Working time in the European Union: Sweden

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 15 November 2009

Yvonne Thorsén and Thomas Brunk

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved 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 your country?

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?

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?

There is no general trend towards increased or decreased working time in Sweden. Figure 1 below shows the development of average actual working time in Sweden between 1995 and 2006. The gap in working time between men and women has decreased only marginally in the past decade. In 2006, men worked on average 38 hours per week in their main job and women worked 32 hours.

Figure 1 Average numbers of weekly hours of work in main job

Source: Eurostat LFS, 2006

The number of hours worked in full-time jobs has been quite stable in the past few years for both men and women. In 2006, men usually worked 39.9 hours and women 39.8 hours per week in their full-time jobs. The number of working hours in part-time jobs has, however, increased. In 2000, men on average worked 19.1 hours in part-time jobs, but in 2006 that figure had increased to 21.5 hours. The change in working time in part-time jobs were about the same for women, in 2000 women with part-time jobs usually worked 23.6 hours per week, in 2006 that figure was 26.5 hours (Eurostat LFS 2006). These figures show that women generally work more hours in their part-time jobs than men.

The rate of employees with long working hours is low in Sweden, 91% of all employees do not work long hours. 9% work long hours, 2% are self-employed and 7% are employees (Eurostat LFS 2006).

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?

Figure 2 Average hours usually worked per year by employees 2000-2006

Source: Eurostat, National accounts

The number of hours worked per year decreased moderately between 2000 and 2003 but has increased and stabilised in the past few years.

The latest debate on shorter annual working time in Sweden took place in 2002 when a Committee for new regulation on working time and vacation (initiated by the Social Democratic Government) made a proposal to decrease the annual working time. The Committee made three different proposals on how to reduce working time. The decline in working time could, according to the Committee, either consist in increasing vacation with 5 days per year, or of lowering the weekly average working time from 40 hours per week to 35 or 38 hours per week, or to abolish the working time regulations and make working time more of an individual issue (the Swedish Government). The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) opposed the proposal and claimed that a decline in working time would lead to lower growth and worsen the economic situation for smaller companies. The three large trade union confederations, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO), the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO), and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), were positive to the suggestion of decreased working time, which genuinely was a proposition from the trade unions.

Since 2002 the debate on decreased working time has not been very lively. The reason for this is the possible upcoming shortage of labour force as a result of the retirement from the labour force of the big generation that was born in the 1940’s.

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?

The 5 day working week can be said to be the norm in Sweden, 75% of the employees work 5 days per week. Compared to other countries in the EU, few workers work more than 5 days per week. Less than 7% work six or seven days per week (Fourth European Working Conditions Survey). No specific trend on this matter has been found.

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)?

Part-time employment as a percentage of total employment has increased in the past few years. In 2006 the percentage rate of the work force ages 15-74 that worked part-time was 25%.The same figure in 2000 was 23%. Women are over-represented when it comes to part-time work, 40% of employed women in 2006 worked part-time. The same figure for the male employees was 12% (Eurostat LFS 2006).

Figure 3 Full-time and part-time working among men and women ages 15-74 years

Source: Eurostat LFS 2006

Figure 3 shows the development of full-time and part-time employment among men and women between 1996 and 2006. Since 1996 the number of full-time employees among men has increased, there has also been a slight increase in the number of men with part-time jobs. The employment in full-time and part-time jobs among women has changed more dramatically in the period. From 1999 the number of female employees with full-time jobs started to increase and the number of employees with part-time jobs decreased. The gap peaked in 2002 but since then the number of part-time jobs has increased and full-time jobs decreased. Both part-time and full-time employment among women has increased since 2005.

There is an ongoing debate in Sweden on part-time work and its effects on inequality between men and women. There are several different views on how the problem of the discrepancy in work time between men and women should be diminished. The previous social democratic government made a proposition to change the legislation so that a work contract should refer to full-time work and that people who have worked part-time for a period should have the right to full-time work. There were however, some exemptions to the proposed act of right to full-time work. A seventh of the total number of employees with an employer should be permitted to work part-time. Some additive exemptions were also to be made if there was an agreement between the social partners (SOU 2005:105).

The new centre-right government is negative to an act on right to full-time work. The proposal is therefore not likely to come into force as long as the centre-right government is in majority. Instead the government wants to decrease the marginal effects for part-time workers to start to work full-time. The marginal effects comprise increased taxes on higher income, reduced housing benefits and increased childcare fees when an employee goes from part-time to full-time work. According to the Minister of Finance, Anders Borg, these marginal effects have had the result that part-time workers don't earn enough when they go from part-time to full-time work. The solution to getting more women into full-time work is, according to Mr. Borg, to reduce taxes for low-income earners to make it more beneficial to increase work time. The new government has also reduced the possibility to receive unemployment benefits for part-time unemployment, thus increasing pressure on part-time unemployed to find a full-time job (The Ministry of Finance).

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?

Most trade unions have abolished demands for shorter working time and are instead concentrating on raising the wages of their members. The largest trade union in Sweden, The Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal), is, on demand of their members, prioritising higher wages before shorter working time. Kommunal also advocates the legislative right to full-time contracts. TCO stresses more extensive possibilities for the employee to decide their own working time prior to a general decrease in working time. These two trade unions represent the view of the majority of the trade unions. Thus, higher wages are a higher priority than shorter working time in Sweden.

Part-time work is generally viewed negatively by the trade unions since part-time work is unevenly spread between men and women and in many cases not a choice by the employee and instead a result of the employee not getting a full-time job. LO believes that the main solution to tackle the high rate of part-time work among women is to increase equality when it comes to household work. If men and women would share the work in the household equally, the possibility for women to work full-time would increase according to LO. LO has a long term vision of a general work time-shortening to six hours per day, but in a short term view they find it necessary for women to increase their full time work, both to increase equality between the sexes and to meet the demand of increased working hours as the population becomes older.

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?

The 40-hour week is less of a norm than the 5 day week in Sweden, even if it is the most usual category of working hours. 46% of the employees work 39-41 hours per week. 66% of the employees in Sweden work the same number of days every week and 45% work the same number of hours every day (Fourth European Working Conditions Survey).

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)?

Men and women work non-standard working hours to a different extent. 63% of men work non-standard hours for at least one day per week and 23% of the men work non-standard hours every day. The corresponding figures for women are 56% and 12% (Statistics Sweden 2005).

To work non-standard working hours is most common in the personal and cultural sector where service, culture and sanitation is included. In that sector 68% work non-standard hours at least once a week. Other sectors where work at unsocial hours is common are manufacturing, retail, communication and health care. In these sectors around 65% work at non-standard hours at least once a week. The manufacturing sector stands out in the magnitude of workers that work non-standard hours every day, 35%.

The percentage rate of employees that work weekends and mornings has been relatively stable since the 1980s in Sweden, but the number of employees that work evenings has increased. The increase in evening work has been larger among manual workers than among non-manual workers. The increase can partly be derived to an expansion of evening work in the construction sector where evening work increased from 13% to 22% from 1987 to 2002-03. Evening work has also increased in manufacturing (Statistics Sweden 2005).

The increase of non-standard working time in construction and manufacturing can be seen as a tendency that employers wish to use their equipment more effectively by expanding the hours worked per day.

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?

16% of the employees in Sweden work shifts. Among the people who work shifts most work permanent shifts, such as morning, afternoon or evening (54%), 42% have rotating schedules and 1% have daily split shifts. 4% work other types of shifts.

Rotating schedules are common in the health care sector, in a survey from 2002-2003, 42% of the manual workers in the health care sector had rotating schedules, and another 13% worked night shifts. Shift work is also common among manual workers in the industrial sector, 30% of the manual workers work in shifts and among these, 13% work at night (Statistics Sweden 2005).

In practically all sectors, white-collar workers work daytime to a much higher extent than blue-collar workers. 89% of the white-collar workers work daytime and 59% of the blue-collar workers work daytime (Statistics Sweden 2005).

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?

60% of the employees in Sweden have fixed starting and finishing times. That leaves 40% with flexible working time. The concept of banking hours is well spread in Sweden but no data on the subject has been found.

36% of employees have working time set by the company with no possibility for changes, 44% can adapt their working hours within certain limits, 14% can determine working hours entirely determined by themselves and 7% can choose between several fixed working schedules.

According to a study conducted by LO employees with high income have much higher degree of flexibility of working time than employees with low income. Among employees with incomes over € 4,300 (40,000 SEK) per month, 92% have flexible working time; the same figure for employees with no more than € 1,700 (16,000 SEK) per month is 31%.

There is limited data on flexible working time in Sweden.

Other working time issues

Multiple job holding

How widespread is the practice of multiple jobs 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?

6% of the employees in Sweden have a regular second job; another 5% has occasional or seasonal seconds jobs (Fourth European Working Conditions Survey).

As seen in the table below, men have a higher rate of second jobs than women and the magnitude of second jobs vary over time. At the time of the boom in the economy in 2002 the number of employees with second jobs peaked and has declined since then.

Figure 4 Number of employees with a second job


Source: Eurostat LFS, 2006

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?

The average time an employee spends commuting to work is 41 minutes per day (Eurostat LFS 2006). Commuting takes most time for people living in suburban areas outside large cities. People ages 25-34 with full-time jobs are the ones most likely to travel during a day.

In a survey from The Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis (SIKA) in 2005-2006, 11% of the employees claimed to do teleworking. 21% of the employees had the possibility to work from home. Teleworking was most prevalent among 35-44 year olds, in this group it was common to work part-time from home.

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?

The most current study of unpaid work in Sweden was conducted in 2000/01. This study showed that women in general spent 28 hours and men 20 hours in unpaid work per week. Women has decreased their time spend in unpaid work since the previous study in 1990/91 but men has not changed their time in unpaid work. The amount of unpaid work in the household differs substantially between different groups. The group with the highest amount of household work is cohabiting women with children, with over 40 hours per week spent with unpaid work in the household (Statistics Sweden 2006).

Unpaid work in the household has been an issue subject to a lively debate in the past couple of years. There are different views on how the work in the household should be more evenly spread between men and women. The centre-right government introduced a tax deduction for certain services in the household sector, for instance cleaning and babysitting. The tax deduction is expected to reduce the amount of unpaid work in the household and increase the number of companies in the service sector (The Swedish Government). This tax deduction has, however, been criticised for favouring high-income earners and for making families hiring housemaids instead of making the men take on a larger part of the work in the household.

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 your country is concerned?

The most current debate subjects on working time in Sweden are the different rates of part-time work and work in the household between men and women and also the upcoming risk of labour deficiency. These subjects are connected since one solution to tackle a future lack of labour force would be to increase the number of hours worked by women. But increased working time among women has a negative side. Many women work part-time to take care of children and work in the household. Reduced part-time work among women and no decrease in working time among men can mean longer days in childcare for children and less time to do chores in the household. 


European Foundation 2005, Fourth European Working Conditions Survey,


Eurostat Labour Force Survey 2006

Statistics Sweden 2005 “Employment, working hours and work environment 2002-2003”

Statistics Sweden 2006 “Women and men in Sweden 2006, Facts and figures”

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv)

The Ministry of Finance, 07-04-16

The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO)

The Swedish Government, Proposition 2007 8:13

The Swedish Government, SOU 2002:12

The Swedish Government, SOU 2005:105

The Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis (SIKA) 2007:19 “RES 2005-2006”

The Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, (Kommunal)

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), Press release 2007

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), Debate article in “Dagens Nyheter” 05-08-25

Yvonne Thorsén and Thomas Brunk, Oxford Research

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