Europeans work to live. Americans live to work.
With Europeans working an average of 10 percent fewer hours a year than Americans,
the cliché has had more than a bit of truth behind it. But that may be
The New York Times reports that chronic economic stagnation, deteriorating
public finances, and competition from low-wage countries have combined to put
pressure on Europeans to work longer hours. At the same time, there's a growing
belief that the shorter workweek, once seen as a way of spreading work among
more people, has actually done little to ease unemployment.
Klaus F. Zimmermann, president of the German Institute for Economic Research
in Berlin, told the Times: "We have created a leisure society, while the
Americans have created a work society. But our model does not work anymore.
We are in the process of rethinking it."
Or as the Times itself puts it: "Europe's long siesta, it seems, has finally
reached its limit." The newspaper cites this evidence:
- The French, who in 2000 trimmed their workweek to 35 hours in hopes of generating
more jobs, worry that the move is instead hurting their economy. They are
talking about returning to longer hours.
- The English already are moving in that direction--informally. A 2002
study found more than a fifth of the labor force working beyond the European
Union's mandated limit of 48 hours a week.
- The Germans, who put in the lightest schedule in Europe by working about
18 percent fewer hours than Americans, got a wakeup call when the industrial
giant Siemens threatened to move production of its cordless and cellular phones
to Hungary, where salaries are much lower. Rather than risk the loss of 2,000
jobs in a country that already has a 10 percent unemployment rate, the union
representing the Siemens workers agreed to extend the workweek from 35 hours
to 40 and to scrap annual bonuses that every employee received to help pay
for vacations and Christmas expenses.
"It's about lowering labor costs," said Peter Gottal, a spokesman
for Siemens, which is based in Munich. "Where we are in a global competition,
35 hours are no longer feasible. We just need more hours."
While Siemens and its union say the contract is not a template for the rest
of German industry, the Times reports that it is being viewed that way.