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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Balancing Work and Life Abroad

Norway, Costa Rica, and Denmark enjoy great popularity for their working hours and work-life balance. How do they compare to the global average?

The Work-Life Balance sub-ranking looks at expats’ combined satisfaction with their overall work-life balance and their average working hours.

The ranking is topped by Norway, which is particularly popular in terms of working hours, with 85% positive ratings. Costa Rica scores highly when it comes to work-life balance, and Denmark is strong in both categories.

But how do expats in these countries do when it comes to job satisfaction and career prospects? We’ll take a closer look at these factors below. Moreover, we will take a look at the average working hours in Norway, Costa Rica, and Denmark in relation to working hours worldwide.

Expat Work Weeks

Expat Work Weeks
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Work-Life Balance vs. Job Satisfaction

Norway ranks highly in terms of work-life balance, with more than 80% giving the country a positive rating for this factor. Things also look great for Costa Rica, which has the highest percentage of very satisfied expats worldwide.

Denmark is another top destination for people seeking a good balance between their personal and their professional life. Overall, 76% gave the country a positive rating.

However, does a good work-life balance also mean that our participants are satisfied with their job in general? Not necessarily.

Norway only makes it to 13th place on the Job and Career sub-index, despite the fact that 75% of participants are satisfied with their job there. Still, the country is doing better than Costa Rica (38th) and Denmark (43rd). In all three cases, people are less satisfied with the career prospects in their country of residence than with their job in general.

However, the question remains, what is it that influences the rankings for work-life balance so positively for these three countries?

Let’s take a look at some other, non-work related factors. Participants in Denmark, for example, are particularly satisfied with family life in general. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is among the top ten countries when it comes to the ease of settling in, and even among the top five for friendliness.

Like Denmark, Norway also receives positive ratings for its attitude towards families with children (85%) and for family life in general (84%). However, the apparent prioritization of family life and leisure activities in Norway may well be directly related to its strict labor laws, strongly discouraging unpaid overtime and irregular work schedules.

So does it all boil down to short working hours in the end?

The 37-Hour Work Week

Norway, the most prosperous country among the Scandinavian States, ranks even better when it comes to the participants’ overall satisfaction with their working hours. All in all, the vast majority gave it a positive rating and 49% are very satisfied with their weekly work hours, the highest percentage worldwide.

The results for Costa Rica and Denmark are similar: 80% of our participants in both countries rated their working hours positively. However, a shorter work week does not automatically account for a happier employee or vice versa, as our overall results show. For example, in Luxembourg, which has one of the top global rankings for career prospects and job satisfaction, expats work nearly an average 44 hours per week.

Still, it is worth noting that the number of hours people work in these countries is at least on the lower end. In Denmark, expats spend 38.7 hours per week at work. In Norway, our participants work 37 hours per week on average and Costa Rica also has a 37-hour work week. At that rate, all three are far below the global average of 41 hours.

According to the OECD Better Life Index, only few employees work very long hours in Norway (3%) and in Denmark (2%). Unfortunately, the index does not include Costa Rica in its rating.

Working Hours Worldwide

As mentioned above, Costa Rica, Norway, and Denmark are on the somewhat lower end of weekly working hours, only underbid by a few other countries, such as Ecuador with 34.4 hours.

The country on the opposite end of the scale is Nigeria, where expats spend approximately 48 hours per week at work. In Ghana it’s 47.8 hours and in the UAE, our survey participants have to dedicate almost 46 hours of their time to the job.

Interestingly, these countries do not do too poorly when it comes to our participant’s satisfaction with their work-life balance and working hours. In all three cases more than half rate the working hours in their country of residence positively. At the same time, Ghana receives 60%, Nigeria and the UAE 55% positive ratings on work-life balance.

On a global scale, expats between 36 and 40 years of age work the most. With close to 39 hours per week, women work less than their male counterparts, who spend approximately 43 hours per week at work. However, both are similarly satisfied with their situation, with a little over 60% in positive ratings both for working hours and work-life balance.

On a global level, expat employees and managers have the highest amount of working hours with 44.9 hours per week, closely followed by entrepreneurs and business owners (44.4 hours). Across all countries, there is a significant discrepancy in terms of working hours between regular employees (42.5 hours) and middle- or top-management positions (47-50 hours). Freelancers across the word, on the other hand, only spend about 31 hours on their job.