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work life balance usa

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When people talk about the “Siesta Culture” of the Mediterranean, where offices close in the late afternoon so everyone can take a nap, do you think it’s real? Or what about the charming idea that Parisians enjoy a glass of wine on their lunch break. How common is that? Narrowing down the exact number of individuals in other countries who enjoy a glass of wine and snooze at 3pm on a workday is a bit difficult to do, but there is a reason that those endearing stereotypes exist for other places, and not for America.

Like with any cliché or myth that travels far and wide, there is a little truth behind it. And the truth is that other countries tend to enjoy a bit more work-life balance than America. Without getting too into the weeds about politics, some of our workaholic culture could be caused by pressure to uphold the idea that America has the greatest economy in the world. But don’t forget that that reputation doesn’t rely solely on your labor. Your well-being matters, too. On that note, here are statistics that show that American work-life balance is out of whack.

work life balance usa

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You can work as long as you want

It may be normal to hear of a friend working an 80-hour workweek. Your lawyer friend takes on a big case and doesn’t sleep for a month. You are getting paid a lot of overtime but that also means you’re working a lot of overtime. That, however, is really only “normal” for America, as we’re the only industrialized country that has no limit on how many hours someone can work in a week.

work life balance usa

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How common is the long work week?

Working more than 40 hours a week isn’t a “privilege” reserved for specialty positions or self-employed individuals. More than 85.5% of American men and 66.5% of American women work more than 40 hours a week. On average, it’s found that Americans work nearly 500 more hours a year than French workers. That’s roughly the equivalent of 12 additional 40-hour workweeks.

work life balance usa

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New parents can keep on working

Do you hear the new moms in your life saying they’re afraid to go on maternity leave? They worry someone else will swoop in and take their job, or that things will run so smoothly without them, they’ll become irrelevant. This fear and insecurity around taking maternity leave is distinctly American, too. And it could have something to do with the fact that we are the only country with zero paid weeks of mandated maternity leave. Over a dozen countries mandate between 15 and 20 weeks. Europe takes the lead, with some of its countries mandating well over 20 weeks.

work life balance usa

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You don’t have to vacation, either

Not only does America mandate zero paid maternity leave days, but it also mandates zero paid vacation days. It does grant 10 federal holiday vacation days, but it’s worth noting that even those aren’t guaranteed, and most of Scandinavia offers over 35 holiday vacation days. Switzerland, Japan, and Germany even enjoy at least 25 holiday vacation days.

work life balance usa

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You’re abandoning your vacay days

Even if your company does offer paid vacation days, you may not be taking them. It turns out that many Americans aren’t. Over half of Americans leave most of their paid vacation days unused at the end of every year. Many state that they’re concerned that, if they take days off, there is nobody to cover their work – and it will just pile up.

work life balance usa

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We start work (relatively) young

Perhaps nobody is pointing fingers at America for utilizing child labor, but it is worth noting that, compared to other countries, we fall somewhere in the middle on our minimum age to work. Teens can get to work at age 15 here. Sure, there are countries with very questionable limits on this (the minimum age in Sri Lanka is 10), but there are other countries that let kids be kids a bit longer, too. For example, the minimum age to work in China, Hungary, Sweden, and France is 16, and it jumps up to 18 in the Philippines and 21 in the United Arab Emirates.

work life balance usa

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Mom and dad are working 9 to 5

Whether or not kids should have at least one parent who stays home from work to rear them is a hotly-debated topic. And we won’t touch it now. But we will state that 70 percent of American children grow up in households where both parents go to work. That’s not to say that in other countries more families have a parent who stays home. But, they certainly get more of a chance to do so. Iceland, for example, offers five months of paid leave to each parent, plus an additional two months the parents can split up as they like. That makes a total of 12 months parents can stay home with young children.

work life balance usa

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You don’t take a lunch break

The lunch break has become a working lunch for many. Two out of three millennials say they don’t take a lunch break, so as to get ahead at work. Things have gotten worse with the pandemic driving so many to work from home. This remote lifestyle has a large portion of the workforce worried about productivity, and one survey found that three out of 10 remote employees do not take a lunch break.

work life balance usa

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You want to answer your after-hours emails

There was legislation proposed back in 2018 to ban employers from requiring their employees to check work emails after designated work hours. In France, such a rule does exist. But, over half of Americans decided against those regulations here. In fact, 51 percent opposed the legislation, and only 27 percent were for it. The rest were unsure.

work life balance usa

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You even check your email on vacation

When was the last time you fully unplugged? If you’re a Gen X or Millennial worker, there’s a 25 percent chance that you check your email several times a day even when on vacation. And there’s a 13 percent chance that you check it while still in bed in the mornings.

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