Working Hours

As a wise woman once said: “Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’”, and decades on those words still resonate – they’re the standard core hours for most. But how do other countries stack up against the UK for time clocked up?

Who works the most – and the least?
Research by flexible office brokers Instant Offices found that, for average hours worked weekly, Mexico topped the list at over 43 hours per week. Coming in second and third were Costa Rica (42.88 hours) and South Korea with just under 41 hours per week, respectively.

By contrast, Germany works the fewest hours (just over 26), followed by the Netherlands and Norway (both just over the 27-hour mark).

The UK didn’t find its way onto either of the top 10s for the most or fewest hours. In fact, here the average hovers at about 31 hours, with Londoners working an extra 2 hours more per week.

Are longer working hours effective?
The standard 8-hour workday we know and love was borne out of social reform during the times of the Industrial Revolution. No more 16-hour days, campaigners said; time should be split between working, resting and leisure.

That’s more than reasonable, but instead of 16-hour workdays we expect 24-hour availability in our connected age. This means reinventing what we now accept as the wheel; countries such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and France are proving that you can get more out of less.

These countries have successfully pioneered new methods aimed at reducing employee interaction after hours: shorter working weeks, reduced hours on request under certain conditions, set hours for not logging into emails (imagine that), and extended leave. The results are an increased overall sense of happiness from employees, leading to better job satisfaction.

Meanwhile, we in the UK are getting squeezed by comparison, with barely enough time to run to Pret and back (between 15-30 minutes on average), suggesting the rising pressures of taking fewer breaks to appear more productive. Compare this to France, which ranked 5th on the list of fewest weekly working hours, with 28.50; employees take up to 2 hours a day for workday lunches.

So, what do we have going for us in the UK?
Compared to countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica, the UK’s work culture more obviously shows signs of softening towards less rigid working practices, such as the advent of more flexible hours. Instant Office’s research found that flexible working is pretty popular here, more than any other employee benefit – and, as you know, after 26 weeks of continuous work, employees can request it.

Also, maternity and paternal leave offer 9 months paid maternity leave and up to 52 weeks’ shared parental leave. This might mean we’re behind Germans and Norwegians (who enjoy 12 months’ maternity leave), but we’re streets ahead of the Americans, where they’ve no guarantee of maternity leave at all!

What will the 8-hour day look like in the future?
There’s a good chance it’s not going anywhere just yet. The classic 9-5 model is still new in the grand scheme of industry, but can seem old-fashioned in the face of remote working, flexitime, demands for better parental leave, and innovative approaches to productivity – 4-hour week, anyone? But those magical 8 hours still hold as a ‘core’ standard; a boundary we can all agree on and work from.

In any case, your business can only thrive on recognising individual needs. When it comes to your staff, what works for them can also benefit you.