Lightening the load of long working hours among Europe's managerial staff

A conference hosted by EUROCADRES in December 1997 concluded that managerial staff in the EU are working too many hours, which has a severe impact on their health and ability to reconcile their work and private life. EUROCADRES criticised the exclusion of managerial staff from much of the working time Directive and stressed the importance of policies to reduce working time. Discussion at the conference was based on a report on professional employees' working hours in Europe produced by two experts in the field.

EUROCADRES (the Council for European Professional and Managerial Staff) represents over 4 million professional and managerial staff in Europe who are members of trade unions affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation. The organisation hosted a conference on 2-3 December 1997 to showcase what it sees as the underpublicised problem of long working hours among Europe's managers. Trends in working hours for these workers, who are potentially excluded from the coverage of much of the 1993 EU Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC), have run counter to the general trend towards a reduction of working hours. The conference, which was attended by 150 individuals from among EUROCADRES' member organisations and other European and national social partner organisations and institutions, focused on the findings of a report on Professional employees' working hours in Europe produced by Jean-Yves Boulin (University of Paris-Dauphine) and Robert Plasman (Free University of Brussels).

The context of working time policy in Europe

The reduction of working time has long been one of the key priorities on the agenda of European trade unions. Initially, this was mainly aimed at contributing to the improvement of workers' health and living and working conditions. In recent years, flexibility of working time organisation has also increasingly become a priority for businesses seeking to ensure their competitiveness. New forms of work and working time organisation are also among the subjects of an April 1997 Commission Green Paper on a Partnership for a new organisation of work, which is currently being discussed at the level of the sectoral and intersectoral social dialogue (EU9707134F). As the achievement of greater equality between the sexes and the reconciliation of work and family life increasingly moves to the top of the European social policy agenda, the organisation of working time also becomes a key issue of debate.

During the 1960s and 1970s most Member States and sectors experienced a steady reduction of working hours, underpinned by high growth rates and considerable activity by the trade union movement in favour of improvements in living and working conditions. This was primarily achieved through a shortening of working days, reductions in overtime, the abolition of Saturday working and increases in annual holidays. From the achievement of the 40-hour week, a number of Member States have moved on to strive for the 35- (or even 32-) hour week, although this has currently been achieved only in cases such as the metalworking sector in Germany. As a result of this long-standing concern with the reduction of working time, little change was effected by the working time Directive, which sets maximum working hours at 48 per week and includes a number of key derogations, one of which allows Member States to exclude "managing executives or other persons with autonomous decision-making powers" from many of the terms of the Directive.

In many countries the flexibility of working time organisation has also been significantly extended through the expansion of "non-standard" employment relationships, such as part-time and temporary working.

Working time trends and professional employees

The study by Boulin and Plasman shows that in the majority of Member States, the legislation implementing the 1993 working time Directive explicitly excludes managerial staff from its provisions. This is particularly significant as the study found that male professional employees work on average 13% longer hours than other male employees. The difference is even greater for females, but this is primarily the result of the lower proportion of part-time workers among female professionals, compared with the total of female employees.

The study found that these differences cannot solely be attributed to differences in national legislation, as the countries in which managerial working hours most exceed the average for all employees are Denmark, France and the UK, three countries where contractual or legal working hour regulations differ widely. Significantly, the authors found large variations between the experiences of different Member States. While Danish managerial employees habitually work eight hours more per week than their non-managerial counterparts, this difference only amounts to one hour in Greece. The absence of strong legal provisions or collective agreements covering the working hours of professional staff is seen to be significant in bringing about these divergences in working time at national level.

The study also found that while female managerial employees working full time worked longer hours than their non-managerial counterparts, they worked fewer hours then male managerial staff. It is difficult to attribute these differences to differences in the legislative framework. The report argues that this could be due to the differences in the hierarchical position between male and female managers, or result from different choices of working hours.

Differences in the working hours of managerial staff were found not only between men and women, but also between different categories of managerial staff and in different sectors.

While average working hours have been decreasing over the past 15-20 years, for managerial staff they have in fact increased.

Part-time working is far less widespread among managerial staff than among the wider labour force. In a number of countries where the proportion of women working part-time is high, this is replicated (albeit to a lesser extent) among professional females. Denmark presents a somewhat atypical case, where 36% of the female labour force work part-time, but only 4% of women managers do so.

Commentary

The issue of working time among managerial staff is particularly important from the point of view of achieving greater equality between men and women at work and at home. Women are significantly less represented among managerial and professional grades in the European Union, although differences exist from sector to sector. This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as the high degree of vertical and horizontal segregation which continues to persist in the labour market. The unequal distribution of tasks in the domestic sphere and factors inherent in the processes of socialisation are another factors. Current legislation on parental and family leave also serves to perpetuate the role of women as carers, which can be seen to hinder their progress in the labour market because of long absences. Finally, the lack of high-quality, affordable childcare often makes it difficult for women to remain in the labour market.

A study carried out in the electricity industry in Italy showed that women perceived the greatest barrier to their career progress to be the requirement to be fully mobile and work very long hours, which they were less likely to be willing or able to do. Long working hours can therefore be seen to be a bar to female career development, as well as to the ability of male managers to devote more time to their family and private lives (thus helping to redress the domestic imbalance of tasks). In the context of the need to achieve greater flexibility, it has also been questioned whether it is still feasible to require managerial staff to work long hours, thus making them appear irreplaceable.

The inclusion of managerial staff in the working time Directive thus appears to be an important priority. Equally significant are measures to deal with excessive overtime working and the consideration of more innovative models to redistribute working time over people's lifetime. (Tina Weber, ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd)

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