Where in the world do people work the most? And, perhaps more importantly, where do they work the least?
Mexico, Costa Rica and South Korea top a list of longest hours worked, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while workers clock up the fewest in Germany, Denmark and Norway.
The analysis takes the total number of hours worked per year and divides it by the average number of people in employment. It includes regular work hours of full-time, part-time and part-year workers, paid and unpaid overtime and hours worked in additional jobs.
Employees in Germany work an average of 1,356 hours per year – about 900 less than their counterparts in Mexico. That compares with an OECD average of 1,744, the United States at 1,780 and Japan at 1,710.
In Germany, around 5% of employees say they work “very long hours” compared with an OECD average of 13%, a separate OECD report shows.
While the difference can largely be explained by cultural attitudes and other social factors, it can also be influenced by policy. South Korea – where workers clock up more than 2,000 hours per year – made headlines last year after its National Assembly voted to cut the maximum working week to 52 hours from 68.
Quality over quantity
While the data offer an insight into differing cultural and working practices, they also have their limitations compared to statistics like output per hour worked and other productivity measures.
The OECD report showed how those countries that work the most often aren’t the most productive. Technological advances and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are also set to reshape the forces at play.
“Social partners can and should play an important role in ensuring that the provision of training is consistent with current and future demand for skills,” the OECD said. That includes “achieving an equitable distribution of productivity gains and supporting individuals who lose their job as a result of technological change or trade.”
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Quality and creativity
The debate about whether output counts more than hours is gaining traction around the world. Several studies show working fewer hours a week makes people happier and more productive, and experts at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting backed the idea of a shorter working week.
“We have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively,” Adam Grant, a psychologist from the Wharton School in Pennsylvania told delegates in Davos. “They end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organizations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care about their lives outside of work.”