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Working time

Working time refers to any period during which a worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his/her activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice. Working hours vary for workers in different occupations or at different life stages, and these differences are particularly striking when gender is considered.


Recent updates


In this episode of Eurofound Talks Mary McCaughey speaks with Eurofound Research Manager Tina Weber about new research on the right to disconnect, the evolution of the right to disconnect...


Key messages

  • Most of the working population continued to put in standard working hours in their jobs in 2021: 70% worked a five-day week, and roughly half worked 35–40 hours a week. A substantial minority of employees, 14%, worked long hours of 48 hours or more a week.
  • The EWCTS data suggest that there was a latent but widespread desire among workers to work fewer hours: 45% would have preferred to work fewer hours, while 43% were satisfied with their current hours. Among workers whose working hours were the standard 35–40 hours per week, 4 out of every 10 would have preferred to work fewer hours.
  • A strong gender divide continues in paid and unpaid work (including domestic work, and care for children or relatives). On average, in the EU27, in 2021, men spent nearly 6 hours per week more than women on paid work, while women spent 13 hours more on unpaid work than men. This resulted in women working 7 hours more per week than men (70 hours and 63 hours, respectively).
  • In 2021, women in part-time jobs worked as many total hours (paid and unpaid) as men in full-time jobs (64 and 65 hours, respectively), with the former spending the equivalent of a full-time job doing unpaid work (37 hours).
  • Comparing the time spent on paid and unpaid work by men and women with and without children further highlights the gender disparities. In 2021, men with children spent 1.3 hours more per week on paid work and another 14.2 hours more on unpaid work compared with men without children. Women with children worked 1.5 hours fewer in paid work than women without children, but 29.3 hours more in unpaid work.
  • There is potential for high levels of flexibility and autonomy in the digitalised work environment. Because of this, digitalisation provides opportunities to improve workers’ work–life balance. However, this potential is associated with risks such as working long hours or non-standard working hours and the blurring of boundaries between working time and private time.
  • The rules governing the algorithms that are used (for example, in some platform work) may have implications for the organisation of working time and therefore for schedules or on-demand work, leaving workers with little control over their working time. Digital monitoring and surveillance pose further risks to working time autonomy.
  • It has been shown that telework can increase pressure on workers to be ‘permanently’ available or to work during their free time. Some teleworkers have experienced isolation and work–life balance conflicts linked to the blurring of boundaries between work and private life. However, overall, telework improves work–life balance as it can help workers to juggle childcare, significantly reduce commuting time and result in an increase in work autonomy and better use of working time.
  • With an appropriate duration and appropriately scheduled, rest breaks from work can reduce some of the potentially harmful effects of work on health and well-being while contributing to improved performance and productivity.

Eurofound research

For many years now, Eurofound has collected information on various aspects of working time and their implications for working conditions and quality of life of men and women in the EU. Eurofound’s studies on working time aim to improve understanding of how long workers work and how their time is organised and the implications of working time patterns for employment, productivity, well-being and the balance between work and private life. Data on collectively agreed working time and the role of the social partners have been published regularly, and have also been analysed from a long-term perspective. Research on men’s working time versus women’s shows that men are much more likely to work longer hours and women are more likely to spend more time doing unpaid domestic work. While most individuals, regardless of their sex, seem to be satisfied with their current working time, the majority of those expressing a preference to change their working time say they would like to reduce their hours.

Regulation and organisation of working time

Regulating working time has a role to play in increasing work–life balance and also labour market participation. In a fast-changing economic climate, companies and workers need flexibility. Eurofound has explored the relationship between working time and work–life balance in a life course perspective.

Research has looked at the various aspects of the organisation of working time and the implications for productivity and working conditions. As the organisation of working time is changing, Eurofound together with the International Labour Organization examined the effects of telework and ICT-mobile work on the working time of those engaged in such work arrangements.

Taking a long-term perspective on working time, Eurofound has examined the evolution of aspects of collectively agreed working time in the EU at the beginning of the 21st century. The research focused in particular on five sectors: chemicals, metalworking, banking, retail and public administration. It described the institutional regimes of working time regulation and assesses changes in agreed working hours and usual working hours between 1999 and 2014.

Eurofound has also looked at the national approaches on how and when breaks from work should be taken. The research compares different approaches among Member States, gives examples of judicial rulings, highlights some types of work that attract special consideration and looks into causal relationships between breaks, health and performance at work.

Research on new ways of working fostered by digitalisation like teleworking and platform work have highlighted the increasing trend towards flexible working with far-reaching implications for the duration and organisation of working time. These aspects are also part of the regulatory debate at EU and national level, for instance wtih the adoption of legislation on the right to disconnect. 

Working time in survey analysis

Eurofound’s three major surveys provide data on issues related to working time.

The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) covers working time from various angles. In the 2021 European Working Conditions Telephone Survey (EWCTS), working time arrangements was one of six dimensions of job quality analysed. This dimension includes unsocial work schedules (as a job demand) and working time flexibility (as a job resource). The EWCTS captured four types of working time that are generally regarded as unsocial: regularly working in one’s free time, regularly working at night, working long hours and regularly being required to work at short notice. Flexibility in working hours is positively related to worker’s well-being and supports a healthy balance between their personal and working lives. The EWCTS highlighted the ease with which an individual can take an hour or two off during working hours to attend to a personal matter as an indicator of such flexibility. 

Using EWCS 2015 data, Eurofound has examined working time patterns for sustainable work. The analysis looks at the links between working time patterns, work–life balance and working time preferences, as well as workers’ health and well-being. It also assesses how sustainable the current working conditions and working time patterns are into the future.

The European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) looks at working time arrangements, both paid and unpaid, and their impact on satisfaction with work–life balance.

Working time arrangements can have a significant bearing on the efficiency, productivity and competitiveness of companies, not to mention the health, well-being and motivation of their employees. Through its European Company Survey (ECS), Eurofound has also carried out comprehensive research on working time and work–life balance. It has looked at the prevalence of flexible working time arrangements and working time accounts, part-time work, overtime and non-standard working hours; parental and other long-term leave; phased and early retirement; as well as specific policies to support work–life balance in companies.

Key outputs


This report examines the average weekly working hours across Europe in 2021 and 2022. It covers important developments resulting from legislative reforms in collective bargaining at national or sectoral level...

24 October 2023
Research report

This report sets out to map and analyse legislation and collective bargaining on telework in the 27 Member States and Norway. It highlights the main cross-country differences and similarities regarding...

1 September 2022
Research report

Disclaimer - Please note that this report was updated with revised data (specifically for Bulgaria) on 23 March 2021.This report sets out to assess the initial impact of the COVID-19...

11 March 2021
Research report

EU context

Working time is a key element of working life and regulating it has been at the core of political, economic and social debates at both EU and national levels. To protect workers’ health and safety, the EU’s Working Time Directive requires all Member States to guarantee minimum standards on the duration and organisation of working time for all workers throughout the EU. This includes standards on maximum weekly working hours (set at 48 hours), minimum rest periods and breaks, annual leave, night work and shift work.

The most relevant changes in working time regulation across the EU in 2021 and 2022 were linked with the transposition of two European directives: 


Eurofound expert(s)


Jorge Cabrita is a senior research manager in the Working Life unit. He is responsible for formulating, coordinating and managing European-wide research, and promoting the...

Senior research manager,
Working life research unit
Oscar Vargas Llave

Oscar Vargas Llave is a research manager in the Working Life unit at Eurofound and manages projects on changes in the world of work and the impact on working conditions and related...

Research manager,
Working life research unit
Publications results (214)

This report explores EU Member States’ legislation around the right to disconnect and assesses the impact of company policies in this area on employees’ hours of connection, working time, work–life balance, health and well-being, and overall workplace satisfaction.

30 November 2023

Using data from the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 and building on a theoretical model that differentiates between job stressors and job resources, this report examines key psychosocial risks in the workplace and their impact on health.

23 November 2023

This report examines the average weekly working hours across Europe in 2021 and 2022. It covers important developments resulting from legislative reforms in collective bargaining at national or sectoral level, drawing on debates about the reduction of working time and the four-day working week.

24 October 2023

This publication comprises individual country reports on developments in working life in each of the 27 EU Member States and Norway in 2022, based on national research and survey results. The topics covered include the policy responses of governments to inflation and how inflation has featured in

05 May 2023

This report presents Eurofound’s research on telework during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. It explores changes in the incidence of telework, working conditions experienced by employees working from home and changes to regulations addressing issues related to this working arrangement.

08 December 2022

The strict public health restrictions implemented by governments in 2020 to control the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed working life and continued to shape it over the two years that followed. Between March and November 2021, over 70,000 interviews were carried out in 36 countries by the European

29 November 2022

This report sets out to map and analyse legislation and collective bargaining on telework in the 27 Member States and Norway. It highlights the main cross-country differences and similarities regarding telework legislation and recent changes to these regulations. It also examines the current situati

01 September 2022

This publication consists of individual country reports on working life during 2021 for 28 countries – the 27 EU Member States and Norway. The country reports summarise evidence on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working life based on national research and survey results during 2021. They

19 May 2022

Despite the well-known adverse effects of regular long working hours on workers’ health, well-being and performance, many workers in the EU continue to work beyond their normal hours. Part of this additional working time is classified as overtime. This report takes a comparative overview of how

10 March 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic closed or limited many economic activities in 2020, with far-reaching impacts on the labour market. Employment losses at the outset of the pandemic were sharper than those experienced during the global financial crisis. Even greater declines in hours worked arose as a result of

19 October 2021

Online resources results (559)

In this episode of Eurofound Talks Mary McCaughey speaks with Eurofound Research Manager Tina Weber about new research on the right to disconnect, the evolution of the right to disconnect in Europe, the reasons why legislative and procedural actions are being called for, the impacts that effective

15 April 2024

Flexible work increases post-pandemic, but not for everyone

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, various forms of flexible work, such as teleworking and flexitime, were in place across EU Member States. However, the pandemic led to a surge in flexible working practices with many workers wanting to focus on their work–life balance and have more time for

Working life in Moldova

Eurofound and the European Training Foundation have developed the first working life country profile for Moldova in recognition of its new status as an EU candidate country. The profile is intended to provide an overview of Moldova’s key socioeconomic characteristics and regulations to serve as a ba

Working life in Georgia

Eurofound and the European Training Foundation have developed the first working life country profile for Georgia, which is an EU candidate country. The profile is intended to provide an overview of Georgia’s key socioeconomic characteristics and regulations to serve as a background for its work t

Female teleworker taking notes during video conference on her laptop

Workers want to telework but long working hours, isolation and inadequate equipment must be tackled

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in telework, with dramatic increases in the number of employees working from home (teleworking) in many European countries. What for many employees started out as a mandatory move seems to have transformed into a preference among the majority for part-time or

Living, working and COVID-19: Impact on gender equality 11 March 2021, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) virtual meeting Presentation by Maria Jepsen, Acting Executive Director, Eurofound

22 March 2021

Labour market regulation, effectiveness of legal rights and obligations, and safety and health at work 9 March 2021 Presentation by Barbara Gerstenberger, Head of unit - Working life, Eurofound

9 March 2021

Connecting and disconnecting and work-life balance 9 March 2021 Presentation by Tina Weber, Research manager - Employment unit, Eurofound

9 March 2021

Blogs results (9)

The jury is still out on the question whether men and women are from distinct planets. When it comes to the world of work, however, they are worlds apart.

25 October 2023

Europe Day is a celebration of unity, solidarity and harmony. While we may not have had much to celebrate this past year, one thing we can be proud of is how Europe has come together in the face of large-scale challenges and threats, showing that solidarity is the key to resilience and resolve.

8 May 2023

​​​​​​​To date, close to six million workers in the EU have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Many businesses have closed their doors forever or been pushed to the brink, bringing severe financial and psychological hardship to the individuals and families affected. However, the toll of the pandemic

9 February 2021

The International Labour Organization (ILO) met for the first time 100 years ago, and right at the top of the agenda for discussion for this new specialised UN agency was the 8-hour working day. This discussion subsequently resulted in the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, which stated that ‘The

12 November 2019

Unemployment in the EU is continuing to fall, with the rate approaching its 2008 low point. This is good news: the Europe 2020 target of 75% employment in the working age population is now in sight for many Member States. However, as unemployment reaches new lows, the opposite problem is emerging –

19 November 2018
Rethinking working time in Europe

The results of recent research on working time patterns in the EU constitute a strong plea for working time policies that clearly acknowledge the life course perspective. This means that working time must not only be thought and organised in daily, weekly, monthly and/or yearly terms but also take

1 November 2017

There are limits to the effectiveness of member states’ pension reforms. Europe, it’s often said, is experiencing a worsening ageing crisis. European governments grappling with this and the related unsustainability of many pension schemes have taken measures to keep older workers longer in

26 September 2016

​Nowadays we all know that long or excessive working hours may have serious negative impacts on a person’s health and wellbeing. Eurofound‘s new report 'Working time developments in the 21st century' suggests that if working time standards are mainly left to legislation or to be set unilaterally by

4 March 2016

The latest research from Eurofound on working conditions in Europe highlights that the 9-to-5 day is not the norm for many workers, and work commonly spills over into home life. Such patterns make it difficult to balance work and life outside work.

25 November 2015
Data results (20)


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