In many countries around the world, the standard workweek for an office job is 40 hours: Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At least, that's how it used to be.
The traditional 9-to-5 is an antiquated model first invented by American labor unions in the 19th century. The concept went mainstream in 1926 when Henry Ford brought the 40-hour workweek to his Ford Motor Company assembly line workers.
Since then, the nature of work has changed significantly. We've got fewer people on assembly lines and more sitting at desks. More recently, technologies like the internet and video conferencing have spurred a shift to remote work, giving employees more flexibility regarding when and where they work.
The trend toward remote work has also encouraged a shift toward global hiring, which likewise influences the formerly “standard” workday. If your team is distributed from New York to Paris, Bali, and beyond, you have people in many different time zones. This makes it practically impossible to have everybody working the same hours.
A globally distributed workforce also requires companies to consider the norms around working hours in different countries. Not every country has a 40-hour workweek or a typical 9-to-5 day. Some countries don't even have a Monday to Friday workweek! Working hours can vary greatly by country.
For example, the United Arab Emirates long had a Sunday to Thursday workweek, in line with Muslim culture. As it globalized, the UAE shifted to the more globally accepted Monday-to-Friday workweek. Their government employees now work from Monday to Thursday, with a flexible half day on Friday (a sacred day of worship for those practicing Islam).
If you're a global employer, you need to be mindful of the cultural norms and societal traditions that shape the workweek worldwide. You can't automatically expect an employee in the U.S. to work the same hours as an employee in Abu Dhabi.
There are also local labor laws to consider. Countries have different rules regulating a “standard” workweek and how much employees are allowed to work. To comply with international working hours and overtime pay regulations, you need to educate yourself about the relevant legislation.
So, what do working hours look like for countries worldwide? This guide provides a primer, giving you the facts you need to better structure your expectations and relationships with international employees.
A country-by-country guide to working hours
While 40 hours may be the norm in some places, like the U.S. and the U.K., it isn't the case everywhere. Here's a quick rundown of the average weekly working hours by country.
In Mexico, employees can legally work 48 hours per week. Employees can also do up to three hours per day of overtime to a maximum of nine hours per week. This overtime is paid at the standard rate. Employees who work more than this are entitled to overtime pay that's three times the regular hourly rate.
The standard workweek for full-time employees in Spain is 40 hours. Employees are limited to working nine hours per day unless an alternative agreement specifying otherwise is in place. Overtime is allowed, but employees can't work over 80 overtime hours yearly.
Canadian work schedules are similar to those in the U.S. The standard full-time employee works eight hours per day for 40 hours per week. Employees who work more than 44 hours per week in Ontario are entitled to overtime. In Quebec, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week. Overtime is generally calculated as 150% of the regular rate.
The standard workweek in Brazil is 44 hours. Any hours beyond this need to be compensated as overtime at a rate of 150% of the regular pay, and employees can't work more than two hours of overtime daily. Brazil is a popular country for companies hiring internationally thanks to the high level of skilled talent in technical fields like software development.
The standard workweek in Argentina is 48 hours. Employees are limited to three hours of overtime per day. Total overtime can't exceed 30 hours per month or 200 hours per year. Overtime is paid an extra 50%, and employees who work on holidays are paid an additional 100%.
In Germany, employees usually work 40 hours per week. The country's labor laws also require 11 hours of rest between work days. Overtime is only possible if expressly stated in the employee's contract. There are also caps on overtime payment, which vary by region.
The standard workweek in Japan is 40 hours. Employees who work beyond this are entitled to overtime at a higher rate. The overtime rate depends on when the overtime occurs. General overtime is an additional 25%, for example, while overtime on weekends and holidays is an extra 35%.
South Korean employees are accustomed to a 40-hour workweek. Anything more than that is classified as overtime, which has to be paid at 150% of the regular wage. That number jumps to 200% if overtime exceeds eight hours. While there isn't a daily cap on overtime, weekly overtime can't exceed 52 hours.
The standard workweek in Colombia is six days, with eight hours of work per day. That adds up to 48 hours total per week. Overtime is limited to two hours daily or 12 hours weekly and is paid at an increased rate of 125% of the standard wage for daytime work and 175% of the typical wage for nighttime work.
Employees in India work 48 hours per work, usually eight to nine hours per day. Overtime is required if employees work more than this. The overtime rate is double the rate of the person's usual pay.
In South Africa, the workweek is 45 hours. Employees can work up to ten hours of overtime weekly. If they earn below a set amount, employees get 150% overtime on weekdays and 200% overtime on Sundays. People earning above a set amount aren't entitled to extra pay, but can't be forced to work overtime without a prior written agreement.
The typical Australian workweek is 38 hours. Additional hours may be possible if considered “reasonable.” However, these extra hours must be previously negotiated between the employer and employee. Opting out of these requirements is impossible, even if an employee wants to.
Which country works the most hours?
So, where do people work the most? Based on data from our global hiring guides, a few countries stand out with 48-hour workweeks, including Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and India. However, just because this is the standard workweek doesn't mean that employees are working that much.
According to global data from the OECD, Mexico is where people work the most in practice, not just in theory, clocking in with 2,128 hours per year. After that comes Costa Rica (2,073 hours per year) and then Colombia (1,964 hours per year).
Every country has its own labor laws, some being stricter and others more lenient than global employers may be familiar with. As an international employer, you want to ensure that you're respecting local labor laws, or you risk facing legal troubles and repercussions, like fines.
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