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Work Culture: A Result of Your Country's Culture — and More

Author

Ben Eubanks

More by Ben
Author

Ben Eubanks

More by Ben

Work culture is the fundamental building block of an organization, making up the shared norms and language that create a cohesive workforce. While each employer has a different corporate culture, it's also true that each country has its own unique way of getting things done as well — which, naturally, trickles into the workplace. Germany is direct and industrious. America is heads-down, no-holds-barred — sometimes to a fault. France is struggling with defining its own workplace identity. Culture is a powerful force that influences how organizations function, and understanding culture elements on a macro level is key to harnessing the unique value it brings to each specific workplace.

Does Hours Worked Affect GDP?

Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as reported by TIME, has shown that the most productive countries are paradoxically those that do not work the most hours. For instance, Luxembourg citizens work an average of 29 hours per week (including all part-time and full-time workers), but the country's GDP per hour worked is $93, a full $25 more than the United States with its average working hours of 33.6. The general trend continues through to the bottom of the list, where Mexico sits at 41.2 hours and just $20 in GDP per hour.

It's worth noting that GDP depends heavily on what a country produces. A country exporting automobiles will likely see a higher GDP, on average, than a country exporting vegetables. At the same time, the productivity discussion is still relevant when it comes to exploring working hours and how to get the most from the workforce.

So, how can countries and their respective employers find the right number of hours per week to maximize productivity, and what other tools can they use to encourage people to get more accomplished? While a 40-hour workweek is standard in many countries, there are some that have modified their workweeks with varying degrees of success. In addition, some employers are using leave policies and overtime to modify behaviors and drive the desired work culture.

Experiments With Working Hours in Europe

Sweden

As Bloomberg notes, in a two-year test run at one Swedish health care facility to modify the workday to just six hours, the test facility actually increased costs, hiring more nurses to cover the fixed shifts with patients. While there were benefits to the staff and patients (higher satisfaction and patient care), the additional expense outweighed any intangible benefits.

The piece that isn't so clear cut is how this affected unemployment and its burden on the government. Sweden is a country that offers 300 days of unemployment insurance benefits to workers under age 55 and 450 days of unemployment insurance benefits for workers over age 55, according to the European Parliament. The increased costs at the test facility may have reduced unemployment, potentially offsetting some of the overall cost of the program.

France

France, another country exploring other options for increasing productivity through modifications of work hours, has seen an unemployment rate near 10 percent, according to Trading Economics. That was one reason for the country's original adoption of a 35-hour workweek, as noted by The Atlantic. At the time, the measure was credited with a major drop in unemployment, as jobs were shared across more workers. However, it's unclear if that credit should have been given to an expanding French economy. Last year's protests in France due to the elimination of the 35-hour workweek was a clear demonstration of the support for the law by some French citizens.

Germany

Germany is one of the countries that many point to when it comes to working fewer hours while remaining productive. This is attributed to many of the cultural differences, such as being incredibly focused at work, having a direct culture and generous leave policies for new parents, as The Huffington Post notes. The country also has set hours businesses can operate, potentially influencing the direct nature of the culture.

Are People More Productive When They Have Time Off?

In terms of vacation and paid leave, there is little data to substantiate some of the anecdotal thinking that people are more productive when they have time off, like Harvard Business Review explores. However, if we cross-reference OECD data with international paid leave laws, we see an intriguing picture:

  • Luxembourg ranks highest in terms of GDP per hour worked. It also requires employers to offer 35 days of leave per year
  • Mexico ranks lowest in terms of GDP per hour worked. It only requires employers to offer 12 days of leave per year

For comparison purposes, the U.S. is one of few countries that has no nationwide paid leave law, and it ranked fifth on the list of most productive countries. While paid leave is a great tool for employers to use, it also runs into the same constraints as working hours when applied to trades and professions that are client facing, like the retail, health care and restaurant industries.

Modifying Productivity Behaviors With Corporate Policy

On the corporate side, there are multiple levers employers can use to drive productivity. Those can include work hours, vacation and paid leave and overtime compensation.

Working hours have been explored, and the closest parallel for the U.S. would be examining the Affordable Care Act, which is the most recent federal legislation that has impacted working hours. The law requires employees working more than 30 hours to be offered health insurance, and many employers initially feared that they'd have to reduce working hours for some employees in order to avoid the expense of offering health coverage to some workers. However, The Brookings Institution reports that it's unclear if the law has had an impact on working hours.

Using working hours as a variable is most impactful in positions and professions that don't require 24-hour coverage, as in the Swedish health care example. This means white-collar, professional roles are best suited to modifications of working hours, especially those where there is no customer-facing aspect that would require a constant presence.

Does More Hours Worked Equal More Productivity?

Finally, overtime can be used as an incentive to get people to work longer hours. However, it's pretty clear from OECD data that the countries with the highest number of working hours are those that see some of the lowest productivity levels. This is true for Mexico, Korea and Greece, according to TIME. This seems to point to the fact that overtime, while providing a readily available resource for additional labor, is not efficient for increasing productivity and output.

It's clear that different countries maintain their own unique work cultures, but it isn't as clear what impact legislation has on those overall cultures. For instance, is a country that is more productive culturally more likely to enact laws that support that approach? Or are those workers going to be highly productive regardless of the legislation, creating value to drive the nation's economy?

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