Most people's lives revolve around home and work, making both central parts of their lives. After all, for many, it's where they spend much of the day, almost every day, and will continue to do so for a long time. Because it’s so central to the human experience, we can tell a lot about society with a close look at working hours and conditions.
For instance, working hours vary across the globe. As you'll later see, factors like the accessibility to tech among others determine how much an employee will work. Similarly, we don't work the same hours or the same jobs our ancestors did. What changed there and why?
We'll look at all that and more today as we consider average work hours worldwide. What's more, we'll also discuss how work affects people's lives based on age, country, and productivity.
So, get ready, wind up your timepieces, and go…
Work—Then & Now
Unlike our hirsute, hunting-gathering forebears, the 19th-century workers plodded on for 20 to 30 hours more every week. But a different picture emerges when we match our schedules to those in the 1800s!
In fact, if you compare the average hours worked per year with someone from that time, there's a huge difference of 1,000-1,500 hours! Time spent at work kept going downhill from the late 1800s until the 1990s. The pattern changed after that, and some countries have even gone back to adopting the same hours they had in the 18th century.
What's the Maximum Daily Working Hours Situation like in Different Parts of the World?
As I mentioned above, average working hours per day vary between countries. But is it the same for the maximum hours an employee can work in a day? Let's investigate:
- While there isn't a limit in the USA, FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act ) dictates employees be paid for overtime if they work for more than 40 hours per week.
- The situation is different for Canadian employers since they must comply with a limit of 48 hours/per week. However, job types and situations allow for exceptions.
For instance, employees of the railway, broadcasting, shipping, trucking, and banking industries are exempt from that limit. Similarly, excess hour permits and emergency work is okayed for exceeding the 48-hour limit.
- The EU and UK also have the same 48-hour week limitation when it comes to maximum working hours.
- South Korea's average work hours per week cannot comprise more than 52 hours.
- Japan acknowledges the existence of Karoshi – work by death – but sets no limit for max working hours. Even so, workers do enjoy an overtime limit after giving 45 hours per month.
- China's constitution sets the limit at 44 hours, but the duration was further lowered to 40 hours/week.
What's a Workweek, and How is Paid Time-Off Treated in Different Countries?
Workweek begins Monday in most parts of the globe, except in Muslim nations, where it runs from Sunday-Thursday. The duration of the said week can also be different. For instance, it comprises 4 days in places like Belgium, NZ, and the UK. In others, such as Mexico, Thailand, and Singapore, employers stick to the six-day-long workweek. In current and former Soviet Union nations, working Saturdays—subbotniks—are a thing. Citizens voluntarily do unpaid work on these days!
Now for paid vacation time, which is legally mandated in most countries except the United States. Americans don't get to take annual leaves or guaranteed paid vacation. The same isn't true for European countries where employees enjoy between 20-25 days of annual paid off-time. Aussies and Kiwis follow a similar pattern, while 10-day-long vacations are mandatory in Japan and Canada.
Aside from not getting annual PTO (paid time off), American workers aren't paid if they don't work on public holidays. What's more, they won't necessarily receive compensation for any federal holidays falling on a weekend. Some companies will do that to improve morale and employee loyalty.
Matters in Austria are different, and employees enjoy 13 paid holidays annually. The number's 30 days in many other countries.
What does the Average Working Year Look Like Everywhere?
It's necessary we calculate the average work hours before we can glimpse the average working year all around the world. Since the former varies in every country, so does the latter.
Based on the figure you see above, it's clear Mexicans have the longest working hours, i.e., 2137 hours/year. Denmark and Germany, on the other hand, have the shortest average annual work hours, i.e., 1,380 hours.
That said, it's important I mention something here. Dedicating more time to work doesn't automatically translate into the highest productivity. If we compare Mexico and Denmark's GDPs, we see the Danes were earning more than $50/hour even when working fewer hours.
Moreover, while it's possible for employees to work all 52 weeks in a year, that's not what happens. The first deduction happens when we factor in the holidays and weekends. Most people won't be in the office on those days. It means if we want to determine the actual average hours worked per year, we'd first need to subtract holidays and weekends and then divide by the number of days in a week.
Besides our future home country, i.e., France, most places stick to working 36-ish weeks annually. Therefore, that's what the median value is, or 36.3 to be precise.
What's the Average Work Hours per Month Situation like in Different Areas of the World?
We know now what the average working year's like in the world. It's time to check out the average working month in different places. After all, knowing that makes it easier to find out how many hours we're getting paid for.
This will be a rough guide since all employees don't keep a traditional schedule. Some get paid once a month, while others weekly. Similarly, we don't all keep the same hours per week or even work the same number of days.
We get a rough estimate of 160 hrs/month by multiplying the number of weeks/month (4) with hours in a workweek (say, 40). However, that assumes each month has the same number of working days—which it doesn't. So, for months like November, June, April, and September, we have 30 days, while it's 31 for the rest.
How many Actual Work Hours Exist in a Month?
Theoretically, many of us should be working 720-744 hours in months with 30 and 31 days. But is that ever true? Not really, because we don't keep working all the time after showing up to the office. We aren't robots and require rest hours to replenish and recharge. Then there's also the matter of holidays and weekends.
The distribution of average work hours per month around the world went like this in 2022:
- China had 250 working days, and after deductions, its employees worked for almost 167 hours in a month.
- Sweden's 253 working days amounted to 169 hours/month once the weekends and public holidays were removed.
- Canada had 251 working days, which translated to 167 working hours every month.
Work—Then & Now
Compare that with the hours people worked a hundred years ago, and you'll see different results for different eras. For instance, when tech, war and peace were interchanging rapidly in the early 1900s, workers would be on-site for 50 hrs/week or 200 hrs/month. Today, most employees won't see the workplace for more than 40 hrs/week or 162 hrs/month.
What's the Average Working Week Like?
Sometimes working 9 to 5 can seem more like 24/7. So, it's likely you've often wondered whether the average working week looks the same all over the world or not. As you'd expect, the calculations say one thing and the actual situation is somewhat different.
So, if we start with a breakdown of how much of our week we spend at work, we must take the number of days/week and multiply it with the hours present in a day. It comes down to 168 hours/week. And if we assume we're all working 40 hours, we spend almost 24% of our week working.
The true stats for the average working week everywhere show employees can be stuck at the office for any amount of time between 29-43 hours.
As evident, the average work week by country ranges from 29 hours to more than 40 hours around the world. So, it's logical they won't all keep the same schedules, either. For instance, the Saudi workweek begins on Sunday at 8 am sharp, and workers plod along until noon. That's when they'll take a 3-hour-long break before resuming work at 3 pm and continuing to 6 pm.
Japan's average business day comprises Monday-Friday—beginning at 8:30 am and ending at 7 in the evening. The rest also keep to the same days, but their working week begins at 9 am and ends at 5 pm, including the following countries:
- Canada 8:30 am-5 pm
- China 8:30 am-6 pm
- UK 8:45 am-5 pm
- Russia 8:30 am-5:30 pm
- Japan 8:30 am-7 pm
Working for the Young and the Too Young
If we're talking work hours, we should also be looking at who the world considers workers. I refer to child labor and the corresponding laws.
Child Labor—Then & Now
It's been a while since the FLSA became a thing in the US—it happened in 1938, people—some parts of it come off as very dated. For instance, when you take exploitative child labor, the Act is okay with kids as young as ten doing long, hard, laborious jobs, including:
- Cotton picking
- Selling paper
- Working in factories
- Chimney sweeping
The UK was no different. Their Factory and Workshops Act was issued only in 1878. Before that, it was completely alright for ten-year-olds and even those younger to be toiling in workshops and factories!
And, if you think child labor's done for in these modern times, think again! As late as 2022, one kid in every ten has been laboring in factories worldwide. That's more than 60 million girls and almost 100 million boys!
Age-Based Divisions for Teens & Minors
Employers of teens in the US are non-exempt from many of FLSA's rules. For instance, it's legal for an 18-year-old to have a hazardous occupation. Those between 14 and 16 can get non-hazardous employment. Similarly, 14-year-olds can work certain jobs, provided their company meets certain hours and working conditions requirements. However, since regulations can change from state to state, US employers should be wary!
Canadian 17-year-olds are okay for non-hazardous day-time jobs. Some provinces make that unlikely with mandatory schooling. The EU considers those between 15 and 18 capable of working 8-hour-long shifts for 40 hrs/week after the completion of compulsory education. Fortunately, it does direct employers not to work the teens for more than 2 consecutive days.
The Chinese and Malaysians consider 17-year-olds to be adults. Countries like Japan, India, and South Korea allow employment with restrictions on work type and hours. Singaporeans require permission from the Commissioner of Labor and fitness certification as proof.
These older teens can work till midnight in Canada but under adult supervision and in specific industries. The EU considers 16-year-olds capable of 10 weekly working hours as long as they get 2 days and 12 hours off consecutively. India still holds on to the hazardous work restriction while South Korean and Japanese teens must follow similar work type and duration-based rules. The rules in China, Singapore, and Malaysia are the same as for 17 yo workers.
Normally, all kids not yet 18 are minors. However, the working rules applying to these demographics can change based on the place and industry. For instance, the US and Canada treat 18 yos like they do adult workers. However, the former mandates 14-16 yos work only for 3 hours on school days. Their weekly hours also change, depending on vacation times.
Canadian 12-15 yos may work for up to 20 weekly hours when the semester's on and unlimited hours during vacations. They can stay at their job until 11 pm. 14 yo Indian teens can work for up to 6 hours daily while Japanese 15 yos can extend their daily working hours to 8.
In South Korea and Singapore, the limit on daily working hours for 15-year-olds is 7. The situation would have been dire for Malaysian 14 yos since they may keep adult working hours. However, the government restricts work type and timing.
It isn't legal to formally employ kids younger than 14 in the US or Japan. The cut off point for Canadians is 12 years. In the EU, only employers from certain sectors, such as advertising or culture, may hire a 14 yo. A work/training gig is the only exception. China puts the ban at 16 years. Surprisingly, there are countries that don't specify what age they consider unemployable.
What's the Working Day Length Like Everywhere?
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD's 2022 report about its 36 member countries revealed interesting facts about the most advanced nations, such as the US, Germany, UK, and Australia, as well as the rapidly-developing and emerging ones, like Mexico, Chile, and Turkey. For instance, its data show the work day is the longest in Mexico and shortest in Germany.
But before we can understand what long and short mean, we need to keep two things in mind. First, it's essential to see how the OECD actually measures a workday. Secondly, the estimates are relative. Therefore, a country may consider a 40-45 hour workweek acceptable while another may frown on it due to its lengthy nature.
The OECD Work Hour Calculation
The OECD calculates the number of hours an individual works with the same formula, irrespective of the country the latter belongs to. They also include both self- and otherwise employed workers in their estimate.
So, the OECD calculation considers the total number of hours worked/year as the average annual work hours. According to them, actual working time includes the following:
- Regular full- and part-time working hours
- All-year-round and part-year workers
- Additional working hours for side hustles
- Overtime--paid and unpaid
What doesn't make into their list as they calculate the annual working hours is:
- Leaves of all kinds, including annual, maternity, parental, compensation, sick, etc.
- Time off on public holidays or due to inclement weather, strikes, and labor dispute
- Temporary disability or injury-based time off
- Days off for additional training
- Sabbaticals for educational purposes
- Slack work, including for technical or economic reasons
Working Hours based on Income Levels
Below, you'll find how bad things are in developing or emerging countries when it comes to working hours and their GDPs. As you'd expect, the two have an inversely proportional relationship. Well, imagine my surprise in finding out that wasn't also true for income-based working hour distribution! For instance, the high earners in the US—more than $120,000 annually—worked for almost 4 hours longer than those in the bottom 10%. What was even more astounding was this applies to other countries too!
Additionally, the survey bundled the respondents' proper jobs, side gigs, other jobs, and over time into what it termed work instead of going by their job descriptions! As the wealth and income gaps increase globally, this unexpected graph indicates the high fliers aren't necessarily working more hours to get paid more bucks. Therefore, it is possible they're using the time they have more productively!
Countries with Relatively Longer Working Hours
So, if we stick with the OECD's definition, we may say most Mexicans spent more than 40 hours working during each week in 2020. On the other hand, the number of working hours for Germans was close to 1,300 in 2020, resulting in a 26-hour-long workweek. Even when the Polish workers put in almost 7 hours a day—the highest in Europe—their workweek was still shorter than that of the Mexican workers. And while Kiwis do have shorter workweeks than many other OECD members, they were still on-site for more than 32 hours/week.
While those are the extremes, the annual average is around 1,687 hours or 33.5 hours/week, according to the OECD.
Countries with Relatively Shorter Working Hours
So, we know there are OECD countries with extra-long workweeks. Is the reverse also true? And, more importantly, when can we move to one of them? For instance, Germans worked close to 800 hours less in 2020 than their Mexican counterparts. Then there are places like the Netherlands, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark where the workweeks are as short as 26-28 hours.
The Global Implications of Workweek Length Disparity & Low Productivity
Both tables clarify the workers in poorer countries must put in a lot more work every week as compared to the richer OECD members. Consider that in light of the economic progress all those nations have seen in the past two centuries.
Cambodians and Burmese (Myanmar), for instance, put in a huge number of work hours and still end up being citizens of the poorest countries in the world. Consequently, they must battle two different kinds of poverty at the same time:
- Consumption poverty, i.e., the inability to afford food, medicine, and other necessities
- Leisure poverty, i.e., low productivity, leaving no time for relaxation or even spending on pursuits to improve their condition, such as education
Thus, it's obvious it's not their work ethic that's keeping these people away from prosperity. After all, they put in more hours than most. Instead, it's the circumstances and opportunities they lack that are keeping them stuck in the quagmire. Imagine any one of the success stories we've all been inspired by. What would life have been like for them if they hadn't been born in a rich OECD country? Would their smarts or potential have been sufficient to let them climb the steep mountain of inequality?
Finally, try thinking of what inventions and discoveries we're all missing out on just because the exceptionally talented are also underprivileged. Having to make a living in any of the poorest countries may keep them busy enough that they don't get the time or opportunity to realize their potential!
Therefore, raising productivity levels across the world won't just be increasing production. Instead, reductions in working hours will also usher in more prosperity.
The Personal Implication of Work Hours & Productivity
The situation gets dire the more hours you put in at work after crossing the ideal 38. In fact, your productivity rates begin falling after crossing 50 hours. Five more hours across the line and productivity takes a nosedive! Additionally, you compound the damage to your health if you do not take at least a full day off every week.
Moreover, humans don't keep working with consistency hour after hour. At most, people can put in their best efforts for 3-4 hours/day. For those of us doing mentally draining jobs, the window is even smaller, i.e., 2-3 hours. So, what should you do to give your best at work?
The best ways of dealing with our very human failings include:
- Determining your peak productivity time and sitting down to work only during those hours. Project management is much easier with timegram. The tool generates daily productivity reports. Go through a week's worth of those—or more—to catch on to the emerging pattern. You'd get more done—and do it better–when you start using your peak productive hours to the max. Therefore, you won't be forced to utilize extra hours for task completion.
- Don't work on all seven days, and attempt to keep work at bay on your off days.
- Track your performance on a task-by-task basis. That way, you'll know how much time to assign to particular projects in the future. Again, timegram can help here since it integrates time tracking with task allocation.
- Experiment with various work schedules and time budgeting to create the best working cocktail for yourself!
Not to be missed: How to Make Productivity Reports Dead Simple
Will the Future Be Remote?
The last few years have brought on some new necessities employers must notice and allow for. For instance, check out the results of a two-year-study by Great Place to Work:
Employers who feel like they may lose control over their workforce should look at the boost that productivity levels received after employees started working-from-home. Moreover, with tools like timegram, keeping an eye on your remote team's performance becomes easy and straightforward.
Additionally, it enables companies to fish in increasingly bigger talent pools, no matter their location.
Since returning to an all-from-the-office routine is problematic for many employees, it may be time to look beyond asking them to readjust.
Challenges of Tracking Modern Work Hours
It's becoming difficult for many employers to track their employees' working hours. One reason for that may be because accuracy is critical for effective hour tracking. Those guys, though, are still expecting pen and paper or spreadsheet methods to do the job that requires sophisticated software.
Other factors include:
Time tracking cannot be equated with time spent behind desks anymore. More than 70% of Americans, for instance, work from home these days some or all the time. Hence, employers need to look at other metrics to determine employee performance.
Allocating time worked on a project-by-project basis is essential for cost management and ROI calculation. However, employers cannot do that without adding off-site and remote work their employees may be doing.
Ill-Defined At-Work Categorization
Different roles have cropped up in the past few years. For instance, some jobs have evolved so that the employees-in-question must remain on-call 24/7. In such instances, determining their desk hours can get complicated. That's doubly true for workers who are on standby but may or may not be present at their workplace. Does it count as working if their employers want them to stay at or near the workplace? What about the restrictions on being awake during those hours? Do the standby hours fall outside of their normal work hours? And so on.
Another difficult case is employees who travel for work, such as caregivers and sales reps. Their time is bound by the company during commutes to and from their appointments. Many of them don't work out of an office but instead visit homes to carry out their jobs. So, how can employers track their employees' time when the former isn't even in the workplace?
Similarly, time-in-class should count towards the working hours of employees doing job-related training. The training could be employer-sponsored or employer-mandated. It could also either be during their usual working hours or take place without.
In other cases, the classes aid in the personal development of the employees-in-question. However, if they attend with the employer's permission, will the time be a part of their working hours or not? Navigating all those complications can be headache-inducing for employers.
Finally, working lunches are the norm in various industries. Since taking a client to lunch, for instance, is actually work, it should be a part of that employee's working hours. Tracking those hours can be difficult for an employer.
Adapting to the New Way of Working
We mentioned peak productivity hours above. Companies must start focusing on those rather than how many work hours their employees are putting in. The more in sync an employee's work rhythms are with their work schedule, the more productive they will be. In short, the optimization of productivity levels will require organizations to do some out-of-the-box thinking.
Whether it's for your team or individual use, it's essential to understand how they—or you—function. Only then can you find the best-for-you productivity tool or design the best-for-your-team business practices.
Working with timegram
Even if work does feel like it's never-ending, how much we actually work and how many working hours there are in a year aren't the same. Your team, for instance, may seem like a productive fam, but are they also logging in enough average work hours per year?
Put your team's collective hours to the test to check that. You may even dig a little deeper to find how many average hours your team's logging in a week—or work out the numbers of individual team members.
What's more, timegram makes it easy to monitor the performance of teams on the road. This powerful reporting tool lets you assign individual to-dos to each member. Once managers have the data sheets, they can judge a team member's engagement and performance levels.
Finally, employers can reduce some of their burdens by letting the team members handle their own time tracking via this tool. The latter may also choose which activities they think presents their productivity in the best light and only add those to their time sheets. It should be empowering for the employees-in-question and liberating for their managers.
What's Your Working Schedule?
So, now you know how employees work everywhere and how productivity has the potential to change the world's economy. Want to ensure you and your team are tracking every valuable minute at work? Then try our all-in-one remote team time- and project management system, aka, timegram. Get customized task-based time reports, view the day's highlights, and emphasize only the hours spent on productive tasks. Discover how much your team works on a daily and yearly basis. Then compare it with productivity levels around the world to see how well yours measures up.
What are the average working hours around the world?
For most countries, the standard weekly working hours fall between 40 and 44. There are exceptions, of course, such as 35 hours (France) and 105 hours (North Korean labor camps).
Which country has the longest working hours in the world?
The most overworked countries in the world are Mauritania, Egypt, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Qatar, Lesotho, Bangladesh, and Kenya. The working hours in these places are between 48 and 53 per week!
What country works 32 hours a week?
While the Spanish government is experimenting with a 32-hours-long workweek that won't affect workers' compensation, the Dutch are already going beyond. Netherlands' average work hours per week are 29.5!