Working time

19 October 2021

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.Read more

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.

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Recent updates

What just happened? COVID-19 lockdowns and change in the labour market

The COVID-19 pandemic closed or limited many economic activities in 2020, with far-reaching impacts on the labour...

Working time in 2019–2020

The most relevant changes in working time regulation in Europe in 2019 and 2020 addressed challenges arising as a...

Challenges for sustainable work

Challenges for sustainable work 07 October 2021, High-level conference on 'Quality Work for a Quality Life' - Slovenian...

EU context

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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 lRead more

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 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.

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Research

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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 ERead more

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 it is organised and how this affects 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 focuses 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.

More recently, Eurofound 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. 

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 EWCS 2015, working time quality was one of seven indices of job quality. It was used to measure the incidence of long (and very short) working hours, scope to take a break, atypical working time, working time arrangements and flexibility, and how these impact on the health and well-being of workers. Findings show 43% of workers have very regular working schedules.

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.

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Key outputs over the years

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Key messages

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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In 2019–2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to three main changes in working time regulation across the EU with the emergence of greater flexibility in short-time working schemes; the adaption of working time regimes to telework; and temporary derogations from working time regulations. 
  • Although the usual working week stood at 39.7 hours in 2020, the average collectively agreed normal full-time working week in the EU27 was 37.8 hours. Across the sectors analysed, the collectively agreed normal working week was shortest in public administration (38 hours) and longest in transport (39.2 hours). 
  • Between 2019 and 2020, the usual weekly working hours of full-time employees decreased in most Member States. However, the difference between Member States that joined prior to 2004 (the EU14) and those that joined in or after 2004 (the EU13) has remained at around 1 hour less, a constant since 2011.  
  • While the minimum paid annual leave entitlement in the EU is 20 days, some Member States have increased this minimum entitlement through legislation or by collective agreement. If entitlements established through collective bargaining are factored in, the average annual paid leave stood at 24.5 days in the EU27. This is higher in the EU14 (25.6 days) than in the EU13 (21.4 days). 
  • If collectively agreed annual working hours are considered, full-time workers in the EU27 should have worked 1,703 hours on average in 2020. This was lower at 1,665 hours in the EU14 and higher in the EU13 at 1,809 hours. Hungary and Poland had the longest collectively agreed annual working hours, the equivalent of nearly seven weeks more than their counterparts in Germany, which had the shortest agreed annual working hours.
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Publications & data

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The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

  • Publications (805)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work (2)

Data

A selection of related data on this topic are linked below. 

Ongoing work

Overtime: Exploring the issues

Publication February 2022