Breaking the part-time habit in the Netherlands: A decade-long, €75 million initiative

In the Netherlands, where part-time work is not just a common practice but a cultural norm, the government, alongside Utrecht University, is setting out to challenge and potentially transform this part-time culture. With a significant €75 million investment planned over the next decade, the initiative titled ‘More Hours Works!’ aims to nudge part-time workers into increasing their work hours, thus alleviating the strain from an overheated labour market.

Understanding the Dutch part-time culture
The Netherlands proudly holds the highest rate of part-time employment in Europe. This isn’t just a statistic, it’s a societal norm that affects us all. Nearly as many Dutch work part-time as full-time, a trend particularly prevalent among women. After having children, many women reduce their working hours and rarely return to full-time employment, even as their children grow older. This deeply ingrained part-time culture, supported by societal norms and workplace structures, poses a significant challenge for those who wish to increase their working hours.

A collaborative, multi-faceted approach
The ambitious program, spearheaded by Utrecht University and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW), is not a top-down solution. It’s a collaborative effort that will research and implement various interventions. These interventions are aimed at encouraging part-time workers to extend their working hours by an average of 2.7 hours per week. By engaging with sectors most affected by part-time norms – such as primary education, healthcare and childcare – the initiative seeks to address both the supply and demand sides of the labour market, involving all stakeholders in the process.

Seven distinct interventions will be tested, focusing on aspects like scheduling, task packages, combination jobs and tackling prejudices. Around thirty organizations will participate in each experimental intervention, with control groups established to measure the effects accurately. The most successful strategies will later be expanded to other regions and sectors.

Economic and social implications
This initiative is not just about filling job vacancies. It’s a deeper dive into how work is structured and valued in Dutch society. The planners of the project estimate that, if successful, the increased number of working hours could contribute an additional €1 billion per year to the economy. But beyond the economic benefits, the program aims to promote gender equality in the workforce and improve the quality of life by potentially leading to better job opportunities and increased financial independence for part-time workers.

Challenges and potential solutions
The program faces significant challenges, from entrenched social norms to economic disincentives that make increasing hours unattractive or unfeasible for some. For instance, certain benefits and subsidies currently discourage additional work due to reduced assistance as earnings increase. To address these barriers, the researchers will use tools like the Nibud online calculator, which helps individuals understand how increased hours can affect their overall financial picture, including future job prospects. ‘Working more can also mean that you may get a more attractive job in the future,’ explains Tanja van der Lippe, highlighting the long-term benefits of the initiative.

Societal impact and expectations
This initiative comes at a crucial time when the labour market is tight, and there is a collective readiness to rethink work norms. Sociologists, psychologists and researchers involved in the project emphasize the need for a broad societal debate on work organisation. They believe that just discussing these issues can already begin to shift perceptions and practices, as seen in some early anecdotal successes. ‘We immediately realized: if you really want to change the Netherlands in this area, the Ministries of Social Affairs and Employment must cooperate,’ Van der Lippe remarked on the necessity of collaborative efforts.

The Dutch government’s €75 million initiative to modify part-time work norms represents more than a policy change – it’s a cultural shift. By encouraging part-time workers to extend their hours, this program not only aims to boost the economy but also to foster a more equitable workforce. This ambitious endeavour could set a global precedent, illustrating how deep-rooted labour practices can be transformed through collective effort and innovative thinking.

Written by Priyanka Sharma