Long hours and low pay put UK 13th in European work-life balance study

Workers across the UK have the highest statutory working hours and a relatively low minimum wage compared to European neighbours

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Norway is leading the way in Europe when it comes to achieving a work-life balance – and the UK ranks just 13th, according to a new study suggesting that workplace culture in the UK still has a long way to go.

The study by SpareMyTime looked at key indicators including statutory working hours, annual leave entitlement, parental leave policies, overtime regulations, minimum wage and income equality.

Norway outpaces European neighbours

Scoring the highest overall score of 9 out of 10 in the work-life balance index, Norway offers citizens the most generous parental leave policies (46 weeks paid leave), shorter working hours (37.5 hours per week), and a generous annual leave entitlement (25 days).

The study also found that workers in Norway are less likely to work long hours than their European counterparts.

Norway offers the highest minimum wages of all the 43 European countries included in the study. The minimum wage in Norway is 44,123 Norwegian krone per month – equivalent to £3,846.25 per month. Norway also has a strong social safety net, which includes paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and a national health service.

Sweden was ranked second with an overall score of 8.9 – and Austria and the Netherlands came joint third with a score of 8.8.

The UK falling short

The UK ranked 13th for work-life balance, with the country scoring highly on annual leave entitlement but low on minimum wages. Examining working hours, the study found that UK employees have the highest statutory working hours of 48 hours per week – a 20% increase from the European average.

When analysing minimum wages, the study found the UK also has a relatively low minimum wage. The current minimum wage in the UK is £8.91 per hour, which is below the living wage of £10.42 per hour – a far cry from Norway’s impressive minimum wage, even after you consider the Scandinavian country’s high living cost.

The Living Wage Foundation, which calculates the living wage, estimates that 5.5 million workers in the UK are paid less than the living wage, meaning more people may be struggling to make ends meet or at risk of poverty.

The UK government has set a target of ensuring that all workers are paid the living wage by 2024.

The study also found that UK online searches for ‘burnout’ have increased by 27% in the last 12 months, and according to recent research conducted by Westfield Health, close to half (46%) of British workers say they are close to burnout – a clear sign that more needs to be done by businesses to help their employees achieve a healthy work-life balance.

The Gini coefficient is an index for the degree of inequality in the distribution of income and wealth – a score of less than 30 is considered low. A higher score means there’s less difference in income between rich and poor people in these countries, contributing to a better work-life balance as people are less likely to be stressed about money.

Despite ranking 13th for overall work-life balance, the UK has a better level of income inequality at 33.1, compared to 27.8 in Norway, 28 in Sweden and 28.5 in Finland.

Other countries that made the top ten for work-life balance include Denmark, Germany, Slovenia, Iceland and Luxembourg.

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Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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