German workers 'don't have time for breaks'

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 9 Jun, 2014 Updated Mon 9 Jun 2014 08:32 CEST
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One in five employees in Germany chose to work through their legally granted breaks, according to a recent study. Ten percent of those surveyed claimed to rarely or never take a break at work, while 20 percent reported shortening their downtime. Are we too busy for breaks?

The survey conducted by TNS Infratest and presented by union Verdi last Monday found a significant percentage of workers were reluctant to walk away from their work, even for lunch.

The reasons for the lack of relaxation are varied. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed cited "too much work" as the cause, while over a third (36 percent) felt that taking a break would burden their colleagues.

And 35 percent saw an afternoon pause as an interruption to workflow that would best be ignored.

Perhaps most disconcerting, 21 percent of those surveyed reported a "hostile atmosphere" towards taking a break in the workplace. Lack of proper leisure rooms, kitchen facilities and seating areas were reported in the study as contributors to a less-than-savoury environment.

Fight for your right to relax

Last week, Verdi organized a pro-break campaign called "A break does you good". During the five-day event, the union's chairman, Frank Bsirske, and his colleagues spoke with current and potential union members at hundreds of businesses, reminding them of their right to relax.

The lunchtime break was once widely celebrated by workers.

Introduced in Germany in 1994, the Hours of Work Act was the first piece of legislation to allow employees working daily shifts of six to nine hours the right to a 30-minute break. Those who work more than nine hours are entitled to 45 minutes.

"It is a great success of the unions, both by legal regulations and collective bargaining agreements, that breaks are broadly incorporated into work contracts," said Bsirske in Berlin on Monday.

In the past, workers were forced to rely on clauses in work contracts which would allow them to briefly pause from work. At the end of the 1970s a collective agreement was reached in which employees were granted paid breaks if their job required them to work at a computer for more than four hours.  

Where are the workaholics?

At the start of the 20th-century, Germany was known for its "Protestant work ethic", a phrase philosopher and sociologist Max Weber used to describe the nearly religious zeal his countrymen and northern Europeans applied to labour.

But statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) would indicate that this German "workaholic" mentality has diminished over the past 100 years - at least in comparison to fellow OECD countries.

Employees in Germany worked an average of 1,397 hours in 2012, significantly less than the OECD average of 1,765 hours. The number decreased from 1,406 in 2011 and 1,407 in 2010.

And only six percent of employees in Germany worked what the OECD defined as “very long hours”, three percent lower than the OECD average.

Europe's Statistics Office (Eurostat), meanwhile, released a study in 2011 indicating that full-time German employees worked a weekly average of 35.6 hours­­, placing the country in the upper third of average working hours for EU countries. Greek workers, the study showed, logged the highest weekly average of 42.2 hours.

But the current year could see an increase in working hours. According to preliminary calculations done by Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, the average number of hours worked per person increased two percent between the final quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

What do you make of German working hours?

SEE ALSO: Ten tips for German business etiquette

By Sarah Hucal



The Local 2014/06/09 08:32

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