Standard working hours (2019)

In which countries people works the most hours? Do we work more or less than a hundred years ago? And does working more hours improve productivity?

Average annual working hours for USA, UK, Germany, Japan, and India

Working hours through history

Average work hours in developed countries fell from 3,000 hours per year in 1870 to between 1,500 and 2,000 hours per year by 1990. Full-time workers now work 20 to 30 hours less every week than in the 19th century.

But this long-term decline in average annual work hours has slowed down in almost all OECD countries, and occasionally reversed itself. Interestingly, the work time in primitive hunter-gatherer societies is much lower than in modern agrarian societies.

PeriodWork hours
Prehistoric (hunter-gatherer societies)4.86 hours per day (from 2.8 to 7.6 h/day)
13th century (adult male peasant, UK)1,620 hours/year
14th century (casual laborer, UK)1,440 hours/year
Middle ages (English worker)2,309 hours/year
1400-1600 (farmer-miner, adult male, UK)1,980 hours/year
1840 (average worker, UK)3,105-3,588 hours/year
1850 (average worker, US)3,150-3,650 hours/year
1987 (average worker, US)1,949 hours/year
1988 (manufacturing workers, UK)1,856 hours/year
world annual work hours world annual work hours

Working hours by country

Working hours is time spent in productive activities, whether paid or unpaid.

world annual work hours

Working hours in OECD countries

On average, a full-time employee in an OECD country works 1,734 hours per year, or 36.8 hours per week.

oecd average work week oecd hours worked

Working hours in EU

On average, a full-time employee in the European Union works 36.2 hours per week. By EU labor law, working hours are limited to 48 hours per week, including overtime (if permitted by national law, you may have an agreement with a staff member to work beyond the 48-hour limit).

eu annual hours worked

Working hours in UK

On average, a full-time employee in the United Kingdom works 1,538 hours per year, or 36.6 hours per week, which is below the average for OECD countries.

uk annual hours worked

Working hours in Germany

On average, a full-time employee in Germany works 1,363 hours per year, or 34.3 hours per week, which is far less than most other OECD countries.

germany annual hours worked

Working hours in US

On average, a full-time employee in United Stats works 1,768 hours per year, or 38.6 hours per week, which is more than other OECD countries. Europeans work up to 19 percent fewer hours annually compared to those working in the US. For Americans that's 258 hours extra per year, or about an hour per working day.

usa annual hours worked

Working hours by city

annual hours cities

Working hours by industry (USA)

weekly hours in USA per industry

Weekdays and paid time-off by country

Workdays and weekends differ by countries. In most of the world, the workweek is from Monday to Friday, but not everywehre. For example, in muslim-majority countries, workweek is from Sunday to Thursday. Also, some countries work six days per week and some have a 4-day workweek.

workday weekend country

Most of the countries in the world have laws setting the maximum length of the work week, except the United States. The US is the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave and does not guarantee its workers paid vacation.

European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year (some even go higher to 25 and even 30 or more days). Australia and New Zealand require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year, and Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off.

In addition to mandated paid annual leave, workers also get paid time off for public holidays. For instance, the US offers none, but most of the rest of the world's rich countries offer at least 6 paid holidays per year (while some countries like Cambodia and Iran offer 27 paid holidays).

In the absence of government standards, 23 percent of Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays. According to government survey data, the average US worker receives only about 10 days of paid vacation and about 6 paid holidays per year - less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world's rich economies

paid vacation time off

Productivity and overtime

A longer working week does not necessarily result in higher levels of productivity.

For example, workers in Mexico, South Korea, and Greece have some of the longest annual shifts on the planet, but their GDP per hour is among the lowest.

As productivity increases, working hours decrease. Actual workweek lengths have been falling in the developed world; every reduction of the length of the workweek has been accompanied by an increase in real per-capita income.

gdp per hour worked productivity annual work hours vs gdp per capita

Productivity has been increasing exponentially for more than a century. An average worker today needs to work a 11h/week to produce as much as one working 40h/week in 1950. But fast productivity growth has not necessarily reduced work time.

Productivity trend: Number of hours per week needed to produce as much as a 40-hour worker in 1950

Overtime is legaly regulated by most countries by a combination of regulations and collective bargaining. For example, in France, Portugal and Spain the influence of legislation is particularly strong; in Denmark, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom collective bargaining is considerably more important.

Regular overtime is both harmful to workers and unproductive. In contrast, statutory hours limits contribute towards enhancing productivity. Reasonable hours limits help to maintain workers’ health and thereby their productive capacity. They also function as an incentive for companies to modernize their work organization, including their working time arrangements, and to invest in improving their technology and enhancing the skills of their management and workforces.

For instance, France has introduced a 35-hour working week as a part of a labour law reform in 2000, where time worked after the standard legal limit of 35 hours is considered overtime. But even though the standard hours worked in a week have been lowered to 35, many occupations demand much more. The French bar association (CNB) says that 44% of lawyers in the country worked 55 hours or more a week in 2008.

The problem of long working hours is often linked with low wages, but not in all cases. For example, people who work more used to earn less, but today the trend is reversing. In 1983, the most poorly paid 20 percent of workers were more likely to put in long work hours than the top paid 20 percent. By 2002, the best-paid 20 percent were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20 percent.

References