Flexible working hours seen as key to better work–life balance

The majority of Portuguese employees believe that they still do not enjoy a perfect work–life balance and that this has a negative impact on their health, according to the findings of a recent study carried out by the International Research Institutes. More flexibility in working hours seems to be the preferred solution to improving the balance between work and private life. However, many workers in Portugal do not regard work–life balance as a priority issue.

In 2006, the International Research Institutes (IriS), an international association of market research companies, carried out a survey on work-life balance in 24 countries, including Portugal; see below for further details about the survey methodology. The main objectives of the study were to:

  • determine the significance of the work–life balance problem;
  • understand its impact on health, interpersonal relationships and private life;
  • examine the main factors affecting work–life balance, such as working hours, time spent commuting and lack of holidays;
  • identify possible solutions aimed at improving work–life balance.

According to this study by the IriS Network, Portugal ranks fourth in terms of perceived work–life balance among the countries included in the study, behind the Netherlands (57%), Romania (55%) and Ireland (50%). Overall, 43% of the Portuguese interviewees mentioned that they had a perfect work–life balance. This was especially the case among female employees, at 45%, and among individuals older than 36 years of age, at over 45%.

Table 1: Perceived work–life balance, by sex and age, Portugal (%)
This table shows the percentage level of perceived work–life balance in Portugal, by sex and age.
  Total Men Women 18–25 years old 26–35 years old 36–45 years old Over 45 years old
Perfect work–life balance 43 39 45 36 38 46 45
Some work–life balance 48 47 49 51 54 43 47
Little work–life balance 7 10 5 10 7 7 6
No work–life balance 3 4 1 3 1 5 2
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Notes: Some of the data by column may add up to more than 100% due to rounding of values.

Source: IriS, 2006

However, about 58% of the Portuguese respondents still did not achieve a perfect balance between work and private life. The main reasons given by workers for this imbalance are the number of working hours – mentioned by 53% of respondents – and dissatisfaction with pay – highlighted by 45% of respondents.

Perception of work–life balance

Work–life balance is not a concern for 68% of the Portuguese interviewees, a situation which contrasts with that of Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Norway, in which, respectively, 98%, 95%, 61% and 56% of the respondents reported worrying about work–life balance.

For most Portuguese respondents, work–life balance is the ability to achieve a good quality of life. However, many others identify issues affecting work–life balance which are directly related to work and work organisation. In this regard, 42% of respondents mentioned good cooperation between employers and employees, 41% highlighted flexibility of working hours and 38% cited employers’ awareness of employees’ needs as ways of improving work–life balance. Less importance was given to home-related issues and the use of technologies.

Table 2: Meaning of work–life balance for respondents, by definition, Portugal (%)
This table shows the various definitions of what work–life balance means for the Portuguese respondents (% choosing each definition).
Achieving quality of life 63
Good cooperation between employer and employees 42
Flexibility of working hours 41
Employers’ awareness of employees’ needs 38
Improved working environment 35
Flexibility in relation to home issues 32
Balancing home life and work or giving weight to home issues 31
Innovative solutions through the use of technology 27

Source: IriS, 2006

Work–life balance impact and possible solutions

From the set of countries covered under the research, more people in Portugal consider that their current level of work–life balance has a negative impact on their health. About 62% of the Portuguese respondents held this opinion, which is higher than in Poland (41% of respondents), Greece (40%), Romania (39%), the UK and France (each 35%) and Spain (34%). Interestingly, more Portuguese respondents, at 70%, believe that their private life interferes with their work than those who consider that work–life balance has a negative impact on their personal life, at 58%. The opposite was the case in all of the other countries participating in the survey, except in Russia.

More than half of Portuguese respondents, at 53%, proposed flexible working hours as a way of improving work–life balance. They are less favourably disposed towards working from home (19%), starting one’s own business (19%), part-time work (16%) or obtaining information and advice (15%) as solutions to improving work–life balance.

Survey methodology

Data were collected during the second half of 2006 from more than 13,000 employees aged over 18 years. The survey was carried out in 24 countries worldwide: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK and the US.

In Portugal, 400 interviews were carried out by the independent market research company Motivação. These results were weighted to 1,000 cases in order to have comparable data for all countries. In each country, the sample is representative of its population in terms of sex and age.


FDS, What workers want: A worldwide study of attitudes to work and work–life balance, London, FDS International Limited, 2006.

Heloísa Perista and Jorge Cabrita, CESIS – Centro de Estudos para a Intervenção Social




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