So You Think You Work Long Hours?

working hours

So You Think You Work Long Hours?

Greetings! I’ve decided to interrupt my article series for international students in order to provide some content that’s potentially interesting for all the readers here at WSO. I will however return to writing articles for international students in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m broadening my target audience!

When applying for a job in a foreign country it’s crucial to know what’s expected of you in terms of working hours – which might differ a great deal from your native country. I think this is especially relevant in the financial services industry, as hours appear to vary quite a bit depending on where you work, at least that’s the conclusion I draw from comparing hours in my home country in Scandinavia, and hours here in the U.S.

Meanwhile, in this post I would like to focus on how work hours vary across three different regions of the world – U.S., Europe, and Asia – and how the hours vary greatly depending on which region you find yourself in. I will not be focusing on the financial services industry specifically, but rather attempt to provide general statistics through credible and up-to-date sources.

Lastly I would like to be clear about one thing; I dont consider working more hours to equal working harder, it simply means working longer.

The Hardest Working Countries in the World

So you think you work long hours? Maybe you’re under the belief that the U.S. and its citizens surely must work long hours compared to most other people in the world. Well if you are, you’d be wrong.

According to recent statistics published on Business Insider the average full-time U.S. employee works approximately 1,700 hours per year as of 2013. This might indeed sound high to some of you readers, as the European average is distinctly lower. However, 1,700 hours per year doesn’t even come close to the highest average annual hours worked in that of some countries around the world.

Enter the Three Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Singapore, and South-Korea – each clocking in respectively at 2,350, 2,300 and 2,200 average annual hours worked per worker in 2013, utterly destroying the majority of their competition. This might not come as a surprise for some of you, but I was personally quite astonished when I first heard of the amount of hour’s employees pull in these East-Asian nations, especially as a European native. Another way to grasp these figures is by statistics published by Forbes in 2008 which contends that employees in the Three Asian Tigers will actually spend about 6, 5 hours working, every day of their entire lives.

Most nations doesn’t even come close to matching the Asian Tigers numbers, yet there are some who follow in their footsteps. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s OECD public statistics from 2012 portray the heavy workload carried by people in developing nations. Mexico, Greece, and Chile clocks in respectively at 2,226, 2,034, and 2,029 average annual hours worked per worker, not too far off our leaders.

What about Europe?

Let’s turn out attention to Europe for a moment, and amongst others, France, with its famously short work weeks and additional vacation time. As a native of Scandinavia myself, I’ve been indoctrinated with the idea of the 40-hour work week, which appeared totally normal and as nothing out of the ordinary during my early life – that is, before I discovered the financial service industry and moved to the U.S.

As it turns out, the French used to work even more than Americans in the 1980s, but since then they have taken a sharp dip down, and now average annual hours worked per worker in France lands at a meager 1,470 hours in 2011, quite far behind even U.S. numbers. The phenomenon of relatively low hours is consistent throughout Western-Europe with hours generally ranging from the 1400s to the 1650s, with the Germans sitting on a comfortable 1,397 hours worked annually according to OECD; even lower than the infamous French.
However, the comfortable hours has not reached Eastern-Europe.

As I previously mentioned, Greeks are the hardest working people in Europe, with their average of 2,034 hours annually. Meanwhile, other developing nations such as Poland, Estonia, and Hungary each respectively lands at 1,929, 1,889, and 1,888 average hours worked annually, putting into question what type of labor intensive work make up the grunt of these hours.

Final Words

I was initially quite amazed at the difference in average annual hours worked throughout the world, as I had grown familiar with the steady 40-hour work weeks that my parents pulled growing up. I think everyone who is considering working in a foreign nation owe him or herself, as well as the potential employer, to research what kind of hours are expected of employees in said nation, and even of the specific employer. Ultimately, being aware of potential culture-shocks such as differences in work hours can help ease a transition to a foreign society, and also avoid awkward office conversations.

Were you all aware of these differences in average workhours? If you weren’t, what do you think of them?


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