A look at the figures from the industrialized nations organization OECD can be shocking. According to this, in 2022 the average American worked more than 1,800 hours per year, while the average German only worked 1,340 hours. However, one should not draw the conclusion that Germans have become lazy, says labor market expert Enzo Weber. He conducts research at the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB), a type of think tank run by the Federal Employment Agency.

“Germany has a very high female employment rate compared to most other countries,” said Weber. Around every second woman works part-time. In purely mathematical terms, this pushes down the average annual working hours.

Example: If two men in a country work ten hours, the average working time is ten hours (10 10):2=10. In another country, if two men work ten hours and a woman works four hours, then the average working time is eight hours (10 10 4):3=8.

“The numbers don’t mean that there is less work being done in Germany,” says Weber. “On the contrary, more work is being done, because the alternative would be that these women would not be included in the statistics at all.” The OECD also points out that the data is only suitable for international comparison to a limited extent.

In Germany, times have changed when men were at work full-time and women were at home. 77 percent of women now work – meaning the proportion of women in the professional world has increased significantly over the last thirty years, even if many are employed part-time.

The Germans would definitely like to work less. Surveys have shown this again and again. According to a study by the IAB, almost half of women who work full-time would like to reduce their working hours by a good six hours.

Among men, almost 60 percent would like to work around 5.5 hours less. These desires have been around for decades and have not changed much over time.

When it comes to working hours, the reputation of the so-called Gen Z, i.e. people born between 1995 and 2010, is particularly bad. They want to have as much free time as possible and the highest possible salaries. Such an often repeated prejudice.

Enzo Weber cannot confirm this. Success at work is important to the majority of Generation Z. This means that they are no different from previous generations, says Weber.

“I think everyone wants as much free time as possible and high salaries. I can’t really say anything against that. What we find for young people: no unusual development in working time preferences, no unusual decline in professional commitment, no more job changes than young people used to.”

In the meantime, Germans’ life models have also changed. “The single-earner household from the era of the economic miracle hardly exists anymore,” says Weber. In the meantime, both partners would usually be working and would therefore need a certain degree of flexibility. “Everyone should be able to freely choose in which phase of life they work and how much,” says Weber.

“We don’t need a 5- or 4-day week, but rather an X-day week and more flexible work over the entire lifespan.” With more flexible working models, people of retirement age could also be motivated to continue working.

The corona pandemic has shown that flexible and mobile working works, says Weber. This development cannot be reversed. And it makes sense to design work in such a way that people are satisfied with it.

The demands for shorter and more flexible working hours are also easier to implement in times of a shortage of skilled workers and due to the experiences gained during the corona pandemic than after the turn of the millennium, when there was mass unemployment.

But how does “less work” fit together with the increasing need for skilled workers and the desire not to suffer a loss of prosperity? Due to demographic developments alone, it is expected that there will be seven million fewer people on the German labor market by 2035.

One lever if the number of hours worked does not increase or even decreases is to increase the quality of work, i.e. productivity. Enzo Weber is of the opinion that it makes no sense to force maximum working hours out of people. He believes it makes more sense to increase the quality of work: through training, through investments in digitalization, AI and through the ecological restructuring of the economy.

Weber believes that a proactive qualification policy is important. So we shouldn’t wait until someone has been left behind by structural change and then try to save them with an emergency measure. Rather, people need to be put in a position to take initiative and play an active role themselves.

At the moment, however, things are not looking rosy when it comes to productivity. There is more of a stagnation there, complains Weber. Between 1997 and 2007, productivity growth of 1.6 percent was achieved in Germany, according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). In the period from 2012 to 2019, it halved to 0.8 percent.

This is due, among other things, to the fact that many jobs were created in areas with lower productivity, such as personnel-intensive services. Increases in productivity are only possible to a limited extent in care, education or health.

Overall economic productivity has also fallen because the economy is weakening and many companies are still retaining their employees due to the shortage of skilled workers and labor costs are not being reduced. This reduces productivity. More could also happen when it comes to investments in technological development, digitalization and ecological transformation, according to the Digital Council of the BDA (Federal Association of German Employers’ Associations).

Regardless of the development of productivity, there are still many unused potential workers. “This not only affects the employment of women and the increase in the working hours of people working part-time, but also the many migrants and Germans who do not have a school or vocational qualification and who are often deprived of many opportunities early on to be a productive part of the world working life,” says Marcel Fratzscher from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin.

Author: Insa Wrede

The original to this article “Have the Germans become lazy?” comes from Deutsche Welle.