Working hours around the world vary significantly, which leads to a world of questions.
We looked at data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing the average weekly working hours for workers in 35 countries across the globe. While the results offer insights into the different lengths nations work, the takeaways are still up in the air.
For example, we can know what countries have the longest workweeks—and the shortest—but why the drastic differences in hours? What are the cultural and/or economic implications? And most importantly, what can we do with this information?
To help you digest the data, we compiled it into an infographic. Let’s look over the numbers and discuss.
Countries With The Longest Work Hours
Of the nations recorded in the study, Colombia and Turkey have the longest workweeks at 47.7 hours per week. Not far behind are two Central American countries, Mexico (45.2) and Costa Rica (45.0).
The average work hours across all 35 countries included in the data set was 36.6. Of the 19 countries that work longer hours than the average, 13 are European and five are from the Americas, which is noteworthy since only five American nations were included. South Africa, the only African nation represented in the data set, was well above the average (43.0).
The data itself does not reflect why these countries are working longer hours, but we have some suggestions.
Labor laws might have something to do with it. Consider that, according to labor laws, the official maximum workweek clocks in at 48 hours in Colombia and at 45 hours in Turkey. These laws —and how they are enforced—likely impact the extreme variances in workweeks between these countries and those with more stringent labor laws.
Another potential connection is cultural gender roles. In another data set provided by the OECD, we learn that two countries with the longest workweeks, Turkey and Mexico, also have the largest difference between the percentage of men and women working. On average, 75.5 percent of men work and 60.1 percent of women work, whereas those numbers in Turkey are 70.7 and 32.2, and in Mexico they are 79 and 44.9. It stands to reason that in homes with only one income source, that sole provider might need to work longer hours to make ends meet.
Countries With The Shortest Work Hours
There is a very clear correlation between the countries with shorter work weeks: They’re all European. Of the 16 nations included in the data set whose employees worked less than the average, 15 of them are European nations and the sole outlier, Australia, is heavily influenced by UK labor laws.
At the bottom of the list is the Netherlands, which averages only 29.2 hours per week—31 percent less than Turkey and Colombia. Next to the Dutch, you’ll find Denmark (32.4), Germany (34.4), and Switzerland (34.4). Considering each of these countries boasts a thriving economy, it’s easy to wonder if those people advocating for shorter workweeks are on to something.
Or perhaps they can afford to work so few hours because they’re so well off? This might be a chicken and the egg situation.
Another aspect to consider, as we did above with Turkey and Mexico, are the differences in gender work rates. In the Netherlands, 80.4 percent of men work compared to 71.3 percent of women. If more homes have multiple incomes to draw from, it might make sense that everybody stands to benefit from increased work-time flexibility.
On the flip side, Iceland—which works longer hours than average (38.7)—has the highest national percentage of workers (85.8), and the difference between men and women work rates is marginal. So, while there appears to be a connection between employment rates and work hours, there are clearly other variables at play.
What does this all mean and what are the takeaways? There are probably dozens of ways we could answer these questions, but one thing is clear: It varies. Individual countries work in their own way, at their own rate, and for varying lengths of time. These variances extend to individual organizations, and increasingly they extend to individual employees. So, are your employees at risk of burnout? Do you offer a work-life balance that will bring the most out of your people? Check out the infographic below and let us know what you think.