The Work Life Balance

May 27, 2013

Go Google the “Work Life Balance” and see what comes up. I’m too lazy to actually do it today… but here’s what I know is out there: tons and tons of New Zealand Immigration websites and New Zealand employer websites claiming that New Zealand is the land of the Work Life Balance. Promises of more holiday time, less stress, and a slower way of life are offered like forbidden fruit on low hanging branches to expats on the other side of the world.

I read about the Work Life Balance again and again while planning my move to New Zealand.  In America I worked three grueling, merciless 12-hour shifts a week in the hospital. My days off were like a prize at the end of each week, rewarding me for not quitting or dying at work. So I learned about the Work Life Balance, I began to anticipate and expect it. We didn’t know where in NZ we would end up, but by the time I finished my research, I was pretty sure we were going to get paid to lay on the beach and drink Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc while getting a tan and… wait, that’s the Wine Life Balance. Very different… although very important.

Christchurch, Canterbury

Anyways, after all the research, I discerned that the theory is this: studies found that employees are happier when they feel like they get a reasonable amount of time away from work, with their families, and participating in the activities that they enjoy. Fair enough, right? While many people worldwide find themselves inundated with work and overtime, tied to cellphones 24/7, and taking their stress out on their friends and families, the Kiwis practically promise that this kind of stress doesn’t exist in New Zealand. Or at least not much.

A recent survey revealed that Kiwis were the happiest workers in the world, with 74% reporting having a good work life balance. For comparison, America is at 66%, and the UK at 60%. Even more fascinating however, is this: 16,000 employers worldwide were polled about the efficiency of their employees. New Zealanders topped the productivity charts at 79%! (America 77%, China 73%). So maybe there is something to this Work Life Balance…

Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook

Now I have to say, when I showed up for my first day of work in New Zealand, I was a bit disappointed when I wasn’t handed a beach towel and a Kindle and told “get to work”. I mean, I think my home life would be a lot less stressful if I had finished the latest Dan Brown novel by now! Ah, but seriously, here’s what I learned on my first day:

Work is still work. You are still expected to show up on time and do your 8 hours of work. You are not expected (at my job) to stay and work overtime. You are expected to help others out, and they will help you. You are expected to be efficient and professional. You are expected to dress appropriately. In my case (healthcare profession) there will be shift work. Everyone has to do it, and so do you. So much for my work life balance, right? Sounds just like good old work to me!

Craigieburn Forest, Canterbury

Now it has been nearly six months. I’m comfortable at my job, and taking on new roles. I’m lucky to work in a place where everyone is friendly and supportive. Sure, it’s nice to have my days off, but I don’t dread getting in to the car to go to work. Actually… I do. But that’s because of the traffic in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch, not because of my destination. So what is different here? What tipped the scales into the precious balance between work and life? What is actually different than in America?

* I work four 8-hour shifts. I’m at work one more day per week, but for 33% less time each day, and a total of 4 hours less per week. It really is an unbeatable work schedule. Not every NZ employer can offer this, but it is very common.

* 4 weeks annual leave is the minimum an employer can offer. Coupled with the 11 national holidays, that’s 31 paid days off work per year that every employee starts out with. My employer started me off with 5 weeks straight away. Talk about enjoying the balance!

* It’s okay to be a minute or two late. Mobs of sheep happen on the state highway, and there’s really nothing you can do about that. Also, surprise roadworks happen in Christchurch everyday, so no judgements in this city, ever.

* Post work socialization is common and encouraged. My husband’s company just bought every single employee tickets to the Crusaders rugby game and paid for their food and beer.

* Many workplaces (including mine and my husband’s) have a shower for employee use to promote exercise before work or on lunch break. This also encourages cycling to work, which is quite common in New Zealand.

Abel Tasman National Park

So do I, an American expat living in New Zealand, believe in this infamous Work Life Balance? Do I relish in my perfectly proportioned time allotments for work and for life? Do I feel less stress and therefore feel more inclined to work hard at work? (Of course I was always an exemplary employee, but hypothetically speaking…)

Yeah, I do. I don’t think it actually is a strictly Kiwi thing, but I think New Zealand employers are really onto something with promoting the good ol’ WLB. Expats come from all over the world to join that slower paced lifestyle, enjoy the stunning scenery, and provide a better life for their families. Work is still work, but in New Zealand, work is not life.

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