Establishing a healthy work-life balance is something that I continually struggle with. I work from my home office which can be very difficult (impossible) to get away from; but also, since I am self employed, I rarely stick to a rigid 9-5 routine. Of course this isn’t a problem unique to home-workers. Having worked for large companies too I remember how unusual it was for myself and my colleagues to leave the office on time. If we managed on the odd occasion to get all of our work done within our contracted hours, it was a rare and wonderful thing.
Overworking is a common problem across the developed world. Five million people in the UK alone regularly do unpaid overtime, giving their employers £31.5 billion of free work each year. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the hardest working country of all is Mexico where the average citizen works 43.2 hours a week. Costa Rica, South Korea, Greece and Chile also top the charts for the hours they graft. But the increased productivity of these countries is questionable; there is plenty of research to show that where there’s a culture of working long hours, at a certain point, productivity slides.
At the other end of the scale, Germany, a nation stereotypically associated with efficiency, on average puts in 26.4 hours a week. Also enjoying plenty of downtime are citizens of The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and France, and these are countries we can learn a lot from when it comes to achieving a better work-life balance.
For example, Amsterdam-based design studio Heldergroen Creative has introduced the concept of a ‘disappearing office’ where are 6pm, desks are lifted to the ceiling via steel cables, making it impossible for employees to continue working.
Image credit: Fast Company
Speaking to Fast Company, Sander Veenendaal, creative director of the forward-thinking Heldergroen Creative, says that once the desks are raised, employees are free to stay and use the space as they please, providing it isn’t work-related. “We are able to pull the tables up into the ceiling and make the whole room into a dance floor, yoga studio, trend session, networking reception, or anything else you can think of–the floor is literally yours.”
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an organisation dedicated to conserving the natural world, takes the wellbeing of its staff just as seriously, offering a range of perks that promote a healthy work-life balance. For example, every other week it gives employees a day off known as “Panda Fridays”. This fortnightly break gives employees the chance to spend more time with their families or pursue outside personal interests such as voluntary or conservation work, education projects, writing a book etc. At lunchtime staff are also encouraged to take a proper break through the provision of Brown Bag Lunches, available daily. These encourage employees to meet up with co-workers, visitors and senior management, to share insights and ideas about current projects.
Accommodation marketplace Airbnb takes travel seriously, and is keen for its staff to enjoy the benefits of travel too. For this reason, it gives each of its employees $2,000 a year to travel anywhere in the world. How’s that for promoting a healthy work-life balance? The company takes food just as seriously, and its office boasts a large open kitchen where a personal chef cooks up a feast every day for Airbnb employees. To top this off, all employees are allowed to bring their pets to work every day, have access to a free organic breakfast, lunch and dinner, a ping pong table, and weekly yoga classes.
Urban Airship, with offices in London and the US, invests significantly in its work-life balance initiatives. Primarily, for every three years worked at the company, employees receive an all expenses paid holiday to relax and recharge! Flexible and virtual working is also encouraged, and UA’s Culture Club helps to build a sense of community among employees, hosting fun events including monthly game nights and pancake breakfasts.
Google takes a ‘people science’ approach to the work-life balance of its staff. So much so that its People Innovation Lab runs gDNA, Google’s long-term study focused on a randomly selected and representative group of over 4,000 Googlers, aimed at understanding the future of work and its impact on our wellbeing. “What do we hope to learn?” asks Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, writing for HBR. “In the short-term, how to improve wellbeing, how to cultivate better leaders, how to keep Googlers engaged for longer periods of time, how happiness impacts work and how work impacts happiness.” He goes on to explain that “much has been written about balancing work and personal life. But the idea that there is a perfect balance is a red herring. For most people work and life are practically inseparable. Technology makes us accessible at all hours (sorry about that!), and friendships and personal connections have always been a part of work. Our first rounds of gDNA have revealed that only 31% of people are able to break free of this burden of blurring.”
At LinkedIn, work is banned within its offices once a month, and employees are encouraged to take part in fun group activities.
I would be happy to work at any of these places! Does your company go about promoting a healthy work-life balance in a slightly unique or creative way? We’d love to hear about it below.