Work-life balance in different countries: are you a lazy worker?

Written by Nick Cryer.

‘He’s so lazy!’  How often is this heard in offices around the world? ‘Lazy’ may be a common word but it’s one we love to apply to others.  From colleagues to couples to international accusations against lazy countries, people can be quick to judge others’ work rate.


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Work-life balance is one of the most important matters to put the spotlight on when designing government labour policies

The "truth" generally accepted

While arguments over unfinished tasks rage in workplaces and homes around the world, some of the angriest confrontations can be seen at a national level. For example: when Greece suffered its financial crash, European media and politicians were quick to point the finger at the ‘lazy’ Greeks.  Stereotypes abound; the Spanish siesta instead of getting their work done, the French spend the summer on the beach instead of working in the office.  On the other hand, East Asian cultures are thought to be more dedicated. The Japanese language has a word for death caused by the long hours of their dedicated ‘salarymen’ (karōshi) and in Spanish, busy people are said to be ‘working like a Chinaman’.


The actual truth. Confronting stereotypes

Is there any truth to these ideas? Is the world famous German manufacturing industry built on the hard work of its workers? Would the USA have risen to the top without American sweat? A team of researchers has sought to answer these questions, calculating the annual average working hours of people in 38 countries.


Results shattered widely held stereotypes.  The country working the most hours, the average worker clocking 2228 hours a year, was Mexico.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was the nation working the fewest hours: Germans were found to work only 1366 hours per year. Spain, Italy and Japan were somewhere in between, averaging around 1700 hours per year.


Smart work is not an equivalent to laziness

Is this a case of working smarter, not harder? Does the attractive work-life balance seemingly offered in Germany make workers there more productive?  Calls for a four day week are growing, with researchers claiming that taking a three day weekend would come with a range of health benefits without harming the economy.  I don’t think it’s lazy to expect enough free time to enjoy our lives and spend time with our families.  It’s smart, not lazy, to work efficiently and leave the office before the sun goes down.  As winter sets in and the days get shorter, I’m sure that’s something everyone can agree on.



The Guardian

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