How Long the Typical Work Week Is Around the World

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the length of the workweek in the United States, with many workers forced to move to part time or otherwise change hours as a result of largely remote work. 

Some companies — both in the United States and in other parts of the world — have already made the choice to move to a four-day workweek. Tech giant Google recently announced plans to consider the idea of a flexible workweek after the pandemic is brought under control, requiring employees to be in the office three days a week and allowing them to work from home the rest of the time.  

It will take some time before we know what the work week will look like post-pandemic, but no doubt it will likely vary widely from worker to worker, company to company, and sector to sector.

It is not, however, just industry and company that determine the length of the workweek. The country where one lives and works plays an important role in how much time people spend at the office. Differences between national labor laws, work culture, industry composition, unemployment, and poverty all affect how much people work, on average, in one country compared to another. In some of the more affluent nations around the world, the average workweek for full-time employees is well under 40 hours, but it is close to 50 hours in others.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the typical number of hours worked per week among full-time employees in 43 mostly affluent nations from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We listed these countries from the shortest typical workweek to the longest. 

National differences in workplace laws and conventions have a major impact on how much people actually work. In the United States, any time worked over 40 hours per week is considered overtime and must be compensated at a higher rate by law. Other countries vary in their legal full-time workweek length. France, which has one of the shortest average weekly hours worked on this list, in 2000 shortened its workweek from 39 hours to 35.

A number of the countries on this list with shorter workweeks also happen to have substantial government-mandated vacation time. These are the countries with the most vacation time

People work to earn a living, and in countries where earning a living wage takes longer, working hours tend to be longer. In Chile and Mexico, which have among the longest average workweeks on this list, average annual wages adjusted for U.S. dollars in 2019 were $26,916 and $17,594. Meanwhile, countries like Denmark and Norway, which have average wages in excess of $50,000, have among the shortest average workweeks. 

The United States is a notable exception to this rule — with a high average salary but also a relatively long average workweek. This in part can be attributed to the country’s high income inequality — the high average national income is skewed by high-earning Americans and ignores the millions of struggling Americans — and also to the country’s labor laws and practices that are unique among highly affluent nations. The U.S. is one of the few affluent nations to have no federally mandated paid time off. It is the only country in the OECD, and one of the very few in the world, to offer no paid maternity leave.

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