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Working 9 to 4.30

10 May 2010

People in OECD countries are working slightly shorter hours than they used to. In 1998, they worked 1,821 a year; a decade later, that had fallen to 1,764. Over a 40-hour week, that amounts to a cut of just under 90 minutes. The reasons for the fall vary, but they can reflect factors like policies that promote flexible working for parents.

The longest hours worked are in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea and Portugal; the shortest are in France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. Based on the headline numbers, the difference between the country with the longest hours, Korea, and that with the shortest, the Netherlands, is 867 hours – divide that by 52, and it’s about 16 hours a week. But an important note: International comparisons need to be treated with caution as the nature and reliability of data sources vary greatly between countries. 

The numbers presented here go up to 2008 (the most recent year for which such data is available), so they predate the recession in most countries. How will future data reflect the slowdown? These figures represent the hours worked by people who have jobs (and not, say, all adults of working age), so they won’t really be affected by rising unemployment. That said, workers’ hours do fall during a recession: Cutting back on overtime or asking staff to reduce their hours can often be the least painful option for businesses suffering falling demand. Governments may also seek to encourage short-time working over job cuts: During the crisis, many countries have introduced schemes to do just that.

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