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We’ve all likely stayed later at work when we’ve been super busy or had to catch up on work, however sadly, in recent years, long working days and taking work home has become the norm for many employees. Not only is this causing employees to miss out on enjoying the pleasures of life and spending quality time with family and friends, but it also might not be worth it for your health or wealth.

Shorter weeks, greater productivity?

Last year, Microsoft trialed a four-day workweek, resulting in a 40% boost in productivity, suggesting that perhaps it isn’t necessary for employees to be working overtime. Putting their lives and soul into their job when the same amount of work can be done in a considerably shorter amount of time. Productivity can be enhanced through technology.  Some businesses may discover that the path to increasing productivity isn’t working hard but working smart.   With innovation in software, such as accounting software for small businesses,  business productivity is constantly evolving.

Here, we’ll look at different countries’ overtime and compare it to how well a company’s economy is performing to see if there’s a correlation. Will it be more favorable to work overtime in certain countries based on the hours they work a week?

The countries that are working overtime the most

From the data, South Africa’s workweek is the longest at 2,209 hours a year. Considering the long hours workers are putting in, their economy is worth $349.4 billion, the 10th smallest of the countries analyzed. South Africans have been hailed as some of the hardest working across the world. Research shows they are three times more likely to work a 60-hour workweek than their American counterparts, despite labor laws forbidding more than 45 hours a week.

long hoursMexico is also working overtime with the second-longest work week (2,148) with 28.7% working 50 hours or more; the third came Costa Rica (2,121) however data wasn’t available for the percentage of employees working 50 hours or more. The fourth was Korea (1,993) at 25.2%, and the fifth was Russia (1,972) with 0.1%.

Long hours and economic value

Mexico’s economy is worth $1.27 trillion, Costa Rica $57.06 billion, Korea $1.63 trillion, and Russia $1.64 trillion. Although Costa Rica’s GDP is relatively small in comparison to other countries, it is a small but stable country that wouldn’t generate trillions of dollars. In June 2018, South Koreans were forced to cut down on the hours they were working to introduce a better work-life balance and help boost the falling birth rate. With so many more Koreans previously working 50 hours or more a week than other countries, the GDP doesn’t outrank many others.

The country that works the least

Germany works the fewest hours per week at 1,362 a year, with 4.3% of the population working 50 hours or more. Considering a significantly lower workweek than other countries, Germany’s economy is the third largest at $3.86 trillion. At the start of 2018, millions of Germans won the right to reduce their workweek to 28-hours to help them achieve a good work-life balance and spend more time with their loved ones and doing things they enjoy. It seems that countries don’t need to work long hours to get more work done — Germany has been recognized as one of the most productive countries with a booming economy despite a cut in hours, striking the ideal work-life balance while being 27% more productive than the UK.

The second country to work the fewest hours was Denmark (1,392) with 2.3% working 50 hours or more. The third was Norway (1,416) with 2.9%, fourth was Netherlands (1,433) at 0.4%, and fifth was Iceland (1,469) at a higher 15.1%.

Presenteeism and long hours

Iceland has the smallest economy at $23.91 billion, followed by Finland at $251.9 billion, Denmark at $324.9 billion, and the Netherlands at $902.36 billion. A 2017 report found that Norway is one of the most productive countries despite having one of the shortest working weeks.

Lead researcher at Expert Market, Adelle Kehoe, said: “Our data has shown, both this year and last year when we first ran the study, that there is a definite correlation between a shorter working week and productivity.

“Countries that have shorter working weeks, in general, are more productive, whereas countries which have a culture of presenteeism and long hours get less out of their teams.”


Country Hours worked Employees working very long hours GDP
Iceland 1,469 15.1% $23.91 billion
Latvia 1,699 1.3% $30.26 billion
Costa Rica 2,121  (N/A) $57.06 billion
Luxembourg 1,506 3.8% $62.4 billion
Slovak Republic 1,698 4.1% $95.77 billion
Hungary 1,741 3.0% $139.1 billion
New Zealand 1,756 15.1% $205.9 billion
Finland 1,555 3.8% $251.9 billion
Denmark 1,392 2.3% $324.9 billion
South Africa 2,209 18.1% $349.4 billion
Norway 1,416 2.9% $398.8 billion
Belgium 1,545 4.8% $492.7 billion
Poland 1,792 6.0% $524.5 billion
Sweden 1,474 1.1% $538 billion
Switzerland 1,561 0.4% $715.36 billion
Turkey 1,832 32.6% $743.71 billion
Netherlands 1,433 0.4% $902.36 billion
Mexico 2,148 28.7% $1.27 trillion
Australia 1,665 13.0% $1.38 trillion
Spain 1,701 4.0% $1.4 trillion
Korea 1,993 25.2% $1.63 trillion
Russia 1,972 0.1% $1.64 trillion
Canada 1,708 3.7% $1.73 trillion
Italy 1,722 4.1% $1.99 trillion
France 1,520 7.7% $2.71 trillion
United Kingdom 1,538 12.2% $2.74 trillion
Germany 1,362 4.3% $3.86 trillion
Japan 1,680 17.9% $5.15 trillion
United States 1,786 11.1% $20.58 trillion

The bottom line

There’s more to life than work — hopefully, more countries will realize that long hours don’t necessarily mean productivity.

Here are 11 tips for maintaining a healthy work-home life balance. Click here.

About the Author

Lucy Desai

Lucy Desai is a content writer at QuickBooks, covering a wide variety of topics from accounting and finance, to business and software.


Em Sloane

Em Sloane

I am an introverted nature lover, and long time contributor to My role is to publish the information in a consumer friendly format, which we receive on the latest medical news, press releases and general information on the latest longevity related research findings.


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