In the United States, we often consider "9-to-5" (9am to 5pm) to be the typical office day. Most U.S. workers work an average of 34.4 hours per week. Around the world, however, many people work longer hours. Cultural attitudes, workplace laws and conventions, and socio-economic factors, among other influences, determine the number of hours employees are expected to work. Additionally, some people need to work longer hours to provide for their personal or familial needs. The hardest working countries in the world are not necessarily the wealthiest countries.
Employees who work longer hours do not necessarily earn highger annual wages than those who work shorter hours. For example, the average worker in the Netherlands makes $54,262 annually, working 37.3 hours per week, but the average worker in Portugal earns $25,487 working 40.7 hours per week. In terms of sheer hours worked, developing countries tend to outpace developed countries. In fact, several developed countries are experimenting with a 4-day work week with the goal of enabling their citizens to enjoy a healthier work/life balance and avoid becoming overworked.
Top 12 Hardest Working Countries in the World (by actual weekly hours worked per employee, ILOSTAT):
While several European countries work less than 40 hours per week on average, that is not the case or feasible in other countries worldwide. In the United States, many full-time employees struggle with work-life balance and often pass up vacation time to get more done in the office. However, American workers may be surprised at the average number of hours workers put in in other countries every week.
Top 10 Hardest Working Countries in the OECD:
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental collective of 38 developed and mostly high-income countries, whose collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $57.9 trillion USD comprised just over 60% of the global GDP of $96.1 trillion USD in 2021.
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The people of Mexico work much harder than any of their fellow OECD members, clocking in an average of 2,148 hours per year at work. Although Mexico has labor laws that limit the workweek to 48 hours per week, it is rarely enforced because of high unemployment and low pay. Mexico is one of only two countries in the OECD (along with Turkey) that is considered a middle-income country.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is the second-hardest-working country in the OECD, working an average of 2,073 hours in 2021. Because of a high poverty rate and a relatively high unemployment rate, Costa Ricans must often work very long hours to provide for themselves and their families. However, the number of hours worked had decreased from 2016, when workers clocked in 2,204.7 hours in a year—the highest number of any OECD country in recent years.
On average, Chilean workers clocked in 1,916 hours in 2021, about 155 more than American workers. Despite a legal limit of 45 hours per week, roughly 16% of all workers work more than 50 hours a week. Chile suffers from very high social inequality, with the wealthiest 20% of the population bringing in approximately $31,000 per year and the bottom 20% taking home barely $2,400 per year.
4. South Korea
South Koreans worked an average of 1,915 hours in 2021. Since 2015, this number has gradually decreased from 2,083 hours, partially thanks to the government passing a law requiring workers to take time off. The law is a response to the country's declining birth rates and productivity and is intended to give people time to start families, improve living standards, and create more jobs.
Greece is the second-hardest working country in Europe, logging an average of 1,872 hours in 2021 (the non-OECD country Russia was first in Europe with 1,874). The Greek economy was heavily impacted by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. Greece's high budget deficit and public debt, combined with huge losses of tax revenues due to systematic tax evasion, caused the country's debt-to-GDP ratio to skyrocket. This, in turn, wreaked havoc on the country's national debt level and credit terms and (among other effects) caused the unemployment rate to rise very quickly. While Greece now appears to be on much more stable financial footing, the unemployment rate is still relatively high, at 16.3% in 2020, which often forces those who are employed to work longer hours to make up for unemployed family members' lost wages.
The Polish people worked an average of 1,830 hours in 2021. While the average workweek is under 40 hours, about 10% of working men work over 50 hours per week. Annual wages are relatively low in Poland, around $29,109 per year.
7. United States
The United States was the seventh-hardest-working country in the world in 2021. The U.S. worker averaged 1,791 hours, just below Poland. Unlike their European counterparts, American workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave or paid maternity leave. Workers in the mining and logging industries work the longest hours in the U.S., often averaging 44 hours per week or more.
Not only did the Irish average 1,775 hours worked in 2021, a record 2.55 million people in Ireland were employed as of Q2 of 2022, which set a new national high. The largest job growth—39.2% year-on-year—came from the accommodation/hospitality and food service sectors, which were recovering from COVID-19-related restrictions. Early numbers indicate the weekly hours worked may rise by as much as 9% nationally once 2022 totals are tallied.
In 2019, Estonia was one of the top performing countries in the European Union in terms of labor market participation and employment. The 2020 COVID-19 lockdown had a detrimental effect on employment rates (as it did everywhere in the world) and economic performance, but Estonia seems to be recovering quite quickly compared to the field. Estonians worked an average of 1,767 hours in 2021.
10. Czech Republic
Workers in the Czech Republic work an average of 1,753 hours in 2021. While this number computes to an average work week of just over 33 hours, some 5.7% of employees work mor than 50 hours per week. The average annual wages in the Czech Republic are about $26,962.
Israeli workers put 1,753 hours into their jobs in 2021. Israel has a large number of very skilled people in employment who work hard at their jobs. As one of the most innovative countries globally, Israel ranks second globally in intensity of R&D and has a deep pool of talent in the fields of STEM, research and development, and entrepreneurship.