You know the right questions to ask in a job interview about salary and benefits, but have you thought to ask how the corporate culture looks at balancing work and life? The prospective employer may offer generous vacation packages, but do supervisors look askance at workers who actually take time off? American workers have grown accustomed to workplaces where no one leaves the desk for lunch, overtime is expected, and everybody stays connected by email and phone to the office on their off days.
When it comes to work/life balance, Europeans are ahead of Americans. These are some of the areas where European countries, especially the Scandinavian ones, have the right perspective. You may want to ask about your next employer about these issues before accepting that job offer.
Flexible Work Hours
Many European firms believe paying attention to the happiness and health of their employees does double duty by increasing their company’s profitability. It’s common to find Scandinavian offices encouraging workers to mix flexible hours and working from home.
When Europeans go on holiday, they go off the grid. They don’t take the laptop to the beach, and they don’t keep a constant eye on the phone to catch business emails. Have no worries in countries like Sweden that the boss will frown if you leave a voice mail that says, “I’ll be out of the office on vacation. Please contact my colleague if you need assistance before I return.” She probably does the same.
Do you devote most of your time to the things you value most in your life? Look to the Europeans who’ve figured out the equation. If you think spending time with your family ranks just as high as logging office hours, act on that decision. Meet your husband for lunch away from the office. Pick your kids up from school. Take your mother shopping.
A Real Lunch Hour
Somewhere along the way, Americans started thinking that taking a lunch hour away from their computer screens signaled devotion to productivity. They began to worry the boss would notice if they got up and left the building. Europeans haven’t caved to that notion. They meet friends for a real mid-day meal, they go for a walk, they sit on a park bench and breathe fresh air.
Shorter Work Days
“First in, last out” doesn’t signal to the European employer that you’re the most dedicated, most loyal or more effective worker. The boss is more likely to wonder why you’re not efficient at getting tasks completed with the time they think is needed. Sweden limits the workweek to 48 hours. Employees vacate the office by 5 p.m. and rarely stay later. Parents leave earlier to pick up children at school.
Stand up, stretch and walk around the office. Walk outside to the nearby Starbucks and splurge on a latte. You’ll come back refreshed and ready to go with a head that’s cleared and a body that’s refreshed. Health experts warn that continuous sitting at your desk tightens muscles and can even shorten your life. The Swedish coffee break is known as the fika break and is viewed as “an opportunity for employees and managers to meet on common ground and talk informally about their work and privates lives, often twice a day,” according to website Work in Sweden.
Denmark gives parents the right to 52 weeks leave on the birth of a child. Mothers may take two weeks off before the birth and fathers get the same time after the birth. The parents can divide up the other 48 weeks as they wish. Denmark provides maternity subsistence. And, by the way, Danes call it parental leave, not maternity leave.