From the Netherlands to Colombia: A Close-up on Work Life Balance

How much time we spend in the office or at the computer speaks volumes about how our health and stress levels could impact our overall quality of life for us and our families. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has researched work life balance through the Better Life Index. 

The Better Life Index analyzes factors such as hours worked, paid vacation, gender, and education and how they play into work life balance in a country. The highest rated? The Netherlands. The lowest rated? Columbia. But why?

Balance is key

The Netherlands was ranked number one for their work life balance, scored at 9.5. The most important factor the OECD pinpointed is the number of hours employees spend at work. It classifies 50+ hours per week at work as ‘very long hours’. 

The Netherlands ranks 3rd with 0.4% of workers in the country spending more than 50 hours a week. This number has not increased since 2005. This means that its employees consistently have more time outside of work (approximately 16 hours per day) to tend to personal care, leisure, and family matters. This work-life balance pays off as the Netherlands also ranks 6th among countries studied for life satisfaction. 

While the Netherlands ranks highest for overall work life balance, the Russian Federation actually leads when it comes to regular working hours. 0.1% of employees there work over 50 hours per week. 

Working More Than 9 to 5

The OECD Better Life Index ranked Colombia as the country with the lowest work life balance with a score of 0.9. 

Colombia performs reasonably well in the environment, health, and community aspects of the study. However, when it comes to work life balance, the country performs poorly largely due to the fact that 27% of employees work over 50 hours per week. 

Colombia also has a large workforce disparity between genders, with 79% of men in paid work and only 56% of women. Overall life satisfaction in Colombia rings in at 6.3, compared with the OECD average of 6.5. 

Things to Consider

What this study does not account for is the breakdown of leisure time, specifically with regard to family caretaking duties. While it is an important responsibility and passion for many, it is also a form of uncompensated labor. 

Quantifying this type of labor might give insights as to the gender employment gaps given that caretaking responsibilities often fall on women. It could also give a more nuanced picture of the approximately 12 hours of ‘leisure time’ for people in Colombia.

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