Do you think you work too hard? You’re not alone, if the popularity of Ryan Avent’s piece on working hours is anything to go by. But leaving the office earlier can bring more benefits than just additional time for one’s personal life. Data from the OECD, a club of rich countries, tell a positive story about its impact on your efficiency at work.
The graph below shows the relationship between productivity (GDP per hour worked) and annual working hours. More productive workers put in less time at the office.
For instance, the Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.
What’s going on here? It may show that people who work fewer hours are more productive. If you are forced to be in the office for 12 hours straight, you may get distracted from completing the task at hand; but if you know you can only be there for seven, you might be more focused. Workers who take it easy may also be less stressed. These ideas are not new. Adam Smith reckoned that: “[T]he man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly, not only preserves his health the longest, but in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of works.”
It may also be a question of economic development. In richer countries, people are more productive (they have more capital employed per worker, better infrastructure and better governance) which means that they can achieve higher output in a given amount of time.
There are aberrations, of course. Americans are relatively productive and work relatively long hours. And within the American labour force, hours worked by the rich have risen while hours worked by the poor have fallen.
Overall, though, maybe we should be more self-critical about how much we work. Not only is it good for the soul; it may be more efficient.