The short Dutch working week – as good as it seems?

Edition 28 September 2017, by Phoebe Dodds

Here in Holland, citizens are no strangers to hearing about how lucky they are, from the standard of their education system, to the high quality of life they enjoy – and the lateststudy from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) only serves to back this up. In August, the CBS published its research on the Dutch working week, which concluded that the Dutch work the least of all Europeans.

One of the biggest takeaways from the research publishes is that along with holding this sought-after spot in the EU, the Netherlands also has a high percentage of labor market participation, meaning that a large percentage of the population is in some form of employment. Whether we’re talking about people working full-time or students with a side job in a bar, 12.8 million Dutch people are working for at least part of their week. This amounts to 70% of men and roughly 60% of women. In EU terms, the Netherlands is only beaten by Sweden, Estonia and Germany when it comes to the percentage of the population currently in employment.

The Netherlands’ short working week can be explained by the preference of many Dutch people to work part-time, giving themselves a day a week to spend time with their families or participate in non-work-related activities. Rather than being a sign of laziness, the opposite is true: this luxury is hard-earned, as the Dutch have very high rates of labour productivity. This means that in 2016, men worked on average 36 hours per week,whilst women worked an average of 26. However, there are some downsides to this relaxed working life. Some claim that Dutch people have no incentive to work extra hours as tax rates are so high – why would you choose to work an extra 10 hours per week when you effectively get taxed 5 of those hours? The CBS report also highlights the differences in part-time work between men and women: their research shows that considerably more women than men work part time, the reasons for which could be rooted in entrenched sexism. The CBS study shows that 75% of Dutch women work part time, compared with just 25% of men, which then means that just under 62% of all hours worked were done so by men, compared to 38% by women.

In addition, there are worries that this short-and-sweet work week is not sustainable, with the retirement age currently being raised to 67 a sign of an ageing population. The CBS study also highlighted the unutilized labour potential in the Netherlands, a term coined to describe those who wanted to work more hours but are unable to. In 2016, there were 1.5 million people in this category. In this regard, the short Dutch working week and the proclivity to work part-time can perhaps be having a negative impact on the country’s economy – or at least not allowing it reach its full potential. This untapped labour issue comes about for a variety of reasons, highlighted in the CBS study. Sometimes, people wish they could work more hours at their job but this is not possible since everyone else is also working there part-time. Others ,especially women, would like to work more hours but are unable to due to child care responsibilities. The biggest subsection of this group of unutilized workers comprises young people aged 15 to 25 – in 2016, 25% of people in this age category wanted to work more hours. To maintain its reputation as a great place to work and live, the Netherlands is now looking for a solution for the unutilized labor potential issue, before the ageing population leaves the country unable to cope.