaustion, cynicism regarding one’s work, and a sense of being ineffective in that area. Burnout, then, results in degradation not just of a person’s productivity but a […]

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined “burnout” as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It lists feelings of exhaustion, cynicism regarding one’s work, and a sense of being ineffective in that area. Burnout, then, results in degradation not just of a person’s productivity but a person’s health as well. 

It seems everyone around the world is affected by burnout. In a 2020 study, the top cities with the highest burnout rates include Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Mumbai. Stress and burnout are a global problem, according to a Glint survey, which named burnout as the number one trend threatening employee well-being. This trend is continuing at a rapid pace, with work-from-home due to COVID-19 turning out to be more stressful for employees than office-based work, the survey says. Take a look at this article.

So what have countries around the world done to counter burnout and stress?

Workplace Norms in Other Countries That Promote Workplace Health

What are other countries doing to prevent burnout and promote wellbeing? Are there practices and cultural traditions around the world that are more accomodating of their workers’ health? Even though burnout is a worldwide phenomenon, there are ways other countries are managing the work-life balance. Today, we’ll focus on five countries that are doing their best to show that burnout can be avoided with proper care and management, on the national level as well as in the corporate world.

Work-life balance is the balance between work and daily life. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international organization, uses time devoted to work and time devoted to leisure as indicators, among others, of work-life balance. They call it the “better life index.”

The Top Cities With A Healthy Work-Life Balance

The top cities with the lowest burnout rates include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Oslo, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen. Since they ranked high on the list, let’s focus on these five countries and find out why they have such high ratings of work-life balance. 


In Spain, 4% of employees work very long hours, which is less than the average 11%, according to the OECD. They devote 15.9 hours and 66% of their day to personal leisure activities. How is this possible? Well, according to traditional customs, employees enjoy a siesta time around lunchtime. The typical work hour in Spain consists of 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM then 5 PM to 8 PM. The workday in Spain accounts for siesta time. There are certain changes in the Spanish workplace where companies have shorter lunch breaks and a more intensive work schedule, however much of Spain still includes siesta.

In addition, all citizens of the European Union have free medical and hospital care. The government also has provisions for work-life balance, such as increased nursery schools. 


According to the OECD, Norway devotes 63% of their time to leisure time, and only 11% of their employees work 50 hours or more. has kept ranking high on the better life index. Norwegians have the shortest workweek in the world, working only 38.9 hours per week. 

Norwegians are known for prioritizing family life. They value education, with children choosing career paths early on in life. They also rank high on their gender equality score, with men and women as part of the workforce almost equally. 

Aside from that, Norway has been at the forefront of the health industry worldwide, keeping in mind both physical and mental health. It’s no wonder that they have a great emphasis on keeping healthy, especially at work.


In Germany, (like in Spain) 4% of employees work long hours, while 65% of their day is spent on personal care or leisure, according to OECD. The New Reconciliation Memorandum has been put in place by the German government to find out more about their progress on work-life balance. 

They have put together policies that involve equal sharing of work among men and women, paving the way for gender equality. They’re also advocating more family care, such as a reduction of working hours for fathers and mothers, and more affordable childcare. The parental leave policy allows up to 3 years, one of the longest in the world. 


According to the OECD, 2% of employees work long hours, and workers devote 66% or 15.9 hours of their day to personal care and leisure. Denmark has the shortest workweek in the world, with employees only working for 37 hours per week. Working overtime is discouraged, and Danes usually take their minimum of five-week vacation period during the summer. Therefore, the culture of Denmark takes pride in their work, without working the long hours that can sometimes put pressure on employees. 

Danish Flexjobs also accommodate employees that can get things done in shorter hours. Thus, the agreements employees get paid on the effective work done for a period of five years. Depending on the municipalities, employees 40 years or older may have a permanent Flexijob.

The Danish government is also good about providing for the family. This includes financial support for families of young children, such as 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, 2 weeks of paid parental leave, followed by 32 weeks of paid parental leave, according to the OECD.


The Netherlands show a high work-life balance, with 0.4% of employees working very long hours, according to the OECD. They devote much of their time, around 16 hours per day, to sleeping, eating, and family time. Their education system is ranked high, with high reading literacy levels and high life satisfaction. Not surprisingly, they also rank well on the happiness and better life index, like Norway, with many satisfied with their clean air, water, and environment.

Part-time work is the norm among female employees since the Dutch take into account work done at home. 65% of employed women working part-time. Among employed mothers, part-time work is preferred. Although women work part-time more often, the Dutch still have a high female employment rate than the rest of the world.

How Is Good Work-Life Balance Achieved? 

To sum it up, a great work-life balance starts with an emphasis on shorter work hours, as we see from Spain and Denmark; great health and family care, as Germany has shown; and a better environment for work, as shown by the Netherlands and Norway. These countries are leading in the fight against burnout culture, which is truly scary for any employee that has suffered through it. However, the world is still far from solving the problem of burnout. With the right initiatives in place from both governments and the corporate sector, there could be much more to be done about workplace stress.

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