Few Spanish workers benefit from flexible working time

A recent study found that fewer than 9% of workers in Spain benefit from flexible working time, well below the 23% average for the 25 EU Member States up to 1 January 2007. More specifically, 8% of working men and 9.2% of working women in Spain enjoy flexible working time practices at work. The option of modifying the start and finish time within a predefined working timetable is the most common flexibility practice at national level, both for men and women.

Study on working time flexibility practices

Flexibility in working time is one of the most valuable tools that individuals have to reconcile work with other aspects of life, particularly in relation to family duties. Thus, this practice is gradually extending throughout European workplaces as an effective way to reconcile work and personal or family life.

In order to analyse the current situation on this issue in Europe, the temporary work agency Adecco and the IESE Business School have carried out a study on working time flexibility among the 25–49 year age group, based on Eurostat data for 2004. The study, Labour Euroindex IESE-Adecco (in Spanish, 99Kb PDF), focuses on Spain among a group of 10 representative EU countries comprising Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, while also considering the overall average for the 25 EU Member States up to 1 January 2007 (EU25).

Flexible working time for men

Generally speaking, fewer than 9% of Spanish workers in the target age group benefit from flexible working time, well below the 23% average for the EU25. The report provides more detailed results by sex. In the EU25, 23.8% of working men have flexible working time. By country, Spain is among the Member States with the lowest levels of variable working time, as only 8% of working Spanish men have this type of flexibility; only Portugal records a lower value at 6.1% of working men. This situation is far from that experienced in other countries such as Germany, Finland or the UK, where up to 49.6%, 41.2% and 31.3%, respectively, of men enjoy flexible working time practices (see figure).

Men and women with working time flexibility, 2004 (%)

Men and women with working time flexibility, 2004 (%)

Source: Labour Euroindex IESE-Adecco, 2007

Flexible start and finish times most common option

The most prevalent flexibility option in Spain is the possibility of modifying the start or finish time within a predefined working timetable boundary. This practice is also the most common in a further seven out of the 10 analysed EU countries, as well as for the EU25 average. Some 6.6% of working men in Spain can avail of this option, well below the French proportion of 24.4%; among the countries studied, France has the highest share of workers benefiting from this form of flexibility. In Finland and Germany, the predominant means of flexibility is a compensation system by which workers can freely carry out their work provided that a predefined number of working days or hours are fulfilled within a specified period of time – a week, month or year.

Flexible working time for women

Meanwhile, approximately 9.2% of the Spanish women surveyed enjoy flexible working time practices at work. This proportion, although much lower than the EU25 average, which stands at 22.1%, is higher than the percentages for Italy, Hungary or Portugal (7.5%, 6.1% and 4%, respectively) and close to the Irish rate of 9.9%. By way of contrast, among the other countries analysed, Germany, Finland, the UK and France record much higher proportions of women benefiting from these flexible practices, reaching above 25% in all cases (see figure).

Interestingly, the Spanish and Irish cases show similar shares of men and women enjoying flexible working time practices, in comparison with other countries such as Finland or Germany where significant gender differences arise. Moreover, Spain is the only country among those studied where a larger proportion of women than men benefit from these flexible practices.

Flexible start and finish times most prevalent practice

The most common flexibility practices among Spanish female workers consist again of the possibility of modifying start or finish times within a predefined working timetable: 8% of women in Spain are able to adopt this practice compared with an average of 10.5% of women in the EU25. This proportion is higher than in the case of the Italian, Hungarian and Portuguese female workers surveyed, who record 6%, 4.6% and 2.9%, respectively; nevertheless, it is much lower than among the women surveyed in France, 21.3% of whom enjoy this means of flexibility. France is again the Member State with the highest proportion in this regard among the countries studied. As in the case for men, Finnish and German female workers prefer to use the so-called compensation system.

Spanish workers prefer to work from 8.00 to 15.00

The above results on working time flexibility can be complemented with another recent survey prepared by Alta Gestión, a Spanish temporary work agency. This study (in Spanish) reveals that up to 87% of the 1,156 Spanish workers surveyed indicated that their preferred working time schedule extends from 8.00 to 15.00; this overall proportion represented 82% of men and 89% of women. Such a working day models traditional hours in the banking sector or many public administration services in Spain. Conversely, only 13% of the Spanish workforce prefer to work both morning and afternoon hours.

It is important to note that the traditional Spanish working time schedule is on a split shift from 8.00 or 9.00 to 18.00 or 19.00, with a two-hour break for lunch. This schedule has been progressively declining in recent years in favour of a continuous shift or a much shorter lunch break (ES0603019I). The Alta Gestión survey also shows that up to 65% of workers in Spain would like more flexibility in their working schedules to enable a better work-life balance (see also ES0611029I, ES0410202F).

Further information

For more information at European level, see the comparative report on Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02) or the report Working time flexibility in European companies.

Iñigo Isusi, IKEI




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