The world`s hardest-working countries - Forbes
Greece and Italy are also near the top...
If you thought you worked long hours, consider 39-year-old Lee from South Korea. A civil servant at the ministry of agriculture and fisheries, Lee gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day, gets dressed and makes a two-hour commute into Seoul to start work at 8:30 a.m. After sitting at a computer for most of the day, Lee typically gets out the door at 9 p.m., or even later, according to Forbes.
By the time he gets home, it`s just a matter of jumping in the shower and collapsing into bed, before starting the whole routine all over again, about four hours later. This happens six days a week, and throughout almost all of the year, as Lee gets just three days of vacation.
That`s right. Three days.
And did we mention Lee has a wife and three teenage kids? "I get to see them for 10 or 15 minutes a week, and then just on the weekend," he says of his children before adding that, on weekends, he usually gets interrupted to go to the office.
Lee, who sometimes has to sleep at the ministry of agriculture and fisheries by lying on top of his desk, might seem like a workaholic that needs to get his priorities straight. But his schedule is completely normal in South Korea, where the average employee works 2,357 hours per year--that’s six-and-a-half hours for every single day of their life. According to a 2008 ranking by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, South Koreans work the longest hours per year, on average, out of every other OECD member.
"It’s the culture," says Lee. "We always watch what the senior boss thinks of our behavior. So it’s very difficult to finish at a fixed time." Leaving at the official time of 6 p.m. could mean not getting a promotion or raise. What would happen if Lee took a month`s vacation? "My desk would surely be gone when I got back."
South Korea`s hard-working citizenry is not alone. Greece comes second in the OECD`s rankings with 2,052 hours worked on average each year, and just behind is a trio of Eastern European nations: Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The U.S. is also above the OECD average of 32 nations, coming at No. 9, with 1,797 hours worked on average each year.
One nation that is famed for a short working week is France, whose 35-hour week is currently in a state of flux. But even the French aren`t the OECD`s most leisurely workers: Bottom of the list are the tall and amiable Dutch, who work an average 1,391 hours per year, preceded by Norway and Germany.
Culture, as Lee says, is a big factor in the different working hours of nations, but types of employment and legal vacation time are also important. In some countries like the United Kingdom, which comes in at No. 20 on the list, the length of the working week is relatively long, says Pascal Marianna, an OECD expert in employment analysis and policy. But vacations are legally longer in the U.K., at 20 days, than in, say, the U.S., where employees get 10 days of vacation each year. The French get five weeks of vacation a year.
Greece and Italy are also near the top, at No.s 2 and 8, respectively, because of their large number of self-employed citizens. Mexico comes in at No. 7 for the same reason, along with the number of people who work in what Marianna calls "informal employment." According to the International Labor Organization, less than half of the world`s employed people enjoy the security that comes with a regular salary.
Another reason for the difference is government policies and, in particular, taxation. The OECD found that an increase in marginal tax rates, or the tax owed on every extra dollar or euro earned, can negatively affect the average of hours worked. That effect is felt most typically by women, who are often the second earners in households.
And what of the diversion between Europe and the U.S., which once provoked the head of the OECD`s Economic Department, Jorgen Elmeskov to ask if Europeans were "lazy" or Americans "crazy." It seems to be a changing picture.
Europeans used to work longer than their American counterparts in the 1970s, and it was only in the mid-1980s that the U.S. started to exceed them. Though working hours in both regions have eased back since the 1960s, they`ve fallen much more dramatically in Europe, by 23%, to 1,625 hours, today, compared with the 3% slide in American hours over the same time period. Some of the sharpest falls in working hours have been in Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg and France, according to the OECD.
As for the opposite extreme, South Korea, things are slowly moving toward the OECD norm after the Korean government introduced a five-day working week in 2004 for schools and companies with over 1,000 employees. But with the culture of hard work so deeply ingrained, change is slow. "A Korean`s identity comes from his title at work," says Michael Breen, author of The Koreans, explaining that employees often refer to each other by titles such as "office manager Kim" or "accountant Park," even outside the workplace.
"This is an authoritarian corporate culture," he adds. "It`s very bad form to leave the office before the boss does, so people will hang around doing nothing, and then when the boss leaves, they feel free to leave. ... Because of all of that, people don`t have much of a life."
Yet amid the current economic downturn, personal spending in developing nations, and rapidly industrializing Asia in particular, is seeing industrious citizens loosen up a bit. The OECD confirmed that South Korea is gradually converging toward its standard practices. "I am personally trying to reduce my working time and I try to reduce my stress," says Lee. "Korea has this kind of bad culture where we always think about the boss’ opinion. But we are changing."