Let's cut to the chase. My dear American readers, sorry to say not a single U.S city made the cut. So that brings us northward to my own homeland of Canada. If you care about work-life balance (and you should), then look no further than our humble little capital city of Ottawa. 

According to a new report, Ottawa comes in at number seven. Perhaps not surprising, the rest of the Top 10 is mostly made up of European and Scandinavian cities:

  1. Oslo
  2. Bern
  3. Helsinki
  4. Zurich
  5. Copenhagen
  6. Geneva
  7. Ottawa
  8. Sydney
  9. Stuttgart
  10. Munich

The detailed methodology accounts for three general themes in work-life balance: i) work intensity (vacation days, holiday allowances, paid parental days, etc.), ii) society and institutions (quality of healthcare, access to community support, gender and LGBTQ+ equality, etc.), and iii) city liveability (access to culture and leisure activities, outdoor spaces, air quality, etc.). 

The business couldn't be clearer. Any org designer, leader, or HR consultant worth their salt knows that a workforce that has better work-life balance is more effective, productive, collaborative, creative, and happier. 

Here are the things you should know about work-life balance, including the need for a new term.

The history of work-life balance is just a start

Work-life balance was first referenced in the 70s and 80s, as baby boomers found themselves trying to fit it all in - career life, family life, and leisure.  Through economic ups and downs and technological ramp-ups over the last 30-40 years, the concept of work-life balance has trucked along, some companies actually caring about it, others treating it as a vanity metric.

The future of work-life balance is where we go next

Now, though, the balancing act is hitting an all-time high. The pandemic has forced us to reconsider the basics of work: where we do it, how we do it, why we do it, and what it means for our sense of self.

Employees are in the driver's seat, more than ever before. They have a say in what they want their work to look like. Consider, the backwards norm of working 80 hours a week at your high performing financial and professional services firms is starting to correct itself. And for many young people entering the workforce, they're not chasing the bigger paycheck or the next promotion in order to  justify the grueling 14-hour work day. 

They smell the BS. And they're telling others where the stench is coming from. Wearing busyness like a badge and spending the majority of one's precious time at work or sacrificing weekends for client deliveries isn't a noble cause. It's a foolish one. 

Where you take it from here

Where do we go from here? Some scholars argue that it's not actually about  'balance' per se. There may have been a time when it was indeed a balance, which is to suggest the two sides  - work and life - were independent of each other. But now, especially as people continue to work from home, work and life are inextricably linked. 

It's better for leaders to think about it as work-life harmony, instead of balance. When you show up to work, you bring your whole self to the job. Three years ago, pre-pandemic, it was a silly notion to think that when we stepped into the office, we stepped into our "work self", and left our "life self" behind. This isn't 'Severance'. 

It's even sillier now as the two selves blend more and more. Who we are "at work" and who we are "in life" is the same person. And leaders need to recognize that that person on the other side of the screen is a human first, employee second. Treat them as such and watch your people, and your business, flourish.