While in many Western countries we are beginning to embrace the importance of a healthy work-life balance, the way we approach and think about work is impacted hugely by the national culture towards working.

This culture varies hugely between different countries, as factors like religion, law and traditional customs shape the way that people work.

The average working week

Across all countries the average working week varies greatly depending on your field of employment, and the specific demands of your industry.

Despite these variations, the International Labour Organization has found that there are still huge differences in the average working week around the world. European nations generally prefer shorter working weeks, as evidenced by Sweden’s recent trialling of 6-hour working days, while Asian and American nations spend longer at work.

The graphic below shows the different average working weeks for various nations around the world:

The average working week, image via RS Components

The graphic demonstrates the enormous differences in the average working week around the world, with people in the Netherlands working an average of 22 hours fewer than their counterparts in Nepal.

In addition to many European countries, the Oceanic nations of Australia and New Zealand have a particular focus on the work-life balance, having shorter working weeks than any other country outside of the Netherlands. One company in New Zealand has even tested a four-day working week, which they believe helps wellbeing and satisfaction at work and home.

Work and religion

For many people around the world, the work-life balance is not just about personal lives but also finding time to observe religious beliefs, with some nations structuring the working day around religion.

In the predominantly Jewish state of Israel, the working week runs from Sunday-Thursday to accommodate Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath – which runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. During Shabbat, the Jewish people traditionally refrain from performing any tasks that could be considered as work, with Israel’s working week structured around this religious tradition.

Similarly, In Islamic countries, working hours revolve around religion, with the revered prayer times taking precedence over work. In the United Arab Emirates, the working day is also shortened by 2-3 hours during Ramadan, with most work taking place in the morning or in the evening after the fast is broken.

Customs and traditions

Other customs and traditions are also essential to many countries’ working cultures. In a number of Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, the siesta is an important part of the working day, with work and even mealtimes structured around the siesta.

In the Nordic countries, there has always been an emphasis placed on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In Sweden, this is evidenced by the traditional custom of ‘fika’, where Swedes break twice a day over coffee and pastries to encourage friendship and improve productivity and happiness at work.

There is also a focus on work-life balance in Iceland where parents both receive an initial 3 months parental leave to help develop the familial bond between parents and newborn baby. After the initial leave, parents receive an additional 3 months to split between them, with each parent also receiving 80 percent of their salary during leave too.

Wherever you live, work-life balance is important to leading a healthy and happy life, with different cultures achieving this in a variety of ways.