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Is Austria Really the Least Stressful Country to Work in?

James Young
James Young

It began as an internal battle. With two Peakon offices - one in London and the other in Copenhagen - bragging rights were up for grabs. Which was the better place to work? Who had it easiest, and who had to compete with the more stressful national work culture?

In the Danish corner was the much-envied concept of “hygge”, the cosy feeling you get when spending a candle-lit evening with friends, enjoying the simple pleasures in life. On the London side were the 20 pubs within a 500m radius of the office.

As a data scientist, I took it upon myself to settle the argument the only way I knew how - with a spreadsheet.

The Peakon team enjoying some traditional hygge

The Peakon team enjoying some traditional Danish hygge

Taking data on 35 different countries (for the full list of who was included, see the spreadsheet at the bottom of the article), I planned to identify the aspects that would contribute to an easier working life, mash them together and get a conclusive (and objective) answer.

I chose three quantitative data sources, two of which centred around how little time I could spend at the office. The third was a measure of how comfortable my free time would be in each country:

  • AVERAGE WEEKLY HOURS WORKED

My logic here was simple, the less time I have to work each week, the more I can relax in the evenings and attempt to generate my own brand of hygge.

Source: OECD Labour Force Statistics - Average usual weekly hours worked on the main job

  • NUMBER OF DAYS OFF EACH YEAR

This consisted of two metrics: minimum annual leave + paid public holidays. Some countries (UK) include public holidays within the minimum annual leave allowance. Others are more generous - Cambodia, it turns out, offers a whopping 27 paid national holidays on top of a 15 annual allowance. 42 days a year of me-time.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_annual_leave_by_country#Countries (Note: Data was checked against original sources cited).

  • MISERY INDEX

An economic indicator I was previously unaware of, the Misery Index uses seasonally adjusted unemployment rates and annual inflation rates to determine how well the average citizen is doing economically.

If I’m going to maximise the free time I have on my hands, I’m going to want to avoid being miserable.

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-04/these-are-the-world-s-most-miserable-economies

Next, I aggregated the data and scored each country on its performance in each category. The best performing countries would receive a perfect Relaxation Rating (TM) of 1, and the worst would get nothing. Each country in between would be awarded points proportionately, depending on how close they came to the best and worst scores.

With the weekly hours, days-off and misery scores established, I summed them together and converted them to a 0-100% scale, giving me my final, overall measure of how stressful each country was to work in.

AND THE WINNER OF "THE LEAST STRESSFUL COUNTRY TO WORK" 2016? AUSTRIA!

Despite a relatively long 40+ hour week, Austria's comfortable economic climate and generous holiday allowance suggest it’s the ideal place to go to work hard and relax harder.

With some of the world’s best skiing, and unrivaled medieval and baroque architecture, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do and see during your 38 days of annual leave.

THE BIGGEST LOSERS (of the 35 countries we found data on)

At the other end of the spectrum we find South Africa, whose 45 hour week and Misery Index of 32 relegate it to last place.

The US also fares poorly, placing 29th of the 35 featured nations. No federal-level directives over minimum annual leave and no mandatory pay on public holidays gives American workers good reason to feel unduly stressed. 

LONG HOURS IN LATIN AMERICA, LONG HOLIDAYS IN EUROPE

Weekly hours by country

Regional trends are also evident in the data. Latin American countries have by far the longest working hours in the world. Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico average between 51 and 48 hours a week. The only other citizens to face similarly lengthy working conditions are those of Turkey, whose 50.5 hours are only outdone by the Colombians. 

Annual holiday allowance by country

On the other side of the globe, Europeans benefit from the most generous holiday allowances. EU directives dictate that citizens of all member states are entitled to a minimum of 4 working weeks (20 days) of leave a year. Sweden and the UK go above and beyond, awarding 28 days apiece.

However, unlike the table-topping trio of Austria, Finland and Luxembourg, neither Sweden nor the UK legally protect workers’ rights to paid national holidays in legislation, despite etiquette dictating that most employers grant employees this privilege. Technically, there is nothing to prevent employers from including Sweden’s 9, and the UK’s 8, public holidays as part of the 28 day minimum. 

COPENHAGEN TRIUMPHS OVER LONDON

So the answer to the big question that prompted this analysis, and you guessed it… hygge is greater than beer alone. Despite the charms of The Three Kings, Denmark came out on top by a mile.

Denmark vs. the UK

Of all countries reported on in the OECD Labour Force Statistics study, Danish workers were found to have the shortest working weeks at 37.3 hours. This is despite the famed “35-hour” French week, where in reality the OECD found French citizens work almost 39.

Denmark's short weekly hours and lower levels of misery are enough to counter the 3 extra days of annual leave given to UK employees. Now excuse me while I book my flights to Copenhagen.

Explore our dataset here.

 

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