It’s not news that the rest of the world is leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. when it comes to workplace policies. Many countries have laws in place to protect employees and give them paid leave. But in a truly groundbreaking move, Portugal made work-life balance a reality by banning bosses from getting on employees’ cases after hours. They aren’t just making promises to quell the masses, they’ve put their intentions into law, and damnit, every other country should follow suit.
Yes, you read that right. Portugal has unlocked the real key to work-life balance by subjecting employers to fines if they break the law that prohibits them from contacting their employees after hours. Mind blowing, right? Thank you, Portugal! In a world where remote work has thoroughly blurred the lines between home and work, rules like this being put in place are a necessity.
But it’s not just Portugal. The Guardian reports that France, Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, Italy, the Philippines, Argentina, India, and Germany all have taken their labor laws into this century as well. Cheers to them, for real. (Has anyone looked into dual citizenship?) In all seriousness, for all the employers and companies that claim to die on the work-life balance hill, very few of them actually follow through with a practical application.
Work-life balance is so much more than not guilt-shaming your employees out of taking days off. You know, when they say you can take time off, but only after making it clear that it’s hugely inconvenient. And it’s not about catering a meal once a week so they can work-socialize their way through lunch. All of these perks are mere Band-Aids for much deeper issues, and people are calling that bluff.
When the pandemic hit and remote work became normalized and a necessity, people got excited. Maybe this was the answer we all had been searching for to get some quality work-life balance. To escape toxic work environments and micro-managing leaders! Well, it certainly changed things, but not all change was for the better.
Did Remote Work Really Help or Make Things Worse?
At first glance, remote work seemed to help with the work-life balance conundrum. Yes, you cut out the 45-minute commute, but in turn, ended up staying online past your scheduled hours. Or you were flooded with emails and messages late into the night that you felt required to answer. Not only is this applauded, but it’s become almost expected.
We’re not hating on remote work. It is a privilege and can be good, but it’s also something most employers now use as an excuse to tether you indefinitely to your desk. They figure you can answer an email from anywhere, right? It’s almost like employers assume that offering remote work gives them 24/7 access to their employees.
Spoiler alert: no.
The truth is employees don’t have a better work-life balance when remote work blurs the line between office hours and the rest of your life. And yet, it seems to happen time and time again. Unless you live in Portugal.
Why This Work-Life Balance Won’t Likely Fly in the U.S.
Corporate is king in the U.S. No one values hustle, hard work, and over-achievement like companies who burn out their employees. Julie Kashen, a director of Women’s Economic Justice, hits the nail on the head. She explains, “Historically, the U.S. has emphasized productivity, profits, and the bottom line above all else.” Basically, many companies have no interest in truly respecting their employees as whole human beings who have lives outside of the office.
It’s a harsh reality to contend with, and employees in America are voicing their opinions loud and clear. As The Harvard Business Review supports, the Great Resignation is still in full swing. Many of the employees who have quit during this time simply reached their breaking point. Impossible workloads, hiring freezes, and other issues, caused them to rethink if their job was really worth the mental and emotional toll it was taking. The answer? A resounding no.
Being able to walk away from work at the end of the day and not have to worry about your boss getting in touch should be the norm. And no, it doesn’t mean you have to physically walk out of an office door for your employer to respect your boundaries. If employers want to retain quality, hardworking employees, they can’t burn them out and expect them to keep trudging along.
The last two years have changed everything about employer-employee relations. Young people are realizing there is no sense in living just to work. The sooner companies learn to respect their employees as human beings, the better off everyone will be.
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