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The Scandinavian secrets to a healthy work-life balance

Category: Blog
A man works on his laptop in the office at night

Our work-life balance is an important part of the modern conversation, especially in relation to our mental health. Now more than ever, we understand the importance of managing our stress levels so we do not become overwhelmed and develop more serious mental health issues.

However, this doesn’t always translate to our working practices and many people in the UK struggle to maintain a good work-life balance.

According to Legal & General, just under half of employees in the UK regularly work unpaid overtime, and we have the longest average work week in Europe at 42 hours.

This overworking has serious consequences for our wellbeing with 60% of people saying they have neglected their mental health because of work. Additionally, a staggering 9 out of 10 UK workers said they had experienced some form of burnout.

You may assume that this is simply the way of the modern world. We all live fast-paced, demanding lives, after all. Yet, in Scandinavian countries people often have a much better balance.

Finland was named the happiest country in the world for the sixth time in a row in 2023

If you want to see what a healthy work-life balance looks like, the Scandinavian countries are an excellent example. Their culture has a strong focus on the importance of free time and a healthy attitude towards work.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why they are among the happiest countries in the world.

According to the World Economic Forum, Finland was ranked the happiest country for the sixth year in a row in 2023. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden also consistently make the top 10.

If you are feeling stressed or overworked, perhaps you might want to adopt some Scandinavian practices to help you improve your mental health and overall wellbeing.

Read on to learn the Scandinavian secrets to a healthy work-life balance.

You can reduce your working hours without necessarily sacrificing productivity

The most obvious way to improve your work-life balance is to spend less time working. Yet, most people don’t consider this an option as they assume that fewer hours in the office means they are less productive.

However, that may not be the case. According to Statista, the average working week in Sweden in 2022 was 30.5 hours. This is significantly shorter than the UK average of 42 hours.

As a result, you might expect the UK to be more productive, but the opposite is true.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows the GDP per hour worked in 2022. In Sweden, the figure is 108, while in the UK, it is 104.

So, it would seem that working fewer hours does not necessarily mean you lose productivity.

The Swedes have a specific word to describe their attitude towards work – “lagom”, which roughly translates to “just the right amount”. They work enough hours in the day to get everything done, but they value their free time and don’t sacrifice it.

If you regularly work evenings and weekends, you may benefit from adopting this mindset and shortening your work week. You might find that, with a bit more rest and downtime, you are more productive and don’t need to overwork yourself to get everything done.

Taking a break should mean disconnecting from work altogether

Taking a regular break from work can help you manage your stress levels and recharge your brain, so when you sit back down at your desk, you are refreshed.

Unfortunately, many people are not especially good at taking breaks because they don’t fully disconnect from work. Eating lunch at your desk isn’t a proper break, and neither is drinking a coffee while you look through emails on your phone.

If you are guilty of this, you may need to embody the concept of “fika” during your workday.

This Swedish practice is more than a simple coffee break. It’s a moment when everybody comes together to take a break and, most importantly, talk about anything apart from work.

Instead of grabbing a quick five minutes where they can, the whole team takes a restful break together and completely disconnects from work.

This is built into the workday for many Scandinavian companies and always takes priority, so everybody has a restful break.

It may be useful to think more carefully about your own breaks. Perhaps leave your phone on your desk and step away, so you’re not tempted to read emails. Going outside for a walk is also a good way to leave work behind for a while. If you do speak with any colleagues, try to avoid any work-related topics.

Holidays are a vital opportunity to rest and recuperate

Even if you reduce your working hours and improve the quality of your breaks, work is still likely to be stressful at times. That’s why it’s so important to take extended holidays and give yourself a chance to rest and recuperate.

In Sweden, all employees are entitled to 25 paid holiday days each year and it’s expected that everybody will use all of them. They even receive an additional cash bonus on top of their holiday pay to encourage them to take plenty of time off work.

Conversely, in the UK, many of us fail to use our annual leave. Indeed, according to The Happiness Index, the average UK worker only takes 77% of their holiday days each year.

We are entitled to 28 days including bank holidays, so the issue is not that we are offered less annual leave. We simply do not use it when we are.

So, make an effort to take all your holidays and use the opportunity to enjoy some much-needed relaxation time.

By adopting these simple Scandinavian practices and shifting your mindset, you could find a better balance in your own life.

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