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Working Hours around the World:
A Global Overview

The pandemic has challenged the status quo of work culture as we know it. Let's take a look at what the current average work week looks like globally.

Katie Jones
Content Writer

“Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living,” as the famous song by music legend Dolly Parton goes.

But have you ever wondered why the 9 to 5 schedule became so popular? Is it the most effective way of working?

The concept started back in 1926, when Henry Ford introduced the 40-hour work week to his factory workers. This was a radical change at the time, as most workers were used to gruelling 12-hour work days. Ford believed that by reducing the work week, he would improve his employees’ productivity and morale… And he was right.

Fast-forward to present day, the 9-to-5 grind (or some variation of it) has become the norm for many countries.

But how do working hours differ around the world? Let’s find out.

Which countries have the longest work weeks?

These countries all have a long history of long working hours, and there are a number of factors that contribute to this, including cultural expectations, economic conditions, and the nature of the work.

According to the OECD, countries with the longest work weeks are the following:

  1. Colombia: The average Colombian worker works 47.3 hours per week.
  2. Mexico: The average Mexican worker works 46.7 hours per week.
  3. Costa Rica: The average Costa Rican worker works 46.5 hours per week.
  4. Chile: The average Chilean worker works 42.6 hours per week.
  5. South Korea: The average South Korean worker works 41.9 hours per week.

Which countries have the shortest work weeks?

Some countries already have their work-life balance in check, due to many factors such as different working cultures, employment rights, or higher wages.

According to the OECD, countries with the shortest work weeks are the following:

  1. The Netherlands: The average Dutch worker works 29.5 hours per week.
  2. Denmark: The average Danish worker works 32.5 hours per week.
  3. Norway: The average Norwegian worker works 33.6 hours per week.
  4. Switzerland: The average Swiss worker works 34.6 hours per week.
  5. Austria, Belgium, Italy: The average worker in these countries works 35.5 hours per week.

So, if you’re fancying a better work-life balance, northern Europe is the place to be.

Working hours in North America

Working hours in North America vary depending on the specific country and industry, but generally, the standard work week consists of 40 hours. Many full-time employees work eight-hour shifts, while part-time and flexible arrangements are also common. It’s quite common for workers in North America to work overtime. In the United States, the average worker works 10.6 hours of overtime per week, and in Canada, the average worker works 1.5 hours of overtime per week.

Overall, North America follows a work culture that values productivity, work-life balance, and adherence to labor laws governing maximum work hours and overtime compensation.

Working hours in Europe

The average working hours in Europe are considerably lower than in North America, with the average worker in the European Union working 37.1 hours per week. However, there is a great deal of variation, with Greece having some of the longest work weeks (39.7 hours) and the Netherlands having some of the shortest.

There is a growing movement in Europe to reduce working hours and improve work-life balance. This movement has been supported by the many successful trials of the 4-day work week.

Working hours in Asia

In many Asian countries, a standard work week is typically spread across six days from Monday to Saturday. These working hours vary greatly from country to country,  with South and East Asia clocking in the highest working hours.

In general, working hours in Asia tend to be longer than in other parts of the world. This is due to a number of factors, including the cultural emphasis on hard work and the competitive nature of the business environment in Asia.

There are also a number of countries in Asia where there is no standard working week. This is the case in Singapore, where the number of working hours is determined by the employer and the employee.

Working hours in Australia

Under Australian laws, employees work up to 38 hours a week, unless an employer asks them to work reasonable extra hours. In most workplaces, staff are not required to work for more than five hours without at least a 30-minute meal break.

Australia places emphasis on work-life balance, and various industries have adopted flexible work arrangements, including remote work and flexible schedules.

Which countries are embracing the 4-day work week?

Conversations around the four-day work week have gained traction globally since the COVID-19 pandemic, with employees and employers rethinking the importance of workplace flexibility and benefits.

Typically, high-income and/or developed countries with a cultural emphasis on the work-life balance generally have shorter official work weeks, with some now even introducing a 4-day work week.  

  • Belgium: In February 2022, Belgium became the first country in Europe to give workers the right to request a four-day week without a loss of salary.
  • Portugal: Portugal has joined the growing list of countries that are experimenting with a four-day work week, following in the footsteps of Belgium, the UK, and others.
  • Iceland: After the success of one of the world’s largest pilot of a 35 to 36-hour work week, Icelandic trade unions negotiated for a reduction in working hours.
  • Sweden: A four-day work week with full pay was tested in Sweden in 2015, with mixed results. The experiment was not renewed, but some companies, such as Toyota, chose to keep reduced hours for their workers.
  • Germany: Despite having relatively short working weeks, a majority of Germans are still in favor of a four-day work week. But so far, only smaller start-ups are experimenting with it.
  • Japan: In Japan, it’s the larger companies that are experimenting with a four-day work week, following the government’s announcement of a plan to achieve a better work-life balance.

For a more thorough look into employment laws in different countries across the world, check out our global hiring guides here.

Managing labor laws across borders can be overwhelming, as each country has its own set of regulations. Our team of friendly experts can help your business stay compliant with local laws by providing support and guidance throughout your global expansion journey.

Contact us today to find out more.

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