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Hard at work

For the first significant period of time since the end of World War II, annual output per American worker has exceeded that of their Japanese counterparts. According to the International Labour Organization or ILO, last year output per worker in the US grew by 2.8%, more than double the rate of 1.1% in Japan. And perhaps surprisingly, given the notoriously high tech aspects of the Japanese economy, a significant element of this improvement was attributed to more efficient use of information technology in the United States. In particular, the ILO pointed to growth in the wholesale, retail and financial sectors in the US,
all of which rely Increasingly heavily upon IT.-----Another reason, however, is simply the longer hours worked in the US. Whilst annual hours worked per person in Japan have declined sharply over the last fifteen years, so that they are now roughly at a level with America, in the US the level has remained relatively static. And whereas in the USA the average
worker can expect to put in some 1,825 hours per year, across the Atlantic averages in France and Germany are 1,545 and 1,444 hours respectively.-----So perhaps it is not surprising that the output figures for the European Union as a whole did not fare well in the study, with an average growth in output of just 1.2% per worker. However, averages often hide the picture: as ILO economist Dorothea Schmidt points out, three European countries, namely
Belgium, France and Norway, have consistently outperformed the US in terms of output per employee per hour since the mid 1980s. And last year labour productivity growth in Greece was almost double that of the US at 4.1%. Schmidt notes however that although a combination of factors have lead to this position, total working hours come into it. As she says "if you work 15 hours a day, of course there are hours when you are not as productive as if you only work six hours a day".-----Not that American workers should feel that hard done by in terms of hours put in at the office or the factory.Worldwide, a number of countries reported much higher hours worked. In South Korea in 2001, for example, the average employee spent 2,447 hours at work Ä 26% more than in the US and
46% more than in the Netherlands (which coincidentally had the lowest hours worked for all economies for which data was available). And the ILO noted that "in all developing Asian economies . . . people historically worked more than in industrialised economies".-----There is however hope for the beleaguered worker.The ILO points to Ireland as an excellent example of the changes in working hours that generally accompany a move through the economic development process. As Ireland moved from a largely agriculturally based economy in the early 1980s to a service and manufacturing driven one, so hours fell from 1,900 annually to under 1,700 Ä a decline of nearly six forty-hour work weeks per employed person. And at the same time productivity per employed person nearly doubled between 1980 and 2002. In Ireland it seems that these days the grass truly is greener.

Date de dernière mise à jour : 08/01/2009 - 3:10 PM

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