The number of hours worked by employees in different countries varies dramatically. This is no surprise because each country has its own culture and norms for working.
For instance, the average Japanese employee works around only 1,715 hours per year compared to the average Canadian’s 2,039. This difference can sometimes be explained, in part, by the difference in vacation time allotted to each country. In Japan, an average of 11 days is given to employees as vacation time per year; in Canada, that number is around 18 days per year.
Interestingly enough, when comparing the working hours of Americans and Germans—two countries with cultural similarities—Americans work approximately 19% more than their German counterparts. This may be due to a lack of mandated benefits like sick days and paid time off.
What Countries Work the Most Hours?
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico, Costa Rica, and South Korea are some of the countries that work the most hours. However, Asian sources point out that Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Singapore, and Malaysia are the countries where people work the most hours.
Below is a presented a list of countries with the most and least working weekly hours:
|Rank||Country||Average work week hours in 2022|
If some countries have multiple data, the final number is calculated as the mean value.
The average Mexican works about 2,255 hours per year, translating to 43 hours per week. The average Costa Rican works about 2,237 hours per year. In South Korea, workers spend 2,069 hours per year working. The OECD has not released its data for 2019 yet, but these three countries had some of the highest working hours in 2018.
Mexico’s long working hours are partly due to a lack of paid days and paid time off for illness or family leave. Many employees may also be afraid to take time off because they do not have job security. Employers may ask employees to work overtime when they have too much work or when other workers are sick and cannot come to work.
In Costa Rica and South Korea, people may be required to work long hours because they compete with other workers willing to put in more hours. That said, both countries tend to prioritize family life more than other countries and want their workers to spend less time in the office so that they can spend more time at home with their families.
Mexico works long hours.
Mexico has longer working hours than the US because hiring more workers for more hours is cheaper. In the United States, employers have to pay overtime to keep people working past a certain number of hours per week. The overtime rate is usually 1.5 times their pay. Employers are not obligated to pay overtime in Mexico and may legally require employees to work long hours without additional compensation. The lack of regulation allows employers to keep costs down by hiring more workers instead of paying them overtime.
Korea’s ethics about working hours
Korea has been on the international stage due to its unique approach to working hours. The nation’s labor laws have been criticized for being strict and promoting overwork, but Korean workers have been calling for less regulation.
In a recent article published in The New York Times, South Korean workers shared their opinions about labor regulations. According to this article, the average workweek in Korea is 52 hours long—significantly longer than workweeks in most other developed countries. More than 20% of these workers work more than 60 hours per week, substantially more than employees in most developed countries.
According to the same article, workers believe that these rules have gone too far and are no longer effective at reducing overwork. Some workers believe that the authorities have had the opposite effect: they have encouraged employers to hire fewer people and make those employed work longer hours.
While the government considers changes to these rules, many Koreans welcome them with open arms.
What countries work the least?
We’ve all heard of the French and their notorious 35-hour workweek, but France is not the only country that works the least. According to a recent study, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, and Germany are some countries where employees work the least.
In the world, work hours vary wildly. For example, the average worker works 1,397 hours a year in Germany, while the average worker in Mexico works 2,255 hours. In general, the countries with the lowest amount of work hours tend to fall into a few categories:
- Countries that require significant vacation time: The Netherlands and Austria are two countries that need workers to take 20 days of paid vacation per year (and sometimes more), which comes out to about five weeks. Additionally, German workers get an average of 6 weeks of paid leave. This means they’re spending less time working throughout the year because they have so much time off.
- Countries with high unemployment rates: Spain is one country with a high unemployment rate that also has relatively low work hours—about 1,622 hours per year on average. Lower work hours are likely a result of fewer jobs being available for people who want them.
- Countries with short labor days: Some countries have laws limiting how long a person can work in a given day or week—for example, France has passed legislation requiring people to disconnect from their work email after 6 pm. Workers cannot log extra hours after-hours might not be to their liking.
We are living in a time of globalization. The world is changing, and the work environment is changing dramatically. As working hours have gotten longer, research has shown that it can hurt our mental and physical health. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to the issue and discuss what can be done to improve the situation.
Japan, Korea, China, and Turkey lead the world in hours worked per year with 2,200 hours or more. In contrast, France has the lowest number of working hours at 1,600 hours per year (Labor Statistics Bureau of Japan 2018). This difference is quite significant. Asian countries emphasize hard work while European countries prefer a better work-life balance. However, there is no clear evidence to suggest that a longer workweek leads to higher productivity levels. Some studies showed the opposite: productivity levels decreased after a certain number of working hours.
Working long hours can hurt the health and does not necessarily lead to higher productivity levels. To reduce the adverse effects, workers should take regular breaks throughout the day and get adequate sleep every night.