Covid restrictions see Swiss working hours fall even further

Switzerland regularly ranks among the wealthiest countries, per capita, in the world. As wages continue on a long term upwards trajectory, the average number of working hours are falling.

An alarm clock ticks. The Swiss are working significantly less now than in 2010.
The Swiss are working significantly less now than in 2010. (Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash)

According to figures released by the Federal Statistics Office (OFS) this month, the Swiss are working significantly less now than in 2010. 

To mitigate for the effect of Covid-19, the study analysed two key periods: 2010-2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2010-2020 (which includes the impact of the pandemic). 

It found that Swiss residents were working 3.9 percent fewer hours less in 2019 compared to 2010. Factoring the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, the figures showed that there was a 7.2 percent decrease in working hours (approximately 14 days) in 2020 compared to 2010. 

READ ALSO: Salaries in Switzerland: In which sectors have wages increased the most?

In a report published by the statisticians, the reduction in working hours is due to a variety of factors, including the rise of part-time work, an increase in holidays taken, and a decline in overtime. 

Strikingly, the figures showed that the pre-pandemic decline in working hours was significantly larger for men (5.2 percent) than for women (1.1 percent). 

Covid-19 restrictions led to a further decrease in working hours on certain kinds of economic activity and consequent unemployment.

Hospitality and restaurant sectors were worst affected, with workers seeing an average reduction in working hours of 22.2 percent from 2019-2020. 

The OECD’s latest forecast summary for Switzerland, conducted in May 2021, projected relatively low GDP growth (3.2 percent in 2021 and 2.9 percent in 2022) compared to some of the country’s neighbours, including France. This growth, according to the organisation, can only be achieved with the easing of Covid-19 containment measures. 

How does Switzerland compare to other European countries?

Pre-pandemic, Switzerland had one of Europe’s steepest decline in working hours since 2010, behind Slovakia, Croatia, Malta, Slovenia and Estonia. But the country did far surpass the EU average decline (2.4 percent) during the 2010-19 period. 

READ ALSO Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

Perhaps due to flexible remote working arrangements and other measures, the decline of working hours from 2019-20, as the pandemic took hold in Switzerland, was not as high in Switzerland as in many other European countries.

During this period, several European countries saw a steeper decline in working hours than in Switzerland (3.4 percent), including Italy (9.1 percent), Austria (7.2 percent), France (7.2 percent), Spain (6.5 percent) and Germany (3.7 percent), as well as 11 other nations.

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Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

The Covid pandemic hit Switzerland hard, although the country's largest city has rebounded strongly.

Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

Measures imposed due to the Covid pandemic, which began in earnest in February 2020, shuttered businesses across the country and pushed many people out of work. 

When most notable Covid rules were relaxed in Switzerland in mid-February 2022, the economic recovery – highlighted by a strong job market – began in earnest in 2021. 

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic

Nowhere was this more evident than Zurich, Switzerland’s largest and most economically powerful city. 

How did Zurich rebound from the Covid pandemic in comparison to the rest of the country?

Even though Zurich, along with other large Swiss cities like Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne, have been hit hard by the pandemic from the employment perspective, Zurich’s labour market is now growing faster than in other urban centres.

One of the reasons for this upward trend is that young, well-educated foreigners are coming back.

In the first nine months of 2021, the city’s population grew significantly.

In September alone, it recorded 2,200 additional residents.

This is mainly due to people with a B residence permit, according to Klemens Rosin, methodologist at Zurich’s Statistics Office.

During the crisis, far fewer of them left the city. “This group is made up of well-educated, younger and mobile foreigners who have made a significant contribution to Zurich’s growth”, Rosin said.

Zurich’s employment market is expect to grow even further.

READ MORE: How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

That’s because in the coming years, many Zurich workers will retire — an estimated  210,000 by year 2050 — creating more job opportunities for younger employees.

In fact, according to a study commissioned by the canton in 2021, if Zurich’s economy is to continue to flourish, it will need around 1.37 million workers by mid-century.

If these vacancies will not be filled, then income, tax revenue and the financing of social security programs will be impacted.

READ MORE: Have your say: What’s the best way to find a job in Zurich

While it is difficult to predict what jobs will be most in demand in 2050 — what new technologies will emerge in the meantime — right now and in medium term, IT workers will be especially needed, experts say, because businesses will continue to to digitalise and automate.

Lower skilled jobs will also be in higher demand, including hospitality, retail and transport. 

With hundreds of thousands of vacancies to fill, people with the permission to work in Switzerland are likely to be flush with offers – particularly skilled workers with recognised qualifications. 

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier