In today’s working environment work-life balance is a critical issue for many employees. Depending on the country of employment there can still be significant differences though. In this blog I take a look at the state of work-life balance in Germany compared with the UK.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) determines work-life balance using two indicators – the number of employees working very long hours (meaning 50 hours or more per week) and the time devoted to leisure and personal care, including sleeping and eating (for more information see here).

Within Europe, an employee’s weekly working time limit is mainly predetermined and harmonised by the EU Working Time Directive – although the Member States can exceed the Directive’s requirements. As a result the law of Germany and the UK doesn’t differ too much in this area. In general, the average maximum weekly working time limit is 48 hours in both states. Smaller differences can be found with the daily rest breaks. However, in contrast with Germany, employees in the UK have the ability to opt-out of the 48 hour limit by a written agreement with their employer. In Germany opting out of the working time limit generally requires a collective bargaining agreement or another form of collective agreement.

In terms of the actual work-life balance, differences between the two countries become more obvious. The Better Life Index 2017 by the OECD sees Germany at position 8 of 38 in the work-life balance ranking, whereas the UK ranks at position 28. According to the Index only 4.6 % of German employees work very long hours and they devote 15.6 hours per day to leisure and personal care. In comparison, 12.7 % of UK employees work very long hours and they devote 14.9 hours per day to leisure and personal care.

This raises the question, does the fact that it is easier for UK employees to opt out of the 48 hour limit encourage them to work more than 50 hours a week?