Productivity and the 9 to 5 workday: are they incompatible?

Instant Offices looks at different work cultures around the world and how factors like working closer to home, a decrease in hours and extended parental leave are challenging ideas of the traditional 9 to 5 work environment.

Countries like Germany, Norway, Sweden and France are proving that you don’t have to work eight hour days or more to be productive.

Businesses in these countries offer alternative working options that aim to limit interactions with employees after hours, shorten the work week and encourage leave to be taken, and workers generally report higher levels of overall happiness and engagement.

To find out more, Instant Offices looked at different work cultures around the world and how factors like working closer to home, a decrease in hours and extended parental leave are challenging ideas of the traditional work environment.

Increased employee happiness

With UK workers believing that over 36 per cent of their time spent at work is unproductive, we look at what countries around the world are doing to encourage employee engagement and overall happiness.

Research points to the fact that employers reportedly find it easier to attract top talent with flexible working options and a better work life balance. UK employees voted flexible working a favoured benefit, with 35 per cent listing it as their top one.

Hours worked

Data shows that Mexicans work the longest hours, 64 per cent more than the country that works the least hours, Germany. Costa Rica and South Korea work the second and third longest hours, working 63 per cent and 54 per cent more than Germany respectively. What’s more, Germans, can request a reduction in their hours if they work for a company with fewer than 15 employees.

In Sweden, the introduction of six-hour work days was established to motivate employees to work smarter at work while having more time to spend at home. Sweden and Germany are not the only countries that believe the 8-hour work day isn’t as effective as some think.

Paid leave

Interestingly, the USA is the only country on our list that doesn’t guarantee workers any paid annual leave, and nearly one in four Americans has no paid time off. In Mexico, it’s not much better – after completing a year of employment, employees are entitled to only six days of paid holiday per year (increasing two days thereafter for each year worked). In some cases, employees in Mexico will receive ‘personal days’ in addition to annual leave.

As we already know, Germans have the highest amount of annual leave with a whopping 30 days off annually. In Norway, it’s 21 days each year and in Denmark, the average paid vacation allowance is five weeks. The Danish consider family highly important, so finding a balance for work and home is easy – they have the right to five weeks of holiday a year, of which three weeks can be taken consecutively during the school vacation periods to encourage time with children.


The UK is committed to transforming the modern workplace, and through several benefits and options for employees, the UK labour market has introduced some of the most diverse working patterns in Europe. After 26 weeks of continual employment with a company, workers in the UK can request agile working options, including anything from job sharing and shift work to part-time work or even working from home. In Germany, flexitime is a popular working arrangement in larger organisations, and is agreed between the company and the employee at their discretion.

Maternal and paternal leave

On top of no paid leave obligations for US employers, they also aren’t obliged to give paid maternity leave to their employees. According to a study done by the US Department of labour, the majority of paternity leave taken in the US is an average of ten days or less. To increase happiness and encourage productivity, many businesses offer initiatives like flexitime.

In Chile, Portugal and Italy, paternity leave is compulsory — men have to take time off work when their babies are born. German employees with new born children are able to take a break from work for up to 12 months, with an additional 24 months able to be taken unpaid. In the UK, mothers can take up to nine months paid maternity leave.

Norwegians enjoy a generous 12 months of combined paid parental leave. In the UK, parents also enjoy shared parental leave, allowing the parent to split leave to take at different times. A father is also entitled to two weeks paid leave when the baby is born.

Lunch time

French employee’s time spent working can be broken up with a generous lunch break that can last 2 hours, and some smaller businesses tend to close for lunch so employees can spend time with their families. Germans follow similar suit, often having full, sit-down lunches with colleagues, with a lunch beer not something that’s frowned upon. In the US, a lunch break is almost a forgotten concept, with most workers eating lunch at their desk, similarly to the UK, where a lunch break usually lasts between 15 and 30 minutes.

The Spanish, like the Germans, tend to eat their largest meal at lunch time, but the siesta isn’t as common any more. Office/lunch time napping is growing in popularity in countries like Japan – a trend that would seem to contribute to burnout rather than prevent it.


Labour ministries in Germany have banned managers from calling or emailing staff after work hours, except in an emergency, enforcing the idea that employees leave work at work when they go home. France followed similar suit when the country passed a law which requires companies with 50 or more employees to establish hours when staff will not send or respond to emails. In France, overtime is not generally part of the working culture – taking work home to do in the evenings or over the weekend is not common practice for regular employees, however senior staff are more likely to put in overtime. Regulations like these ensure that employees are fairly paid for work, and prevent burnout by protecting private time.

Through strict paid leave programmes, like compulsory vacation time, maternal and paternal paid leave, countries like Norway, Sweden, France, and Germany take a strong stand when it comes to preventing worker burnout. With the rise of family-friendly workplaces, the reduction of hours spent at the office and different ways of working being encouraged, a new culture is emerging that challenges the traditional 9 to 5.


Countries that work the most hours

Region Average hours worked weekly National Holidays in 2017 (days) Annual leave in 2017 (days)
1.     Mexico 43.19 16 6
2.     Costa Rica 42.88 11 12
3.     South Korea 40.63 20 15
4.     Greece 39.27 12 20
5.     Chile 38.23 14 15
6.     Russian Federation 38.04 16 22
7.     Poland 37.75 13 22
8.     Iceland 36.15 13 24
9.     Portugal 35.92 12 22
10.   Israel 35.73 9 14

Countries that work the least hours

Region Average hours worked weekly National Holidays in 2017 Annual leave in 2017
1.     Germany 26.37 11 30
2.     Netherlands 27.29 7 20
3.     Norway 27.38 10 21
4.     Denmark 28.02 11 25
5.     France 28.50 11 30
6.     Luxembourg 28.98 10 25
7.     Belgium 29.63 10 20
8.     Switzerland 30.58 5 20
9.     Sweden 31.00 14 25
10.   Austria 31.25 13 25

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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