Compared with other countries Austria is considered to have an above-average amount of annual paid leave (25 days) and many public holidays (approx. 13 days). Christoph Neumayer of the Federation of Austrian Industries (Industriellenvereinigung) even called Austria a “leisure society”. Contrary to this, trade unions point to long working hours and the high amount of overtime in Austria which amounted to 270 million hours in 2013. So do we work too much or maybe even too little?
In the debate on working time, statistics play an important role. Particularly when it comes to international comparison various statistics come into play and working time can mean quite different things, depending on the operationalization. For example “agreed working hours” are the collectively agreed working hours, “actual weekly hours” are the hours worked in a reference week including overtime but also absence and “usual weekly hours” refer to the hours worked in a normal working week over a longer period of time including overtime.
What can we learn from these statistics and is Austria indeed some kind of “leisure society”? Let´s have a look at the figures. With collectively “agreed working hours” of 38.8 hours per week Austria is slightly above the European average of 38.1 hours. Even when deducting annual paid leave and holidays, Austrian full-time employees still work above-average hours in the European Union, projected to the year as a whole (AT: 33.3 and EU-28: 32.9). However, overtime is not included here. When referring to “actual working hours” per week we see that Austria ranks in the upper middle field of working hours in the European Union (AT: 40.1 and EU-28: 39.6). Starting from “usual working hours” we get a very different picture. Here, Austria climbs to the top of the European ‘ranking’ with 41.8 hours per week, even when annual paid leave and holidays are taken into account.
The comparison of these figures shows that we must handle working time statistics very sensitively. How working time is measured is crucial for the results and, thus, also for the conclusions that can be drawn from them. In addition, international country comparisons always mean massive data aggregation and data reduction, which makes it difficult to make detailed conclusions about the specific situation and distribution of working hours in a country. Furthermore, as working hours are usually discussed in the context of a country’s competitiveness, we must be careful about working hours´ explanatory power in this regard. Instead, the national productivity needs to be considered, and here Austria is ranked as one of the best in the EU (6th place).
Taken together, Austrian employees work long and highly productive even when the above-average amount of public holidays and annual paid leave is considered. However, instead of losing oneself in debates about “who works one or two hours longer than the other” it seems to be more rewarding to think about the distribution and re-arrangement of working hours in general. Research shows that more than 30% of employees in Europe would prefer to work less than currently. Beside positive labor market effects like job creation, reduced weekly working hours would also have a positive impact on health and, thus, on the decline of sick leave. Moreover, it could make an important contribution to the reconciliation of work and family.
Theresa Fibich studied sociology at the University of Vienna. Currently she is a PhD student and research assistant at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna. Her main research interests are work and employment and family sociology. She is also assistant coordinator of the Austrian research network SOZNET.
Carina Altreiter studied sociology at the University of Linz. Currently she is a university assistant and PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna. Her research interest covers work and employment, social inequalities and gender studies.