• Greg Morgan

Working Hours Around the World

At the bitter end of a hard day or a long week, it can feel like you spend most of your life at work. While the standard work week in Australia and New Zealand is 38-40 hours, this figure varies widely around the world. From as little as 35 hours in many parts of Europe to more than 100 hours in some labour camps, full-time work is definitely a relative term. Let's look at working hours around the world based on annual and full-time data, including many nations that defy the traditional 9-5.

The amount of time we spend working has changed dramatically throughout human evolution. According to figures from Clockify, hunter-gatherer societies worked an estimated 4.86 hours each day, with this figure swinging wildly based on geographical and seasonal fluctuations. While that doesn't seem like very much, prehistoric survival is a 7-day gig at around 1,770 hours a year. This figure rose to 2,300 hours a year during the middle ages, and around 3,400 hours a year at the height of the industrial revolution.

Working hours in the 21st century are much lower, at least in affluent western society. Annual working hours had already dropped below 2,000 by the 1980s, and they continue to fall steadily based on national economic prosperity. Based on data from the OECD, using 2019 figures from member countries, Mexico is the hardest working nation at around 2,100 hours a year. South Korea comes in at second place, followed by Costa Rica, Russia, Greece, Chile, Israel, and Poland.

New Zealand is in 10th position at 1,779 hours a year, and Australia is in 16th position with 1,712 hours. Countries with the least working hours per year include Denmark with 1,380, followed by Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, Austria, and France. In many European Union nations, working hours are gradually decreasing. There are many reasons for this trend, including economic prosperity, growing automation, high amounts of paid annual leave, and 4-6 week holidays as standard.

When it comes to full-time work, there is a sharp divergence between countries and economic classes. While some nations are actively trying to shorten the working week, others pride themselves on long days and a strong work ethic. Despite the standard global working week set between 38-44 hours, 11% of workers in OECD countries work more than 50 hours per week. Long hours of manual labour are still common in many developing and undeveloped nations, including many parts of South America and Africa.

The working week is even bigger in many non-OECD nations, including China. Despite officially adopting a 40 hour week, many people work far longer. The recent 'lying flat' movement in China highlights the overworking problem, with more and more young people looking to drop-out and take it easy against the wishes of the government. Around 600,000 people die from overwork annually in China based on state media reports, and the 996 (9-9 for 6 days a week) work system is still widely followed.

Japan and South Korea also have long working hours in some industry sectors, with 44 hours a week standard and overtime very common. Workaholism is an issue in both of these nations, with active attempts made by both governments to shorten the working day. Wherever you look, there is a growing divergence between the developed and developing world when it comes to working hours. While the USA, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are slowly shortening the working week, hours continue to rise in other parts of the world.

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