American workers spend more time on the clock than employees in other developed countries, and it adds up: U.S. workers typically put in 400 more hours on the job every year compared to our counterparts in Germany.
A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is a U.N. agency, finds that the average number of working hours per year was higher in the U.S. than in six developed countries used in the study’s comparison: Australia, the U.K., Sweden, Belgium, France and Germany.
For much of the 21st century, Australians worked more than Americans, but that switched several years ago. Of these countries, Germans work the least — a total of about 1,350 hours per year, on average.
In the U.S., workers clock an average of about 1,750 hours per year, the ILO report shows. That figure has declined over time: In the ‘50’s and ‘60s, average working hours per year were closer to 2,000 in the U.S., according to the report. Even so, the average 40-hour-per-week employee in the U.S. is working 400 more hours annually — the equivalent of 10 more weeks — than employees in Germany.
However, the study shows employees in several major countries the U.N. classifies as developing, including China, India, Republic of Korea, work more than Americans. In China and India, average working hours are above 2,100 per year, and those numbers have increased in the past five decades, which is not the case for any of the other countries in the study.
Overall, work-life balance is best in Europe and North America. "Average hours of work per week were clearly the longest in Asia and the Pacific, particularly in Southern Asia and Eastern Asia," the report says. "In contrast, the shortest average hours of work per week are found in North America and Europe and Central Asia, particularly in Northern, Southern and Western Europe. The other regions of the world lie somewhere between these two extremes."
The comparison only includes four developing countries, the last being Brazil, where employees work less than they do in America. It’s also important to note that the report may not exactly reflect the current situation because the study uses pre-pandemic data.
Too many employees are overworked, U.N. agency says
At the global level, the ILO report argues that far too many people are working excessively long hours, even though average working hours in many developed countries have been trending downward.
More than a third of all workers are on the job at least 48 hours per week, the report found. “Regular long hours of work remain a serious concern in most of the world today,” the report says.
"Overemployed" workers often struggle with work-life balance, and "overemployment" is associated with more health issues, alcoholism, family conflict, etc., according to the ILO.
In developing countries, workers are putting in these long hours because wages are low and they’re trying to make ends meet, the report says.
While that’s also certainly the case for many workers regardless of the location, the report states that in developing countries, many salaried employees have to work these hours because their jobs require them to take as long as needed to complete the tasks in front of them. Many overemployed workers say they'd prefer to work less, even if that would mean earning less income.
The report identifies underemployment as another serious problem. Underemployment puts people at higher risks of living in poverty, lacking benefits and having irregular schedules.
A fifth of workers globally have less than 35 hours of work per week, and a third of these workers are getting paid for less than 20 hours per week. Oftentimes, these workers want more hours but struggle to find opportunities, according to the ILO.
Preliminary data that looks at labor during the pandemic shows there was a minor increase in the number of people who were underemployed in 2020, though the levels fluctuated as economies reopened or reenacted restrictions. Likewise, the number of people working more than 48 hours per week decreased early in the pandemic, but then trended up again as the world recovered.
While the pandemic brought about an increase in remote jobs, giving workers more flexibility, it did not cause a major change in the length of the average workweek, according to the report.
“The decrease in long hours of work was not as steep as might be expected given the situation, perhaps in part because some products were in high demand,” the report says.