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How do global work laws fare already?

How do global work laws fare already?


Diamond Interiors assesses how laws affecting work-life balance compare across the world

Every week, most UK workers count down the days until the weekend and a couple of days of glorious time off, and that counting down may get even shorter for many due to a four-day work week trial launching this year in the UK.

Lagging slightly behind, the UK is following the likes of Spain, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Ireland and Scotland in trialling a four-day work week. Finland’s Prime Minister even called for one in 2019. Many politicians and sceptics have scoffed at the idea, but trials have proven successful seeing workers reduce their work hours with more time for hobbies and family whilst pay and productivity were kept the same.

In Iceland, for instance, the trials of a four-day work week took place between 2015 and 2019 with researchers stating that productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces. From offices and hospitals to preschools and social service providers, a range of workplaces took part with the trials leading to unions renegotiating working patterns. The results proved so successful that now 86% of the Nordic country’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will gain the right to.

Why has the UK followed suit now?

It’s thanks to the 4 Day Week Campaign, along with a number of University researchers, that the trial in the UK has started. The campaign has been running for a number of years, however. But before the pandemic, the campaign had been run solely by volunteers. It’s since received small donations to extend its reach and to grow pressure. There are already over 40 UK companies officially accredited under the 4 Day Week Campaign’s accreditation scheme, but 2022 will be the year the campaign pushes a pilot scheme that will measure whether workers can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time.

We’ve already seen how adaptive and flexible businesses can be with work models shifting to hybrid ones or completely remote ones. And with more focus on wellbeing as well as productivity, the UK is testing the waters since trials in Japan and Iceland were overwhelmingly successful.

How is the UK work-life balance as it stands?

Office fit out company, Diamond Interiors, did a recent study to find out who has it best when it comes to lunch breaks, annual leave entitlement, public holidays and typical expected hours vs the average weekly recorded hours for the five years pre-pandemic.

The UK actually came out in the top five for the best work-life balance. Analysing and comparing 15 countries, the UK came in fourth place with Sweden, Iceland and France just ahead. The scoring system factored in the typical expected weekly work hours, average weekly hours actually recorded (pre-pandemic), annual leave entitlement, lunch breaks and public holidays. Sweden came out on top as they had the lowest number of hours recorded pre-pandemic with 28, along with a typical one-hour lunch break allocation and 10 public holidays.

The UK had 30 recorded, along with eight public holidays and a typical half-hour lunch allocation, giving it its fourth place position. However, the UK also has one of the better deals for annual leave entitlement with 28 days allocated. Finland took fifth place, as it also recorded an average of 30 hours per week in the five years before the pandemic with 30 days annual leave entitlement.

Sweden leads the way for work-life balance

Sweden takes the top spot for the best work-life balance with Iceland and France following behind. The Nordic country recorded the lowest actual average hours over the past six years. And with a one-hour typical lunch break, 10 public holidays and 25 days of annual leave entitlement, the country creates an enviable work culture.

The typical work week in Sweden consists of 40 hours, but the data shows that on average, workers are clocking in 28 hours a week. And when it came to the number of hours recorded on average by workers across the country, they actually recorded the biggest difference against the standard figure of 40.

From 2014 to 2019, the average weekly hours the Swedes were churning out was 28 in reality. For 2020, it was 27, so not a huge difference during the pandemic-stricken year, but it’s also worthy to point out that the Swedish government took the anti-lockdown approach. 

France’s typical work week fares the best

Out of all the countries analysed, France certainly has the best deal when it comes to the expected, typical weekly work hours, with 35 being the official figure. For the recorded figures, the country is just behind Sweden, tying with Iceland with 29 hours recorded per week on average over the five-year period pre-pandemic (2014-2019).

In 2020, the average hours worked each week was 27 (joint with Sweden). If it weren’t for Sweden and Iceland giving out more public holidays, France may have beat them to the post but they came out in third place, thanks to the actual recorded hours. Known for their love of lunch, their typical allocated time of two hours for lunch has also helped with their overall score.

UK, Germany and Greece lost the most working hours during the pandemic

The office designers also wanted to find out how many hours were lost during the pandemic. Using the OECD, they found that the UK, Germany and Greece all lost the most hours per week (4 hours on average) during 2020 compared to the five years prior, quoting to 208 hours lost in a year. This will factor in holidays, breaks, loss of work and furlough schemes during one of the most impactful years on the economy we’ve seen. 

Russia recorded the most working hours during the pandemic

On the flipside, Russia recorded the most working hours during the pandemic with 36, just two per week fewer than the previous five-year average, and 10 per week higher than the UK.

The USA was the only country to keep average working hours per week (34) the same as the previous five years during the pandemic, whilst Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Australia only lost one hour per week on average, still equating to around over a week’s worth of work.

Mediterranean countries have the longest lunches

It may come as no surprise to find out that the Mediterranean countries lead the way for the longest lunches. Take Greece, for example, with a typical lunch break of three hours. Spain and France also like to have leisurely lunches, with Spain also famous for its siestas; so two hours can be a common break period.

Even though they won on the lunch-break front, what made the likes of Greece, Spain and Italy appear further down the list of the best work-life balances was down to the average weekly hours recorded. From 2014 to 2019, the weekly average hours recorded for Greece was 37. For Portugal, Italy and Spain, it was 33. Portugal, Greece, and France all have it good when it comes to public holidays though, with Greece having 14, Portugal having 13, and France having 11. France also has a generous annual leave entitlement of 25 days.

After-hours contact bans: Portugal joins France

The UK is also playing catch-up with policies that France - and now Portugal - have implemented in regards to banning employers from contacting employees outside of work hours. France brought in a new law in 2017 to give workers the legal right to avoid work emails outside of work hours.

Portugal has recently followed suit with a similar ban on companies contacting staff outside of normal work hours. It came as a reaction to the pandemic, adapting to changing work models. And with that, the country also introduced other policies to help remote workers, like employers helping with electric and internet expenses. Parents also now have the right to work from home without needing to arrange it in advance if their child is under eight years old, and to help tackle loneliness from remote working, companies are expected to plan face-to-face meetings with workers at least every two months.