The Good Life

The 10 European countries that worked the least in 2011.

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

The unemployment rate in the United States may be high, but compared to many other developed countries, Americans are still hard workers — and there’s data to prove it: According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a policy advisory group representing 34 of the world’s most developed countries, the average working American put in 1,787 hours of work in 2011, which makes the United States the 12th hardest working country in the OECD.

But does that really matter? As Charles Kenny writes for Foreign Policy‘s November issue, long hours at the office aren’t necessarily the ticket to wealth. There just doesn’t seem to be a correlation between hours worked and GDP per capita. So maybe it’s time to slip away from your desk early or take a vacation like they do in these 10 European countries — the ones that worked the least in 2011.

10. United Kingdom – 1,625 average hours in 2011

The British government is cutting back, and so are the Brits — in hours worked, at least. The average subject of the realm worked 27 fewer hours in 2011 than the year before. (One study speculates the shift is due to increased work flexibility and a move toward more part-time jobs.)

9. Luxembourg – 1,601 hours

Luxembourg has the highest GDP per capita in the world, clocking in at $106,958 a person. It didn’t bring in that money with long hours at the office, but if there’s a country that can afford to take the time off, it’s probably this one.

8. Austria – 1,600 hours

Despite their relaxed work schedule, Austrians have managed to sidestep the worst of the Eurocrisis, and they’ve done so while being a model for maintaining low unemployment figures. In fact, Vienna has hosted delegations from across the continent trying to learn Austria’s secret. Among those struggling countries trying to learn from Austria’s example is Spain, which despite its famous siestas doesn’t make this list — employed Spaniards average 1,690 hours of work a year.

7. Belgium – 1,577 hours

The Belgians have it pretty good — so good that the richest man in France has applied for Belgian citizenship. He’s trying to avoid French President Francois Hollande’s new taxes on millionaires, but even though he’ll be leaving France (which places fourth on this list) he’ll still have plenty of free time in Belgium. (And better chocolate.)

6. Ireland – 1,543 hours

Ireland’s economy has stumbled lately with growth flattening out and debts rocketing to the point that the Irish government has appealed for aid. The Irish government is doing its best to prevent protests — and well it should. Given where Ireland falls on this list, the Irish have plenty of free time on their hands to take to the streets.

5. Denmark – 1,522 hours

Not only do the Danes work less than most of the world, the working conditions when they do go to the office are pretty cushy. A British expat writing about Danish offices in the Copenhagen Post cites the myriad gourmet options at the cafeteria and expresses a common sentiment: "Some foreigners mention how Denmark can make you soft in the long-term."

4. France – 1,476 hours

Times are tough in France, where even the president observes the traditional month-long vacation in the mid-to-late summer. Early tourism stats suggest that France might be working its way down this list for 2012: The French took 10 percent fewer vacations in July 2012 than July 2011, and 4.2 percent fewer vacations in August, according to the French tourism ministry.

3. Norway – 1,426 hours

Norway is on the up and up, with new investments in oil fueling the fastest economic growth in Europe, despite having world’s third-lowest average working hours. According to the United Nations, Norway is also the third happiest country in the world. Coincidence?

2. Germany – 1,413 hours

Germany may be the engine of the European economy, but it doesn’t take much fuel to run. Germans average more than a week and a half less work a year than their famously leisured French neighbors.

1. Netherlands – 1,379 hours

Playing to stereotypes of coffeeshops and legalized marijuana, the Dutch work less than any other country — putting in a fifth fewer hours than Americans per year. The United Nations also named the Netherlands the happiest country in the world, which might have something to do with all that spare time.

J. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network.

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