Irish and Britons are Europe's work horses

Apr 11 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britons are still working longer hours than almost all their European counterparts, according to new research. But the Irish have taken over as the EU's leading work horses.

Where most studies have tended to look at working hours in comparison to the US, and to treat Western Europe as single entity, research released this week by the Work Foundation provides a country-by-country comparison across 15 EU states.

The report excluded the 10 accession states which joined in May 2004.

It found that Ireland has the highest proportion of people working more than 60 hours per week - just over six per cent of the male working population and more than four per cent of women.

This is despite Ireland having signed up to the EU Working Time Directive limiting the working week to 48 hours.

The UK has the second highest proportion of its workforce working more than 60 hours, totalling almost 1.4 million people.

The pattern of working in excess of a 60 hour week is prevalent throughout the EU, the report finds. Portugal lies just behind UK and Ireland in the table - with only Belgium and the Netherlands showing a less than average number of workers working in excess of 60 hours each week.

According to Dr Marc Cowling, Chief Economist of The Work Foundation, the figures suggest that the concept of 'presenteeism' and its associated long hours are increasingly acceptable to EU employers and employees.

Roles that 'attract' the highest proportion of long hours workers across the EU are - for men - administrators, skilled manual and salesmen and for women, legislators (senior administrators and middle manager in the public and private sectors) and skilled manual workers.

One in five male administrators and skilled manual workers now work in excess of 60 hours per week.

Industry sector is critical to determining how long you spend at work, but this differs for men and women. Men who work long hours are found in hotel and catering and transport and communications. For women, working in agriculture leads to putting in the most hours and only working in the hotel and catering sector comes close.

The research also shows some marked differences in the long hours culture between men and women. Although women do not work as long as men on the whole, women in more EU countries are working longer hours, and variations in the hours women work are more marked across different countries in the EU.

The point at which longer hours become less productive, also appears to be higher for women.

Also in terms of organisational type those working in the private sector work significantly longer than public sector workers while the smaller a business is the more likely employees are to work long hours.

Another interesting variation is that men at the top and bottom income quartiles work the longest hours, whereas for women the propensity to work longer hours increases as they move through the income distribution quartiles. This suggests that the sexes are working long hours for different reasons.

"This study and its methodology has revealed some real food for thought," Dr Cowling said. "Most studies of this type tend to compare the UK with the US and Japan, meaning that the long hours worked in the UK does not seem atypical.

"It is only when compared to Europe that the true extent of our working culture becomes apparent"

"Long hours cultures can have real implications for each country - they can lead to an increase in workplace stress, and a decline in productivity, as marginal productivity decreases with the number of hours worked.

And, as long hours in the EU continue to increase, we are certain to hear more and more about the effects of long hours on EU employers and employees."