With the Covid-19 pandemic many of us have had to work remotely and adapt to new ways of doing our jobs, accompanied by increased pressure and responsibilities. Evidence suggests that long work hours can be detrimental to personal health, with workers having less time to spend on personal care, leisure, and with friends and family.

In an analysis of 37 countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) examined which countries are working the longest hours, and what percent of the population is working very long hours at 50 or more a week.

The country found to work the most hours was South Africa at 2 209 hours a year, which was also the fourth highest country for employees working 50 hours or more at 18,1%. Mexico came in second (2 148) with 28,7% working 50 hours or more. Costa Rica came third (2 121), however data wasn’t available for the percentage of employees working very long work weeks. Fourth was Korea (1 993) at 25,2%, and, surprisingly, fifth was Russia (1 972) with 0,1%.

Different cultural attitudes and socio-economic factors contribute to the number of hours workers are expected to work. South Africans have been labelled some of the hardest working in the world and are three times more likely to work a 60-hour workweek than Americans, although South African’s labour law prohibits employees being asked to work more than 45 hours a week.

Mexico’s long working weeks are attributed to internalised fears of unemployment and lenient labour laws, which means the maximum 48-hour workweek isn’t often imposed. South Korea’s long hours were introduced as an initiative to boost economic growth. However, with falling birth rates and stagnating productivity the country’s working hours have been reduced to allow workers to rest.

Are the hardest working the least happy?
The World Happiness Index is an annual publication of the United Nations rankings of national happiness based on responses from residents in that country. Of the 2019 data reviewed in this article, South Africa came in at the lowest with a happiness index of 4,72 – likely due to being overworked and not having much free time.

Mexico scored 6,6, Costa Rica 7,17, Korea 5,9, and Russia 5,65. It would appear that these countries have a relatively low happiness score, suggesting a link between happiness and hours worked per week.

Russia’s happiness score is at a three-year low, explained by no apparent life improvement. It would seem that as countries develop, we want to work less to become happier —  Russia’s Labour Ministry reported that a four-day work week would be beneficial; however, workers are opposed to this from fear they would earn less money.

Which countries work the least hours?
The country that was found to work the least hours was Germany at 1 362 hours a year, which was also one of the lowest countries for employees working 50 hours or more at 4,3%. Second place was Denmark (1 392) with 2,3% working 50 hours or more, third was Norway (1 416) with 2,9% working very long weeks, fourth was the Netherlands (1 433) at 0,4%, and fifth was Iceland (1 469) at a higher 15,1%.

It seems that countries don’t need to work long hours to get more work done —  Germany has been recognised as one of the most productive countries, striking the ideal work life balance while being 27% more productive than their UK counterparts. When considering the number of hours worked a week with low overtime rates, they scored relatively low in terms of happiness at 6,92 – close to the average.

Scandinavian countries are the happiest in the world, with Finland first at 7,77, followed closely by Denmark 7,6, Norway 7,55, and Iceland 7,49. These countries work lower work weeks with less overtime, although Iceland’s percentage of employees working very long hours is higher than anticipated. The employees – and the economies – are benefiting from the prioritising by these countries of life over work.

* This article was written by Lucy Desai, a content writer at QuickBooks South Africa, and slightly shortened for our newsletter.

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