Work-life balance has always been a priority for employees, but not all workplaces have given it the same respect. The amount of vacation time and the number of hours employees are required to work in a week vary greatly across the world. Much of this is a result of cultural differences and tradition, but it also can greatly affect the productivity and happiness of workers. Overworked and unhappy employees can be extremely unproductive. There are many theories and methods for improving morale, but one of the simplest ones is limiting the amount of time employees are working. Sounds simple right? For many employers, it hasn’t been so easy.

When employees work over 40 hours a week, their productivity goes down significantly. The overall output of an employee working 60 hours a week for extended periods of time is no greater than an employee doing the standard 40. Labor Unions were the first to demand that hours be capped at 40, but research shows that both industrial workers and knowledge workers suffer after the 40 hour limit is reached. While industrial workers become physically fatigued at 40 hours per week, knowledge workers become mentally fatigued at the same point. Some research even shows that knowledge workers require even more breaks and time off than industrial workers.

The culture in many offices today is that the more hours you put in, the more productive and hardworking you must be. The employees who stay longer are also hopeful that when the pink slips come out, the magic hand will pass by them because of those extra hours worked. Unfortunately, experience shows us that when employees are overworked they actually do not produce any more output. On top that, employees often get frustrated that their work-life balance seems to be non-existent.

Along with the number of hours worked per week, vacation time plays largely into work-life balance and employee happiness. The United States has gained a large reputation as “worker bees” - or employees who seemingly work themselves to the bone in hopes of advancing in their careers and increasing their output. Europeans on the other hand have been known to work many less hours on average, and are granted considerably more annual vacation days. Due to this, Europeans actually get more output per hour than Americans do. The US also has no minimum for vacation days, while the majority of other countries in Europe and across the world have government mandated minimums for days off granted by employers. This forces them to allow their workers to relax more and have a healthy work-life balance. While the US is low on the average number of vacation days, China and Canada have the lowest average vacation days. It seems that on the whole, more vacation days and less overtime hours produces happier and more productive employees.

While much of the differences in work hours stem from culture, it is important for employers to consider how long work hours affect employees and their overall happiness. Many managers are convinced that more hours equals more productivity - particularly with salaried employees where more hours are “free”. But of course we all know nothing is actually free. A manager who motivates his or her employees and gets the same output as the manager who pressures his or her employees stay longer will often be questioned because the employees are being “underworked.” In actuality though, the manager who motivates employees better should be rewarded for getting the same output while keeping work-life balance in mind.

Work-life balance is a very important necessity for employees and new managers should take this into consideration before they ask employees to put in a significant amount of overtime. This model of 40 hour weeks needs to be re-embraced in the US and it can only start if managers know the facts.

What do you think managers and companies giving up when they demand these extra hours from employees? And more importantly, is it worth it? Let us know what you think by leaving comments below!

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