Back to News

Who works harder?

In multi-national organisations that many of us work in, where colleagues are heading home for their supper while we brace ourselves for a busy day ahead, we couldn’t help but wonder – who works harder?

Do us Brits spend hours a day making cups of tea? Do Americans really spend their Fridays in the summer in the park? Do our counterparts in Asia really have a public holiday every other week?

At Danos Associates, with offices in Europe, Asia and America, we put the question to our teams.

But first, let’s look at the facts. Statistics show that people in Hong Kong work the longest hours* – on average 50.1 a week! Americans are said to work on average 38.6 hours a week and the UK 36.5.

But does hours worked equate to productivity? Apparently not. In fact, countries topping the poll on Index Points; Mexico, New Zealand and Ireland to name a few all have average and below average weekly working hours.

In fact, it’s the amount of hours worked that are leading some to question Asia’s productivity and there are calls for setting limits on their maximum hours. Exhaustion and stress account for higher numbers of sick days, errors, accidents, fatigue and even total burn out.

Fortunately for our American colleagues, we’ve heard (and I’m sure this is the minority of course) they have a trick or two up their sleeves when it comes to taking a little breather at work. If you fancy popping out for a coffee, just put your jacket on the back of your chair and your colleagues will just think you’re doing something very important elsewhere in the office.

And, when they only get two weeks holiday a year who can blame them? Two weeks is standard for most juniors to start on, and it can take a while to work up to the 20 days most people enjoy as a minimum in the UK. Americans can often feel guilty about taking holiday to the extent they worry that it will reflect negatively on them.

No wonder public holidays are such a huge thing. There’s even a day – Labor Day, dedicated to honouring the achievements of workers. But could celebrating the likes of 4th July, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas with such gusto cause a distraction? While we’re cheekily trying to pick apart who works the hardest it seems that any checking out in the run-up and aftermath of a major holiday is made up by working at 100mph and being super productive either in preparation for or out of guilt after a major holiday. Fortunately it would seem, given the hours worked, it is our Asian friends who are the real winners when it comes to public holidays with a whopping 16 to our 8 the UK and 10 in America.

What about the working day? While we in the UK trek in to the city from the leafy suburbs, up to 2 hours each way where a snowman can sneeze and throw the transport system into chaos, Asian workers commutes tend to be better placed to see them arrive at work on time. It is still expensive to live near the cities but other costs are lower which means that more people can afford to live closer to work – that and their transport system is arguably more reliable.

And the hours? Our American friends seem to be sitting in the best spot when it comes to time-zones dictating working hours with a more affable day starting at 7am until 4.30/5pm. Our Asian colleagues however have to work into the night to be available for conference calls or to respond to decisions from their overseas offices. The American’s end of day seems to be a hard-stop with a mass exodus as the clock strikes 5 while in the UK many of us are guilty of working way into the evening.

And lunch? While office workers in the UK are a nation of people who eat at their desks, our Asian colleagues are most likely to take a lunch break, particularly in Singapore, and often up to 2 hours! If we were surrounded by authentic Asian cuisine perhaps we would do the same.

Asia isn’t alone with it’s productivity coming under fire. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) UK productivity has fallen since 2007. With Brexit hanging over us and the uncertainty this is causing, many companies haven’t been investing in tools and processes that can make us more efficient. Another area cited as an issue is lower educational standards in scientific and technical fields. One would think that as a wealthy country and home to some of the best universities in the world, our talent pool would be plentiful but compared to other countries we do see shortages in engineering, software, data analysis and IT. Our engagement is also said to be a problem. In a recently survey by research firm ORC International, the UK was second from last when it comes to engagement. It seems we don’t feel encouraged to be innovative and fewer than half of us feel valued at work. Poor leadership was said to be a key factor.

So, who works the hardest?

Hours would suggest Hong Kong, productivity would say New Zealand.

Jane from New York would say America, John from London would say UK and Chan in Hong Kong would say Hong Kong.

We know that Economists and statistics show that more hours doesn’t necessarily equate to more productivity. The French have even recently introduced a new law banning out of hours work emails in this vein.

We’ve seen that how hard a person can work is impacted by many things and better results won’t be derived by simply cracking the whip harder. While there are factors that are unique to industries and countries, things that are crucial for productivity across the globe are investment, innovation, training, efficient processes and quality and motivating leadership.

We must be working hard. We see hardworking and talented individuals all around us and we’re driving our economies forward – even through turbulent times.

Enjoy your holidays everyone – you deserve it!


Statistics sources:

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Trading Economics

China Daily Asia

*Hours worked include full-time and part-time workers, excluding holidays and vacation time.