UK PLC has the shortest holidays and the longest working hours in Europe

Dec 13 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

UK workers have the shortest holidays and the longest working hours in Europe, according to an analysis by recruitment company Manpower.

In the UK, a worker puts in over 43.6 hours a week – far higher than any European counterpart. The average number of working hours for the European Union is around 40 hours a week. In 1999, the UK Government amended the Working Time Directive to opt out of the maximum 48 - hour week, which may explain why one in ten workers in the UK spends 61 hours a week or more at work.

In addition, a British worker is entitled to only 20 statutory days holiday a year. This allows the “holidays are for wimps” culture to remain embedded amongst the UK working population. But despite having the shortest holidays and the longest working hours in the European Union, the UK has one of the lowest GDP per working population in Europe.

By comparison, Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy have some of the longest holidays in Europe, ranging from 33 to 36 days. Austria, a relatively recent member of the European Union has the longest holiday time in Europe, with 38 days and has an above average European GDP per working population.

France is another country with extensive holidays of 36 days a year. Holidays are such an important part of the French culture and lifestyle, that the nation has introduced specific vocabulary to describe different types of holidaymakers; people who holiday in July are called ‘juilletistes’ and those who take a break in August are called ‘aoûtiens’. In spite of the recent introduction of the 35-hour working week legislation for certain companies, the Manpower analysis shows that French employees still work around 39.6 hours a week. The French economy enjoys a healthy GDP per working population despite the extensive holiday time taken by its workers.

Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden have extensive holidays with over 34 days per year– this is perhaps surprisingly similar to countries in southern Europe. However, the Scandinavian countries tend to have shorter working weeks compared with Mediterranean countries.

Luxembourg, a small country with a working population of only 231 000, enjoys the highest productivity per working population in Europe whilst having long holidays of 35 days a year and just under the European average for working hours.

The Manpower analysis highlights the diversity in working practices which remains across Europe. It also shows that countries with lengthier holidays are not necessarily reducing their workforces’ productivity. In addition, countries with longer working hours are not necessarily improving their workforce’s productivity. This raises challenging questions about whether harmonisation of working hours and holiday time across Europe will ever be achievable or if it is even desirable.

Holidays and Annual Leave Source:
Holidays and Annual Leave Source: IDS Europe and / TUC (non-EU countries: Manpower)
GDP 2001 $bn 1995 prices, source OECD
Working population source: Eurostat
Switzerland working population source: OECD

Hours worked source: Workplace Employee Relations Survey 1998 / TUC

For further information, please contact the Manpower Press Office on 020 8870 2214.