Thursday, November 7, 2013

Do Americans Work Longer and Harder Than the Rest of the World?

For various reasons, the American workforce, or the American economy and businesses, are often compared to that of other industrialized nations. These comparisons are often done as a means to justify, one way or the other, an opinion or theory about whether our workforce is ahead or behind other countries on measures such as worker happiness, employment laws, benefits, and of course, productivity.

Recently, CareerBuilder surveyed workers in the 10 largest economies across the world to see how their workplace behaviors stacked up. A slightly different focus than other such comparisons, but interesting nonetheless. So, how do you compare?

Many of us in the working world have similar routines. Our commutes may vary, our work environment may vary, but Americans are generally pretty focused on our jobs and careers, next to our families.

In China and the U.K. the typical (based on the survey response) workweek is 31-40 hours. However, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil and the U.S. report between 41-50 hours per week.

It appears that American workers are leaning toward more of a casual dress environment than has been the case in the past. Only 11% of respondents report working in a business formal attire atmosphere; whereas India reports 50%. The next largest "formal" countries are China (38% and Japan (37%).

Do you socialize with your co-workers? The Chinese certainly do. 98% report attending happy hours or other social events with co-workers; Brazil was close behind with 93%. While certainly not unfriendly, the U.S. was toward the bottom on the list with 41% reporting hanging out with their work buds outside the office.

A rather pleasant surprise shows up in our preferences for communicating with each other. Despite the popularity and ubiquity of cell phones, and smartphones in particular, it still seems that we prefer face-to-face conversations over talking on the phone, or even digital (includes email and text). Fifty-nine percent of Americans prefer face-to-face conversations over phone conversations (30%) or digital means (10%). I have to admit those numbers surprised me, but in a good way! All ten countries surveyed showed similar preferences; although Brazil and Japan’s figures are more spread out among the three methods.

Are we leaving the office at the office? Eighteen percent of Americans report taking work home one day a week, while 26% say they never take work home. That seems to leave a pretty large number of folks who take work home more than once a week. But working folks in the other countries seem to be able to leave it all at the office in higher numbers than we do, with Japan leading the pack with 59% saying they never take work home. The others run between 30% - 40%.

How often do we take a break and get away from it all? Seems like the Italians need to chill a bit. 64% report taking only 0-7 days of vacation or other personal time in the last year. 46% of Japanese workers report taking 35+ days away in the last year; while 27% in the U.S. report 8-14 days off. Check out the infographic linked above for more details.

What does all this mean?

I’m not entirely sure. However, according to The Conference Board, the U.S. was the 3rd most productive country in 2012, behind Luxemburg and Norway (productivity = total economic output divided by the number of hours worked). While productivity in pretty much all industrialized nations has seen slowing the past several years, we are still showing strength in this area.

Are we happy? That’s a question that the The Legatum Institute has been studying for at least the past five years. It uses a mixture of traditional economic indicators alongside measurements of well-being and life satisfaction. The result is a list of 142 countries, covering 96% of the world’s population and 99% of global GDP, ranked from most to least prosperous. Legatum scores the world’s countries on entrepreneurship, personal freedom, health, economy, social capital, education, safety & security, and governance. You can see the 2013 results here.

Norway tops the overall list, as has been the case since 2009. The U.S. comes in at #11 (out of 142 countries). So, even though we seem to work more and longer than other countries, we’re still fairly happy with our lives, at least based on these measures. The U.S. scores better on this index that the other countries noted above whose citizens work fewer hours and take more vacation time.

I guess the only thing I can say that it’s clear that our happiness as workers, and maybe as a nation, is way more complicated than how many hours we work or how often we take vacations. When you look at the factors that Legatum measures, that is well borne out. Maybe we need to stop focusing so closely on just those few things and look at the bigger picture.

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