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Last Update: 2007-02-01   Source: Research Headlines
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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.

Globalisation may influence the amount of time we spend at work. © Matt+
Globalisation 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 research initiative.

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' social welfare.

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 SMES.

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.


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