These Were The World’s Most Productive Countries in 2020

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Where does your country rank among the most productive countries of 2020? Check out our latest research to find out…

We’ve compiled the definitive list of the world’s most productive countries. How did we manage such a feat? No, not magic.

We gathered the latest information from the OECD and World Data Bank (sources found below the table), taking the annual GDP and annual working hours of each country into consideration, ranking 42 countries by their productivity per person.

With our calculations, we were able to work out which countries had the most effective financial return while spending the least amount of time in the office. Further down the article, we discuss our findings, explaining which factors are at play in producing the least and most productive countries in the world.

Check out the current standings below…

The world’s most productive countries: Ranked

PositionCountryHours worked in 2020GDP per capitaProductivity per person, per hour
11United States1767$65,279.53$36.94
13United Kingdom1367$48,438.58$35.43
22Czech Republic1705$43,004.53$25.22
24New Zealand1739$43,810.87$25.19
30Korea, Rep.1908$42,727.95$22.39
31Slovak Republic1572$32,544.96$20.70
38Russian Federation1874$29,188.85$15.58
41Costa Rica1913.2$21,059.92$11.01

The most productive countries

Boasting the biggest productivity per person score is the smallest country on our list – Luxembourg proves that size doesn’t matter. 

With almost double the productivity score than second-placed Ireland, this tiny nation paved the way in 2020 in terms of productivity thanks to its 40-hour working week, booming financial sector, minimum of 5 weeks paid annual leave, and prohibited employment on Sundays.

The Emerald Isle took the silver medal in our ranking of the most productive countries, which largely comes down to the fact that full-time Irish workers typically work under 40 hours per week.

Ireland’s big population of multinationals has massively contributed to its impressive labour productivity, which has been growing faster than most other countries in Western Europe.

With Denmark, Norway, and Sweden making the top ten, the Scandinavian nations clearly have the most scan-do attitude when it comes to productivity. What are these countries doing to rank so highly? looked into the work/life balance of countries around the world, revealing that the Scandinavian nations had one thing in common: their standard working week is less than 40 hours long. 

So, by making full use of their evenings and weekends, Scandinavians return to work feeling more refreshed and replenished than employees in countries with longer working weeks, giving the Scandis a stronger sense of mental wellbeing and a better ability to take on the week.

This positive work/life balance is one of the many reasons why Scandinavian countries score highly in the Happiness Index and QOLS (Quality of Life Scale).

In fact, a study from the OECD found Finland, Norway, and Denmark to have the greatest sense of life satisfaction, scoring 7.5/10 each compared to the UK’s 6.8/10. With such a satisfied population, is it any wonder they’re consistently among the most productive countries in the world?

productive workplace meeting

The least productive countries

Bringing up the rear are three countries that work extremely long hours: Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile.

According to our research, Mexico worked the most hours in 2020 (2,124 hours), which is almost double Germany’s figure of 1,331.7.

Costa Rica (1,913.2 hours worked) came in close second, while Chile worked 1,825 hours in 2020 – that’s only the ninth highest figure, but Chile has a relatively low GDP per capita compared to countries with similar working hours.

When discussing the most productive countries, we talk about work/life balance. But in this scenario, it's all work and no play. Employees living in the least productive countries are likely to be overworked and tired, which would see overall productivity take an unsurprising dip.

In Mexico, Chile, and Costa Rica, employees are generally expected to work longer hours than their European counterparts. In Mexico in particular, this is down to differing cultural attitudes and socio-economic factors. For instance, there are lax labour laws and some fears about unemployment, which means the maximum 48-hour limit is hardly ever imposed on working weeks.

USA case study: The American Dream?

The Land of Opportunity must be one of the most productive countries, right? Well, it has one of the highest GDP per capita, yet still comes in at 11th place in terms of productivity per person. Similarly to Mexico, this comes down to working long hours.

The USA is among the top twelve nations in terms of hours worked in 2020, clocking in 1,767 hours across the year. That’s only 58.3 hours fewer than Chile, the country that came third last in our overall productivity rankings.

This emphasis on working long hours isn’t reflected in Europe, with the top ten most productive countries all located on the continent and working far fewer hours than the USA.

In the States, you’re expected to play hard but work harder. American workers typically work very long hours with very few days off, and research from Glassdoor reveals that the average US employee who gets paid holiday only takes 54% of the allotted time each year. Conversely, the Swedes typically get and use five weeks of paid holiday every year.

It’s also common for American workers to eat lunch at their desk, or skip lunch entirely. This leaves the question: is the American workforce hungry for success, or simply hungry?

UK case study: The Underachieving Kingdom?

Milling around in mid-table obscurity, the United Kingdom is the 13th most productive country in our ranking. Unsurprisingly, its average position comes down to its average stats in productivity per person and annual GDP per capita.

The UK worked the third fewest hours in 2020, yet still only produced $35.43 in productivity per person. That’s about $12 less per person than Norway which worked a very similar number of hours, and a paltry $4 more than Australia which worked an extra 316 hours in 2020.

In terms of GDP per capita, the UK sits in the middle of the park again at 17th. That’s a staggering 15 positions below our neighbours in Ireland, and 12 places below our cousins in the United States.

The UK working culture can be very social. Lunches out during the week and social events on Friday afternoons are quite common, which may highlight some inefficiencies in the workplace – especially when compared to the lunchtime-stricken US workforce we discussed earlier.

Of course, the UK’s average stats aren’t just down to socialising. Particularly among the older generation, there’s an emphasis placed on the hours you work, with many people believing that staying late – or even working when you’re ill – makes you appear more valuable to the company.

There are also plenty of UK employees with an attitude of ‘if you’re not stressed enough, you’re not working hard enough’. Now, you can’t imagine a physically tired workforce would be the most productive, would you?

That said, many UK businesses have realised this approach can be detrimental to productivity and now prioritise mental wellbeing. Hopefully this trend will continue, and we’ll see the UK become more productive as fewer workers are encouraged to burn themselves out.

Workplace counselling session

The elephant in the home office

When discussing the world’s most productive countries in 2020, you can’t avoid COVID. The data we analysed in this article will likely shift over the next few years as workforces around the globe adapt to the post-COVID world.

Will the remote working dynamic increase or decrease productivity? Working from home allows some people to focus more on their tasks, free from the distractive buzz of the office coffee machine and colleague chit chat. For others, the office is the only place they feel ready to work.

When new data is available, we’ll update the rankings and analysis on this page for the post-pandemic era, so keep your eyes peeled.

Written by:

Dan’s a Senior Writer at Expert Market, specialising in digital marketing, web design, and photocopiers, amongst other topics.

Reviewed by:
James Macey Senior Business Software Researcher

James thinks all businesses can improve if they use the right technology. At Expert Market, he utilises his 4+ years experience as a researcher to offer specialised advice on a wide range of categories from CRM to Fleet Management.