EU funds research on work-week, home-life dynamics
In today's globalised market, the codes and rules governing
the European workplace have been re-evaluated and fine-tuned.
Companies have been compelled to rethink their strategies
for competing with emerging economies; this affects the way
a workforce is managed. One of the strategies that European
firms, both large and small, have identified while attempting
to adjust to the new pressures of the market, is to extend
working times or devise creative work schedules. Though this
may provide a slight advantage in boosting turnover, what
are the implications for workers and their families, who are
obliged to adjust their daily routines so as to adapt to these
changes? EUCOWE, an EU-financed project, studied working times
in Europe, and examined their social effects on the workforce.
may influence the amount of time we spend at work.
EUCOWE collected and analysed comparative and representative
data pertaining to the relationship between operating hours
and working time management, and the consequences of this relationship,
for employment in six EU countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands,
Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. This project was the
first step in laying the foundations for a more comprehensive
Project experts conducted a detailed survey, which provided them with a unique perspective into the workday dynamic for both large and small companies, and also, for the first time, for micro-businesses with under 20 employees. They were able to obtain data on European firms across sectors and across borders, making it possible to conduct a comprehensive comparative study. EUCOWE can provide policy makers with a statistically sound assessment of the management of operating hours, in the service sector and in SMEs.
Their findings provide evidence that Europe is experiencing
a ‘decoupling' of operating hours and working times,
in all six countries. In other words, a collective reduction
in working time no longer results in a reduction in operating
hours; this has significant implications for employees'
The research team found that the UK had the longest operating hours at 58.8 hours per week, and the Netherlands the shortest, at 51.2 hours per week. Their results indicate that companies with the greatest demand for flexibility also have the longest operating hours.
They were also able to determine that SMEs operating as part
of larger businesses tend to have longer operating hours than
independent SMEs. Furthermore, there is a lower decoupling of
individual working times and operating times for stand-alone
As companies increasingly enter the global market, perhaps one
of the most telling results noted by the research group is that
companies attempting to compete globally have the longest operating
hours, and face the greatest demand for flexibility in their
working practices. The research reveals a direct relationship
between increased operating hours and increased employment,
although it is noted that such measures adversely affect the
quality of family life and society at large.
EUCOWE partners propose a system of ‘regulated flexibility'
to help to strike a balance between economic and social needs.
They suggest that such measures be incorporated into local bargaining
mechanisms, a policy in line with the EC's proposals to
revise the Working Time Directive.