Working to Live or Living to Work?

Looking for a country offering a life-work balance that satisfies your needs? If you live in the 3 Seas Region, you might already be living in one.

Hipster working with laptop on the rooftop
Photo: rh2010 / stock.adobe.com

The COVID-19 pandemic offered people around the world something they’re not willing to part with just yet: The possibility to work from home. Countless Zoom calls aside, while staying home, people started examining their work-life balance, suddenly clocking out at more reasonable hours to spend valuable time on non-work-related activities. It’s something that Europeans have been doing for years – remember the surprise of Emily (in Paris) when she found out that emailing past working hours is illegal? Now, it has even spread to the other side of the ocean, with CEOs in the US losing their patience with employees who still refuse to come back to the office 4 or 5 days a week.

CEE countries top of the list

For those considering their options, we’ve got the numbers. According to the European Life-Work Balance Index, in 2023, Estonia and Slovenia ranked among the top 10 European countries. The study of 30 countries, complied by Remote, a company specializing in building, managing, and supporting globally distributed workforces, Latvia, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Austria are also notably represented, ranking among the second-strongest group of countries.

In 2023, life-work balance is different than just the ability to work in your sweatpants. The index studies key indicators such as statutory annual leave (total days of paid leave, including public holidays), minimum statutory sick pay (percent or wage of flat amount), statutory maternity leave (number of weeks paid), and statutory maternity leave payment rate (percent of wage). The study also examines factors such as minimum wage (USD per hour), healthcare status, average hours worked per week, and finally, the happiness index and LGBTQ+ inclusiveness.

With a score of 85.25 (out of 100), Luxembourg topped the study, followed by Spain (78.63) and France (77.19). The 3 Seas Region’s top country, Estonia, is ranked 8th with a score of 70.21, followed by Slovenia, 9th with a score of 68.68.

A good deal

In the case of Estonia, it is the 39 days of paid statutory leave that make the country stand out even within the top 10 countries in Europe. Another 3 Seas country, Austria, comes in second in Europe when it comes to paid vacation with a lavish offering of 38 days of annual leave. Furthermore, Estonia offers 20 weeks of statutory maternity leave paid at 100% of an individual’s wage. Add to that the lack of red tape that makes Estonia world-famous, and you’ve got yourself a deal.

In Slovenia (33 days of annual leave, 80% of your wage when on sick leave, and 15 weeks of maternity leave on full pay), collective agreements at a company level allow a vast number of employees to start and end their working day according to their personal requirements. With 32 days of annual leave, Bulgaria is placed 16th in the ranking (score of 62.39), two positions lower than Latvia (score of 62.94). And while minimum wage (2.46 USD per hour as opposed to Luxembourg’s 14.26 USD per hour) is far from impressive, Bulgaria’s more relaxed approach to life easily translates into the country’s office culture.

Mira Yordanova is a partner in a mid-sized consultancy firm in Sofia. Yordanova doesn’t let her demanding job get to her, nor her employees, keeping strict office hours and avoiding any work-related communications after hours at all costs. The top manager herself tries to squeeze in as much work as possible in her most productive hours of the day, leaving her with enough time to spend on family, friends, and hobbies. While all 3Seas countries in the ranking offer reasonable paid annual leave (Greece is the only regional country offering less than 30 days of paid vacation, 29 to be exact), in general, countries in the region need to work some more on improving certain key factors considered by the study.

Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania close the ranking, occupying the last three positions, with respective scores of 55.50, 55.47, and 55.28. With a score of 55.96, Poland is 26th, a dramatic drop from the top 10, where the country was placed in 2022. Higher up in the study are the Czech Republic (22nd, with a score of 55.78), Greece (21st, with a score of 57.85), Austria (20th, with a score of 58.30) and Croatia (19th, with a score of 58.80).

Back in Bulgaria, Mira Yordanova is already looking forward to the next summer. “Come the summer, it’s a safe bet that you won’t find me at the office on Friday. The beach becomes my office for a long weekend for as long as the weather allows it,” she tells 3Seas Europe.

Galina Ganeva

a journalist with experience working for some of the most influential Bulgarian publications. She mostly writes about the intersection of society and culture

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