Working time in Europe

Recent comparative research into working time across the European Union provides new insights into aspects such as the number of hours worked, overtime work and flexitime.

The current edition of Statistics in focus from Eurostat, devoted to the issue of working time, (pdf file) outlines current developments and trends in the former 15 EU Member States (EU15). Likewise, the European Commission’s Employment in Europe 2003 report (pdf file), in its analysis of the quality of work, examines different flexible working time arrangements (EU0311NU02). Both publications make use of data from a 2001 ad hoc survey to the labour force survey.

Number of working hours

In 2001, in the EU15, full-time employed persons worked on average 41.6 hours per week and part-time employed persons worked 19.7 hours. The average usual weekly working hours of full-time employed men exceeded those of women by two to three hours, except in Ireland and the UK, where there was a difference of five hours and more.

Between 1997 and 2002, the average number of hours usually worked by full-time employees in the EU15 decreased by half an hour and by one hour for self-employed people.

In the 10 new Member States (NMS) which joined the European Union in May 2004, the usual weekly working hours for full-time employees are one to four hours above the EU15 average. In the NMS and the three candidate countries, the majority of full-time employees work more than 40 hours a week, with 5%-10% of full-time employees working more than 48 hours. The equivalent proportion of full-time employees in the EU15 working excessively long hours is less than 5%, with the notable exception of the UK, where the figure is more than 20%.

The 2001-2 European Working Conditions Survey carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions showed a similar high frequency of long working days (more than 10 hours a day) in the NMS.

In all countries, usual working hours vary across sectors and occupations. The hotel and restaurant sector reports the longest working time, exceeding the average by more than 5%.


The research indicates that 18% of male and 13% of female full-time employees in the EU15 work overtime. However, more female (10%) than male (8%) part-time employees work overtime. Overtime is less prevalent in the new Member States.

In several countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, UK), half or more of all employees working overtime are not paid for it. A clear gender dimension can be seen in the context of paid and unpaid overtime work: just one third of female compared with half of male full-time employees receive pay for overtime.

Work outside core working hours

A large percentage of employees work shifts or work outside standard working hours, generally in the evenings or at weekends.

Shift work and non-standard working hours, EU15, 2000

Shift work is prevalent in the new Member States: in some countries, more than 25% of employees work shifts. This contrasts with the EU15 average figure of 15% from Eurostat.

According to the European Working Conditions Survey, 19.3% of employees work shifts in the EU15. In 2001, 21.1% of employees worked shifts in 12 of the former acceding and candidate countries (ACC12) (Turkey is not included in these figures; it was surveyed separately in 2002).

In the EU15, 24% of employees work outside normal daytime hours during weekdays. Working time schedules vary significantly across countries, sectors, and occupations. Work outside core working hours is more common in manual or low-skilled service jobs.

In all EU Member States, night work is common: 10-20% of all employed people work at least occasionally during the night. According to the European Working Conditions Survey, night work is a reality for 18.7% of workers in the EU15 and 21.4% in the ACC12.

Almost half of the workforce in the EU15 (46%) and in the ACC12 (45%) work some evenings. More than a quarter (27%) in the EU15 and over one third (38%) in the ACC12 work some Sundays. Over half of workers in the EU15 (52%) and 62% in the ACC12 work some Saturdays.


Fixed starting and ending times remain the predominant working time arrangement for more than 75% of all employees, particularly in the southern European countries and in the new Member States. However, in France, Germany, Ireland and the UK, half or more of all employees benefit from some form of flexible working time arrangement. In France and Ireland, more than 20% of all employees reported that they can determine their working times themselves. On average, 20% of employees in the EU15 benefit from some type of flexitime arrangement (e.g. working time accounts).

Flexitime is more common among the following groups: employees working standard weekly hours, men, highly skilled workers, and non-manual employees.

Greater flexibility does not always work in the employee’s favour: 1.4% of employees in the EU15 work on call, i.e. they have no guarantee of work but can be called in by the employer at short notice.

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