Politicians are currently discussing overtime. It is intended to serve as a benchmark for greater desire for wage work and, with a possible tax break, as an incentive for more productivity. Not a good idea, our author thinks.

The allegations are serious: Employees in Germany work too little. Even Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck from the Greens recently called for incentives to work more, CDU General Secretary Carsten Linnemann and the FDP also suggested taxing overtime less or not at all in order to make people “want to work overtime”. A few days ago, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder wrote on Twitter/X that Germany needed a change in mentality and that overtime should therefore be tax-free.

It’s true that if you compare the OECD figures, Germany ranks at the bottom when it comes to working hours per person. In addition, a video goes viral on TikTok on a regular basis in which a mostly young person complains about how inhumane 30 days of vacation are and how bad a 40-hour week is. This gives the impression that an entire future generation has no desire to work and that our work ethic has fundamentally gone.

Carsten Maschmeyer, born in 1959, is an entrepreneur, international investor, consultant and author. With his Maschmeyer Group, he invests in successful growth companies in future industries and is happy to pass on his entrepreneurial experience. Since 2016 he has appeared as an investor in the TV show “The Lions’ Den”. Supporting young founders has long been a particular concern of his. With his first three books, Carsten Maschmeyer became a best-selling author. He is married to the actress Veronica Ferres and lives in Munich.

The demand for “enjoyment of overtime” implies an unwillingness to work. But that is simply not true.

Focusing on working hours instead of results is fundamentally wrong. The equation “more working hours equals more productivity” is simply not true. Of much greater importance is what and how much is done. This becomes particularly clear in the development of working hours and productivity.

In 1900, weekly working hours per person were over 60 hours and the gross domestic product was around 3,100 US dollars per capita. Work and school from Monday to Saturday were standard.

At the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s, the German Federation of Trade Unions founded the campaign “Daddy is mine on Saturdays” – with great success, because the 40-hour week was gradually introduced. The prophecies of doom at the time that the reduction in working hours would stifle the economic miracle that was just beginning and that productivity would suffer significantly were loud – and wrong. Productivity increased significantly. In 2001, the statutory part-time entitlement was finally introduced, which reduced the average working hours per capita – to 34.7 hours per week today.

However: The gross domestic product per capita will be almost $49,000 in 2023. Productivity per hour worked has increased by more than 40% since 1990 alone. Digitalization, technology, robotics and automation have made this increase possible.

According to figures from the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research, 1.3 billion overtime hours were worked in Germany in 2023. This alone proves that there is no widespread reluctance to work overtime.

On the other hand, those who work part-time do not do so because they don’t want to work. Part-time work is often even evidence of a very high work ethic. If daycare centers and crèches are open for less than 9 hours a day, full-time work in nursing, retail, catering and shift work is not possible. Over a quarter of all primary schools are not all-day schools. If your own district school sends the first graders home at 11:20 a.m. without lunchtime supervision: Who should work full time? Women in particular are forced to work part-time due to the circumstances – and of course this lowers the average. Unpleasure is not the reason.

What is also often overlooked: More than five million people in Germany are in need of care. Of these, more than three million are cared for by relatives alone. If the Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer now calls for the right to work part-time to be restricted again, this will not result in more employees switching from part-time to full-time, but rather in fewer people working overall – because who will then take care of children and children? Caring for those in need of care? The volume of work would decrease. That cannot be desirable.

The numbers make it clear: Firstly, employees in Germany are not lazy. Those who work full-time work on average no less than the EU average and also work overtime. Those who work part-time do not spend the rest of the time idle, but often look after children or relatives in need of care.

Secondly: I think the glorification of overtime is the wrong approach. There is no question that overtime can and sometimes is necessary. But if they become standard, there is a lot to be said for inadequate personnel planning. Economically significant, but overlooked in the discussion, is the damage that too much work does to people’s health. Most people suffering from burnout are – unsurprisingly – people in nursing professions and emergency services – where extra work and overtime are the order of the day. This concept of exploitation must not be rolled out to all sectors. It would do more harm than good to our economy.

In my opinion, we have other levers that we need to adjust in order to make work more attractive again and promote motivation. Work is simply too expensive and too little of the gross remains net. This is one of the reasons why effort and overachievement of goals are hardly worth it anymore. Because anyone who works hard and then gets a raise is shocked when they look at their new pay slip. Hardly any of the higher gross wages come through net. This destroys motivation. The cold progression and the increase in tax rates also urgently need to be flattened. Because not just the 41st hour of work, but the regular working hours have to be more worthwhile again.