Working habits from around the world that could transform your work-life balance

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Does your job cause you stress? A recent survey found that 3 in 5 UK employees say their mental health declined in 2023 because of workplace stress. Long work hours, tight deadlines, and job insecurity all contributed to this burden, and nearly half of respondents said senior management was to blame.

Instead of continuing to burn yourself out, you could find it beneficial to adopt some healthy working habits from around the world to help you reduce stress.

Here are four traditions from other countries that can transform your work-life balance.

1. “Right to disconnect” rules in France

France added their “right to disconnect” law to their extensive Labour Code in 2017, amid fears that advancing technology meant companies could contact their employees whenever they wished.

The goal of the law was to improve quality of life by implementing strict boundaries for when it is and isn’t acceptable for employers to contact you. Although it isn’t illegal for coworkers to get in touch with you outside of your working hours, it does ban any sanctions against you for not answering.

Especially in the era of working from home, it’s important to draw a firm line between your working hours and the rest of your day. You may want to speak to your coworkers and request they don’t contact you while you’re trying to relax, and make it clear that – unless there’s a genuine emergency – you won’t reply until your next working day.

2. Flexible working in Denmark

Flexible working hours are a standard part of Denmark’s job market. Most people work 37-hour weeks, with many leaving at 4 pm to attend to childcare needs. It is also frowned upon for employees to work overtime, and they are entitled to five weeks of paid vacation every year.

If flexible working hours would benefit you, try negotiating with your boss. These changes might be easier to make if you work from home as you don’t have to worry about commuting times, but simple changes – like offering to start work an hour earlier so you can leave at 4 pm – could give you more time to spend with your family.

3. “Inemuri” in Japan

Japan’s hard-working culture and incessant busyness have led to the popularisation of napping in public.

“Inemuri” translates as “present while sleeping”, but it’s much more than sleeping on the job. You can find people dozing off on public transport and in the street as well as at their desks, fitting in as much sleep as they can before their busy lives start up again.

Sleeping at work may be frowned upon over here, but it isn’t a sign of a poor work ethic you might imagine in Japan.

It’s common for Japanese workers to arrive first and be the last to leave the office to impress their boss, and their sleep is further depleted by time spent networking with coworkers. Proving you’re dedicated to showing up to a long meeting even though you’re exhausted is praised as a strong commitment to the company and a great work ethic in Japan.

Thanks to the difference in culture, your boss might not appreciate you napping on the job. But it’s an important reminder to take a break and ensure you’re getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night so you wake up feeling refreshed.

4. Year-long “career breaks” in Belgium

Belgium’s employment law protects people who wish to take an extended break from work for up to one year. Although your employer may pay you a reduced rate or move you onto a paid state allowance, they aren’t allowed to terminate you for taking time off and you should be able to return to your position once you’re back.

This policy is designed to promote a better work-life balance and gives people the opportunity to better themselves by travelling or studying. It also helps those who find themselves in an unexpectedly difficult situation, such as taking care of a loved one who is ill.

There aren’t any laws in the UK that would let you take a year off, but it highlights the importance of stepping away from work when you need to.

You may want to take steps to improve your finances so you’d be able to step away from work for an extended period. It could provide peace of mind that, if something should happen, you’ll have more freedom.

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