Work-life balance is the state of equilibrium in which the demands of personal life, professional life, and family life are equal. While this balance is no easy the feat, Danes make it look effortless. It is all synergy.
Employers prioritize their employees’ time with the family. They know that a satisfied man or woman at home, is a better employee at work. A satisfied employee at work, will have more surplus to be present with their family.
A proper work-life balance is the same reason why health care, high salaries, and paid education are so appreciated in Denmark – because a cycle of all these things together, that truly relief people from stress and worries. This lack of stress makes everything better in the long run, for both the employers and employees. Each element that takes care of one worry, strengthens the other.
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The United States average work week of 40 hours, but is often much more than this. It is considered noble to be a harder worker and a provider for your family. Therefore, working overtime, on the holidays, and working longer hours is often met with pats on the back and impressed colleagues.
This is not the case in Denmark. The average work week is 37 hours per week and people usually work 9:00-16:00. Anytime over the official 37 hour work week is considered overtime and is compensated with time off or financially. You will rarely see someone in their desk past 16:00, and especially rarer in the weekends.
For Danes, the work life-balance comes down to perceived priorities and productivity. If someone isn’t working as hard as they can and instead is staying late at work, it appears that they are lazy and don’t necessarily have their priorities in order, because if they did they would be with their family or friends.
Danes do not believe you need to work longer to do a good job, but you do need to be efficient. That means coming on time to work, putting in 100% from the beginning to the ending of the day. Denmark ranks #2 for the most productive workforce in terms of efficiency in Europe.
Belonging To Clubs
At a typical gathering in the United States, one of the first questions a person who is meeting you for the first time would be, “So, what do you do for a living?” While this is a simple way to get to know someone, it has some deeper cultural implications. Americans often first identify with what they do for a living, rather than their personal or family role first.
On the other hand, what Danes do for a living is only one part of their identity. One thing that initially surprised me when I moved to Denmark is just how many clubs and associations belong to that are outside the work force, that contribute to their overall identity.
Denmark is sometimes referred to as a “nation of associations.” Actually, 90% of Danes belong to club or association such as a running club, fencing, soccer (football), tennis, you name it- Danes are part of it. Danes spend much of their leisure time taking part in activities to get exercise, socialize and feel a sense of community. It’s a great way to get to know people outside of your normal social circle.
One of Danes’ deeply held inherent values is vacation time and traveling. Everyone working in Denmark is legally entitled to five weeks vacation time, that they must use each year. Even as a waitress in a Danish restaurant, I got five weeks of paid vacation time.
Employers know that they employees need time to recharge, for when their employee returns they will then return more refreshed and productive than before.
Most people split their vacation time out during the week, and a huge majority of Danes take an extended holiday in July. The entire city actually feels differently in July. Each year during this time there is a noticeably lack of people. There are restaurants and stores that are often completely shut down during this time with a “on holiday” sign in the window. Bus schedules change. Even entire doctor’s offices close the clinic for three weeks straight and refer their patients to another clinic while they’re on holiday.
In Denmark, one of the biggest national initiatives of work-life balance is paid paternity leave which can be shared and split between both partners. Yes you heard that right the norms is, one year of paternity leave. Initially, mothers get 14 weeks off of work with full pay after the birth of her baby and then the father gets two weeks off from work. After this time, both parents can split the remaining 32 weeks paid time off work.
This is a huge difference from the United States, where there is no legal rights to paternity leave. In fact, it is common that if a parent gets any leave at all it is the woman and it is usually between only 6-8 weeks.
Due to the lack of a work-life balance in the United States and a lack of paid paternity leave, employees often fear that asking their employers for additional time off to bond with their family, could lead to negative consequences and missed opportunities at the office.
Danes take work seriously, but do not feel the need to demonstrate their worth and dedication by working long hours. Most workplaces in Denmark allow parents to pick up their children at a reasonable hour, and are flexible to parents’ needs. Family life is greatly respected by Danish employers, so many companies give their workers the opportunities to adjust their working hours based on their family needs.
In case of illness, it is generally considered bad manners to come to work and infect the others, so employees are generous with their sick days policy. Furthermore, it is quite common for Danish companies to offer the flexibility to work from home one or two days a week. Life happens and employers know this.
This flexibility, empathy and understanding goes a long way in keeping employees healthy, with a good work-life balance.