Long hours and headaches

OECD Observer

While there has been a century-long movement towards a shorter workweek, this trend has slowed in recent decades and appears to have stopped in a few countries.

In the past few years, a renewed interest in working conditions has emerged. This includes concerns that changes in work practices, more flexible work arrangements, atypical contracts and work up-skilling may be degrading certain aspects of the quality of working life. Working conditions overall have improved in OECD countries, though some hazards or stress-related illnesses are reported to be more common now than in 1990. According to the European Survey of Working Conditions (ESWC), some 42% of the workers stated that they do not think they will be able to or want to do the same job when they are 60 years old.

Long hours of work can be onerous and may place a worker’s health at risk or interfere with family commitments. While there has been a century-long movement towards a shorter workweek, this trend has slowed in recent decades and appears to have stopped in a few countries.

The most typical weekly schedule is around 38 hours, but the proportion of individuals working more than 45 hours per week is quite large, exceeding 40% of working men in Greece, Iceland and the UK. The share of men working very long hours appears to have increased over the past decade in nearly half of the OECD countries for which data are available. The largest increases in the share of men working 45 or more hours per week occurred in Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Belgium. Working very long hours is a little less frequent for women than for men. However, the share of women working very long hours also increased over the past decade in some countries including, notably, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and the UK.

©OECD Observer No 238 September 2003

Economic data


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