“If you’re not planning to work on Saturday, don’t even bother coming in one Sunday,” is an old saying that is sometimes attributed to legendary workaholic Walt Disney. The subject of putting in long hours at work came up once again when Alibaba CEO Jack Ma wrote in his blog earlier this year about the “blessing” of working long hours, alluding to a long-time cultural norm in China of the so-called 996 workweek. That’s working from 9AM to 9PM six days per week, and in China, it’s so pervasive in society that some critics are starting to question it.
Because we recruit for a number of global companies, it got us to thinking about customs in working hours around the world and their implications on hiring in a tight labor market.
Nice Work if You Can Get It
You might think that the cushy confines of a contemporary office with ergonomic desk chairs, climate control and ready snacks and coffee represents a wild improvement from our caveman ancestors, but at least in terms of working hours, anthropologists would disagree. It seems that hunter-gatherer societies worked an average of two and a half days per week for around five to six hours a day, which perhaps is fair considering the risks involved in spearing prey and distinguishing between poisonous and nonpoisonous plants.
The agrarian and industrial revolutions led to a sharp uptick in working hours, and of course the advent of electric light meant that workers could toil around the clock.
The Origin of the 40-Hour Workweek
Spurred on by a lack of labor regulations and mass scale industrial production ramping up, workers in the late nineteenth century might rack up sixty hours per week. Thankfully, Americans’ work hours have decreased steadily since then and are now around 33 hours per week for full-time employees. In Europe, the picture is somewhat different: Dutch workers clock an average of 27 hours, French workers 30, and Germans with the lowest average working hours per week at 25.6 hours.
The Four-Hour Workweek?
Digital technology has changed the game for workers across the world. And some writers, like Tim Ferriss, preach the value of outsourcing tasks you do not like so that you have more time for leisure pursuits. With a little planning and a strategic use of offshore workers, anyone can realize the benefits of a “four hour workweek.” In a larger way, some workers and companies are questioning the rigidity of the regular 40-hour work week and giving their employees more options and flex time. That can come at a price however, as many workers let responsibilities bleed into their home life and so-called “off” time.
Americans have some of the shortest vacation time around the world, an average of two weeks. And according to the website Glassdoor, only about half of workers actually take all of their vacation time. “Always on” culture means that workers parcel out their vacation days (sometimes using them for errands and other life needs) and do not get the benefits afforded by a longer break.
In much of Europe, standard vacations are much longer and usually taken in longer stretches of time, allowing workers to come back to the job refreshed.
How Customs in Working Hours Affect Hiring
Our specialty here at ACCUR Services is working with companies in Europe who want to establish or expand operations in the United States. Part of that role means that we help European companies navigate sometimes complicated and subtle cultural differences, and hours and working conditions can be a component that matters in compensation packages.
Another thing to consider is the tight labor market in the United States and how hours and working conditions affect the way an executive will evaluate a job offer.
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