Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe?

 
Butchers in the Omonia market district, Athens A high proportion of Greeks are self-employed, as shopkeepers or farmers

The eurozone crisis has sown divisions in the European family, and Greece in particular has often been singled out for criticism. Has Greece been living beyond its means? Are Greeks lazy? On this second point, the statistics tell a surprising story.

This week Greece is facing more spending cuts after agreeing to a deal of 130bn euros (£110bn, $175bn) to help it avoid bankruptcy.

But the statistics suggest the country has not lost its way due to laziness. If you look at the average annual hours worked by each worker, the Greeks seem very hard-working.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average Greek worker toils away for 2,017 hours per year which is more than any other European country.

Out of the 34 members of the OECD, that is just two places behind the board leaders, South Korea.

On the other hand, the average German worker - normally thought of as the very epitome of industriousness - only manages 1,408 hours a year. Germany is 33rd out of 34 on the OECD list (or 24th out of 25 looking at the European countries alone).

Europe's top 10 and bottom 10

Most hours worked Most productive Fewest hours worked Least productive

1

Greece

Luxembourg

Netherlands

Poland

2

Hungary

Norway

Germany

Hungary

3

Poland

Ireland

Norway

Turkey

4

Estonia

Belgium

France

Estonia

5

Turkey

Netherlands

Denmark

Czech Rep

6

Czech Rep

France

Ireland

Portugal

7

Italy

Germany

Belgium

Slovakia

8

Slovakia

Denmark

Austria

Greece

9

Portugal

Sweden

Luxembourg

Slovenia

10

Iceland

Austria

Sweden

Iceland

The UK ranks 14th both in terms of hours worked and in terms of productivity

Source: OECD

Only one other OECD country's workers put in fewer hours, and that's the Netherlands with 1,377 hours.

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.

Greek olive farmers planting tree Greeks take less holiday, sickness leave and maternity leave than Germans

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.

More or Less: Behind the stats

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So, because the two labour markets are structured differently, it is actually hard to compare like with like.

If you account for these factors by stripping away part-time and self-employed people and look only at full-time salaried workers, the Greeks are still working almost 10% more hours than the Germans.

This is because the Germans take more holiday, sickness leave and maternity leave - on average four weeks more than the Greeks.

So far, we have been focusing on those in employment, but only 60% of Greece's working age population have jobs compared to 72% in Germany.

German factory worker Germany's manufacturing sector is highly efficient

You might think, then, that if we looked at the average number of hours worked by all those of working age - dividing the total number of hours worked by the working age population - Germany would come out on top. But no, Greece still beats Germany.

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.

But when all is said and done, Mr Marianna is keen to stress that all these numbers come with a health warning.

They are collected by individual national statistics authorities who each have their own methods of collecting and collating information.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 321.

    "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."

    This phrase is very pertinent. These are exactly the types who deal in cash and can misdeclare to avoid taxes. I feel sorry for those who have jobs with the equivalent of our PAYE - they have little opportunity to tax avoid.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 320.

    If it has not already started then it will. I am of course referring to the mass exodus of Greeks from that country. I worked with a Greek lad from Athens several years ago. Top bloke. He went back home in the late 90's I dare say he wished he had stayed in the UK. After all we Brits are not stoney broke..Yet!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 319.

    And keeping it all to themselves, why the country is bust and unable to pay it`s way. No point in breaking sweat if it`s been and will be down hill all the way.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 318.

    What's up with the spelling BBC - Hurculean ?!

    Hurcules, Hurcule Poirot.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 317.

    OK so the Greeks work.
    However, you completely miss out the biggest difference between Greecs and Germany. The wealthy Greeks have not been paying anywhere near the amount of Tax that they should have. The Germans do.
    You don't have to be an economist to realise that a country will go broke if it doesn't have any tax money coming in.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 316.

    I have got 16 years of professional experience in international teams in different countries (USA, Europe, Japan&Korea). Fine classification is difficult.
    But, this I can tell: I have never seen more hardworking and well-disciplined workers than Germans and Koreans. Especially Koreans. No wonder nobody wants to work in Korea.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 315.

    Herculean task is yet head of Greece's long-houred, mostly self-employed, but not lazy workers. Greece launched its bond swap to private holders on Friday = largest-ever sovereign debt restructuring. This is part 2, €130B rescue package to get Greece back from brink of disorderly default. As Bank Chief Draghi has said: Greek compliance must be ‘flawless’. Imagine working under this pressure!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 314.

    Not a comment about Greece.
    Just study the table, compare the ranking of any country in each column, use some logic, and you will figure out what a useless piece of statistics and what a gross source of misinformation this table is.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 313.

    The hours for which they are clocked on and paid may indeed be the highest but the hours for which they work...I doubt it! They have a verb "loufaro" which means to appear to be working while not working! I know Greeks who work, literally, 2 hours a day. In a business I knew, a sign next to the phone read "When the phone rings, answer it" because people just didn't bother to!

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 312.

    Britain's long-hours culture is the main reason Britain is way down the productivity league. This is because workers produce better results when not overworked. This is a big factor in the UK and very likely a significant contributor to Greece's poor productivity.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 311.

    Not very helpful really. People who say they 'work hard' usually mean they work long hours, but those who aim for targets rather than worry about the time spent achieving them often do more with their time. More important, though, is how balanced their lives are... it's not all about work, it's about being rewarded properly for what you do, and enjoying yourself.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 310.

    I thought the problem in Greece was mostly down to collection of tax, if the self employed work long hours that won't help the government pay it’s debts, if they don’t declare the cash on their tax return will it.

    I imagine Germany collects its tax, well erm efficiently, which also is easier if people are employed by a company as PAYE is much easier for a government to collect.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 309.

    Toiling long hours in the fields harvesting olives is never going to pay the bills.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 308.

    The Greeks are not to blame for their predicament. Europe and the U.S. are equally at blame.
    -
    It isn't anyone else's fault that tax evasion in Greece runs in excess of 50%.
    The comparable figure in UK is around 8%.
    If the Greek government had collected over 90% of its tax revenue for the last 10 years it wouldn't have such a big problem.

  • rate this
    +44

    Comment number 307.

    Did anyone else find it interesting that 9 out of the 10 countries listed in the "most hours worked" showed up on the "least productive" list, and that ALL 10 countries on the"least hours worked" are on the "most productive" list.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 306.

    Has to be reiterated, Britain ranks 14th !

    All those countries we laugh at as being poor,weak or stupid are completely out doing us. Thats brilliant.
    More votes for the SNP, keep it up BBC.

    -GDP per head is highest in London and the South East it is amongst the lowest in the UK in Scotland. (Even including oil),so frankly I can't follow your argument

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 305.

    The Greeks are not to blame for their predicament. Europe and the U.S. are equally at blame. The Greeks seem to work more hours but at a more 'leisurely' pace. The Germans work ethic is high, they do less hours, but work much harder. Hence higher sickness leave and holidays etc.. Germany sells products the world wants. Greece needs to do the same.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 304.

    It still does not account for the defecit caused by the Greeks not paying tax, so why should my money go the bail them out???
    Sinch the Euro started free fall it has dragged the Pound with it so m y money is now worth two thirds what it was 5 years ago.
    Hopefully the Euro will implode and we can all have our currency back and also the ability to set our own rates of tax, interest and laws again.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 303.

    Greece has had 5 years of depression and is facing 10 years more austerity and will most likely have no shift on their debt/gdp ratio, they will have to work very hard to overcome this but realistically their only hope is to default and leave the euro.
    The entire debate on their work ethic and debt exists only to scapegoat them and take the pressure off the other BPIIGS

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 302.

    Has to be reiterated, Britain ranks 14th !

    All those countries we laugh at as being poor,weak or stupid are completely out doing us. Thats brilliant.
    More votes for the SNP, keep it up BBC.

 

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