Working time in the European Union: Denmark

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 16 November 2009

Mette Ballebye & Helle Ourø Nielsen

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The aim is to obtain a fuller insight into differences in working time across the European Union and into developments in average hours worked both in total and by specific sections of the work force in different Member States over recent years. The concern is to investigate the factors underlying the changes that are observed in the survey data collected and, in particular, how terms and conditions of employment are changing in relation to working time. In general, data refers to the working time of those in employment.

The national contributions collects data inter alia from; firstly the EU Labour Force Survey which covers average hours worked by men and women employees both overall and in part-time and full-time jobs, the proportion of men and women in part-time jobs and the relative number of men and women employed under different arrangements as regards working time. Secondly, from the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey conducted by the European Foundation which covers other aspects of working time, including the number of days worked per week, evening, night and weekend working, the organisation of working time, the proportion of people with second jobs, the time spent commuting as well as on unpaid work.

These data are intended to form the basis of the replies to the questions asked but other relevant data have been used where available to supplement these.

Duration of work

Average weekly hours

Does the evidence from the above surveys, and other sources, indicate that, over the past five or ten years, employees are working fewer hours in Denmark?

The average weekly working hours worked has slightly decreased in Denmark from 35 hours on average in 2000 till 34.5 hours in 2006. Men tend to work more hours than women. However, the number of hours worked has increased more for women than for men from 1995 till 2005.

Is there evidence that any such decline in average working time is due more to compositional changes (e.g. more women entering the labour market and working part-time) than to an across-the-board reduction in hours?

There is no clear tendency that the decline is due to compositional changes rather than an across-the-board reduction. In Denmark, the participation rate among women is high. In 2007, the employment rate among women was 71% compared to 69% in 2000 (Statistics Denmark, DST, 2007).

For those men working part-time the average weekly working hours increased from 13.2 hours in 2000 till 14.6 hours in 2006. For women the tendency was the reverse. Women worked in average 21.9 hours in 2000 compared to 20.7 hours in 2006.

Is there evidence that any fall in average hours over these periods may be due to a reduction in the number of people working very long hours – over 48 per week? Is there evidence that this has been due, to any extent, to the adoption of the EU working time Directive?

The number of employees working long hours is below the average of employees in other EU countries. In 2006, 90% of the Danes did not work long hours. Among the 10% who worked long hours, 3% of these were self-employed and 7% employees. The number of people working long hours has not changed from 2000 till 2007.

Annual hours worked

To what extent is the notion of annual working time (calculated to take account of annual holidays, including public holidays, as well as average weekly hours) in common use in political or everyday discussion, or in social partner negotiations?

Is there any evidence that the number of weeks worked per year has declined over the past five or ten years due to increased holidays, or time off for other purposes?

Data on working time in Denmark tend to give a mixed picture. On the one hand, Denmark has one of the shortest formal working weeks in Europe equivalent to around 1,600 hours a year per worker against a 1,800-hour European average. One the other hand, due to a generally high labour market participation rate and the high labour-market participation rate for women, the Danish population as a whole spends more time at the labour market than any other Western nation (DK0702049I). Every third couple/family spends more than 80 hours working per week, and less than 10% spend less than 70 hours (Danish Board of Technology, 2005). Social partners and policymakers in Denmark disagree on which of these two different calculation methods on working time should be applied.

There is no trend in Denmark towards decreased working hours worked per year per employee. Data from Eurostat's Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that the number of hours worked per year stayed relatively stable from 2000 till 2006 though with a slight increase in the hours worked in 2005 and 2006.

Danes tend to work few hours when looking at annual working time per employed worker. The Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) highlights that this is due to the relatively short formal work week of Danish employees – amounting to 37 hours – as well as the relatively high level of paid annual leave.

Days of work per week

Is the five-day week the predominant norm, as opposed to other patterns – four days, four and a half-days, five and a half-days, six days?

Are there any obvious trends in this respect – for example, to reduce the number of days worked per week, but to increase the number of hours worked each day?

75% of the Danish workforce works five days per week in their main job. 70% of the Danish population state that they work the same number of days every week. There are no trends towards reducing the workweek and instead increasing the number of hours worked each day.

Full-time and part-time working

Has part-time working grown relative to full-time working over the past five or ten years?

Are there major gender differences in the patterns of part-time working?

Does the government encourage part-time working, either ‘passively’ (i.e. through the workings of social security or taxation rules) or ‘actively’ (e.g. in the sense of particular incentives being offered)?

Among men, part-time employment increased from 2000 till 2006 by 3.4 percentage points. 13.6% of men worked part-time in 2006. Women are overrepresented when it comes to part-time employment with 35.8% of employed women work part-time. The number of women in part-time jobs has stayed stable from 2000 till 2006.

In 2002, the Danish Parliament passed a law on part-time work. The act makes it easier to make agreements about part-time work at enterprise-level, regardless of collective agreements already in place. The new law makes it possible for the employer and the employee to arrange that the employee works part-time if the parties can reach agreement on this. At the same time, the act made it illegal for an employer to lay off employees who refuse to accept part-time work, and thus protect employees against being pressured into accepting a potentially precarious situation. In case an employee gets fired the employee has the right to receive remuneration from the employer.

Part-time working is encouraged actively through a law on flexible jobs (flexjob). A 'flexjob' is aimed at persons with permanent reduced ability to work (e.g. due to illness) who therefore cannot handle a job under normal circumstances and have no possibilities to enhance the qualifications or regroup to employment under normal circumstances. Those people have the possibility to be employed in a 'flexjob' or to receive support to maintain employment in their own company. This way an employee can work either reduced hours or work full-time with reduced pace. The employer pays salary to the employee and hereafter the employer receives compensation from the municipality. This compensation is either half or two thirds of the salary depending on how reduced the ability to work of the employee is. This way even a modest ability to work is exploited.

In Denmark, part-time unemployed can receive unemployment benefit. However, part-time unemployed must actively apply for full-time employment. In January 2008, the Minister for Employment announced that unemployment benefit rules for part-time unemployed must be strengthened due to the very low unemployment rates in Denmark. The Minister wants to reduce the period in which it is possible to receive unemployment benefit for part-time unemployed, thus increasing pressure on part-time unemployed to find a full-time job.

Collective bargaining

What are the main working time concerns and priorities of trade unions in collective bargaining?

Is part-time working generally viewed positively, or accepted reluctantly, by trade unions?

Many trade unions have earlier been opposed to part-time working. However, before 2002 most collective agreements had made it possible to work part-time. Exceptions were though seen in some areas with particular work conditions such as in the transport sector where none of the parties had shown any interest in working part-time.

The changed rules on part-time mentioned above has received substantial criticism by trade unions as the government this way interfered with conditions, which before were regulated through voluntary agreements between the social partners. Their main criticism is that an employer due to the new law can force employees to work part-time. If the employee refuses this and gets fired he or she will not receive a sufficient remuneration. There were especially concerns that women would be the victims of this change.

The 37-hour week has been the norm in Denmark since its introduction in 1990. Since then, working time reduction, or extension, has not been very high on the agenda in collective bargainings. This was also confirmed during the collective bargainings in 2007 where no issues on working time were discussed. However, the debate on working time has recently been reopened as the State Employer's Authority (Personalestyrelsen) has presented a proposal for the collective bargainings in 2008 to leave it to each employee to arrange longer working time for a higher monthly wage. This proposal has been received with skepticism by the trade unions, as they fear that employees will feel pressure to work more than the normal 37 hours and that a longer work week will lead to an increase in sickness absence, higher stress levels, etc.

Work schedules

The working day and working week

To what extent does the standard ‘full-time’ working day – 08.00/09.00 to 17.00/18.00 - prevail as the norm?

To what extent does the ‘standard time norm’ of the working week (40 hour, 5 day week) prevail?

Most collective agreements have laid down a 37-hour week. As mentioned above most people tend to work five days per week. Furthermore, most people have standard 'full-time' working days but there tend to be a high degree of flexibility in Denmark. Only 34% state that they work the same hours every day while 66% state that they have shifting work hours.

Non-standard work arrangements

To what extent are non-standard working time arrangements – evening, night and week-end work - mainly limited to those sectors of the economy where it is difficult to avoid – e.g. shift working in continuous process plants or lunch-time and evening work in restaurants?

Is there a tendency for non-standard schedules to enter into other areas of the economy, where it may not be strictly necessary, but where it may have attractions – for employers wishing to make more intensive use of their plant, equipment and other facilities, and for workers wishing to attain a better work-life balance or a more convenient means of taking care of children?

To what extent are weekend working and other non-standard working arrangements the result of seasonal work (such as in tourism)?

The share of people working odd hours is relatively high in Denmark. In 2006, 82% of self-employed persons and 55% of employees worked regularly or occasionally during odd hours (Statistics Denmark, 2007). It is more common for men to work in the evening and at night than it is for women.

A report on working time by the Danish Working Environment Authority (Arbejdstilsynet, AT) from 2005 highlights that non-standard working time mainly takes place within the service sector, the transport sector and in the health care sector. Those working in the industry sector most often report to work at night.

The report shows that non-standard working time arrangement mainly takes place for those who work with people where it is difficult to avoid. Those working at restaurants, police officers, prison personnel and nursing staff most often work at odd hours. However, also many in the food production industry, packers and cleaners work evening and nights.

In 2004, 68.5% of the women and 69.3% of the men who worked at night stated that working at night was convenient for their personal life situation. For those working in weekends, 73% of women and 71.9% of men stated that working weekends was convenient for their personal life situation.

Shift working

How important is regular shift working (as opposed to occasional shifts to cope with increased temporary demand) in your country?

Is shift-working predominantly carried out in specific sectors, and is there any tendency for it to decline (for example as a result of reducing capacity in traditional sectors) or to increase (as employers everywhere seek to make more intensive use of capital investments)?

What kinds of shift systems dominate – regular mornings, afternoon or nights or mixed patterns?

9.3% of the Danish workforce work shifts. This number is very low compared to the other EU countries. Among the people stating that they work shifts, 48.4% state that they work in rotating shifts, 34.7% in permanent shifts and 7.5% in daily split shifts. 9.7% work in other types of shifts.

Employees in 24-hour care centres for children and senior citizens and nurses are among those with the most irregular schedules.

Organisation of working time

Flexibility of working time

How far do individual workers have influence over their own working time arrangements – for example over the time they start and end work?

To what extent is it possible to ‘bank’ hours or days of work – for example to work extra hours for a number of days in order to take day(s) off?

To what extent can workers determine their own work schedules - in other words, work when they like, so long as the work is delivered on time?

From an employee perspective, can a distinction be drawn between ‘positive’ flexibility concerning working time (i.e. arrangements that suit them) and ‘negative’ flexibility (arrangements that suit their employers), or are most arrangements by mutual consent?

Is there evidence that people with higher ranking, better paid jobs are more likely to have greater flexibility regarding their working time arrangements than those with lower ranking/less well paid jobs?

Are there major differences between non-manual workers and manual workers in terms of such flexibility?

Are there major differences between public sector and private sector workers in terms of such flexibility?

Are any major gender differences – for example, are men and women seen to be subject to more or less ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ flexibility?

Employees in Denmark have a high degree of flexibility when it comes to working time compared to employees in other EU countries. 56.1% work with fixed start and end times and 34.3% state they work the same number of hours every day. Only 43.5% of the Danes state that they have fixed working hours. 8.8% state they have the possibility to choose between several fixed working schedules, 33% state it is possible to adapt the working hours within certain limits and 14.7% state they can entirely determine their working hours.

In Denmark, 0.7% of women and 1.3% of men have the possibility to bank hours in order to take time off later. However, the possibility to bank days was higher with 18% for women and 18.3% for men.

To a higher degree, men can plan their working time than women. Especially those with a long-term higher education have influence on their own working time arrangements. Around one half of the men and one third of the women with a long-term higher education have flexibility regarding their working time arrangements. In contrast, only every fifth man and every sixth women with no education have flexibility at work.

Men are better off than women with regard to the opportunities furnished by positive flexibility: single male parents have the highest degree of flexibility whereas for women it is singles with no children. Around 37% of single male parents have flexible working time whereas this only counts for around 26% of women single parents. Couples with no children have the lowest degree of flexibility.

Other working time issues

Multiple job holding

How widespread is the practice of multiple job holding in your country?

Are second or third jobs primarily seen as supplementary sources of income relative to a main job, or are all the different jobs seen as equally valid?

15% of the Danish workforce has more than one job, which is relatively many. 8.1% of these state they have more than one job on a regular basis, 6.1% state that it is only occasional, and 0.9% only seasonal. A tendency shows that mostly those with a long-term higher education holds more than one job. In 2004, every tenth top leader had more than one job. This is despite the fact that they spent 44.3 hours in their main job per week. Multiple job holding mostly occurs among those who in their main job works with public and personal services. A low degree of multiple job holding is seen within the industry and construction industry. A survey from 2000 shows that in some cases those with no education might be working two jobs for economic reasons and in other cases they might do so because they are employed considerably fewer hours in their main occupations than is the 'typical' employee.

A survey from 1999 by the Ministry of Finance on multiple job holding in the public sector showed that Supreme Court judges often earned almost as much in their second job as in their primary job or 94.7% of the wage in their main job. However, this is not the general picture. For postal workers the income from a second job was 12% of the main income, for police officers and office workers nearly 10% and for principals 7%.

Commuting time

How much time does commuting typically add to the average ‘working day’ (in the sense of time spent away from home)?

Is commuting commonplace for everybody, or does the time spent vary in any systematic way – such as according to the type of job, or whether people live in urban or rural areas?

Is the development of teleworking (full-time or part-time) seen as a viable and attractive alternative to commuting?

In average, Danes spend 41 minutes commuting per day. The number of kilometres commuted per day has risen from 14 km in 1993 till 16 km in 2003. Today much commuting takes place between provincial towns and between rural district councils and municipalities.

The prevalence of people working from home has increased in Denmark. In a Labour Force Survey conducted by Statistics Denmark, around every fourth employee (24%) was found to work usually or sometimes from home in 2005 contrary to 20% in 2000. Of those working from home, 20% work usually and 80% work sometimes from home. Though data do not reveal the underlying reasons why people work from home it is believed that working at home functions as a way to strike a work-life balance for employees, as employees with children living at home are more likely to work from home. More men than women tend to work from home .

According to data on peoples transport habits more people tend to take advantage of the high degree of flexibility, which exists in Denmark and use the possibility to work fewer days at the workplace if the live far from work. Only every third with more than 150 km to work goes to the workplace daily while every fourth only goes to the workplace once a week (Transportvaneundersøgelsen, 2006).

Unpaid working hours (of those in work)

Is there much debate about the impact of time spent on unpaid work in the home, as well as time spent on paid work, on work-life balance, especially between men and women?

Are there pressures for non-paid work to be more recognised, and for the work involved to be shared more evenly between partners?

Work-life balance is a highly debated issue in Denmark. Women are more likely to perform unpaid work than men. In average, women spend 21.5 hours per week on unpaid work whereas men spend 11.2 hours.

In 2005, the Government set up a Family and Working Life Commission (Familie- og Arbejdslivskommissionen). The work of the Family and Working Life Commission had three aims: to identify and analyse the most significant barriers to the ability of Danes to achieve a good balance between family and working life, to give recommendations on how a better balance can be created, and lastly to stimulate debate among the Danish population in order to know the Danes' opinion on the balance they desire. The Commission found that compared to an equivalent couple without children, a couple with young children have to work almost three hours extra every day, seven days a week, so in the course of a week couples with children have 20 hours additional practical chores.

Composite indicators of weekly working hours

Composite indicators of weekly working hours have been developed for full-time and part-time workers, both male and female, which include time spent in unpaid as well as paid work and time spent commuting. What do you see as the most significant implications of these indicators so far as Denmark is concerned?

Compared to other EU countries, the composite weekly working time is rather low in Denmark. However, this must be seen in relation to the fact that more than 70% of women today have a paid job and every third couple/family spends more than 80 hours doing paid work a week, which is a lot compared to the other EU countries. Furthermore, balance problems are especially expressed among these couples/families where both have a full-time job.

When looking at the composite indicators relatively much time is spend on non-paid work compared to paid-work. In total, women work 3.5 hours more per week in paid and unpaid work and on commuting than men. However, the gender gap is narrowing in the sense that there is a less distinct difference between hours spent on paid work, commuting and hours spent on domestic work by the two sexes.


Burr, H., Albertsen, K., "Arbejdstid. Hvem har skæve arbejdstider, og hvordan er balancen mellem privatliv og arbejdsliv?", National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NFA), Copenhagen 2005

Christiansen, R. H., Pedersen, H. S., European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Place of work and working conditions – Denmark, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2007 (DK0701029Q)

Christiansen, R. H., Nielsen, H. O., European Foundation for the Improvement of the Living and Working Conditions, Overall increase in working time but workers work fewer than average hours, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2007 (DK0702049I)

DA, "Danskerne er stressede trods kort arbejdstid", Arbejdsmarkedspolitisk Agenda no. 16, The Confederation of Danish Employers, Copenhagen 2006

DA, "Mere ferie og kortere arbejdstid er dyrt", Arbejdsmarkedspolitisk Agenda no 15, The Confederation of Danish Employers, Copenhagen 2005

Danish Transport Research Institute, "Flere har længere til arbejdet", Kgs. Lyngby 2006

Family and Working Life Commission, "Chance for balance – a shared responsibility", Copenhagen 2007

Jørgensen, C., "Collective bargaining and working time in Denmark 2004". Forskningsnotat no. 60. Employment Relations Research Centre (FAOS), Copenhagen 2004

LO, "Offentligt ansatte skal have ret til fuldtidsjob", The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, Copenhagen 2007

Madsen, M., Petersen, A., "Nye ansættelsesformer på det danske arbejdsmarked – bliver de atypiske de typiske?", LO-dokumentation no. 2., Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Copenhagen 2000, pp. 55-99

Ministry of Finance, "Statsansattes biindtægter", Copenhagen 1999

OECD Productivity Database, September 2006. At,2647,en_2825_30453906_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

Pedersen, H. S., Christiansen, R. H., Petersen, M. P., Denmark: Towards the individualization of working conditions?, in Eyraud, F., Vaughan-Whitehead, D. (eds.). The evolving world of work in the enlarged EU: Progress and vulnerability, International Labour Office, 2007, p.183

StatBank Denmark, AKU2: Population in per cent by employment status, age and sex, Statistics Denmark, Copenhagen 2007. At

StatBank Denmark, AKU6: Employed by usual working time, age and sex, Statistics Denmark, Copenhagen 2007. At

State Employer's Authority, "Fælles mål – lokale løsninger. Temaer for OK08", Copenhagen 2007

Statistics Denmark, "Statistical Yearbook 2007", Copenhagen 2007

Statistics Denmark, Statistical Yearbook 2006, Copenhagen 2006

Statistics Denmark, "Køn og arbejdsliv", Copenhagen 2004

Statistics Denmark, "Over 120.000 deltidsansatte vil arbejde mere", Nyt fra Danmarks Statistik, Copenhagen 2007, no. 281. At:

Statistics Denmark, "Hver tiende topleder har bijob", Nyt fra Danmarks Statistik, Copenhagen 2007, no. 492. At:

Windelin, M., "Danmark har haft den største vækst i antal arbejdstimer per beskæftiget de seneste 10 år i OECD", Economic Council of the Labour Movement, Copenhagen 2006

Mette Ballebye & Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment