Working hours in Germany

Marle

Updated on Oct 07 • 5 minute read

At 41.1 working hours in Germany per week, it’s just short of the European average – and despite a relatively short working week, Germany sustains high labour productivity. In a nutshell: Germany strikes a balance between work and life, where productivity is kept at a high level yet employees find a well-deserved life balance.

So it is hardly surprising that Germany has become the preferred place of residence for young expats who are eager to pass on their expertise to the market without missing out on life.

We'll walk you through an overview of the average working week in Germany so that you'll soon get a feel for how many working hours in Germany you'll be working, in which industries there are longer average work weeks and finally what happens to your overtime. So you can get your career in Germany off to a good start with the right expectations!

What does an average working week in Germany look like?

Just like just about everything else in Germany, working hours in Germany are nourished by legislation: the Working Hours Act ("Arbeitszeitgesetz") has therefore already set out fair conditions for employees and enshrined them in the law.

The legal framework says that

a working week may not exceed 48 hours a week or 8 hours a day over an average period of 6 months.

In other words, if you work 10 hours a day for a period of time, the average over a period of six months (or 24 weeks) must not exceed 8 hours a day.

And something that's an absolute no-no according to the Working Hours Act is to work on Sundays or national holidays. This means that an average working week runs from Monday to Saturday (in office jobs rather Friday); odds of you working on Sunday in Germany are nil. It won't take you long to realise that Sundays are absolute rest days in Germany - and that you won't even be able to do your groceries. Time for you to lean back and find your cosy Sunday routine!

Did you know that in 2018 one of the largest trade unions in Germany has made a call for a four-day week? Even better: the largest metalworkers' union in Germany has actually won a legal battle for the right to have a 28-hour week. And you never know, perhaps even a four-day week will soon become part of your day-to-day career in Germany!

An average working week in Germany as a full-time employee

Naturally, the hours worked in Germany vary depending on whether you work full-time or part-time. An average working week in Germany as a full-time employee is between 36 and 40 hours, with daily working weeks in Germany between seven and eight hours five days a week.

A full-time employee in Germany, therefore, has an average working week of 8 hours

Speaking for students, this means that you are allowed to work 2.5 hours per week in addition to your studies.

An average working week in Germany as a part-time employee

As soon as your average working week in Germany falls below 30 hours, you're considered a part-time employee.

By the way, are you employed by a company for more than 6 months? Then you have the right to request a reduction in your average working week from your employer.

What happens with your German labour working hours of overtime?

Fine, occasionally it happens in the heat of the moment: you work more than 8 hours as you have to top off a project or put the finishing touches on your pitch. This can happen from time to time but: what happens to your overtime?

A regulation concerning your overtime is usually stipulated in your employment contract.

As a rule, your overtime is either compensated with time off or with monetary compensation.

Just as in many European countries, employees in German companies are increasingly being encouraged to follow flexible working hours. In most cases, there is a type of working time account where you can keep track of your working hours but are free to determine when your most productive time is. Bye 9-to-5-jobs!

Oh, good to know: even your working hours with overtime are not allowed to exceed 60 hours per week and over a six-month period are not allowed to surpass the average of 48 hours! So there’s even a maximum overtime hours in Germany.

How are the breaks during daily working hours in Germany handled?

Indeed, you wouldn't be starting a career in Germany if the Working Hours Act didn't also set a legal framework for companies here.

If your average working week in Germany is between six and nine hours a day, then you have to take a thirty-minute break. It’s up to you to divide this into two 15-minute breaks.

Are you working more than 9 hours? Then you have to take a 45-minute break after six hours of work - and have at least 11 hours between your shifts.

How does the average working week in Germany compare with the rest of Europe?

Yes, with its average working week, the working hours in Germany are below the European average of 37.0 hours per week. But where exactly does Germany rank in the comparison?

If we take a look at the average working week in the European countries,

a full-time employee in the EU has an average working week of 37.0 hours per year.

The Turkish employees have the longest average working week with 45.4 hours, followed by Montenegro (44.4) and Serbia (42.5).

The countries with the shortest average working week are the Netherlands (30.4), Denmark (33.3) and Norway. And also Germany can catch up with the well-balanced Nordic countries and, with an average working week in Germany of 34.8 hours, ranks the fifth position even ahead of Sweden!

However, these facts and figures only become somewhat more representative once we move away from comparing the average working week in Germany with other European countries and instead break it down into full and part-time work.

According to Statista (2019), the average working week of full-time employees in the EU in 2019 is 41.1 hours. Almost bizarre but with an average working week of 41, Germany is just slightly below the European average!

The shortest average working weeks in Europe:

  • Denmark: 38.4
  • Lithuania: 40
  • Finland: 40.2

And those with the highest average working weeks in Europe:

  • Greece 43.9
  • UK: 42.9
  • Austrian odour: 42,4

In other words, Greece has the longest working week in Europe, with around 43.9 hours a week, and Denmark the shortest, with 38.4 hours. So with an average working week of 41 hours, Germany stands out as a total average!

Working hours in Germany by industry

The average working hours in Germany differ greatly from industry to industry, so employees can expect to work different hours.

The workload is by far most striking in agriculture, forestry and fisheries: with an average of 48.8 hours per week, this industry is well above the average of the overall economy.

The second-longest working hours are recorded in the service sector with an average of 42.5 hours, followed by construction and housing with an average working week in Germany of 42.1 hours, trade and commerce with 41.9 hours and the information and communications sector with 41.8 hours a week.

And where are the shortest working hours in Germany?

Full-time work was shortest in manufacturing (40.3) and in public administration, education and health care (40.6 hours). That was about eight hours less per week than the top industries for the longest working hours!

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