Why Workers Spend All Day at the Office

Why Americans work more than anyone else.

This is not a matter of opinion so much as a factual point of international comparison. The average American worker labors more hours than her counterparts in just about every similarly rich country, including Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. If the average American worked as much as the typical German, she’d have about 30 extra days off per year. That’s a free six-week vacation in exchange for embracing the famously leisurely work habits of … Germany.


The reasons behind America’s overwork are the subject of exhaustive study and theorizing—including on this site. Some observers focus above all on public policy: The U.S. has been steadily eroding labor rights since the Cold War, and there is no federal guarantee for vacation or parental leave, pushing Americans toward longer workweeks than those of their more unionized brethren in similar countries. Others look to the character of “greedy” American industries, such as consulting and banking, which demand long hours and undivided loyalty from their employees so they can thrive in a competitive global economy. Still others, including me, point out that in the past few decades, the dogged pursuit of meaning at work has become a kind of secular religion—workism.