Who Says the French Don't Work Hard?

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Americans may have the reputation of working through lunch and being chained to their BlackBerrys. But it turns out that small-business owners in the United States actually work fewer hours than their global counterparts. U.S. owners of companies with under 100 employees worked 52 hours a week on average. Business owners in the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, and Australia averaged 54 hours a week, according to a MasterCard survey of 4,000 small businesses around the world.

And get this: The French actually led the pack, working an average of 59 hours a week, with 6 percent of those surveyed working more than 100 hours. What happened to those 35-hour workweeks and languid lunches in cafes? Turns out that in France more than half of small-business owners have no employees, and many are involved in businesses like farming or tourism where long hours are standard. "If you're running a bed-and-breakfast, you are maybe working 100 hours a week during a busy time," says Bruno Perreault, group head for global small business and midsize enterprises at MasterCard Worldwide. But then you get to take off the month of August to make up for it.

How else do small-business owners around the world compare? The Chinese, not surprisingly, spend the most time on administrative tasks. Perreault chalks that up not only to government regulations but also to a lack of available technology to ease paperwork. Most small-business owners surveyed see the glass as half full, except for gloomy Hong Kongers, where only 22 percent feel positive about their companies' outlook. That dragged the survey average down to 50 percent.

Small-business owners in Mexico and Brazil have the rosiest views of their countries' business climates. That's tied to the fact that most company owners in those countries are in business primarily to carve out a living rather than because they want to be their own boss or for other perks. They tend to see their situation as better than that of an average worker, says Perreault.

Americans and Australians were the most upbeat about their own companies' prospects, with 66 and 65 percent of small-business owners, respectively, saying the future looks bright.