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Behavior Change
U.S. Has Worst Work-Life Balance Among Developed Countries

The United States has the worst work-life balance of the 23 developed nations recently ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index.

The OECD judged work-life balance based on three variables:

  1. The portion of the labor force that works very long hours (more than 50 hours a week).
  2. Time spent on "leisure and personal care" (defined in contrast to paid or unpaid work as spending time with friends, going to the movies, pursuing hobbies, sleeping, eating, etc.).
  3. Employment rates for women who have children.

OECD draws attention to the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country without a national paid parental leave policy, although some states do provide leave payments. Available parental leave is short (12 weeks), and only covers some employees (those in companies with 50+ workers). OECD says making changes will involve a cost to employers, but there can be benefits to child well-being as well as the labor market — evidence suggests that when U.S. mothers take their full leave entitlement, they are more likely to return to work than mothers who do not.

Leave is short in the U.S. for a reason — well-being is strongly linked to employment because a significant proportion of public family support is delivered via tax breaks and credits (45% of total compared to 10% on average in the OECD). However, female employment in the U.S. has been falling for the past decade, despite women having better career prospects compared to most other OECD countries (35% of management jobs occupied by women) and lower career costs associated with child-rearing (where mothers earn over 80% of non-mothers’ earnings over a working life).

OECD analysis suggests that the U.S. could help working families to reduce poverty rates by strengthening services and benefits for children in their early years, including legislating for paid parental leave, and building on the successes of child education and care services, such as the Headstart program.

The U.S. shows strength in its understanding of the value of a good head start, OECD notes. In the U.S., total public spending on child welfare and education is $160,000 up to the age of 18, above the OECD average of $149,000. But the U.S. leaves it late, spending the most money on public compulsory education. This means early investment, including childcare and support for families around the time of birth, could be strengthened.

Putting policies and processes into place to promote a healthy work-life balance is keeping employees engaged, which research shows has a dramatic positive effect on long-term profits. According to Gallup, 100 percent employee engagement would translate to an increase of anywhere from $450-550 billion in increased revenue for U.S. companies alone.


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