Does Switzerland really have a good work-life balance?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Does Switzerland really have a good work-life balance?
Parental leave is 'stingy' in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

Yes, employees in Switzerland tend to spend many hours on the job—42 hours a week on average—but that doesn’t mean they don’t get any down time to enjoy life.


‘Work-life’ balance is an often-used phrase to describe a division of time between work and leisure activities. This means the ability to successfully combine work, family commitments, and personal life .

Though according to some surveys, Switzerland lags behind a few countries in terms of balancing the two just right, it is not doing badly either.

The Better Life Index by the Organisaton for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that "in Switzerland, full-time workers devote a similar amount of their day on average to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer, and television use, etc.) to the OECD average of 15 hours." 

However, while some work and life-related matters work very well in Switzerland, others are less satisfactory.

First, the general overview of what the 'work' part of the work-life balance looks like in Switzerland
Statuary working hours for full time (five days a week) employment are between 40 and 44 hours per week, with most people putting in 42 hours.
This is longer than in many EU countries, where the work week is 37.5 hours.
There has been talk in Switzerland as well about reducing work hours, but at this point there has not been any concrete action.
In terms of time off, apart from national holidays, most of which are set by cantons, Switzerland’s paid annual leave — four weeks — is not as generous as in some other countries like France (five weeks), but the Swiss have only themselves to blame for that.
In a 2012 referendum, 67 percent of the country’s voters rejected (yes, rejected) the proposal to extend the mandatory leave to six weeks.
That's because they believed longer holidays would cost the economy billions of francs each year, and the money-conscious Swiss just couldn't allow that.
Having said that, many companies offer their employees more than the legal minimum; the exact number of days or weeks is outlined in an employment contract.


Now let’s look at the positive side of Switzerland's work-life balance.

Job and wage security

It’s true that both are subject to the volatility of the labour market and economy in general but overall, employees in Switzerland are doing well in this regard.

One of the main reasons may be that, in addition to the legislation which guarantees good working conditions, including employees’ rights, annual leave and other time off, protection from discrimination, as well as gender equality, among other aspects of employment, many employees also benefit from collective agreements (CLAs) .

It is a contract that is negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers or employer organisations. 

Generally speaking, they cover a minimum wage for each type of work; regulations relating to work hours; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

Other important employment-related matters are also subject to negotiations — for instance, pension fund regulations, early retirement, conflict resolution procedures, and funding of training. (CLAs are also among the main reasons why Swiss workers don't strike as often as other Europeans).

READ ALSO : What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?


Short, convenient commute to work

Because Switzerland is such a compact country and distances are relatively short, most workers don’t have to spend long hours commuting to and from work.

Add to it a dense and mostly punctual public transportation system, and the getting to and from work part is easier than in many other countries.

In fact, data collected by Michael Page recruitment agency indicates that more Swiss employees commute to their jobs by public transportation than their European counterparts —  94 percent versus 75 percent, which is a EU average.

And the same study shows that Switzerland has the lowest number of employees who arrive at work stressed out by their commute: 20 percent versus 38 percent European average.

No Sunday work

Because most shops are closed on Sundays, retail workers get that day off from work, unlike their counterparts in most other countries.

Though many foreigners complain about the lack of shopping on Sundays, this is intended to give sales personnel a chance to enjoy their work-life balance, the same way as employees of other sectors do.

And since Sundays are 'quiet' days in Switzerland, everyone can rest after a week's work.


A good working environment

Maybe because of the CLAs, the fear of losing valuable employees in the midst of acute labour shortage, or perhaps because Swiss employers are genuinely a good-hearted lot, they give the workers long-ish (an hour and a half  in most cases) lunch breaks.

In fact, bosses don’t like to see their employees hunched over the computer during the lunch break (typically from noon to 1:30 pm) eating a sandwich.

Instead, they encourage them to have a proper meal outside the office and relax. In the best-case scenario, if they live close enough, employees will go home for lunch.

True, the lunch break in Switzerland is not as long as in some other countries like Italy or Spain (two hours at least), but the pragmatic and money-savvy Swiss would probably balk at longer breaks from work, for the same reason they rejected the push for longer vacations — because it would be bad for their economy.

In terms of paid sick or compassionate leave, employees are allowed to take a number of days off, which are defined in a collective employment agreement, or individual work contract.

This article explains how this type of leave compares with other countries:

READ ALSO: How sick leave pay in Switzerland compares to other countries in Europe


Sports and recreation

An increasing number of companies offer their employees perks such as paid (or discounted) gym memberships or other activities. It is not yet common everywhere in the country, but the trend is growing as employers realise how important the work-balance is.

Some workplaces also offer childcare opportunities, although that is not so common.

READ ALSO: What are your rights as an employee in Switzerland?

Plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation outside of work

The Swiss are generally fit and health-conscious, and many of them spend their off-work hours practicing sports, biking, or hiking. When it comes to outdoor activities, Switzerland and its mountains and lakes offer every opportunity to do so.

And precisely because Switzerland is so small, nature is practically at everyone's doorstep.

READ ALSO: The reasons why living in Switzerland can prolong your life

Those activities are certainly more conducive to physical and mental well-being than, say, sitting in front of television or playing computer games.

And, needless to say, they contribute hugely to the overall work-life balance.


Now for the downside…

One huge disadvantage that Swiss workers have in comparison to their counterparts in many European countries, are ‘stingy’ parental leave rules.

Because Switzerland has a strong history of individual responsibility, which promoted the idea that the state (or employer) should not pay for people choosing to have children, the statuary leave is only 14 weeks for mothers and two weeks for fathers.

That is a far cry from countries like Sweden, where 480 days' parental leave is the norm

For new parents, not being able to enjoy the paid time-off to spend with their newborns seriously impacts the delicate work-life balance in the country.
READ ALSO: What parental leave are new parents entitled to in Switzerland?

Is there any difference in work-life balance among Switzerland's linguistic regions?

There are no official statistics pointing to any such differences.

However, given that linguistic regions are culturally different (think Rösti- and Polentagraben), anecdotal and observational evidence has it that Swiss-Germans are most work-oriented, Swiss-Italians the least, and French-speakers fall somewhere in between the two.


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