Which Country Has the Most Productive Workers?
Germany is probably still celebrating the national team's recent World Cup triumph, but locals raising a bier stein in honor of soccer triumph might also consider sparing a toast for another (admittedly slightly less dramatic) first-place finish: Germany recently topped a ranking of the world's most productive employees, according to data from the OECD put together by collaboration tech company PGi.
OK, having the best ratio of GDP to hours worked isn't exactly as exciting as raising the trophy in Brazil, but it's still a noteworthy accomplishment and one American workers with their famously long workweeks might want to take note of. How did the USA fare in this ranking? Not terribly. Better than we did at the World Cup.
Of the countries compared by PGi, America came in third. Who took second place? Defying stereotypes, the French with their extremely generous vacation policies and reputation for taking time to enjoy life are actually more productive per hour worked than Americans.
While Americans are clearly not complete slouches on the international productivity front, the data should still give us pause about our long hours. Workers in the US put in more hours than nearly everyone but Koreans (who should perhaps do even more soul searching--the country ranks near the bottom when it comes to hourly productivity). And while many nations are moving toward shorter workweeks--Sweden notably just began an experiment in shorter workweeks and Germany has a policy of kurzarbeit, or shorter working hours, to fight unemployment and spread around available work--we still seem stuck in a cultural rut, boasting about our long hours at the office.
For decades, studies have shown the diminishing returns of consistently putting in more than 40 hours a week, while some economists (and Google founders) have repeatedly pointed out that with technology doing more and more of the heavy lifting when it comes to productivity, it might be wiser economically and socially (and hey, maybe even spiritually) if we all worked a bit less--say, 30 hours a week.
Perhaps we should take a look at the Danes, who work the fewest hours of any nationality, but consistently top global rankings of happiness (and aren't doing half bad economically either). "Here, if you can't get your work done in the standard 37 hours a week," one Dane told a Washington Post reporter looking into this data, "you're seen as inefficient." (The Dutch are also known for their contentment with shorter workweeks.)
If you're convinced that the Germans and Danes might be on to something, check out PGi's tips to help you start to get your long workweeks under control (and paradoxically probably increase your productivity) such as planning your time in advance, being more ruthless about prioritization, and protecting time for leisure activities as you would other important commitments.
What's your opinion of America's apparent love of long hours?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.