The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

The problem with the 31-hour Swiss workweek

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 6 March 2023
The industrious Swiss used to ‘smile at’ how the relaxed French worked only 35 hours per week…but new data shows that the average Swiss worker only puts in about 31 hours per week.
The problem with the 31-hour Swiss workweek
Working hard or hardly working? Employment rates are high in Switzerland, but employees are working fewer hours.

Employment experts are concerned that Swiss employees are working less and less – about 31 hours per week, on average – according to new data from the Federal Statistical Office. The main reason? Men, especially well-educated ones, are increasingly working part-time.

More on the Data

In 1950, the average Swiss employee worked a 49-hour work week. In 1990, they worked 42 hours. But today, part-time work is so common in Switzerland that the country has dropped to the bottom quarter of European countries ranked on their working hours per year, on average, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Switzerland follows Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden on the OECD’s list with 1,495 working hours per employee, on average. Switzerland is still more industrious than France (1,402 hours) and Germany (1,332 hours). The Germans work the least among Europeans.

Part-time work was actually championed by Switzerland in the 1990s to get more women into the workplace. It succeeded. Today, about 80% of women ages 16- to 64-years-old have jobs in Switzerland and 88% of men are employed.

These are some of the highest employment rates in Europe, but while more people work in Switzerland, they work fewer hours, on the whole. More than 50% of employed women work part-time and nearly 20% of men work part-time.

And the trend will only become more pronounced in the years to come, says University of Bern Economics professor Stefan Wolter. The expert is releasing his report on Swiss working trends this week.

The problem with the 31-hour Swiss workweek
In Switzerland’s healthcare system, the shortage of skilled workers is most prevalent.
Socially acceptable trend

“The men have only just discovered part-time work for themselves and will continue to strive for it,” Wolter told local newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. He added that the trend is socially acceptable as if “modern dads don’t spend at least one day with their children, they’re considered bad fathers.”

Mostly, individuals and families are searching for a better work-life balance. In addition, moving into a higher tax bracket can mean that families are actually taking home less pay than had they remained at the top of a lower tax bracket.

“Especially for married people, there is an incentive because of the lack of individual taxation that at least one spouse works very little,” Wolter says. But, the long-term effects could be  serious for Switzerland.

For one, the shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland is rapidly increasing and will continue to do so while the country remains on the part-time track. This shortage has already created a healthcare crisis that has caused hospitals to close emergency departments and fly in nursing staff from other countries (Read more: Inside the Swiss healthcare crisis).

Secondly, the fewer hours Swiss employees work, the less money that will be paid into Switzerland’s national pension, AHV. For example, a doctor who works full-time until retirement pays about 500,000 Swiss francs into AHV. While the retired doctor won’t likely use all of this, his contribution will benefit others.

Highly educated employees making higher salaries are the ones most likely to reduce their hours to 80%, 70% or 60%, according to the data. That coupled with dropping into a lower tax bracket does not make much of a difference in what the employees are taking home, but it does make a big difference in the national AHV.

“Unlike the cashier, they can simply afford” part-time, says Wolter. Moreover, if the trend continues, “education will no longer be a worthwhile investment from a social perspective.”

The problem with the 31-hour Swiss workweek
The Swiss higher education system takes into account that most graduates will work full-time.
The question of education

The Swiss system was set up so that the country helps pay for students to complete tertiary education – such as teacher training or a technical college degree – and then the students pay back into the system via taxes once they are working. Should a majority of these employees work part-time, their taxes no longer cover their education costs.

Wolter estimates that an employee must work at least 70% over his or her entire working life to avoid dropping below that threshold. If employees cannot commit to that, he recommends that the students be required to pay back part of their education costs.

“On the one hand, there are always complaints that more children of academic parents go to school than those from working-class circles. But when it comes to the fact that the highly educated academic children should then contribute something to the general public, namely in the form of work, then this is also unfair,” says Wolter.

He added that he knows his idea will be unpopular among left-wing circles, but if the trend continues than the public will have to bear the burden.

This article may be freely shared and re-printed, provided that it prominently links back to the original article.

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