What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word “employee”? Most people think of a cubicle dweller working a 40-hour week. However, the diversity of industries, workplaces, laws, and other external influences makes for an interesting case study.
Let’s see if this understanding of workers actually rings true.
The Work Week around the World
Most countries have a workweek that totals around 40 hours. Working from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday is also the most common model. Yet, these practices aren’t universal.
The number of weekly work hours mostly depends on the country and industry at hand. On the other hand, culture, religion, and other factors can impact the structure of the workweek itself.
Let’s see the statistics from all over the world.
Average working hours per week globally
The global average number of work hours per week is 40. However, this number varies in different countries. As you can see from the graph below, Asian and South American countries have the highest average number of weekly work hours, while Europeans tend to be more relaxed.
The longest and shortest working cities in the world
The quantity of work doesn’t only depend on the country. Different circumstances make some areas more demanding than others. Some cities became very well-known for their cut-throat work cultures. Here are the busiest and most relaxed cities in the world.
As you can see, there are no American cities on the list. When it comes to the United States, the title of the hardest working city belongs to Anchorage, AK with the average workweek totaling 40.8 hours.
The longest and shortest work weeks by industry
The type of work is the second biggest factor when it comes to the length of the workweek. Here are the longest and shortest working hours by industry in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.
In other words, physical workers tend to have the longest workweeks in general.
Weekdays and weekends around the world
The common understanding of the work week starting on Mondays and finishing on Fridays is widely spread. However, this understanding isn’t universal around the world. Here is a depiction of workdays and weekends around the world.
Some countries have a 6-day workweek. India, Mexico, and Singapore are among them. Hence, cities from these countries are in the top 5 hardest-working globally. In contrast, some companies around the world have been conducting researches about shortening the workweek down to four days.
Finally, a portion of Muslim-majority countries doesn’t work on Fridays, either having their weekly days off on Fridays or Fridays and Saturdays.
How much do we work every year?
Overworking is one of the biggest ailments of modern society. Work-related stress and obligations tend to creep into our free time as well. Yet, interestingly enough, Western countries have been reducing the number of work hours for quite some time. This trend has a lot to do with the automation of different tasks and computers becoming widely available in workspaces.
Hours Worked in 2020
The trend of more technologically developed countries reducing their weekly hours continues to this day. On the other hand, countries with less automation (and more manual work) still have a way to go.
Productivity and GDP
As you can guess from the previous data, the number of work hours has little to do with productivity. To put it simply – the type of work and general economic state of the country have a far greater impact on average productivity.
For example, India, one of the countries with the highest number of hours worked, has one of the lowest productivity levels. On the other hand, the situation in Germany is completely different. Germans have some of the lowest numbers of work hours but are the most productive.
You can also see these trends have existed for quite some time.
The Most Productive Countries at the moment
The global West remains more productive for the time being, but as you’ll see, some new contenders are showing up.
GDP per hour worked is the most precise measurement for productivity. It accounts both for the production input/output and the way time and resources were used and managed. Simply put, the more time and resources the final product needs, the lower the GDP will be. Hence, countries with a higher number of work hours tend to have a lower GDP.
Productivity vs labor utilization in 2021
External influences can be volatile and sometimes surprise even the best analytic experts. 2020 has brought huge changes to the global playing field. The drastic variety in the ways different countries adapted to the new circumstances has impacted the current state of things immensely.
The 20th century has seen some huge changes when it comes to labor in general. The biggest changes certainly relate to the demographics of the workforce. Women were allowed to have jobs in most countries. This increased the number of available workers. On the other hand, child labor laws were established in most countries as well, which reduced that number. Let’s see how all of this happened.
Gender and family life
There were major breakthroughs toward work equality of the genders in the last century. Yet, there are still some differences in the number of hours men and women work. Moreover, these differences depend greatly on marital and parental status as well.
Parental leave around the world
The biological differences between the sexes dictate work habits and rhythms. Most notably, maternity leave and whether it is paid or not are the best example of different policies. The laws regarding parental leave have been changing, becoming more lenient and allowing not only biological mothers, but fathers and adoptive parents paid (or unpaid) time off after having or adopting a child. Interestingly enough, the US is one of the rare countries that doesn’t offer paid parental leave.
Child Labor – then and now
Minors used to be a big part of the world’s workforce. Interestingly enough, child labor laws only came to be in the last century and a half. Before that, children used to support their families regularly. They were mostly doing physical and service jobs, with long hours and a high risk of injury.
Fortunately, child labor laws exist in most countries nowadays. These laws detail both how long work hours can be for a minor at a certain age, and if the job can be hazardous (with a high risk of injury).
For example, the minimum age for employment in India is between 12 and 14 depending on the state. Japanese children are allowed to work at 15, and American laws depend on the state. Some laws take the day of the week (whether it’s a school night or not), the number of daily work hours, and the type of work at hand.
On the other hand, some countries don’t have laws that regulate child employment. For example, over 60% of children in Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau worked in 2016.
US – special insights
The United States is one of the world’s biggest economic forces. Here are some of the more specific and famous laws regarding employment in America.
Part-time vs full-time
Whether it’s due to classes, other obligations, or as a second job, many Americans have part-time jobs. Interestingly enough, the Fair Labor Standards Act (the same law that regulates child labor) doesn’t define the specifics of a part-time job.
It is up to the employer to determine whether a position is full-time or part-time. Hence, there are significant differences, especially in the number of hours. Most companies will consider a 32 to 40 hour week full-time. In contrast, others consider up to 35 hours a week to be part-time.
The biggest difference between the two comes down to flexibility. A full-time employee has a set schedule that changes only if necessary. On the other hand, a part-timer can work a different number of hours depending on the week. Additionally, part-time workers are always paid by the hour.
Unemployment and work hours
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be unemployed to apply for unemployment. The eligibility for unemployment benefits and insurance depend on total wages before tax. In other words, a person can work part-time and still receive unemployment. Some other countries, like Japan and some EU members, also allow part-timers to receive unemployment checks.
Disability and work
Social security disability benefits aren’t limited to the unemployed either. However, there is a set limit to the amount of money you can receive monthly to keep the disability income benefits. Again, part-time work seems like the best option if you are eligible for disability.
Holidays and days off
Holidays and vacations are necessary for a happy and healthy workforce. However, there are huge differences in the number of days off around the world.
Where do We Stand?
As we have previously mentioned, the number of total work hours has been declining for a while now. The logical consequence of this trend is the increase in the number of paid leave days and holidays. Yet, some countries, like the United States and Canada have fewer days off than 70 years ago.
Yearly Paid Leave Around the World
The number of days off in a year differs from country to country. The same can be applied to paid leaves and vacations. Interestingly, the US is an outlier yet again, with no laws regulating paid leave. Similarly to defining full- and part-time leave, it is up to the companies.
Here is how the situation looks worldwide:
The number of public holidays depends on the country, state, nation, and major religion. Here are the countries with the highest and lowest numbers of public holidays.
How much have humans worked?
There was a global decrease in the number of work hours in the last 70 years. Before that, this trend has also existed, but it was limited to the countries that benefited from the Industrial revolution. The most drastic example, of course, has to be Germany, which has reduced the average number of work hours by more than half.
Yet, if we take a look from an even bigger distance, we will see that the amount of work since the times of hunter and gatherer communities and the industrial revolution has increased. Namely, the early nomadic humans only had to provide for the next few days or weeks, as they relied on the land and constantly moved with all their belongings. This left them with more leisure time.
As people started building settlements, the ability to move quickly and easily lost its significance. Similarly, and as agriculture developed and the number of people in the world grew, it took a lot more to feed, clothe, and care about the individuals and the communities.
Only after the Industrial Revolution came and machines took over numerous tasks that were done by hand could the number of work hours decrease. This was also limited to the better-off countries. The Global South still relies on manual labor to a great degree.
There are two main opposing tendencies in today’s work market. The first one regards the increasing demand for overtime by many employers. This trend often results in fatigued and overworked employees. It also causes burnout and a problem with employee retention.
On the other hand, there is the initiative for a shorter (30 or 32 hour) workweek. This movement is the successor of the supporters of a 40-hour workweek that established a two-day weekend instead of only Sundays being dedicated to rest.
What Does The Future Hold?
As you can see, the two conflicted sides can’t coexist, and one of them is bound to take over in the future. We also have to think about the newest necessities brought on in the last two years.
A Remote Office for the Future
Many employees are having problems with readjusting to working in-office. While employers are torn between wanting greater control over their workforce and the increased productivity levels it offers. Great Place To Work has conducted a two-year study that found that productivity drastically increased after employees started working from home.
Additionally, hiring a remote team enables any company to increase its talent pool and find experts in any field no matter their location.
How Can We Adapt?
Companies that plan to stay at the top should focus on increasing productivity, rather than the number of work hours.
Many elements factor into the quality of work. People have different work rhythms, and there is no universal solution that will make anyone more productive. That means that companies that want to optimize productivity levels probably need to think outside the box and try different strategies.
Understanding how your teams function is the basis for making your company more productive. After you obtain this knowledge you can recommend different productivity tools, business practices, and ways to structure work time. Companies will have to be very aware of employee energy levels and fatigue if they want to retain workers. This way they can avoid the time and resources for hiring and training new employees constantly.
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