Recently, “Work-Life Balance” has become a buzzword used amongst employees and firms. Maintaining a consistent equilibrium between leisure and career is such an emphasized matter in today’s employment scene. Somehow, workers and students alike must be vigorous in their work, while also actively socializing and maintaining healthy habits. With a mere twenty-four hour day, is it truly possible to live such a life?
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-Life Balance (WLB) is defined as a way of living. It shows how work and leisure activities are performed at a rate that provides fulfillment to one’s everyday life. The primary values of WLB rely on harmony and self-awareness. Components of one’s daily engagements usually include job-related responsibilities, either from the comfort of their homes or in the proper work environment. Recreational time includes entertainment and “inactivity” such as watching TV or Netflix. However, life outside work also encompasses a wide variety of enriching hobbies, family, relationships, faith and other niches.
The Origins of Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance highly depends on the creation of labor and its legal complications. A working individual’s terms of employment will include pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits, as well as a set number of working hours per week or day. WLB stems from unfair labor practices which cause negative side-effects to employees such as overworking, burnouts and health and safety hazards. All of which directly impair the ability of workers to contribute to their respective organizations and lead their lives outside of work.
Although worker rights and movements had been addressed long before the creation of WLB as a concept, the current phrase only came into fruition in the 80’s. This term made its first appearance in the UK during the Women’s Liberation Movement, which urged employers for more accommodating maternity leave systems and work schedules. The need for balancing between economic participation and familial duties was particularly more prominent with women, especially those with dependents or children. While women were beginning to take more roles in the labour market, they were also still expected to do a majority of domestic chores. This imbalance pushed “Work-Life Balance” beyond just being a concept, but a necessity for the contemporary work landscape.
Working and Study Hours Around the World
Terms of employment and perspectives on productivity differ according to several factors. Namely, the location of an organization and the corporate culture that is adopted by its workforce. Local legislation also influences the hours of work, which highly affect workers’ capacities during the week. On the other hand, academic activity is also dependent on location and the social stature of productivity within that area. Moreover, the presence of social media has changed the way students are expected to tackle their studies. This section will focus on regional business philosophies and differences in student values towards WLB.
The working hours in Europe are segregated between Eastern European and Western European countries. Eastern Europe includes countries like Greece, Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Western Europe has the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. It is said that the average working hours per year in Western Europe are much lower, whilst the opposite is true for the East. The approach in Eastern Europe claims to be built on steadiness; highly dependent on future-ready attributes and security. This could be reflected in the longer working hours expected from their workers. In Western Europe, their workforce appears to be time-efficient. A large quantity of their tasks can be done within the shorter working hours. Western European organizations also tend to be driven by results, hence their fast-paced strategy.
France particularly has an eccentric approach towards working hours. The government issued a 35-hour work week, in comparison to the 40-hour plus overtime norm in other countries. In France, workers will be expected to finish tasks within the designated time. It is not highly recommended to go past working hours, though it does usually occur. Even so, “overtime” in France does not surpass hours in regions like the US. Similarly, workers in Germany are also inclined to complete more work in less time. Although their working hours may vary, it seems many German workers opt for a four-day work week due to their efficiency. These approaches may increase workplace pressure and there is no guarantee that work will not follow them at home, but it does bring a wider scope for WLB.
Asia is particularly well-known for lengthy working hours. While the US reigns with a 40-hour work week, organizations in Asian countries have topped the average western statistics. Firms typically operate on a slightly stricter regimen than their American or European counterparts. Rules and regulations are commonly included in Asian workplace ethics, stressing obedience and respect to hierarchy.
Countries like Japan and South Korea demonstrate these qualities distinctly. The average working week in most of East Asia usually ranges from 50 to 60 or more hours per week. Asian work culture is intense and fervent, yet promotes an unhealthy state for workers. The token hard-working Asian is backed by unfortunate circumstances, such as the coined phrase “death by overwork” in Japan and South Korea. Governments of the respective nations have imposed new laws such as decreasing the 68-hour work week to the standard 40. Still, South Korea implements 12-hour overtime pay, increasing incentives for financial providers. Instead of prioritizing career or productivity, most Asians are driven to work to maintain the stability of themselves or their families. WLB is still a foreign concept to most Asian residents, but with upcoming regulations and awareness, it may begin to apply in day-to-day life.
3) The US and Canada
The US and Canada rank second in working hours and overtime, after Asia. The norm for both countries is 40 hours per week, albeit overtime regulations in the US are not strict. This allows working people to go beyond a regular 8-hour day of job responsibility, even going as far as 12 hours. Much like Asia, the normalization of overtime creates a possible 70-hour work week for the average American worker. Workplace ethos is especially different in the US, particularly in South America. The gravitation towards a more dynamic workplace may foster job satisfaction in spite of vigorous operations. On the other hand, Canada’s working hours are subject to multiple factors. Even with a 37-hour week, some zones may have more or less.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand come 2 hours under the 40-hour standard at a 38-hour weekly working capacity. There are still possibilities of overtime and added hours with compensation, although Australia tends to be more versatile in office timings. Conventionally, firms and workers perform tasks in a 9 to 5 fashion. On the contrary, flexitime is becoming a more sought-out option by Australian employees. An increasing approval towards different start and end times means professional schedules can be tailored to the lifestyles of workers. Australian workers have the privilege of catering to their leisure itineraries and vocations according to their preference. This convenience allows a manageable work-life balance. Governments in these nations tend to have more consideration and place WLB in a greater esteem than other regions.
The Modern Approach to Productivity
Much like working hours, academic activity is also dependent on location and the stature of productivity. Moreover, the presence of social media has changed the way students are expected to tackle their advanced studies. Today’s 15-year-olds are given an average of 5 hours of homework each week. And while studying can halt there, many students do more.
Like Asian providers, dependents located in countries like South Korea tend to exceed the expected homework time. South Korean students spend a meagre 3 hours on assigned work, yet utilize an additional 5 hours for personal tuitions and after-school classes. This may be a regular routine for an economically advantaged student. Parents often invest in “cram schools” to aid in standardized testing performance, whereas students coming from low-income households have more difficulty in accessing such resources.
The Romanticization Phenomena in Social Media
The line between balance and productivity is slowly blurring for the modern generation of Millennials and Gen Z. A repeated juxtaposition of career-driven machines and self-care advocates roam the internet through various social media platforms. Many students, fresh graduates and young workers seek inspiration from people in cyberspace to drive their own passions further. Motivation derived from figures of efficiency are great methods to fuel short-term work ethic, but could cause obstruction in the long-run.
Content such as journaling, productive video logs, study with me’s, and even the trivial Instagram story post of a Macbook on a cafe table could act as a driving force for young adults seeking to make use of their time. Generally, these displays of occupancy are visual. Aesthetics and productivity, therefore, are correlated in the minds of content consumers. The pressures faced by the modern student may come from a privileged perspective, but are still valid altogether. When we are accustomed to seeing productivity in a certain way, it is easy to feel unskilful, or lacking. This leads to the belief that the method to success must be grand or appealing to document for it to “count.” It also adds unnecessary pressure for individuals to balance the ever-growing difficulty of academia and the pleasantries in their work habits. The path towards a triumph may not always be as charming as what we see on our feeds, hence the difficulty in mirroring the rose-coloured image of productivity we are familiar with.