The Shorter Workweek: What Are the Benefits and Which Countries Are Embracing Them?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 06: A Google employee works on a laptop before the start of a new conference about Google Maps on June 6, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Google announced new upgrades to Google maps including a feature to download maps and view offline, better 3D mapping and a backpack camera device called Trekker that will allow Street View to go offroad on hiking trails and places only accessible by foot. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Picture this. You wake up on a Monday morning and realize you only have three days of work that week. You have time to swim, do yoga, garden, cook, learn a language, build model trains, spend time with your kids — whatever pastimes tickle your fancy. Oh, and your bank account is looking as healthy as ever.

If this were the case, you’d either be living in the Netherlands (where there’s an average four-day workweek) or in Google co-founder Larry Page’s fantasy land. In a joint interview earlier this week with the Google’s other founder, Sergey Brin, Page suggested that the modern workweek is unnecessarily long when it comes to meeting those needs that actually make us happy. He pointed to housing, security, and opportunities for one’s kids as man’s key desires.  

Instead, he proposed more productive part-time work, allowing people time to pursue their other passions. In Page’s ideal world, employers would compensate their workers to allow them similar standards of living (Is anyone else finding this rather ironic? This is all coming from the co-founder of company that fills its office with perks —  free, on site haircuts, ping pong and billiards tables in break rooms, and subsidized massages — which are all likely to encourage workers to spend more time at the office).

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Is Page’s dream even possible? The U.S .has been hovering around a 40-hour average workweek since 1938, thanks to our increasingly lavish, consumption-filled lifestyles, according to CNN. This is a hilarious irony given the prediction of economist John Manyard Keynes back in the 1930. In an article entitled “Economic Possibilites For Our Grandchildren,” he suggested that technological advancements would allow men to adopt a 15-hour workweek. Get this: he actually thought we would have so much leisure time, we’d be bored. If only! 

Although America continues to trudge through a long workweek, here are some countries that have mastered the art of the shorter workweek.

The Netherlands

The four-day workweek is practically the standard in the Netherlands. Although the average workweek is 29 hours (the lowest average of any industrialized nation), they earn an average $47,000 per year, and are entitled to maternity leave, paternity leave, and fully-paid vacation time. Well played, Netherlands. But they’re not alone on that side of the world. Denmark and Norway function similarly, both with 33-hour average workweeks and numerous employee benefits.

Germany

Germans may be stereotypically known for their militance and extreme work ethic, but in recent years they've jumped on the famously-French vacation bandwagon. Their average workweek has fallen below that of France, and the Germans now work 394 hours fewer than the average American, per year — roughly the equivalent of 10 fewer work weeks. During the Great Recession, a governmental scheme called Kurzarbelt was implemented to partially reimburse Germans for switching to part-time work, a policy that allowed fewer workers to be laid off.

Switzerland

According to recent studies, the Swiss are some of the happiest people in the world. With an average 35-hour workweek and $50,000 yearly income, it’s unsurprising. About a third of all workers are part-time and 79 percent of the working-age population is employed. If it weren't for the paradoxically alarming suicide rate, everyone might be moving to Switzerland.

But wait! Before you draft a resignation letter, take a glimpse at the ridiculously long average work weeks of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea. In these countries, people work between 500 and 650 hours more than Americans, on average, per year. Ooft. 

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