The Economist had an article comparing the average work week across a number of OECD countries. Not surprisingly an Asian country – South Korea – led the pack, with America in the middle and Europeans at the end. The graphic here (from the article) summarizes the comparison quite nicely.
This got me to thinking as to what are “working hours”. Having worked in Asia and America I think a key distinction is that in Asia work is rarely bought home. Workers will stay in the office till late and work on weekends, but generally do not take work home – so the official “working” hours are longer. In the states, I have noticed and I do this myself, that I tend to come home at reasonable hour (6pm or so) and tend to get back on the laptop after the rest of the family has gone to bed at 10pm to catch up on work emails etc. Also, the widespread use and coverage of Blackberry devices has created a lot more mobile workers that tend to work at all hours of the day. Technically this would not be included in the “average working hours”, which are classified as time spent in the office. Anyway, I don’t have all the statistical samples and assumptions used to come up with the numbers in this study, so can’t confirm this hypothesis.
An another interesting inference from the figures would be to look at the immigrant workers in America, from the countries heading the list. From what I have seen in my local area, the South Korean community who own a lot of small businesses, are extremely hard workers. So perhaps long work weeks are as much a function of the workplace as that of the culture where someone is from.