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American work-life balance, unbalanced

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Ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too. If Initech was located in France, Lumbergh wouldn’t have been able to ask Peter to come in on the weekend in the movie “Office Space.”

Recent reports from France claimed the government was banning employees from checking their work emails from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day. In addition, some reported that employees would not be allowed to do any tasks that were work related during that time either.

For years, the term “work-life balance” has been popping up in annual reports and colleague engagement surveys in corporations across the globe. It is a term that is hotly debated, with many professionals claiming it doesn’t exist and just as many saying it is essential to the wellbeing of employees and the success of a company.

But what exactly is work-life balance? It’s a pretty simple concept. It is the idea no one is merely a professional. Hopefully, everyone has something that is important to them outside of work. Whether it is family, school, sports, or a hobby, they have a life outside of work. The idea is to find a balance between life and work, and it is your employer’s job to ensure they aren’t asking too much of you to ensure you have time to focus on your life.

The reports from France weren’t 100 percent accurate. However, a labor agreement was reached with employers in France to encourage workers to turn off their work phones, and avoid checking work email and taking calls after hours.

France instituted the 35-hour work week in 1999. Now, Sweden is currently debating making the switch countrywide as well. In addition, the city of Gothenburg is running a yearlong experiment on the benefits of a six-hour work day versus an eight-hour day.

Several countries recognize the merits of giving an employee enough personal time to recharge and participate in life without worrying about work. Brazil, Finland and France are the forerunners in this area, ensuring their colleagues get a full six weeks off per year in addition to public holidays.

Families are one of the biggest obstacles for workers trying to find that perfect balance between life and work. Once again, several countries recognize their employees’ struggles. In Sweden, parents are given 480 paid days per child to be shared between them. They don’t have to be used consecutively, just before the child turns eight. In Denmark, they have universal nursery care, and new parents are given a year worth of paid time off after a birth or adoption with the same type of flexibility as Sweden. The U.K., Australia and Spain also offer both maternity and paternity leave by law.

Have you noticed what’s missing from most of the article above? The United States of America.

There’s good reason for that. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) does a study each year called the Better Life Index. One of the areas they focus on is work-life balance.

According to the 2013 Better Life Index, the United States was ranked 28 out of the 36 counties listed. The U.S. came in behind almost all of the countries in Europe as well as Brazil, New Zealand and Canada.

Some companies are trying. Google is known for making their office one of the most fun places to work, but that isn’t what work-life balance is about. Sure work should be fun. However, there needs to be a clear separation between work and life.

American companies should implement plans that ensure their workers have personal time. They shouldn’t allow work on personal devices or personal time. They shouldn’t allow work on days off except on rare occasions.

They should offer more paid time off. Currently, the average American worker only gets 8.1 paid vacation days (often sick days are included) within their first year on the job. That’s a long ways off from six weeks.

Life is too short to worry about making someone else money all the time. Focus on the things that really matter. Focus on doing what you love with people you love. If that’s work, then so be it. If not, move to France.

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