Balancing act: OECD notes U.S. work-life balance problems

Published: Tuesday, June 25 2013 11:27 a.m. MDT

The OECD report goes on to point out that, "The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits."

In fact, people in the U.S. devote 66 percent of each day, or 14.3 hours, to personal care, such as sleeping and eating, and to leisure activities like spending time with family and friends, playing games and watching TV. That's less than the OECD average of 14.9 hours.

Add these factors together, and you discover that the U.S. landed 28th among the OECD nations for work-life balance. That's in the bottom quarter of the rankings.

Ouch.

It's easy to argue that comparing the U.S. to other countries in this way may not always be valid. We have different systems of government, economic models and cultures that play a role in our ranking.

In fact, despite our long hours at work here, the OECD report noted that Americans are more satisfied with their lives than many people in other member nations. Here in the U.S., the report said, 83 percent of people indicate that "they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80 percent."

So if we're working longer and harder than our colleagues in those other countries, it doesn't matter, because we're still happier. And we all know those Europeans, especially, are lazy compared to us, obsessed as they are with their extended vacations and government benefits. Right?

Well, wait a minute. I don't like everything about the economic systems in other OECD nations — in fact, I far prefer the opportunities and self-reliance that are hallmarks of our system, despite its imperfections. However, I also think we can't automatically repeat the mantra that our system is best and use that as an excuse to ignore good ideas from elsewhere.

I believe that work-life balance will be important to our economic competitiveness as a nation in the future, and I think Americans possess the innovative spirit and drive to improve our ranking in this area to the overall benefit of our unique economic system.

Many of us here in Utah, and throughout the U.S., have experienced at least a taste of what it's like to live and work in another country. Why can't we use that perspective and the good ideas we viewed elsewhere to build a better culture of work-life balance here?

I'd argue that we're perfectly situated to do just that, but I'd welcome your comments. Send me your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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