Back To Career News

Surprise: The US Is Terrible at Work-Life Balance


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently released its biannual report ranking its member countries for work-life balance. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. came in 29th, beating Australia but trailing Poland. Turkey came in last, with 45 percent of workers pulling 50-hour weeks, and Denmark first, with about 2 percent doing the same. Get out your giant foam fingers and start up the chant: We’re 29! We’re 29!

working late 

(Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

How does the OECD measure work-life balance? Primarily, through two indicators: proportion of employees who work more than 50 hours a week, and time devoted to leisure and personal care by full-time employees during a typical day.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Per the OECD’s Better Life Index:

An important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large in OECD countries. Turkey is by far the country with the highest proportion of people working very long hours, with more than 43%, followed by Mexico with nearly 29% and Israel with nearly a fifth of employees. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work and the percentage of male employees working very long hours across OECD countries is 12%, compared with less than 5% for women.

Gender plays an important role in the distribution of unpaid labor. Men in the U.S. spend 161 minutes per day doing unpaid domestic work — more than the OECD average of 141 minutes, but far less than women’s 248 minutes per day. Thus, despite the fact that women spend fewer hours engaging in paid labor, they don’t have more leisure time than men.

In addition, the OECD pointed out in its 2012 report that the U.S. remains its only member country without a paid parental leave policy.

Bottom line: our culture reinforces poor work-life balance, despite the fact that longer working hours actually inhibit productivity. If we really want to live better lives and get more done, we’d do well to emulate the practices of some of the countries at the top of this list.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think it’s getting harder to maintain work-life balance in the U.S.? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Read more from Jen

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.