The perception is people have it better in Europe when it comes to work-life balance. It’s a common belief I hear teaching, mostly attributed to amount of vacation time and government laws that dictate work weeks. By law, most of the counties in Europe have a built in social responsibility to support a lifestyle of working to live, giving Europeans a leg up on the rest of the world when it comes to achieving more balance in life.
For example the work week in France is 35 hours and in the UK it’s 37 hours. Average vacation time is about 4 weeks in addition to government and national holidays – resulting in about 5 weeks (or slightly more) of vacation days each year. From what I heard most people take all of their vacation time, if you don’t you lose it. It’s not like in the US in which you get to “roll it over” like cell phone minutes.
So yes, at first glance, the Europeans have an easier go of reaching a better state balance on vacation and work policy alone. However the issue goes a bit deeper.
The folks I met work just as hard as anyone in any country. Some people were quick to say they have even more pressure to perform at the same level in less hours than there global peers. Now each country has its own cultural nuances however, overall there were some commonalties I noticed teaching in the UK, Ireland, France and Germany this month.
- People take a proper lunch break most days. They leave their workspaces and go to a café or canteen to eat and connect with each other. Not only that, they do this without laptops and cell phones and most times they do not talk about work.
- Many people had 2 mobile phones, one for work and one for non-work and they didn’t carry their work devices around when not working.
- Many admitted to exceeding the standard work week once in a while, however when they do most will stay at the office and not take work home with them.
- In some of the buildings the lights actually turn off by 8PM making working late difficult.
- Overall most I talked with do not work on weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- I noticed people smiling and laughing more in office environments.
- They ask different questions in the workshops. For example we spend more time talking about the “why” of imbalance compared to most counties where they want to only focus on “what” to do about it.
I learned enough on this trip be dangerous with my observations. I would say the Europeans have some leading advantages on the issues, and I also saw many areas in which there are even greater challenges, which is a different post for later. Perhaps even requiring an extend stay to more properly research the topic.
It started a couple of weeks ago; it will grow in intensity, and then lay dormant for eleven months. What I’m talking about is the emotional and physical energy of the holiday season. Regardless of your faith it’s almost impossible to escape the energy shift that happens this time of year.
The season evokes many feeling inside of us, the desire to please others, the want to be included and acknowledged, and hope for proof those around us really know who we are. It’s easy to get caught up in the swirl to please, to say yes, to do exactly what you have done year after year.
Ask yourself, how do your decisions make you feel? Are the expectations you have on others and the ones they have on you realistic? Do the people you are choosing to surround yourself with raise or lower your internal flame? In the mad rush of the season, pause and consider what you want to create. (Hint: there is no wrong answer, only your answer.)
I see it so many times. It doesn’t matter what country I’m in or what company I’m working with, I see a direct relationship between the quest for “perfect” and the level of balance people feel. What I’ve noticed is that people who strive for greater perfection tend to be more dissatisfied with their lives than those who are comfortable with the concept of “good enough” once in a while. (This is not about living a life of mediocrity, but rather the ability to know what and when to let it go of.) It’s not an easy lesson to master; I still struggle with this myself. Letting go of the notion of perfect, if even on just a few things, can be very scary, as the path to perfection brings a sense of control and control brings comfort to many. I found a great passage on the concept this weekend that I wanted to share. It comes from Melody Beattie’s book, Journey to the Heart.
“Let yourself be who you are. It’s difficult to be around people who are trying to be perfect – perfectly healthy, perfectly polite, perfectly poised, perfectly controlled. Remember that being human means being imperfect, being flawed. Let yourself be. Let others be. Stand up and reveal who you are and know that you’re good enough. Stop worrying that people will find out who you really are. Instead, hope that they do. Help them by openly sharing yourself and being not who you think you should be but who you really are.”
What not aim for “good enough” on a few things this week?
I’ve rename the blog, Your Choice, as balance is your choice and taking accountability for that choice is not always easy, that is where I come in.
Since 2008 I’ve been teaching and writing about work-life balance. I’ve taught thousands of corporate employees in over 15 countries including India, Russia, Japan, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada and the United States. In these workshops I’ve heard from people who are struggling with many different challenges, and what I noticed is people have more common than different. And that is the new direction I’m taking this blog and my business – to what we all share in common in our struggle to create balance in our lives.
In my travels people ask me the same two questions. What was it like for the people in ZYX country? What is my level of balance like flying all over the world to teach and write? I have learned there is such a curiosity and desire to learn from each other on this topic and through this blog I will try to facilitate that learning, share more stories, more best practices and more about my own journey. (Just because I know better doesn’t mean I always do better!)
Before the year is out I will teach in the UK, Ireland and France and the path for 2013 will bring me to South America and China and who knows where else. Wherever there is a team willing to talk about the issues, I am willing to hold the conversation. I anticipate having some great conversations, tidbits and tips to share moving forward.