Around the world, the average workweek can range from less than 40 hours in length to close to 50 hours. High-income and/or developed countries with a cultural emphasis on work/life balance and adequate leisure/family time generally have shorter official workweeks (some as short as four days) and more vacation days. These countries also trend toward more generous overtime compensation, more worker-friendly regulations, more favorable parental leave laws, and an increased chance of landing on the list of the world's happiest countries. By contrast, countries with longer workweeks, fewer worker protections, and reduced amenities often rank as hard-working countries, but also tend to have a populace that is less happy and possibly overworked.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) tracks a wide number of labor statistics, including hours actually worked per week by both employees and employed people. While these two terms would be interchangeable in most cases, they have different meanings with regard to labor statistics. Employees are people serving either full-time or part-time in a traditional employment arrangement. Employed people, by comparison, include not only the aforementioned traditional employees but also self-employed individuals.
Countries with the Longest Workweeks (in hours — ILO 2022):
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Average Workweek by Country
As the Economic History Association points out, determining the average hours worked per workweek in a given country compared to another can be a challenging task due to differing philosophies on what activities qualify as work and who is considered a worker. However, with enough data to compile and consider, trends do emerge.
As a rule, more high-income countries such as Germany and France enjoy shorter workweeks than do middle-income and developing countries. It is likely that work weeks in the low-income and least-developed countries are the longest of all, at least for those people who can find work, but reputable data are often difficult to obtain.
Countries with the Shortest Workweeks (in hours — ILO 2022):
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Country profiles: OECD Countries with the shortest workweeks
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a group of 38 mostly European countries with a high quality of life that collectively comprised more than 60% of the global Gross Domestic Product in 2021. OECD countries are often at the forefront of quality-of-life and worker efficiency innovations, and often blend short workweeks with high productivity.
Another OECD country among those with the shortest workweeks in the world is Denmark, which also ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. Located in Northern Europe, Denmark is known for creating the concept of "hygge," pronounced "hoo-gah," which the country's tourism portal describes as "creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people." A July 2021 government report stated that Denmark is seeking to address a shortage of workers in fields including education, health care, IT, computer science, and engineering, as well as skilled positions including business professionals, bookkeepers, machinists, construction workers, and foodservice professionals.
Norway, another OECD country with a short workweek (and one of the world's best Human Development Index scores), is also seeking tech professionals such as software engineers and hardware developers, as well as engineers who specialize in the energy sector (oil & gas, wind, hydropower). Norway is also known to have the safest drivers in the world, which could serve as a comfort to professional drivers seeking to relocate.
Germany boasts one of the largest economies in Europe—and one of the lowest unemployment rates. While Germany has far fewer worker shortages compared to many of its European neighbors, professionals including software developers, electrical engineers and fitters, mechanical engineers, medical professionals, IT professionals, and economists have a good chance of finding work.
Another of the world's happiest countries, Netherlands has a profile quite similar to Germany's. Netherlands has quite low unemployment and is seeking workers in many of the same fields, with an arguably greater emphasis on civil engineers and ICT professionals.
Iceland is often considered the most peaceful country on Earth. The country's job market is small—the total population is roughly 340,000 people—and is in particular need of workers in the healthcare, construction, IT, and tourism industries.
Country profiles: Countries with the longest workweeks
Among the countries with the longest workweeks, the prevailing trend is that most, if not all, are economies that have yet to fully mature. Cambodia, for example, is still reliant upon foreign aid. However, World Bank points out that Cambodia's 80% rate of employment is higher than the average for East Asian countries (63%). World Bank further estimates that the Cambodian economy can continue to expand if the country diversifies its exports, better supports small businesses, improves integration between industries (for instance, by utilizing domestically produced fabrics in the garment industry instead of importing them), and emphasizes training to develop a more skilled workforce. All of these concerns could be classified as the growing pains of a still-developing economy, but one that also has promise.
Myanmar is in the process of evolving from an agricultural economy to one centered around industry and service. World Bank has determined that one major hurdle in this process is that the quality of jobs available has not yet fully caught up with this transformation.
Bangladesh has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is quickly approaching middle-income country status, with more and more people rising above the poverty level. However, work hours are still long.
Singapore has long workweeks but is also one of the freest economies and most prosperous nations in the world. In contrast to many countries with long workweeks, Singapore has a highly developed economy.
Another promising story, Malaysia's economy is growing quickly and ranks among the most competitive in the world. Malaysia may soon become a high-income country.