More Israelis Becoming Workaholics, Study Shows

Percentage of those working more than 45 hours a week has grown since 1991, despite the widely acknowledged harm to health

Illustration - Israelis working on laptops
Ofer Vaknin

You might not think it based on a typical encounter with an Israeli call center or bank teller, but a lot of Israelis work unusually hard – or at least put in a huge number of hours at their jobs every week.

The National Insurance Institute, in a study released on Monday, found that 44.6% of Israeli workers worked more than 45 hours a week for the period between 2010 and 2016. Of those, 31.9% worked 45-59 hours a week and 12.7% over 60 hours. Moreover, it found that the number of people overworking has risen from 37% of those who are their household’s primary breadwinner in 1991 to 46% in 2016, the last year the study covers. That happened as the percentage of Israelis working at full-time jobs fell.

As it is, Israel has high standards for what’s officially deemed full-time employment. At 42 hours a week, it’s two hours more than the International Labor Organization deems a “normal” full-time work week, which ranges mostly from 35 to 45 hours in most developed countries.

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A 2007 study cited by the NII report estimated that 22% of all wage earnings worked more than 48 hours a week.

Working long hours may lead to higher pay and overtime, and it’s a sign of dedication and competitiveness in some workplaces, but the NII researcher who conducted the study, Miri Endeweld, expressed doubts about that.

“Employees who invest too many hours are often perceived as ‘workaholics.’ However, many of them don’t do so voluntarily but rather due to financial constraints or employer’s demands. The negative consequences of the overtime phenomenon in employed persons in this long-term work pattern are well documented in the research literature,” she wrote in the report.

The health consequences are bad whether someone puts in excessive hours of physical or mental labor. It has an impact on diet, family life and sleep.

If so, the good news that came from the NII report is that the percentage of Israelis who put in the most hours of all – 60 or more during the week – actually fell. They accounted for 13.8% of all those employed between 1990 and 1999, but they constituted just 12.7% in the 2010-16 period. On the other hand, those working 45-59 hours rose from 26.7% to 31.9%.

Employees across the labor spectrum overwork, but higher-paid people overworked more than lower-paid people. The NII found that 29.4% of lower-paid workers were putting in more than 45 hours a week, but among higher-paid workers that rate was nearly double at 56.8%.

Far more men work excessive hours than women. For high earners the rate was 60% of men versus 34% of women in 2010-16; in low-paying jobs, the gap narrowed but was still 35% to 19%.

As the NII report noted, the difference isn’t necessarily due to less commitment to work but rather the “invisible labor” women performed, in other words unpaid housework and childcare. Citing a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the NII said that adds up to another 15-16 hours weekly, which would bump many more women into the 60-hours-plus-a-week category.