Working Hours Around the World

I grew up at a time when normal working hours meant you got up at dawn, came to work at 7am and you stayed there diligently until 3pm. Growing up in Slovenia, our parents were normally home something past three and we had a habit of eating around four, when the families generally gathered around the table, talking about their day.

Right now, this sounds like the first 5 minutes of a movie about the 50s.

European working hours of the 21st century have become increasingly standardized to a 9 to 5, or more likely 9 to 6 work-week. Of course, they tend to differ from office to office and I can only speak from my experiences, but here’s a brief summary of how I experienced them.

Ljubljana’s working hours were 9 to 6, the same as in Amsterdam while London’s office hours were 9.30 to 6.30. It was always very important to be punctual. Without pointing fingers, I will share just my personal observation, that the more the office held their ground about being on time in the morning, the more punctual they were when it came to deadlines. Little things (like coming to work on time) inevitably influence the big ones (like hitting or missing the deadline).

What all of the offices had in common was they respected the working hours. Yes, deadlines (read long hours) still happened. I actually never minded them. I rather pushed the daylight and completed a task so later on the team would be rewarded with a long weekend or a day off. Which, in these offices, you always were.

It happened even in Japan.

Prior to my arrival to Sou Fujimoto Architects in Tokyo, people were warning me I should get mentally prepared for constant crazy working hours. That I should get ready to “crack” at one point. What I found it to be true was something far from it.

Official working hours were 10am to 8pm. Two one-hour meal breaks, lunch at 12, dinner at 6. At first, I found the timing rather odd, to be honest (odd= different to what is usual or expected; strange). But as with everything, with time you start “getting it” and it actually makes perfect sense to you. For you to agree with me on this one, you need to acknowledge one simple truth. Repetition is the mother of all habits, beliefs, and skills. Therefore, the longer you stay in one environment, the more natural it starts to feel to you. You work yourself around anything that you have a will and desire for.

For instance, when we worked late, it was okay to come in late the next morning or, once you finished your staff candidacy and were a full pledged employee, you could take the morning off. Which was pretty decent. Now, sometimes works did pile up and you couldn’t get the next day off. Did it get overwhelming?

Well, again, I believe you have two options- you either get overwhelmed and you quit. Or you adapt, get used to it before you get overwhelmed, and because you are positively positive about getting the best out of the experience, your days are fun and positive-no matter the amount of work. It’s who you are that determines the experience and not the other way around.

You also learn that work is a lot like the weather in Japan. Do you know what’s the weather the day after typhoon? Always a clear blue sky, a typical perfect sunny day. Same with work.

There is a typhoon season where you have to work every day till the last train to hit a deadline for days in and out. But then the sun comes out. And then maybe you get off work dinner time and realize just how much you cherish the time off. And with it, you do more than you would if you would get off at 6 every day.

So, to say working in Europe is easier than working in Japan isn’t a fair assessment. Yes, there are some employee benefits that might seem more soothing for an individual in European offices. But sooner or later it all boils down to one thing- what do you focus on? If you love what you do, you will be grateful for having a paid super healthy lunch in Amsterdam every day and that you get to cycle to work and be all fit and energetic. You are grateful to work in a fun, positive and youthful office with the coolest bosses in Ljubljana that let you play whatever music you like all day long. Or you cherish the days you get out and eat lunch on the grass of Hyde Park and you pinch yourself everyday how lucky you are to get to work in an office with such a marvelous location!
You can create life lasting friendships from people all over the world who gathered in Japan in the search of something more from every aspect of life.

Or you can focus on the hours spend behind the screen and the unshowered smell from your coworker, the droopy eyes and the traffic. My god, if you want to, you can always focus on the traffic.

9 to 5, 9 to 6, 10 to 10, these are numbers. How are you feeling in the office is what actually counts.