Quality of Life

Worklife Balance – Ljubljana vs. London

June 2022 Living

Carol Jardine


After five long years spent living and working in Ljubljana, the lockdown phase, gave me plenty of time for reflection and comparison of  my life in London, fifteen years ago.

Work and Pleasure.

Looking back through rose-tinted binoculars, I see London as one continual fun-packed party where we worked hard, and played even harder, in sharp contrast to the family-friendly Ljubljana, where life is gentler, and family very definitely comes first! For singletons, and marrieds alike, London rocked! During the week work and social life were often intertwined, with work functions, receptions and client entertaining at the theatre, opera or concert followed by dinner, several evenings a week,(sometimes with partners), but with a very defined work focus. Once at the Management level, one rarely got home before 8 pm, children’s bed and bath times were conveniently missed and gourmet meals were eaten on expense accounts with clients or colleagues. Many regretful fathers are now fantastic grandfathers.


In London, everyone is in a hurry, as the general pace of life in London is at least  4x  faster than in Ljubljana. On more than one occasion in Ljubljana, I have been asked by Slovenian friends and students alike, ‘Why are you always rushing?’ And when I  slow down enough to think, the simple answer is –  habit. In London, I got used to years of commuting through daily delays on the underground, bomb scares and traffic jams, therefore I always added  ‘contingency time’ to my one hour morning commute, following the management consultant’s motto –  ‘Time is money.’ I was always in a rush. However, here in Ljubljana, where the average commute is a leisurely  thirty-minute cycle ride by a swan flecked river, through a flower-filled park,  or at very worst, along a well-demarcated cycle lane, the outcome is that one arrives at work, exercised and rosy-cheeked, as opposed to emerging exhausted and bedraggled from a subterranean rush hour frenzy.

Cycling to Work.

In London, cycling is not an option for most business people and is definitely not for the faint-hearted as the daily cycle – commute demands stamina and downright courage. In Ljubljana, most cycle routes are flat and scenic, there are bicycle lanes everywhere, and most importantly, there is an innate respect for the cyclist. On the other hand, in London, cyclists are abhorred by the vast majority of motorists  – from mothers with ‘Babies on Board’ to foul-mouthed lorry drivers. Common courtesy ceases to exist, and the cyclist’s road is frequently uphill and fraught with danger.

Work Hard. Play Hard.

It was early in my career in London, that I first heard the adage ‘Work hard, play hard!’ And by Jove, we did! Ten to twelve-hour working days being the norm, and after, we  always ‘celebrated’ the completion of  the working day! For many it was just the nearby pub, but for the ‘sporty’, there was squash, tennis, golf and running – all executed in pleasantly situated urban clubs, with congenial watering holes ( bars) – inside and outside. Indeed, sport was a highly sociable and very enjoyable pastime, with only a small minority adhering to arduous training programs, and aspiring to the dizzy heights of excellence that many Slovenes achieve. We left competition in the office.


During my five years in Ljubljana, I have greatly missed my London  ‘club time’, where tennis club members mix and match for fun afternoons of weekend tennis doubles. We played and laughed till we dropped, then crawled off the court to the nearest table, where we would sit in our ‘smellies’ drinking beer or wine, chattering and chuckling till it was time to depart – for bed, BBQ  or dinner. Sadly, not the case in Ljubljana. Part of the attraction of Ljubljana for me was its proximity to the mountains and the sea, but without a car, skiing is almost impossible, there are very few coaches to the easier slopes like Cerkno and Soriska Planina, and Slovenians travel with family filled cars  – or they head for  the more challenging slopes. I have not been privy to apres-ski here, but in the UK it’s more important than the slopes! However, what I’m trying to say is that in London, we combine sports and social life primarily to have fun and relax, whereas, here in Ljubljana, sport appears to be a  much more serious matter,and this can be vouched for by the  fantastic number of medals won by Slovenia in the last Olympic Games.

The Working Day.

Then there’s the working day in Ljubljana  – a strictly 8 hour day, including a relaxing, work-free lunch, in stark contrast, to London, where lunch is either a business lunch, with a client, or a sandwich guzzled at your desk. Working lunches are commonplace, and many seminars and training sessions are held over lunch with sandwiches and fruit. Anyone at management level or above, who dared leave at 6 pm, would be reprimanded, and unlikely to pass their probationary period, and in investment banking and consultancy, it’s not uncommon for teams to work all night to complete a deal, sustenance is provided, and they work till the wee-small hours when the  project is finished. On completion, they   – celebrate success with a glass of champagne, and toast each other joyfully. In the majority of cases, family is forgotten, and a boozy team spirit prevails.

The Protestant Work Ethic?

Why are Brits working so hard? To pay for their children’s education? School fees? Boarding school? Or the live-in nanny? Either way, the nuclear family has been largely eroded, whereas in Ljubljana, family still comes first. Strong bonds are forged that last a lifetime and benefit all, and free time is pretty much devoted to healthy family activities, and even social lives tend to revolve around family groups. The dissolution of the family unit in the UK, by default, makes Londoners more inclusive, and more hospitable to newbies, but often distances them from their coutry cousins – both by miles and by attitude.

So there are pros and cons for both cities, but I would not have swapped my hectic, headstrong 20s, 30s and 40s  in multicultural, thespian North London for any other City in the world. Every day was an education, a new experience, a challenge and an adventure, every hour filled to brimming. However, with my rapidly advancing years, I would now opt for the more healthy work-life balance of Ljubljana, with a calm commute through nature to an office with a panorama view of snow-capped mountains and forests.

The rose-coloured spectacles are dimming, and the beauty of nature is winning – sometimes!


This article is part of The Adriatic project.