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Countries where people work least

As the global economic recovery grinds to a halt, many workers feel the increased pressure of holding on to their jobs and putting bread on their tables. Some may hold several jobs or simply put in more hours at work. Indeed, in 2011, for the second year in a row, the average hours worked per person increased in the United States. But this is not the case among all developed nations. In fact, while people in countries like the U.S. and Spain increased their hours worked, the average for developed nations fell slightly.

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Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its 2012 Employment Outlook. The outlook paints a picture of the current labor markets in 32 member states, most of which are located in the Europe. In several countries, the average hours worked per year has fallen by more than 20. Based on the OECD report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 countries where people work the least.

The average American worked 1,797 hours in 2011, or about 34.5 hours per week. In the countries on our list, the average hours worked was 1,611 or less, or the equivalent of 30 hours per week. In Austria, the average employed person worked just 1,330 hours, or a bit more than 25 hours per week.

Hours worked in some of these countries declined further over the past year. In Denmark, the average hours worked fell by 40 hours for each of the past two years. In Luxembourg, they fell by 51 hours between 2010 and 2011 alone.

The changes in hours worked on average can be affected, in part, by an actual increase or decrease in the amount of time full-time employees spend at work. However, a review of the data shows that part-time employment is also a major contributor to these changes. Of the 10 countries with the fewest average hours worked, nine were among the top 15 nations with the most part-time workers relative to the total working population, and four were in the top five. Netherlands has the highest proportion of part-time employees at 37.2 percent. That is more than double the OECD average. In the United States, only 12.6 percent of the total workforce work part-time.

The countries on this list are among the wealthiest in the OECD, which generally represents the more developed nations. Of the 10 countries with the fewest average hours worked, nine have the highest gross domestic product per capita. The exception is France, which has the eleventh-highest GDP.

Exemplifying the wealth of these nations, wages are also extremely high. The average U.S. worker earned a little more than $30 per hour in 2011. In these 10 countries, workers earned at least $31.27 per hour, and as much as $48.82 (in Denmark) per hour.

Mark Keese, head of OECD’s employment division, told 24/7 Wall St. that the wealth and productivity of a nation plays a large part in the structure of employment in the country. One component of this is the technological sophistication of industry. “Generally, richer countries can and should see reductions in hours worked ... basically, you have stronger productivity performance and eventually you’re replacing workers with machines, which allow you to cut back on the number of hours of work.”

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24/7 Wall St. reviewed the OECD’s 2012 Employment Outlook to identify the countries with the fewest hours worked in 2011. The 26 countries we reviewed were all members of the OECD. We excluded four because current data were not available. We also compared these countries via other metrics provided by the OECD, including GDP per capita, unemployment and a variety of other employment and quality-of-life data for 2011 or the most recent available year.

These are the 10 countries where people work the least:

1) Germany

  •  Average annual hours per person: 1,330
  •  Average working hours per week: 25.6
  •  Average wage per hour: $35.33 (7th highest)
  •  2011 unemployment rate: 6 percent

Every year since 2007, Germans had the fewest hours worked on average, with a low of 1,296 in 2009. One reason this number was so low is that in 2011 14.7 percent of all employees were temporary workers, while 22.1 percent only worked part-time, both above OECD averages. Those in permanent, full-time positions also had significant time for themselves, as only 5.14 percent of Germans work more than 50 hours a week, less than half the 10.86 percent of Americans who worked that much in 2011. The average German had 15.31 hours a day to devote to leisure, one of the highest figures among OECD countries. In 2009, the German government introduced a program that allowed companies to cut work weeks for employees, as opposed to firing them, in exchange for the government’s pledge to cover remaining wages.

2) Netherlands

  •  Average annual hours per person: 1,336
  •  Average working hours per week: 25.7
  •  Average wage per hour: $42.67 (4th highest)
  •  2011 unemployment: 4.4 percent

Workers in the Netherlands enjoy low levels of unemployment, high incomes and one of the smallest proportion of employees working 50 or more hours a week -- at only 0.7 percent. GDP per capita is also third highest among the countries we reviewed. In the OECD report, the Netherlands had the highest reported proportion of part-time workers in 2011 at 37.2 percent.

3) France

  •  Average annual hours per person: 1,392
  •  Average working hours per week: 26.8
  •  Average wage per hour: $34.26 (8th highest)
  •  2011 unemployment rate: 9.3 percent

The average annual hours worked for employees in France has decreased by nearly 100 hours since 1995. The French embrace their leisure hours, devoting an average of 15.33 hours to personal time, the fourth highest of the OECD countries reported. Some argue that French productivity is an issue, and compared to the average of 26 OECD countries reported, French workers spent about 17 percent less time at work in 2011. Yet, workers earned one of the highest average hourly salaries of the OECD nations, around $34.26 per hour.

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4) Austria

  •  Average annual hours per person: 1,431
  •  Average working hours per week: 27.5
  •  Average wage per hour: $36.63 (6th highest)
  •  2011 unemployment rate: 4.2 percent

Last year, Austria had a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, nearly half the OECD’s unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. Despite this low unemployment figure, many workers could not find full-time jobs as 18.9 percent were part-time employees, more than the OECD’s average of 16.5 percent. Whereas some Austrians worked few hours, still others did exactly the opposite, as 9.02 percent of employees worked more than 50 hours a week. Austria has high average wages, at $36.63 per hour -- well above the $30.30 per hour in the United States. However, wages only increased an average of 0.3 percent per year between 2007 and 2011, below the OECD’s average of 0.5 percent, while the number of hours the average employee worked has fallen by 3.7 percent during that time.

5) Belgium

  •  Average annual hours per person: 1,446
  •  Average working hours per week: 27.8
  •  Average wage per hour: $38.90 (5th highest)
  •  2011 unemployment rate: 7.2 percent

In 2011, Belgium’s annual unemployment rate fell to 7.2 percent from 8.4 percent in 2010. Not only does the country have an unemployment rate well below that of the U.S., which had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in 2011, but Belgians also work far less than Americans. Compared to 2008, when employees in Belgium worked 1,469 hours on average, by 2011 they worked 23 hours less. Meanwhile, from 2009 to 2011, the number of part-time workers rose from 18.2 percent to 18.8 percent of all employees. Many of those who took these new positions were women, who constituted 79.9 percent of all part-time employees in 2011. That was more than all but two other countries.

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