Which nations work the longest hours?

  • exhausted worker
Published 8 months ago

When you find yourself in an international group of expats, conversations tend to turn into some competition about whose country has the best national dish and which is the most hardworking nation. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) debunks any myths that expats may have created with a thorough survey, which has measured the annual working hours in 35 OECD member states. Most of the countries ranked are developed, and some fall under the category of developing countries.

Top five countries

Mexican workers
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In Mexico, employees spend on average 2,255 hours per year at work, which is the highest number among the 35 countries which have been ranked. Mexico faces high unemployment rates among the youth and the low salaries in entry, mid-level, and manual jobs force many to work in more than one jobs up to six days per week to secure a decent income. The Mexican culture revolves around family life, and Mexicans are determined to work hard to support and provide for their family. However, it is interesting to note that although Mexican people work hard, they also know how to cherish the precious things in life such as quality time spent with loved ones over big fiestas.

Costa Rica (2,212 hours) is the second country on the list of the nations which work the longest hours, followed by South Korea (2,069 hours) at third place — the first developed country of the list whose citizens spend most of their time at work. However, from July, a new law reduces the working week per 16 hours (from 68 hours currently to 52 hours) to raise productivity, quality of life, and birthrates.

Greece (2,035 hours) and Russia (1,974 hours) at fourth and fifth place accordingly are used to long workweeks and lax labour laws. Greece’s unemployment rate has dropped to about 21%, which is the lowest since 2011, a couple of years after the beginning of the economic crisis. Due to high unemployment, young people agree to unfavourable working conditions, which include prolonged working hours that don’t count towards paid overtime. 

Bottom five countries

German worker
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The length of working hours is determined by cultural values and the country’s socio-economic environment; how much emphasis does the government put on work-life balance? How big is the middle class?

Germany has the advantage of the less working hours (1,363) when compared to the other OECD member countries. However, Germany’s productivity levels are very high, and its economy remains the biggest in Europe, despite recent concerns and gloomy predictions. International markets are in fond of German companies and trade is the national economy driver.

The employees of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and France also log less than 1,500 working hours per year and enjoy a good quality of life.

The countries in between

American worker
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But where is Japan — whose language has a word for “death by overwork” — in this ranking? Surprisingly, Japan comes at the 22nd place (1,713 hours), even though karoshi means dying from stress-related diseases or taking your own life due to pressure coming from work. However, the country doesn’t have legislation dictating a maximum number of working hours and overtime per week. Only 4% of the Asian nations have defined that the working week shouldn’t exceed the 48 hours.

The United States (16th position) also doesn’t obey any rules regarding the weekly working hours whereas in the Middle East the law sometimes allows even more than 60 working hours per week.