Meatballs. Nordic Noir. People so good-looking it makes you dribble. Fjords.
Four reasons to shut down your PC, sell your possessions on eBay and go and live in Scandinavia.
You’re not convinced? Then perhaps I can tempt you with this: in Denmark, parents of newborn children get to share a whole year – A WHOLE YEAR – of time off, on 100% pay. In Norway it’s a year and a month at 80%, with an obligatory three months’ minimum for the father and an optional extra year unpaid for the mother, if she fancies it.
Should their respective governments also throw in a £10,000 shopping spree at GAP Kids and a cot-warming party, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.
But that’s Scandinavia for you. They are the undisputed world champions of welfare and social benefit. They have the safest and most stress-free streets on the planet. The people there are so happy and healthy they hardly know what to do with themselves. In the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index survey, commissioned to find the happiest nations in the world, the top three countries were Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Next time you see a Swede, take a look at their skin. It’ll be lustrous and wrinkle-free.
At the other end of the parental leave scale is Turkey. If you work in Turkey and have a child, you get a relatively underwhelming 16 weeks at 66% pay, if you’re the mother. If you’re the father, it’s three days. That’s a few verses of Humpty Dumpty, and back to the grindstone. (Turkey, if you’re wondering, occupied 89th spot of 142 nations in the happiness survey, nestled uncomfortably between El Salvador and Kyrgyzstan, the second poorest country in Central Asia.)
There are other peculiarities. In the USA, the Family and Medical Leave Act decrees that families will be granted just ‘twelve workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth’. The States is one of only four countries with no current law that guarantees paid leave for new parents. The others are Swaziland, Liberia and Papua New Guinea. Make of that what you will.
And what about Britain? Well, some good news. In November last year, Nick Clegg announced plans to reform the legislation surrounding parental leave, to bring more flexibility to the way British families interweave their careers and care-giving. The new rules will be introduced in 2015, and will allow the mother and father a combined 52 weeks of leave, which they can split between themselves, depending on how they feel about the new life-phase they’ve just entered.
Looking through the list, it seems every nation has its own rules and regulations on parental leave. But I can’t help feeling we’re just a few years late to the reform table.
What the Scandinavians realised way before us is, at the point in life when you’re looking square down the barrels of parenthood, what the modern family needs as much as anything is choice – not just money and time off. And part of that choice should cater for dad as well as mum. For one thing, at the time of writing, the male is still fairly involved in the act of conception. Fair’s fair.
But my point isn’t really about gender bias. Or how happy we are. It’s really about sensible and apposite law-making. If you look at the world of business today, you’ll see things you wouldn’t have seen a couple of generations ago. You’ll see career women gathering around boardroom tables. You’ll see kids selling their internet start-ups for millions on the bus home from school. You’ll see mumpreneurs, downshifters, Gen Flux-ers, early retirees and house-husbands. Today’s working world is more unstructured, more gender- and age-neutral, and more ‘self-defined’ by the workforce.
If employment legislation – including parental leave entitlement – is doing its job correctly, it needs to be sympathetic to the way people are living and working. If they are living and working in diverse and flexible ways, as is becoming the norm today, people’s legal entitlements need to recognise and complement that. That’s why Nick Clegg’s idea is absolutely correct for the time – if about 5 years behind the curve.
By the way, a rather neat by-product of the new legislation is that everyone wins. Women, who will have the choice to go back to work before their brains go all mushy. Men, who’ll get to step off the work treadmill for a little while and connect with their kids at an earlier age. Businesses, which will get to welcome back more balanced and fulfilled employees. And the economy, which will benefit from a richer and more diverse talent pool. Everyone’s happy.
Fjords? Perfect skin? Who needs them.