Why Holland is leading the way in work-life balance

What can we learn by looking at how other countries work?
Underworked, undervalued and ultimately underpaid. We can all resonate with that, or at least we can at some point in our working lives. Burnout is all too common and not just exclusive to us in the UK. In fact, the Japanese use the term Karoshi, which translates as ‘death by overwork’, as it is so commonplace in their culture.

So it there a better way to work? A smarter way? Let’s see how cultures around the world tackle the problem.

Working less hours in Holland
There’s ‘Hope in Holland’ for us all. The Netherlands have recently overtaken Denmark as the best place to work in terms of work-life balance. Decided by the OECD Better Life Index, they score a 9.3 out of a possible 10 for work-life balance, and a 9.4 for life satisfaction. And how do they do this? Work less hours. It really is that simple.

Only 0.5% of the Dutch work additional hours. The OECD average is 13%. Whether it’s better managing your workload, splitting up your days or speaking to your boss about hiring some extra help. The Dutch really are doing it right by not regularly working long hours – maybe it’s time to stop burning the midnight oil?

Flexible working – the Italian way
Typical working hours in Italy are split into a morning and afternoon with a 2-3-hour gap in-between to avoid the midday heat. Most schools work to a similar timetable, allowing for some quality family time and maybe even a siesta to recharge the batteries before the afternoon begins. A lunch break well and truly outside of the office – revolutionary!

“But we’re in the UK”, I hear you say. “We don’t see the sun, so how can we take a midday siesta?” Well you don’t have to take the break at midday. A break is a break, no matter when you take it. It’s when you need it that counts.

Escape and refresh
Working at shared offices or for yourself means you can take a break when the need arises. Whether it’s a quick coffee, a catch up at the water cooler or a brisk walk – an escape from your workload can refresh and reinvigorate you when you return to your desk. So are there any tips for taking a break?

Yes, lots of people swear by the pomodoro technique: where you focus on one task in 25 minute blocks then take a mandatory 5 minute break. Simple enough to implement using a clock, or for those with space left on their smartphones – there are some nifty apps you can download.

How to be more productive
Productivity wise, Luxembourg takes home the trophy for the most productive workforce. With an average working week of just 29 hours, and at least 5 weeks paid annual leave, there is clearly a lot to be said for working shorter hours and giving your employees plenty of time for a bit of well-deserved R&R. Compare this to the UK with yearly working hours of 1676 averaging out around 32 hours a week, and it’s easy to see why we’re all burning out. So how can we be more productive?

As well as encouraging breaks, the pomodoro technique helps with being more productive. Like cramming, it helps get stuff done. There are heaps of hacks, methods and ways to be more productive in a short space of time. It’s all about trying them out and picking & sticking with it. Start with the top 27 productivity hacks of 2018

Working quirks in India, Japan and Sweden
Glassdoor lists some other worldwide quirks including India, where being 15 minutes late to a meeting is still considered on-time; Japan, often partaking in 15 mins of group exercise to start each day; and Sweden, who are in the habit of taking at least one ‘fika’ (coffee break) a day. Obviously we’re not advocating being late to meetings. However, having drop in meetings, and non-dedicated start times allows for more flexible catch-ups.

Trusting employees to deliver
The 9-5 commonly adopted in the UK was defined over a hundred years ago and originally derived to maximise efficiency within a factory setting – cut to 2018 and it turns out that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily correlate with increased productivity.

Maybe we can’t all start our day with a colleague exercise session followed by a coffee and cake break, before our 10 o’clock (ish) meeting, leading to our siesta lunch break at home with our loved ones, fitting in one more coffee and cake meeting before clocking off by 4pm, but there is clearly a lot to be said for a bit of flexibility in the workplace and trusting our employees to still give us their best.

Photo by Sercan SOLMAZ on Unsplash