Let me guess. You want to be happy. Me, too. But that long-standing idea that working fewer hours is some magic pill for joy--or conversely, that too much work is the quick route to the blahs--might just dissolve into nothing. That's based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the 2018 World Happiness Report (WHR).

As a starting point, as summarized in a blog and infographic from BambooHR, OECD data shows that the average number of hours worked per week in the United States is 34. This is despite the increasingly common assertion that people in America area working more than ever before--almost half of small business owners say they clock more than 50 hours weekly. America ranks #18 on the WHR.

So let's do some comparing, shall we?

Like those in America, people in Switzerland and Germany work an average of 34 hours a week. But the WHR ranks for the latter two countries are #5 and #15, respectively.

If you want to look at the data in a slightly different way, the country with the highest happiness rank (Finland) has workers clocking 36 hours on average. But workers are clocking that same number of hours in Italy, too, where the WHR is only #47. Or consider that Turkey and Columbia rank #74 and #37 on the WHR, even though they both have a work hour average of 48. And the country with the lowest average number of hours per week, the Netherlands (29 hours), sits at #6 on the WHR.

No matter how you slice it, the data reveals that there's really very little correlation between how much you work and your overall level of happiness. That's because, while your work of course does influence your life, there's a lot more to happiness than going to or staying away from the office. The WHR points out some of the factors they take into consideration in rankings, for example. The happiest countries support all six elements that support wellbeing (income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity).

And what's more, the WHR authors assert that

"a ranking of countries according to the happiness of their immigrant populations is almost exactly the same as for the rest of the population. [...] The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live, illustrating a general pattern of convergence. Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live. Immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration. The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives."

So here's the bottom line for you as an entrepreneur or leader: It's not really how much you're working, but why and how. It's context. You can be miserable working 20 hours a week if you're in crappy conditions, or you can be ecstatic working 80 hours because you've got great circumstances. And as your company expands and changes, you should be highly aware that reducing or increasing hours isn't a universal way to boost morale.

All this said, according to a 2017 market report, while you can't assume they're always the happiest, countries with the least working hours do tend to be ranked as the most productive. So let go of the idea that you have to work your employees to the bone to get amazing results. If they've met your goals in 4 hours instead of 8, that's to your financial advantage. Take only what you need to achieve rational, realistic goals and let them have control of the rest.

Published on: Dec 17, 2018