Meet Europe's Hardest Workers: The, er, Greeks

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/11/2015 01:30:00 AM
If Greeks work such long hours, then why are they so broke?
One of the more astounding facts I routinely come across about Europe is that the Greeks work the most number of hours going by OECD data.This finding, of course, flies in the face of common assumptions nowadays that the Greeks are lazy people whose lack of effort has precipitated the economic crisis it's been facing for years and years. Perhaps the Greeks are the European equivalents of James Brown, the hardest working man in show business?

But I digress. The sheer number of hours worked gives very little indication of worker productivity. First, they may be working a lot of hours doing grunt work that does not yield much in terms of economic output. That is, many Greeks may be stuck doing barely sophisticated manual labor. Second, when labor is not matched with adequate capital, then total factor productivity may suffer. Sure they work a lot, but again, they do not produce much without the aid of sophisticated machinery or computers.

This finding has prompted much griping in the Greek press that stereotypes about them are unjustified. Meanwhile, the Germans and Dutch allegedly do not deserve their reputation for being hard working people going by the numbers presented above:
Greeks are the hardest working people in Europe, since they work 2,037 hours per year, a[n] OECD study shows. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducted a study to determine in which of the 38 OECD member-countries people work the most. Greece ranked third in the world, after Korea and Mexico, and first among European countries.

In Europe, the Dutch work the least hours per year (1380), followed closely by the Germans who work 1388 hours. Norway comes third with its people working 1408 hours every year, followed by the Danish who work 1411. Greeks are the hardest working Europeans (2,037 hours) followed by the Polish (1918 hours), the Hungarians (1883 hours) and the Estonians (1868).
The BBC has an earlier article explaining how these numbers are "artifactual" at best:
The average Greek is working a full 40% longer than the average German. But there is more to these figures than meets the eye. There are two big reasons why these two countries have such different annual working hour totals.

Pascal Marianna, who is a labour markets statistician at the OECD says: "The Greek labour market is composed of a large number of people who are self-employed, meaning farmers and - on the other hand - shop-keepers who are working long hours." Self-employed workers tend to work more than those who have specified hours in an employment contract.

The second reason Mr Marianna points to is the different number of part-time workers in each country. "In Germany, the share of employees working part-time is quite high. This represents something like one in four," he says. As these annual hours figures are for all workers, the large proportion who work part-time in Germany is bringing down the overall average. In Greece, far fewer people work part-time.
We should again return to the matter of productivity:
Why is it then that it's Greece that needs to be bailed out, and not Germany? That's a complicated question. But you get part way to answering it by doing another simple sum. Take gross domestic product (GDP) - that's the country's entire production - and divide it by the number of workers.

On this basis, the average German worker is more productive than the average Greek. Germany ranks as the eighth most productive country by worker out of the OECD countries - or the seventh out of the European countries - while Greece comes in at 24th. Mr Marianna says this is mainly because Germany has a very efficient manufacturing sector. And while a smaller proportion of Germans work in agriculture, here too they are more efficient - partly because "technology is more widespread", he says.
As with South Korea--another country even more famous for its long work hours (and low productivity)--you have to consider what people actually do on the job more than how many hours they claim to be on the job. As if we needed more proof that it's better to work "smart" than work "hard." Pencil-pushing and sticking around the office just for the sake of doing so may impress others, but productivity statistics eventually show up such needless demonstrations of earnestness.