Keep up with the conversation with the work life balance statistics that are driving this complex and contested topic.
For many of us, our work is a source of joy and satisfaction. We enjoy the intellectual challenge of problems that need solving, and we get a sense of achievement from delivering those solutions. The people we meet along the way inspire us, and help us grow in ways we might not if left to our own devices. Some of them even become lifelong friends.
But, despite all the positives that can come from work, there's a limit. When work becomes your life, it can leave little room round the edges for anything else.
After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and the hours in the day are finite. Our ability to balance work and life impacts our productivity, life satisfaction, family life and friendships - not to mention mental and physical health.
However, how we approach work is heavily influenced by the context in which we work. Even though positive work-life balance correlates with higher productivity and a happier workforce, attitudes to work-life balance are by no means uniform across the board. They differ by country, age-group, and industry. Even companies within the same sector can have wildly different attitudes to work life balance.
That said, the conversation about work-life balance is rapidly accelerating, and in this article we're going to give you the stats that show what is happening, the context around why it's happening, and what it means for the global workforce.
Though work-life balance is a prominent concern in business now, when and how did these conversations first start?
In our time, few events have been as influential as the COVID-19 pandemic in whipping up new discussions about work-life balance. By seeing what could be done as a response to a crisis, it helped us imagine a world where work looks different.
But let's not forget the fact that work-life balance has been a topic of debate for over a century. People have always wanted their work to enable their life - not the other way around.
Prior to the 20th century, a typical blue-collar factory employee would work 70 to 100 hours per week. The concept of a weekend was not widespread: Saturdays were considered a typical workday. It was only thanks to the organizing and campaigning of factory workers that the weekend came into being.
By the 1920s, the idea of a 40-hour work week with a two day weekend was starting to become more mainstream. And, in 1926, automotive magnate Henry Ford made waves by moving his workforce to the "9 to 5", standard 5-day work week that so many of us still work today. The Ford family hoped that this change would help their workforce build better family lives... but also that it might give them the leisure time to aspire to car ownership.
Whatever the motivation, this change was incredibly popular, and had great sticking power - so much so, that by 1938 the 40-hour work week became standardized in US labour laws.
Despite the huge changes made in the early 20th century, the phrase "work life balance" was not a product of this upheaval. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase "work life balance" only first started to show up in the 1970's. But by the mid-90's, it had made its way into business parlance, appearing in publications like the Wall Street Journal.
Following the 2008 Financial Crash, drives to improve work life balance unfortunately took a back seat as businesses and governments both took decisions to respond to the worsening financial situation.
Researchers have found that women with caring responsibilities and lower-income families were disproportionately hit by policies changes, such as a cut backs to state childcare support. This led to an increase in "time poverty". A European Quality of Life survey in the years following the crisis revealed that 27% of women and 23% of men felt that their working life left them too tired to deal with their commitments at home.
The global crisis also led to an increase in insecure working conditions, contributing to heightened stress and an increase in people taking on multiple jobs just to get by.
As we might expect from a time of great panic and uncertainty, our working lives definitely took a hit when the pandemic first erupted. Many folks found themselves having to work from home for the first time in their professional lives, and for some it was difficult to put boundaries in place to protect their home life from their working schedule. The average time that an employee spent at their desk per day increased by more than two hours in some countries.
But for some, working longer hours was preferable than having no job at all. At the start of the pandemic, many businesses reacted to the rising uncertainty by laying off or furloughing their staff. Research by the US Labour Bureau found that between March and May of 2020 the number of people on temporary layoff went from 2 million to 18 million, reflecting the chaos that engulfed the global employment market.
But when the panic subsided, people started taking matters into their own hands. And that's when employee retention became a critical problem for many companies, big and small.
The US Bureau of Labour Statistics found that in 2021, over 47 million people in America voluntarily quit their jobs. Known now as the Great Resignation, it was a period of surge in mass exit from the workforce. And people did it for different reasons.
The pandemic was a time of mass burnout. The daily toll of living through "unprecedented times", while trying to keep work and home life moving along as smoothly as possible (remember Zoom school?), wore away at the mental health of many.
As a result, many decided to leave the workforce altogether by taking early retirement. Others left demanding careers for less stressful jobs, while others still changed roles for different reasons - like improved working conditions and career advancement.
Post-Covid, workers are increasingly conscious of the importance of positive working conditions in maintaining a happy life. Recent research by the World Economic Forum found that 34% of people would not put up with a toxic environment at work, while 48% would leave a job if it prevented them from enjoying their life.
However, in an unsteady economic environment following the pandemic, are we entering a time when employers and policy makers will once again deprioritize decisions that boost quality of life and working conditions?
Increased precarity is never a good thing for work life balance. In the technology sector alone, over 225,000 people have been laid off in 2023. And so, it's hard to say how things will progress from here. However, one thing is certain: it's a mixed bag out there.
Some companies are swapping over to the 4-day working week (like we are!), making the pledge to stick with remote work, and embracing a range of initiatives to support work life balance. But others are mandating a full return to in-office working, and piling on the pressure like never before. It seems we're a long way off achieving a consensus on how best to support employees to maintain positive work life balance.
Numbers differ, but there is solid reason to believe that for most people, remote work comes with better work-life balance.
For example, Owl Labs conducted a survey and found that 91% of respondents say they prefer remote work because it provides better work-life balance. Nevertheless, remote workers say that they work more than 40 hours per week more often than in-office employees do. However, 40% of those remote workers say that they work extra simply because they enjoy doing it.
In another research, FlexJobs talked to people with flexible work options and people with old-school office-only work. Among the respondents, 48% of remote workers said they have excellent or very good work-life balance, while only 36% of in-office employees stated the same.
In 2021, Gallup conducted their own research to see what people value most about hybrid and remote work. Among other things, 71% of respondents said that it comes with improved work-life balance, 67% mentioned more efficient use of time, 62% highlighted the freedom to choose when and where they work, while 58% mentioned less fatigue or work burnout.
Having that work life balance comes with a lot of added benefits, not just more time to enjoy with friends and family. More than anything, people have started appreciating the value of good physical and mental health, which a good work-life balance seems to provide.
Let's look deeper into this, too.
It's not surprising that long hours can impair personal health and induce stress. But the amount of leisure and rest time people get is directly connected to their physical and mental health, as well as to their productiveness and performance at work.
Poor work-life balance comes at a cost, one fewer and fewer employees are ready to pay today.
In fact, working in a toxic environment and not being able to enjoy life to the fullest has been linked to anxiety and depression. People who work more than 55 hours every week are 1.66 times more likely to get depression and 1.74 times more likely to suffer from anxiety.
A recent study found that among the top side effects of poor work-life balance are damaged family relationships (48.8% of respondents) and problems with physical, emotional, and spiritual health (37.8% of respondents).
But COVID-19 has made its impact here too. Microsoft found that the global workforce is already on the way to build clear priorities. To be more specific, in their recent survey, 53% of people said they will prioritize health and well-being over work.
Zippia found that 78% of employees think that their companies should have programs in place to support their mental and physical well-being, yet only 42% of those respondents said they actually get to enjoy such programs from their employer.
The work-life balance situation also differs if you look at different countries, their cultures and socioeconomic status.
According to the World Economic Forum, Italy tops the lists, as only 3% of their population works over 50 hours per week. Other sources suggest that Denmark takes the prize, with only 2% of people work long hours. And it's no wonder that Denmark is such a popular country to move to for work: 76% of expats say that they are satisfied with their work life balance in Denmark.
On the other side of the globe, people have a very different story to tell, with poor work-life balance reaching extremes. According to Statista, Mexico is one of the worst countries, with work-life balance scoring 0.4 out of 10. It's followed by Colombia with 0.6, Costa Rica with 1.3, and Turkey with 2.5.
Famed for its workaholism pandemic, Japan is also on the list, too. It takes 5th place and scores 3.4 out of 10 for work life balance globally.
But it's not only the country and a culture that plays a role in how people approach the matter of work-life balance. It's also the age of the people and the generation they represent.
Millennials will soon make up the majority of the global workforce, and with new people come new rules, requests, norms, and expectations.
According to research by Oyster, Generation Z, Generation X, and Millennials ranked flexible hours as their second-biggest expectation of their employer.
In a recent study across generations, Commercial Cafe found that older generations are happier with their work-life balance than younger ones (77% of Baby Boomers vs 50% of Gen Zers). Nevertheless, a certain level of flexibility and the option of working from home is important to everyone, no matter their age.
At the same time, many Baby Boomers and Millennials said they would be willing to give up a fraction of their pay for flexible schedules, while Gen Xers and Gen Zers are not as open to making concessions.
There's also another factor that impacts work-life balance and autonomy at work. The job role and industry that you're in can massively dictate how much free time you have available to invest in your personal life.
In the professional services industry, 94% of people usually put in about 50 hours of work every week. People working in the consulting sector, for example, tend to work 9.3 hours extra every week without receiving compensation for it. After all, it's not uncommon for productivity time to fall through the cracks if you do not register it.
Unfortunately, being part of the professional services industry or one that deals with resources means that work-life balance might be a challenge.
Kununu, a jobs and careers community in Austria, surveyed some of the biggest consulting companies in Germany, including Bain & Company Germany, Deloitte GmbH, , KPMG AG, McKinsey, and others. Work-life balance received one of the lowers scores in the survey, indicating that people really struggle with it.
Considering the problem and the fact that new generations are not open to the idea of sacrificing their personal life for work, consulting firms will soon be facing this challenge on a whole different scale, unless they find effective ways to manage their resources and give people that well-deserved flexibility.
A healthy work-life balance is not easy to achieve, but it is something everyone can benefit from. For employees, it means better personal life; for employers, it means a more motivated, productive, and loyal workforce.
Going forward, work-life balance is expected to get better across countries and industries. As people grow more aware and confident about their rights in the workplace, they will always set the bar high for the companies they would be willing to commit.
Here at Runn, we're firm believers that better resource management makes for improved work life balance. When companies are able to accurately predict workloads, make contingency plans for different scenarios, and schedule work effectively so that no one gets overutilized or overbooked, employees can work in confidence knowing that their time is being respected.
Want to learn more about how our system works? Book a demo with us and we'll show you the ropes.
As part of our LEAP webinar series, we've caught up with Nicole, our COO to discuss how resource management is shifting and how to adopt a strategic approach to it.
If you want stronger team collaboration, greater transparency, and improved workflows - dial-in your work management. Let's take a look at how this is done.