Gallup recently released the data from their 2013/2014 Work and Education Polls, which states that only 50% of "full-time" workers in the US work 40 hours or less (on average). As you might expect due to overtime wages, this is more prevalent with workers paid on an hourly basis; 64% of hourly workers surveyed fit into this category, while only 40% of salaried workers did. Of those surveyed, 50% of salaried workers actually worked 50+ hours a week. The average number of hours worked by full-time employees over 18 years old was 46.7 hours for 2013/14 and has remained relatively stable since 2001/02.

But what about outside the USA? I've been hearing for years that European countries work far fewer hours than we do, so I decided to investigate. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 2011 data (comparing 32 countries, and not including the US), this puts us under Turkey, their highest-ranked country, which had employees working 48.9 hours weekly. The lowest reporting countries, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, reported 30.5 hours, 33.7 hours, and 33.9 hours, respectively. Other countries whose people reported working fewer than 40 hours (on average) included (from lowest to highest): Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, New Zealand, Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Estonia, Canada, Chile, Portugal, Hungary, Slovenia, and Iceland. (I also find it interesting to note that according to the International Monetary Fund 2014 estimates on GDP per capita by purchasing power, Luxembourg is the world's 2nd most wealthy country, and they report an average of 37 hours per week.)

What does this mean for business owners and managers?

On the one hand, it gives us a realistic view of what's happening in our world of work, which is useful to know when you're recruiting. Does your business keep strict watch over the hours worked? That could be a benefit to share with prospective employees ("we make sure you only work 40 hours so you have time to spend with your loved ones"), or it could be a warning to weed out potential underachievers ("the average full-time worker in the US works 47 hours a week, and sometimes we need our team to put in extra hours to keep us on the cutting edge").

On the other hand, it gives us pause when we consider the wellbeing of our employees. With the staggering cost of disengaged employees, longer workweeks could pose a problem for your company's bottom line. While Gallup reports that the length of the workweek is not as important to individual wellness as employee engagement, research, common sense, and anecdotal evidence tells us that most people are happier when they have more leisure time.

How can this knowledge benefit your company?

  1. Understanding current business trends can help you articulate your company's differentiators to potential (and current) employees.
  2. Using your new awareness, you can survey your employees to understand how their productivity and efficiency relates to their actual hours worked.

Assure them anonymity (so you get honest answers), and ask them these 3 questions:

  • How many hours do you work each week (on average)?
  • How many hours do you think you're truly productive each week (on average)?
  • What do you think interferes with your productivity?

Their answers will help you determine if a culture change is warranted for your business with regard to work hours.

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Published on: Sep 16, 2014