How the UK works versus the rest of the world

With more than half of British workers claiming they have experienced symptoms of overwork and a further 4 million already working over 48 hours each week, the work-related stress and long-hours culture has encroached our society. But if you think that we have it bad in the UK, spare a thought for some of our colleagues around the world. 

This article looks at how the UK’s working culture compares to that of other nations and after reading, you may just find that we actually have very little to moan about.


Working hours

The average Briton works 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, giving their employers an average £4,955 of free work every year, according to the TUC. Indeed, more of the UK’s workforce put in “excessive hours” (defined as more than 48 hours per week) than any other developed country, according to a study published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). And, despite the EU’s Working Time Directive imposing a 48-hour working week limit for all member states, the UK remains exempt with an opt-out clause allowing employees to work beyond 48 hours of they wish.

In the developed countries, the UK leads the pack with 25.7 per cent (7.7 million people) of the workforce working over 48 hours a week – half the number of workers in Peru.  After the UK, Israel (25.5 per cent), Australia (20.4 per cent), Switzerland (19.2 per cent) and the USA (18.1 per cent) make up the rest of the top five nations reporting a long-hours culture. But, compared to some nations, the UK gets off relatively easily.

According to the ILO, 22 per cent (600 million) of workers around the world work in excess of 48 hours every week – most of these workers are from the developing nations. And, among those countries with the highest incidence of working ‘excessive’ hours, Peru tops the list with 50.9 per cent of workers – twice the number of UK workers – followed by the Republic of Korea (49.5 per cent), Thailand (46.7 per cent) and Pakistan (44.4 per cent). At the opposite end of the scale, our Dutch and Norwegian colleagues work the fewest hours at 29.7 and 34.5 hours per week respectively – not bad work if you can get it.

Hourly earnings

Not only do the Dutch and Norwegians have the shortest working weeks, they also earn the highest wages. Workers in Norway, for instance, earned an average £19.76 per hour compared to the £12.96 per hour earned by the average British worker in 2005, according to the Chartbook of International Labor Comparisons, produced by the US Department of Labor. 

The report also revealed that the poorest paid workers were Mexicans, who earned a miserly £1.33 per hour – the equivalent cost of a standard loaf of bread – despite having the third lowest unemployment rate in the world. However, this marks a significant growth of 4.5 per cent per year in earnings for Mexican workers – a sign that the Mexican economy is gaining strength.

In terms of annual growth rates, the UK and Republic of Korea enjoyed the most significant growth rate in wages with an annual increase averaging at 6.4 per cent each between 1995 and 2005. But the country that experienced the worst rate was Japan with a negative growth rate of -0.8 per cent, followed by Singapore (0.1 per cent) and Taiwan (0.6 per cent).

Unemployment rates

In terms of regional variations, the Middle East and African nations still have the highest levels of unemployment in the world with the ILO estimating that 487 million workers still live below the US$1 per person, per day poverty line, while 1.3 billion workers (43.5 per cent) still live below the US$2 per day threshold. Indeed, in 2006, South Africa had the highest unemployment rate in the world at 26.6 per cent, according to the ILO. And in Europe, Poland had by the far the highest unemployment rate at 17.7 per cent, followed by France (9.9 per cent) and Germany (9.1 per cent).

Accordingly, the initial impact of the credit crisis in the early part of 2008 is likely to result in an estimated 240,000 fewer new jobs in the region. However, it seems that slower growth will be offset by the strong economic and jobs growth in the tiger economies of India and China who, together, make up more than one-third (37 per cent) of the world’s population. At the other end of the spectrum, Cuba and Thailand shared the spoils having the lowest rates of unemployment in the world at 1.9 per cent each, followed by Mexico (3.6 per cent), South Korea and New Zealand (3.7 per cent each).

Annual economic growth rates

The UK economy was at its strongest for years in 2007 but, that didn’t halt the exodus of 207,000 people – one every three seconds – leaving the UK with Australia, New Zealand, France and Spain being the most popular destinations. Indeed, despite enjoying an economic boom last year, the UK’s average annual growth rate for the ten years to 2007 lagged behind many other countries. The Republic of Ireland and Spain led the European contingent with growth rates of 3.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively. Whereas Singapore and Mexico’s growth rates outpaced the rest of the world with 2.7 and 2.0 per cent respectively, according to the Chartbook of International Labor Comparisons.

Educational attainment

The Labour Government’s rallying cry Education, Education, Education since they entered office in 1997, has resulted in more people obtaining a university education to the point that the UK now has the third most educated workforce in Europe. Indeed, 29 per cent of UK workers have a university qualification compared to 35 per cent and 32 per cent of Swedish and Danish workers respectively. The Italians and Portugese have the lowest number of university-educated workers, whereas the Mexicans have the highest percentage of working adults without a secondary school education.

Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, director MacKenzie-Cummins Communications – leading the way in cost-effective PR for the recruitment industry.

About yourcareermatters
CareerMatters was founded as part of MacKenzie-Cummins Communications in 2006 by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins MICG (Member Institute of Careers Guidance), regarded as one of the UK's leading career's advice and guidance writers and specialist PR consultant for the UK recruitment industry. Since 2006 Paul has been the leading advice writer for and - the two biggest careers website in the world -tackling all aspects of workplace and management issues, job seeking, career change and hiring trends. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 his writing contributed to Monster winning the Best Employment Advice on the Internet Award for an unprecedented three times beating the likes of The Guardian, Learn Direct and Personnel Today on each occasion. And his work was a runner-up for the same award in 2009. In 2009 Paul was a nominee in the prestigious HR Journalist of the Year Award and Recruitment, Retention & Motivation Journalist of the Year Award. Paul has been commissioned to write more than 500 careers advice and guidance articles for a number of lpublications, from regional and national newspapers to industry publications and various career-specific websites in the UK and USA. Recently, Paul was the Technical Editor for career psychologist Dr Rob Yeung's Job Hunting & Career Change for Dummies (John Wiley & Son, 2007). Dr Yeung is better known as the TV psychologist for Channel 4's Big Brother and the BBC's Who Would Hire You? series. Clients include: MSN Careers (Europe) TheLadders TotalJobs IntaPeople Recruitment Lifetracks/YouthNET MediaSalesJobs The Press Gazette

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