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Workaholic countries: what is the price of working too much or little?

Everyone can say a few stereotypes about other nations. The Germans are very precize, the Italians love the siesta, the Danish are the happiest and the Japanese work the most. Is this true? Which nation works the most? How does it translate into people’s lives?

Though real data could be entirely known if we could monitor working traditions of countries for years, for now, let's stay at data of surveys lying on scientific methods conducted by official organisation, as we can also get a picture of the issue in this way. s According to the data published by the OECD examines which countries work the most hours annually and which the least. The focus of the study is mostly developping countries and a few developed ones.


They found that Mexicans' work time in the biggest, and not the Japanese's, whose expression for "death by overworking” has made the entire world know them as the absolute workaholics. Mexicans with 2255 hours spent at work a year, 43 hours a week, are the busiest, while Germans have the most freetime with working 1363 hours anually, 26 hours weekly. There must be something true about the famous effectiveness of the Germans, if they get all their work done in much less time, than the average nation.


In Europe, the Greeks work the most, circa 2000 hours a year, while Hungary is in the middle with about 1700 hours. Interestingly, the USA is also in the middle, working average hours, which busts the thesis, that high GDP and good economy means less working hours, as Hungary and the USA are neighbors on the chart, but not at all close to each other economically. The USA is occupying the first place based on 2017 IMF data and Hungary is the 58th on the GDP chart.


So many questions


Of course, this raises a lot of questions. What’s the key to all these differences? Culture? Economic situation? What are the results of it? Let’s investigate!


The reasoning behind these number is rooted very deeply in cultural and socio-economic situations. In Mexico, the fear of unemployment and the lack of inforced labor laws explain how many people work more than the maximum 48-hour workweek. The Japanese, who gained the reputation of working the most a few years ago, are actually below the OECD average, even below us, Hungarians, however the reputation was enough for the Japanese government to impose a regulation on overtime work. 


High working hours result in an intense economic development in North Korea but result in a decreasing level of birth giving. As a result, the government decided to introduce rules to protect employees and society altogether, so they reduced weekly working hours from 68 to 52. Therefore, the length of their weekdays lasts for 40 working hours and 12 hours of overwork time.


Less is more?


Unfortunately, as expected, crazy work hours probably don’t do much good for productivity. According to research done by Stanford University overwork decreases the total output of the time spent working. Productivity while working 60 hours weekly was two thirds less, than productivity during a normal, 40 hour working week. Due to the extreme working hours, stress levels and fatigue increase, and the additional hours simply won’t have the expected outcome.


This might be the case behind the low working hours in Germany, and the same goes for Denmark, France and the Netherlands. People in these countries also work fewer than 1500 hours a week and are proven to be more productive and with a better work-life balance than those, who might be overworking.


Seeing the direct link between limiting working hours and increased happiness and productivity, now has launched a tendency of employers shortening the workdays in Sweden, as an experiment, in hospitals and the private sector too.


Imagine cutting your working hours in half and still not risking your wealth and competitivemess plus having loads more time for everything else you want to do. Just like in Denmark: they rank above average in civic engagement and personal connections but also in earnings and well-being, despite of working much less than the average nation. They are also engaged politically, with 86% voter turnout and educated as 80% of adults have completed upper-secondary education.


What’s the conclusion?


Less definitely is more, when it comes to working hours. The countries with extreme or simply above average working hours are unfortunately unable to reach their true potentials due to their productivity escaping through errors such as lack of regulations, a wrong outlook of employers on the abilities of employees and socio-economic situations. Working less might seem impossible but it definitely has several advantages on the long run, not just on an economic level, but for the society as well.


Anna Kőszegi

Published: Fri, 30/11/2018 - 18:08

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