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How Many Hours Are We Really Working?

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average annual hours worked by employed people in 2020 were lowest in Germany at 1,332 (25.6 per week). Americans work an average of 1,767 hours (34 per week), while Canadians work 1,664 hours (32 per week). Among other places experimenting with four-day workweeks, those in the United Kingdom work 26 hours per week, Spaniards work 30 hours per week, and the Japanese work 31 hours per week.11

When you look at these numbers, it would seem that the average American who is age 16 or older already has almost the equivalent of a four-day workweek, and workers in some other countries have even more free time.

But if you look at the U.S. data more carefully, you’ll find that high school- and college-age workers pull down the average. In 2020, 16- to 19-year-olds worked an average of 24 hours per week, and 20- to 24-year-olds worked 34 hours per week. Individuals ages 25 and older worked 39 hours per week on average.12
Benefits of a Four-Day Workweek
The fundamental goal of a four-day workweek is to improve workers’ quality of life. By working fewer hours overall and having three full days off, people have more time for personal priorities like these:

  • Spending quality time with family, friends, and pets
  • Caregiving
  • Doctor appointments
  • Personal development
  • Education
  • Travel
  • Hobbies
  • Home maintenance and improvements
  • Life admin

But there has to be something in it for employers, too. Companies that truly put their people first are the exception, not the norm. (By one count, there are only 69 as of this writing—with criteria that include diversity/inclusivity, flexible schedules, remote work, and a 40-hour-or-less workweek.)13

These are the benefits that employers might expect from giving employees more control over their time:

Increased sales14
Reduced employee burnout and improved employee retention15
Lower operating costs for an office (unless the company is already all-remote)
Larger applicant pool for open positions10
A shorter workweek may have environmental benefits from reduced commuting and traffic congestion.

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