Working it out

Countries differ considerably in terms of the number of hours people work.

Despite the criticisms levelled at Greece, with some claiming that Greek workers are ‘lazy’, according to 2010 figures, the average worker in Greece worked 2109 hours per year – more than in any other European country. The average German worker worked 1419 hours and the average Dutch worker only 1377.

Internationally, amongst developed countries, Korea has the highest number of working hours per worker at 2193 per year. In the USA, the figure is 1778 hours and in the UK it’s 1647. (Click on chart below for a larger version.)

But working long hours does not mean working more productively. Generally the countries in which people work longer hours have lower output per hour.

The following podcast and articles look at the relationship between hours worked and productivity and consider which way the causality lies. They also look at related issues such as the proportion of part-time working and the length of annual paid holidays.

Hardest Working Nations (also at) More or Less: BBC Radio 4, Tim Harford talks to Jon Messenger from the ILO (18/5/12)

Who works the longest hours? BBC News Magazine, Wesley Stephenson (23/5/12)
Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe? BBC News Magazine, Charlotte McDonald (26/2/12)

Working Time around the World ILO, Sangheon Lee, Deirdre McCann and Jon C. Messenger (Routledge, 2007)

International Comparisons of Productivity – 2010 – Final Estimates: Statistical Bulletin ONS (6/3/12)
International Comparisons of Productivity – 2010 – Final Estimates: Data ONS (6/3/12)
Productivity Statistics OECD
Table 8: Average annual working time: Hours per worker Employment and Labour Markets, OECD


  1. Which countries tend to work the longest hours?
  2. Would cutting working hours, either through legislation or by agreement with companies, allow more people to be employed? Explain why it might be more complicated than this.
  3. What is the relationship between labour productivity per hour and the average number of hours worked per worker? Do people work longer hours because they are less productive or are they less productive because they work longer hours?
  4. Why factors determine labour productivity?
  5. Why may average hours worked be deceptive in terms of assessing how hard people are working?
  6. Why do US workers work more hours per year on average than UK workers?