Working time organisation under review

The traditional organisation of working time is currently being discussed in Spain. While working time patterns remain the same as they were 50 years ago, the structure of Spanish society has changed considerably. This imbalance creates stress for workers and affects society in different ways, leading to, for example, reduced labour productivity, weaker social cohesion and a decreased birth rate.

In 2005, the Ministry of Public Administration (Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas, MAP), in conjunction with Fundación Independiente and the International Centre of Work and Family of the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, published a ‘White Paper on working time structure in Spain’. This paper outlines some of the characteristics of the Spanish working time structure and its negative effects on work–life balance. It also argues that Spain’s working hours should be aligned with those prevailing in other European countries, in order to increase productivity. In addition, the document suggests a number of recommendations aimed at resolving this imbalance.

A total of nine research groups prepared the paper, focusing on several issues in relation to working time organisation in Spain. Thus, it provides an in-depth analysis of Spanish working time patterns.

Main findings

Due to the increasing demands of work and society, Spanish people are experiencing higher stress levels in attempting to reconcile work and different aspects of their personal lives, such as family and social relationships, and leisure activities.

Gender work patterns

According to the Fifth National Working Conditions Survey (2003), 89.4% of the occupied population work full time, compared with a small proportion of 10% working part time. Men mainly work full time (96.2%), while women have a higher rate of part-time jobs (21.8%).

More than half of the occupied population (52.2%) work a split shift, although this figure will continue to decrease over time. Taking into account the gender distribution, interesting differences emerge: while 59% of women work a continuous shift, only 43.3% of men do so. Nevertheless, 66.4% of workers report not having any flexibility to decide their start or finish work times.

Lower productivity rates

Spanish workers report a similar number of effective working hours (40.3 hours) as other European countries (around 40 hours, on average). However, Spain shows a low rate of productivity per hour (83.3% of the EU15 average), especially in comparison with some European countries with a similar effective working time as Spain – such as France, which shows a productivity rate of 123.1% of the EU15 average. Only Greece (75.1%) and Portugal (63.9%) have a lower productivity rate than Spain. The Spanish situation might be attributed to inefficient working time practices.

Labour productivity in EU15
Labour productivity in EU15
Country Productivity per hour (EU15 = 100) Effective working hours (full-time)
Belgium 120.1 40.3
Denmark 103.7 38.8
Germany 104.4 42.5
Greece 75.1 43.0
Spain 83.8 40.3
France 123.1 40.4
Ireland 114.1 41.4
Italy 103.5 37.0
Luxembourg 124.8 40.9
Netherlands 112.8 39.1
Austria 101.4 42.5
Portugal 58.8 40.6
Finland 92.6 39.0
Sweden 96.2 38.3
United Kingdom 90.0 41.6

Source: Eurostat, 2003; information provided in the White Paper on working time structure in Spain, 2005

Cultural differences

In Spain, official working hours differ from actual working hours. This imbalance is probably due to cultural patterns that are different to those of other countries. In Spain, people take light breakfasts, heavy and long lunches, travel long commuting distances and have late dinner hours. Indeed, the country’s rather unique time structure makes it more problematic to communicate with other European countries; for example, the Spanish lunchtime does not coincide with the typical European lunchtime neither in terms of timing or duration.

Childcare needs

Spanish people spend a high proportion of their household budget on childcare, such as childminders, after-school activities and summer camps. This demand for childcare is mainly related to the fact that parents do not have time to look after the children themselves, due to long working hours. This may partly explain the low birth rate currently prevailing in Spain (1.32 per woman, Eurostat 2004).


The paper puts forward recommendations for improving the Spanish time structure, by focusing on three main areas of action.

Working environment

Authorities should create a legislative framework that encourages flexible work practices within companies. At the same time, companies should help to balance market and labour force needs, and introduce policies that favour flexible work practices.

In addition, it is necessary to foster a cultural shift in the attitudes of company executives, moving away from the traditional business culture of working long hours to a more target and results-focused business culture.

Retail opportunities

In order to further advance changes in Spanish time structures, authorities should also support good practice in the retail sector. Retailers should identify customer needs by district and sector, and adapt opening hours according to customer requirements.

School and family

Educational centres should receive support to enable them to offer activities outside school hours, which would give parents more time to collect their children. However, these activities should not lead to a schooling overload for children. Moreover, schools should make an effort to adapt their school hours and activities to better match parents’ needs.

Furthermore, the school’s location is also an important aspect for parents to consider when selecting a school for their children. Choosing a school that is relatively close to the workplace would improve the reconciliation of work and family life.

Further information

See also the ‘Concilia Plan agreement on work–life balance in the Spanish public sector’ (ES0602104F) and the topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).

Antonio Corral, IKEI

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