Work-life balance in Europe: Why is the UK in 13th Place?

UK work life balance

The UK's Work-Life Balancing Act: Why 13th place?

People from all over the world flock to the UK to work and study. Still, despite a strong economy and endless opportunities, compared to our European neighbours, we come in 13th place for work-life balance according to a recent study by SpareMyTime.

So, why did we rank 13th? Let's examine the working hours and leave policies that contributed to it.

Is there an expectation of long working hours?

Over 17 weeks, UK workers are allowed to work a maximum average of 48 hours per week, which aligns with the EU Working Time Directive. According to the OECD, the European average is 40 hours, a far more realistic balance.

Paid annual leave

In the UK, you'll get 20 paid annual leave days each year, excluding bank holidays, a relatively standard European offering. However, if you're lucky enough to live in Denmark, Norway or Sweden, you'll be entitled to 25 base days of annual leave.

Interestingly, in Poland, the first ten years of your employment with a company will entitle you to 20 days, but on your 10th work anniversary, you get 6 days extra each year as an ongoing long service leave bonus.

Is parental leave in the UK a bit lacking?

When you welcome a newborn, your time off is crucial to establish a bond with your little one. Maternity leave is a widely accepted leave policy, but paternity leave has been slightly slower-moving, particularly in the UK.

Statutory paid maternity leave is available up to 39 weeks in the UK, it offers:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £184.03 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

Paternity leave regulations have recently been amended in the UK to allow new fathers more flexibility regarding when they take leave. The rate of £184.03 is matched for fathers, but it is limited to around two weeks of total time off.

Once again, across the pond, maternity and paternity leave policies are incredibly balanced in Sweden. They give both mother and father 240 days of leave at 80% pay. In addition, parents are able to transfer up to 150 days of their leave to the other parent to suit the needs of their family— but there is a requirement to take 90 days for themselves. Sounds like a leave policy that dreams are made of.

How do we get on the road to improving work-life balance in the UK?

We need to improve our work-life balance in the UK, but a combined effort is essential to shift the culture. While regulations are slow to change, nothing stops businesses from doing what they can to offer more flexibility that promotes balance. Some companies may offer more paid leave options, while others could provide flexibility around remote working or hours.

Our 13th-place ranking should be a wake-up call, considering that everyone benefits from a healthy workplace with a rested team. Our extended working hours and lagging leave policies must reflect the excellent working culture we want. Ideally, we want the UK to be an attractive country to build a career and have an outstanding quality of life for overseas talent and our workforce. With our neighbouring countries offering so much more, we have a lot of work to do to move up the ranks.

A good work-life balance is the key to a healthy work environment and rested, happy staff. What could be better for business?



Ché manages our marketing, communications and partnerships. She helps people find Leave Dates and make sure it is right for them. Her favourite weekly task is sending thank you messages to customers who review us.