One of Americans' most notorious work habits has crept over to the UK

  • British people typically work longer hours than other workers in Western Europe.
  • The UK borrowed that trait from the US, which is notoriously hardworking, one expert said.
  • However, people in the UK get more vacation time than Americans.

Around the world, Americans have a reputation for working longer hours than almost anyone else.

That habit is seen mostly as a negative — but according to one expert, the United Kingdom is starting to take after its peer across the pond.

Data on hours worked is hard to calculate, but according to one recent estimate, full-time employees in the UK work an average of 42.7 hours a week, more than almost every other country in the European Union, and coming close to the American average of 47 hours.

Even when factoring in part-time workers, Britons still average 36.5 hours per work week. Several of the UK’s Western European neighbours, including France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Denmark, all work less than 35 hours a week.

Cary Cooper, an American-born professor at Manchester Business School, said we can attribute the difference to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who in the 1980s ushered in an a new era of industriousness.

“Margaret Thatcher introduced what she called the enterprise culture, and she saw American business culture to be very enterprising,” Cooper told Business Insider. “Thatcher loved American business. She liked the way they did things, and said we have to be more like the US.”

“She influenced Britain to move more toward the Mid-Atlantic than across the Channel.”

Unlike the US, employers in the European Union are bound by the Working Time Directive, which caps the hours most employees can work at 48 hours a week.

Cooper said that despite working more than most other Europeans, people in the UK can take solace in one advantage of the British work system: longer vacations. Like many other Europeans, British workers can typically expect five to six weeks of paid vacation in a given year.

And he said that aspect of the culture isn’t likely to change any time soon.

“Why would they?” Cooper said. “All it would do is cause enormous discontent.”

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