The average Frenchman works about 18 hours per week, the average Italian – close to 17. Even Europe’s biggest workaholics – the British – don’t work as much as Americans (21 hrs a week for the average British compared to 25 for the average American). Europeans have been astonished by the amount of time Americans are willing to spend in the office - how can Americans not want to take off a whole month in the summer to go on a vacation? Well, workers in Japan are even more extreme when it comes to work. If you are thinking about getting a job in Japan – think again! Japanese workers are known to work about 12 hours a day! Yes, you can leave at 5.30pm when the day is over but you might get many bewildered and disapproving looks.
What is better? Having a huge paycheck or having the time to enjoy a vacation with family and friends? The Swiss who take about 16 weeks of vacation per year would tell you to go enjoy some time off, whereas the Japanese would be mortified by such an idea when there is so much that needs to be done.
On a personal level, people have different preferences – some strive for higher paychecks, others for a more relaxed life. These personal choices affect the economy of the country however. The United States reported a much higher GDP per capita than the European nations. However, it is at the expense of more stress, and less time to spend with family and friends, which leads to people becoming less social. Japan has become the fastest aging country in the world with its government hoping that this problem would be resolved by forcing people out of the office at 5.30pm twice a week by turning the heat and lights off. In the mean time, Europeans remain stress-free when they enjoy vacations with friends while paying sky high taxes and facing huge unemployment.
This proposes a dilemma: higher productivity or more relaxed employees? If workers are more relaxed, they will come to work with fresh minds and new ideas which is what we need in today’s economy. However, less work hours mean smaller paychecks which gives people less of an incentive to do their best at the workplace.