Software Engineer Work-Life Balance: USA vs EU

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For most of the software engineering community there are two distinct paths. Either working and living in Europe (UK included) or the United States. These locations seem to be the most discussed among people within these markets and job seekers from abroad. The United States is obviously known for higher salaries and Big Tech while Europe, is a little more modest and focuses on cultural heratige, safety and security.

To answer this question posed (which is better), we’ve decided to measure up the work-life balance of each location. Aside from salary, work-life balance is probably the second most important factor for developers considering a new role. We are going to compare, in detail, three aspects of the working world to discover where software engineers have the best work-life balance. So if work-life weighs heavily in your decision-making process, then read on!  


Number of hours dedicated to work

Let's start with something basic but fundamental: the average number of hours dedicated to work. Of course, this may vary depending on the company, the state, or the European country in question, but some things remain constant that make up the final result: legal limits and culture.

Average working hours

Key differences

Some other factors you should consider:

  • Industry: Specific industries within tech might have different work-hour cultures. For example, startups might have longer hours than established companies. And less pay.
  • Company size: Smaller companies might be more flexible with working hours compared to larger corporations.
  • Individual roles: Certain roles within the tech sector might require longer hours due to project deadlines or client demands.

The difference in average working hours for tech workers between the US and Europe is relatively small. Still, the cultural and legal context plays a significant role in work-life balance.


How Much Could You Make Internationally? →


Holidays and PTO

It goes without saying how essential holidays are for recharging batteries, getting a tan, and being able to work for the rest of the year. Let’s compare them alongside Paid Time Off (PTO).

Minimum guaranteed paid time off

Average paid time off

Public holidays

Additional points

Examples between two countries:

  • USA: Tech giant Facebook offers 15 days of holiday + 10 sick days + 11 paid holidays.
  • Germany: Software company SAP offers 30 days of paid annual leave + 10 public holidays + separate paid sick leave.

Generally speaking, Europe offers more generous paid time off policies compared to the USA. This includes mandated minimums, higher averages and often separate sick leave provisions. But company culture and individual circumstances can still play a significant role in both regions.


Moving to the Netherlands for a Tech Job: The Ultimate Guide →


Other labour rights to consider

The landscape of labour rights paints a stark contrast between the USA and Europe. Europe's historical emphasis on social democracy led to stronger legal protections and unionisation, shaping their trajectory. The USA, focusing on individual freedom, free markets, and the amendments you’ll hear about on TV shows, adopted a less interventionist approach, resulting in weaker job security, lower minimum wages and limited paid leave compared to Europe's more safety-net-like systems.

To be fair, the US is such a dynamic market that, for generations, or at least it seems, job seekers did great with this less-regulated approach. Of course, that's up for debate. Some politicians still consider the Reagan era to be a golden age, while others point out how tough it was for everyday folks that lacked a sense of social security.

All that said, let’s have a look at this difference in detail:

Workers’ Day

Job security

Severance packages

Minimum wage



Parental leave

Check out some examples across Europe:

  • Sweden: 480 days (16 months) of paid parental leave per parent, with 90% pay replacement.
  • Germany: 14 months of paid parental leave per parent, with 67% pay replacement.
  • France: 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, followed by 28 weeks of optional parental leave, with 80% pay replacement.

Salaries for software engineers


Relocate to Europe or the United States

In the “work-life balance” contest between Europe and the United States, Europe wins. Of course, there is a trade to be had that’s mostly financial. 

Are you interested in relocating to Europe? Check out our job board for up-to-date job offers throughout Europe from companies offering relocation support. 

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