Working time

19 November 2018

Working time refers to any period during which a worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his 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 gender is particularly important in determining these differences.

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 working hours 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.

Eurofound’s work

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 recently 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.

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 recently 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, a recent study has examined the evolution of aspects of collectively agreed working time in the EU at the beginning of the 21st century. It focuses in particular on five sectors: chemicals, metalworking, banking, retail and public administration. The report describes the institutional regimes of regulation and assesses changes in agreed working hours and usual working hours between 1999 and 2014.

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 sixth EWCS 2015, working time quality was one of seven indices of job quality. It was used to measure the incidence of long 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 data from the sixth EWCS, Eurofound has recently 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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