Work-life balance: Eastern and Western Perspectives

Work-life balance: Eastern and Western Perspectives 2

Finding the optimum balance between work and daily living is an ever-increasing challenge that workers face around the world. The ability to successfully find this balance is not only important for the wellbeing of the worker, but all members in a household. Internet access and mobile phones represent a complete loss of privacy and downtime, even when at home. Naturally, this can have a negative impact on the whole family. According to the OECD Better-Life Index, it appears that many European countries have got the balance right, with Scandinavia topping the list. However, it’s a very different story for workers in areas of the US and Asia – but, Governments and businesses can help to address this issue by encouraging more supportive and flexible working practises.

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Western societies: work-life balance

Sweden famously scaled back its workweek to 30 hours, with only 1% of employees working very long hours. Similarly, only 2% of Danish employees work very long hours, with the global average being 13% of employees. The current thinking in these countries is that an improved work-life balance can help all parties – the organisation, the individual and the customer.

The United States performs very well in certain measures of wellbeing relative to other countries, however, employees in the U.S. work 47 hours a week on average. An EY survey found that U.S workers crave work/life balance and flexibility so much that they would even change their jobs and pass on a promotion to achieve it. The most frequent concerns are long working hours and the intensity of work. With similar attitudes of workers in the U.K, only a small percentage of employers have family-friendly policies or personal support services in place to moderate the situation; however, this is gradually increasing.

Eastern societies: work-life balance

Online business-to-business marketplace Expert Market put together a ranking of cities, which have the best and worst work-life balance for workers. They found that many of the cities with the worst work-life balance are located in our Eastern societies – with Hong Kong topping that list. Here, workers work an average of 50.1 hours: far in the lead, the longest-working people in any major city in the world. People in the city work on average 27.4% more hours than the global average. Bombay, New Delhi, Bangkok and Taipei City are also on this list. Workers in these parts of the world work longer hours and take the least holidays. It appears that more emphasis is needed on the importance of work-life balance in these areas, and how to go about creating that balance. The same study found that mostly European cities topped the list for the best work-life balance, including Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and Milan.

The new generation of workers

Millennial workers around the world are seeking flexibility in their schedules with traditional employers, independent contract work and freelancing. They are looking to prioritise family and save time on the stressful commute. Overall, work-life balance tends to outweigh other factors when looking for a new job. Compared to the baby boomer generation, millennials tend to focus on output rather than input. They are more likely to connect with global colleagues at unsociable hours and do all-nighters to complete projects – but more flexibility and time off is expected in return.

However, it may not only be the issue of scheduling. For a new generation of workers it seems they want to have a ‘life-work not a work-life’ – a state of flow where tasks are not only performed but meaning is found. If your job or project that you’re working on gives you immense satisfaction, it may well become a part of who you are. Your best ideas may come to you at 2am in the morning. What’s the problem in working on the project at 2am, and coming into the office a bit later the next day, you may wonder?

Finding the solution to work-life balance

Businesses around the world are beginning to educate employees about hitting the right balance between the organisational needs, personal needs – health and family life, meaning and the cycle of productivity. Employers should be giving employees genuine choice to work to their optimum productivity cycle, not necessarily the typical 9-5 schedule. A focus should be placed on output not input. Many workplaces are changing due to technological advancements. Flexible hours are becoming more common and employees can enjoy the benefits of working from home or in co-working spaces, and work outside the traditional 9-5 hours. It is no longer enough for employers to offer attractive salaries or competitive bonus packages. A real focus is needed on well-being and work-balance strategies, particularly as research suggests, in our eastern societies.

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