Statistics Explained

Hours of work - annual statistics


Data extracted in May 2022

Planned article update: May 2023

Highlights

In 2021, the average working week at EU level lasted 36.4 hours. However, this varied across the EU from 32.2 hours in the Netherlands to 40.1 hours in Greece.
Skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (42.9 hours) had the longest average working weeks in the EU in 2021.
Map: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhan2)

This article highlights the main aspects of working time for different population sub-groups (e.g. men and women, part-time and full-time workers) and across various economic activities and occupations. More specifically, it focuses on the average number of actual hours of work per week employed people spent on their main job in 2021.

Results are presented for the European Union (EU) as a whole, individual EU countries, three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and one candidate country country (Serbia).

Figures in this article come from the EU Labour Force Survey (LFS). Since 2021, due to the implementation of Regulation (EU) 2019/1700, all countries participating in the survey have harmonised their questionnaires regarding the measurement of actual working hours, which led to enhanced comparability and quality of the results.

This article complements the article Employment - annual statistics. In addition, the article Hours of work and absences from work - quarterly statistics provides information about working hours on a quarterly basis, specifically focusing on the impact of COVID-19.


Full article


General overview

In the EU, in 2021, people aged 20-64 in employment worked 36.4 hours on average per week. This number refers to the hours people ‘actually’ spent on work activities in their main job during the reference week (see methodological notes for the difference between actual and usual working hours).

The EU average for actual working hours per week hides many differences between EU countries (see Map 1). Those with the longest working weeks were Greece (40.1 hours), Romania (39.8 hours), Poland (39.7 hours) and Bulgaria (39.5 hours).

By contrast, the Netherlands had the shortest average working week (32.2 hours), followed by Austria (33.7 hours) and Germany (34.6 hours). The EFTA country Norway also stands out with a short working week (33.9 hours).

Map 1: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhan2)


The average is computed as the total number of actual hours of work divided by the number of employed people having actually worked. The denominator only takes into account those people present at work (excluding people absent due to holidays, sickness, temporary lay-off, etc.). If people absent from work were also to be taken into account, the denominator would be higher while the numerator would remain the same, leading to a considerably lower average when there are many people absent from work. This is particularly true for 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the labour market.

The average working hours presented in Map 1 include both full-time and part-time workers. Consequently, the different shares of part-time workers across countries influence the results, in addition to the different legal and usual length of the working week.

Countries with a high share of part-time workers report a shorter average working week for the total number of people employed. Figure 1 shows a strong negative correlation between these two indicators.

Figure 1: Share of part-time employment and average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_pt_a) and (lfsa_ewhan2)

Employed people by length of the average working week

In the EU, in 2021, 27.9 % of employed people worked on average less than 35 hours per week (see Figure 2). 17.7 % had an average working week of 35 to less than 40 hours. The largest share (38.4 %) at EU level was for those with an average working week of 40 to less than 42 hours. Much smaller shares of the employed population represented those who had worked on average per week 42 to less than 45 hours (2.8 %), 45 to less than 50 hours (5.3 %) and more than 50 hours (7.9 %). Here, the denominator only includes people who had worked for at least one hour in the reference week.

Figure 2: Employed people by average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job, 2021
Source: Eurostat (Ad hoc extraction from LFS)


The largest share in most EU Member States (18 countries) was for people with an average working week of 40 to less than 42 hours. This share exceeded 50 % in 11 EU countries and reached more than 70 % in Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary.

In Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium, the largest group was those who had worked on average per week less than 35 hours, with the share of these people in the Netherlands exceeding 50 %. In France and Denmark, the largest group was those with an average working week of 35 to less than 38 hours.

Looking at people who had the longest working week (50 hours or more), the largest shares were found in Greece (14.3 %), Ireland (10.1 %) and France (10.0 %).

Patterns in average working week: full-time and part-time workers

The length of the average working week for full-time workers in the EU ranged from 41.7 hours in Greece to 37.8 hours in Finland (see Figure 3A). However, both Serbia (43.7 hours) and Switzerland (42.9 hours) exceeded Greece with even longer working weeks for full-time workers. The longest working week for part-time workers was recorded in Romania, with 26.5 hours, while the shortest was recorded in Portugal, with 17.9 hours.

Figure 3A and 3B: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job by sex and full-time part-time, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhan2)


On gender differences (Figure 3B), male full-time workers had longer working weeks than their female counterparts in all countries. The most significant difference among the EU Member States was in Ireland and the Netherlands, with a 4.1 and 4.0 hours gap, respectively, between the working weeks of male and female full-time workers.

The gender pattern is not the same for part-time workers: women had longer working weeks in some countries while it was the opposite in others. Denmark stood out with the largest difference in the length of the average working week between male and female part-time workers (18.4 versus 22.0 hours, respectively).

How does the average working week vary across economic activities and occupations?

After having looked at the average number of working hours by country for the full-timers and part-timers separately, the working hours are analysed by sector of economic activities and group of occupations at EU level for the full-time and part-time workers together.

The length of the average working week measured in actual hours of work varies across different sectors as regards economic activities (NACE Rev. 2) (see Figure 4). In 2021, people employed in the ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ sector spent the largest number of hours at work – 41.8 hours on average per week. They were followed by those working in the sectors ‘mining and quarrying’ (39.6 hours), ‘construction’ (39.2 hours) and ‘transportation and storage’ (38.5 hours). In contrast, workers in ‘arts, entertainment and recreation’ (33.0 hours), ‘education’ (32.2 hours) and ‘activities of households as employers’ (26.0 hours) had the shortest average working weeks.

Figure 4: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job by economic activity (NACE Rev 2), EU, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhan2)


When looking at different groups of occupations (ISCO-08), skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (42.9 hours) and managers (41.6 hours) had the longest average working weeks in the EU in 2021 (see Figure 5). By contrast, clerical support workers (34.1 hours) and workers with elementary occupations (31.6 hours) had the shortest working weeks.

Figure 5: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job by occupation (ISCO-08), EU, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhais)

What are the differences between the average working week for employees and that for the self-employed?

Self-employed people with employees (i.e. employers) had the longest average working week at EU level in 2021 – 46.0 hours. They were followed by self-employed people without employees (also known as ‘own-account workers’) – 39.3 hours, and employees – 35.6 hours. Employers had the longest average working week in most countries (see Figure 6). However, there were some exceptions: in Latvia, the longest working week was recorded for employees and in Bulgaria for own-account workers.

Figure 6: Average number of actual weekly hours of work in main job by professional status, 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ewhan2)


The average working week for employees in the EU ranged from 31.4 hours in the Netherlands to 40.1 hours in Romania. The average working week for own-account workers ranged from 31.5 hours in Cyprus to 44.1 hours in Greece, and for employers it ranged from 37.0 hours in Latvia to 49.3 hours in France and Greece.

Source data for tables and graphs

Excel.jpg Data on Hours of work 2021

Methods and definitions

Data sources

All figures in this article are based on the European labour force survey (EU-LFS).

Source: The European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) is the largest European household sample survey providing quarterly and annual results on labour participation of people aged 15 and over as well as on persons outside the labour force. It covers residents in private households. Conscripts in military or community service are not included in the results. The EU-LFS is based on the same target populations and uses the same definitions in all countries, which means that the results are comparable between the countries. The EU-LFS is an important source of information about the situation and trends in the national and EU labour markets. Each quarter around 1.8 million interviews are conducted throughout the participating countries to obtain statistical information for some 100 variables. Due to the diversity of information and the large sample size, the EU-LFS is also an important source for other European statistics like Education statistics or Regional statistics.

Reference period: Yearly results are obtained as averages of the four quarters in the year. Most of the information collected during the survey relates to the respondent's situation during a reference week (being generally the week, from Monday to Sunday, preceding the interview).

Coverage: The results from the EU-LFS currently cover all European Union Member States, the EFTA Member States Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as the candidate countries Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. For Cyprus, the survey covers only the areas of Cyprus controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

European aggregates: EU and EU-27 refer to the sum of the 27 EU Member States. If data are unavailable for a country, the calculation of the corresponding aggregates takes into account the data for the same country for the most recent period available. Such cases are indicated.

Country notes

In Germany, from the first quarter of 2020 onwards, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is part of a new system of integrated household surveys. Technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on data collection processes in 2020, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. For more information, see here.

In the Netherlands, the 2021 LFS data remains collected using a rolling reference week instead of a fixed reference week, i.e. interviewed persons are asked about the situation of the week before the interview rather than a pre-selected week.

Spain and France have assessed the attachment to the job and included in employment those who, in their reference week, had an unknown duration of absence but expected to return to the same job once health measures allow it.

Definitions

The concepts and definitions used in the EU-LFS follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Employment covers persons living in private households, who during the reference week performed work, even for just one hour, for pay, profit or family gain, or were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent, for example because of illness, holidays, industrial dispute or education and training.

Employment can be measured in terms of the number of persons or jobs, in full-time equivalents or in hours worked. All the estimates presented in this article use the number of persons; the information presented for employment rates is also built on estimates for the number of persons.

The LFS employment concept differs from national accounts domestic employment, as the latter sets no limit on age or type of household, and also includes the non-resident population contributing to GDP and conscripts in military or community service.

Main concepts: Some main employment and working time characteristics, as defined by the EU-LFS, include:

  • employees are defined as those who work for a public or private employer and who receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, payment by results, or payment in kind; non-conscript members of the armed forces are also included;
  • self-employed persons work in their own business, farm or professional practice. A self-employed person is considered to be working during the reference week if she/he meets one of the following criteria: works for the purpose of earning profit; spends time on the operation of a business; or is currently establishing a business;
  • the distinction between full-time and part-time work is generally based on a spontaneous response by the respondent. The main exceptions are the Netherlands and Iceland where a 35 hours threshold is applied, Sweden where a threshold is applied to the self-employed, and Norway where persons working between 32 and 36 hours are asked whether this is a full- or part-time position;
  • actual hours worked in the reference week are the hours the person spends in work activities during the reference week;
  • usual hours worked are the modal value of the actual hours worked per week over a long reference period, excluding weeks when an absence from work occurs (e.g. holidays, leaves, strikes, ...);

Additional methodological information

More information on the EU-LFS can be found via the online publication EU Labour Force Survey, which includes eight articles on the technical and methodological aspects of the survey. The EU-LFS methodology in force from the 2021 data collection onwards is described in methodology from 2021 onwards. Detailed information on coding lists, explanatory notes and classifications used over time can be found under documentation.

For more information on the background definitions on hours of work, please consult Topic 6 "Working conditions including working hours" from EU Labour Force Survey Explanatory Notes.

Context

Employment statistics can be used for a number of different analyses, including macroeconomic (looking at labour as a production factor), productivity or competitiveness studies. They can also be used to study a range of social and behavioural aspects related to an individual’s employment situation, such as the social integration of minorities, or employment as a source of household income.

Employment is both a structural indicator and a short-term indicator. As a structural indicator, it may shed light on the structure of labour markets and economic systems, as measured through the balance of labour supply and demand, or the quality of employment. As a short-term indicator, employment follows the business cycle; however, it has limits in this respect, as employment is often referred to as a lagging indicator.

Statistics on the hours of work adds a new dimension to employment. The “average number of actual weekly hours of work in the main job” is an indicator providing a perspective to the social conditions of the labour.

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