34.2

That’s the average number of hours worked per week per person in the U.S. And for all of the talk of the U.S. being a nation of workaholics, it is ranked number 13 on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s annual list of hours worked around the world.

Mexico had the highest average, at an astonishing 43.4 hours per week, per worker. In second place was Costa Rica at 41.9. I’ll have to admit that surprised me. Although I’ve never been to Costa Rica, my impression was that it was a tropical paradise where the people knew how to relax and take advantage of living in such a locale.

In last place was Germany, at 26.1. While that comes to just slightly more than 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, I think it is important to be aware of how the number is calculated.

According to the OECD, average annual hours worked is defined as the total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people in employment per year. Actual hours worked include regular work hours of full-time, part-time and part-year workers, paid and unpaid overtime, hours worked in additional jobs, and exclude time not worked because of public holidays, annual paid leave, own illness, injury and temporary disability, maternity leave, parental leave, schooling or training, slack work for technical or economic reasons, strike or labour dispute, bad weather, compensation leave and other reasons.

So for example, is a worker works 40 hours per week for 50 weeks (2,000 hours), and gets two weeks of vacation, then the average number of hours per week would equal 2,000/52 = 38.5

Thus, if a person in Germany works 40 hours per week for 46 weeks, and gets six weeks of vacation, then the average number of hours worked is 35.4 days. To get to the number noted above for Germany, the total number of hours worked in a year is 1,357. Assuming a 40 hour workweek, that is only 34 weeks of work per year, with 18 weeks off!

It should be noted that the list does include part-time workers, which will also bring the average lower.

This makes it hard to precisely compare one country’s average working hours per week with another, because of differences in the number of paid holidays per year and the prevalence of part-time workers.

Despite that, employers and employees should be aware of the dangers of working too many hours.

A number of studies have demonstrated that working beyond a certain point is related to a variety of negative health outcomes including coronary heart disease.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, contends that workplaces have created a “lose-lose” situation in which employees are losing their health and companies are losing their output. After a certain point, worker productivity decreases, which suggests that extreme overtime might not be the best idea anyway.

You’re also more likely to make mistakes when you’re working when you’re exhausted, and you’re certainly less likely to be creative or productive.

South Korea has lowered its maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to 52 hours. One of the reasons for such legislation was to improve work-life balance. The power at Seoul City Hall is also turned off on Friday evenings to encourage employees to go home.

Limiting work hours is one solution that should be accompanied with other strategic initiatives, like paid family leave and paid sick time, according to Ellen Kossek, a professor of management at the Purdue University Krannert School of Management.

So perhaps the U.S. isn’t as bad as we’ve been led to believe.

The 34.2 hours per week works out to be 1,780 hours per year, which if we assume a 40 hour work week, is only 44.5 weeks of work per year. That leaves 7.5 weeks per year as vacation time, which seems pretty reasonable.

And while that’s no match for Germany’s 18 weeks of vacation per year, it’s better than Mexico, where if we allow for just one week of vacation, it means the other 51 weeks per year need to average 44 hours per week.

P.S. I realize I am playing quite loosely with these numbers, because of the inclusion of part-time workers in the statistics, but I think some broad comparisons can be made.

P.S.S. Of course, none of this matches my nine hours per week teaching schedule, 30 weeks per year…

 

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