Members' Research Service By / December 23, 2016

Work-life balance in the EU

Written by Ulla Jurviste and Rosamund Shreeves, Finding a suitable balance between work and daily life is a challenge that…


Written by Ulla Jurviste and Rosamund Shreeves,

Work-life balance in the EU

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily life is a challenge that all workers face. Families are particularly affected. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for the well-being of all members in a household. The EU recognises the importance of reconciliation between work, private, and family life and has enacted legislation and developed policy in this area. One of the EU’s policy goals is to stimulate employment (especially among women and older workers) and growth. In this context, one of the main objectives of the Europe 2020 employment strategy is that at least 75% of the population aged 20–64 should be employed by 2020. In many Member States that will entail a significant increase in women’s labour market participation. Women, who disproportionately bear the responsibilities of caring for children and other dependants, have to balance these responsibilities with paid labour, but it is possible to facilitate the transfer of some measure of caring responsibilities onto men, thus advancing gender equality at a more profound level.

Reconciling work-life balance is also an important issue for the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), which has stressed the need to modernise the existing EU legislation, as well as to strengthen the coordination between Member States in order to ensure a level playing field regarding the costs and benefits of reconciliation policies. The Committee has identified the lack of accessible, available and affordable quality care services as well as the lack of paid leave arrangements for fathers or the insufficient incentives for fathers to use them as compared to mothers as some of the main challenges.


Parental Leave Directive: Towards a revision? by Monika Kiss, EPRS At a Glance, 2016
In the EU, parental leave is regulated by a 1996 Directive, last amended in 2013. The implementation of this Directive varies greatly among Member States and parental leave overlaps other types of leave granted to families. The European Parliament is expected to call for an evaluation of its implementation and for revision of both the Directive and related legislation.

Maternity and paternity leave in the EU by Ulla Jurviste, Martina Prpic, Giulio Sabbati, EPRS infographic, December 2016
This infographic aims to present the current state of affairs of maternity and paternity leave in EU Member States.

Measures to address the challenges of work-life balance in the EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway by Aileen McColgan, December 2015, 102 p.
The report provides a comparative analysis of the extent to which 31 European states (the 28 Member States and the 3 EEA countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have adopted measures which promote the reconciliation of working and private and family life. The focus is on measures which go beyond those required by EU law. In particular, the report is concerned with flexible arrangements governing the time during which and the place in which work is undertaken, with flexibility in the use of family-related leave, with carers’ leave and with measures permitting the sharing of parts of maternity leave between parents.

Working time developments in the 21st century: Work duration and its regulation in the EU by Jorge Cabrita; Simon Boehmer; Camilla Galli da Bino; Eurofound, 2016, 102 p.
This report examines the main trends and milestones characterising the evolution of the most important aspects of collectively agreed working time in the EU during the first decade of the 21st century. It focuses in particular on five sectors: chemicals, metalworking, banking, retail and public administration. The authors point to the tension that exists between the pressure for decreased working hours in favour of a better work-life balance and fewer health problems for workers and the need for working time flexibility to meet the demands of a modern world economy. See the Chapters:


Demography and Family Policies from a Gender Perspective by Konstantina Davaki (London School of Economics and Political Sciences, the UK), EP DG IPOL, 2016, 44 p.
This study evaluates policies aiming at increasing fertility through work-life balance, reveals their interrelation with family policies and economic priorities and suggests ways of addressing challenges on all three fronts with the view to minimise their gendered outcomes. 2.4. Family and employment policies aiming at work-life balance (page 20); 2.6. Work-life balance and the economic crisis 29 (page 29); 2.7. Work-life balance, gender equality and demography (page 30).

Poverty, gender and intersecting inequalities in the EU: Review of the Implementation of Area A: Women and Poverty of the Beijing Platform for Action , Chapter 3 Pathways in to and out of poverty, especially 3.2. Work-life balance pp 35-7, 2016

The Implementation of Parental Leave Directive 2010/18 in 33 European Countries (PDF 2,76 MB) by Maria do Rosário Palma Ramalho, Petra Foubert and Susanne Burri, February 2015, 284 p.
The purpose of this report is to provide information on and present an analysis of the implementation of Parental Leave Directive 2010/18 as well as possible weaknesses and lacunae in the existing acquis. The focus of this report is on the way the various types of family leave and other measures intended to promote the reconciliation of professional and family life are addressed and combined at national level and the extent to which the national approach is in line with EU law. The main focus is on the implementation of the changes made by Parental Leave Directive 2010/18 to the previous Directive on the subject (Directive 96/34/EC2), at national level.

Differences in Men’s and Women’s Work, Care and Leisure Time by Konstantina Davaki (Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, the UK), EP DG IPOL, March 2016, 67 p.
This study examines the interrelation of policies with the ways women and men allocate time to paid work, care and leisure and the gendered outcomes produced in different socio-economic and cultural settings. It shows that policies are powerful tools which can contribute to a better work-life balance and transform gender roles in accordance with the targets of EU2020 strategy and EU28 commitment to gender equality.

What if your boss is a woman? Work organization, work-life balance and gender discrimination at the workplace by Claudio Lucifora and Daria Vigani; IZA Discussion Paper No 9737, 2016, 41 p.
The authors of this paper investigate the association between female leadership, work organization, practices and perceived gender discrimination within firms, using data for 30 European countries for the period 1995-2010.

Gender Gaps in Subjective Wellbeing: Research Report by Claudia Senik, 2015, 134 p.
In all countries of the world, and especially in high-income countries, women declare a higher level of life satisfaction than men when they experience similar conditions (for example, pay and working conditions), but score lower on measures that capture short-term positive and negative emotions, and suffer from higher levels of depression. It is true that the women’s advantage in terms of happiness and life satisfaction is not uniform along the life cycle: women are less happy than men before the age of 18, happier than men afterwards until their fifties, and less happy again thereafter. The report proposes the main explanations for these contrasts.

Working-Time Regimes and Work-Life Balance in Europe by Timo Anttila, Tomi Oinas, Mia Tammelin and Joukko Nääti, European Sociological Review, December 2015, Vol. 31 Issue 6, pp 713-724. 12p
This study analyses several aspects of temporal and spatial flexibility, and their associations with employees’ work-life balance.

Work–life balance/imbalance: the dominance of the middle class and the neglect of the working class by Tracey Warren, British Journal of Sociology, 66 (4), 2015.
The paper argues for the necessity of analysing economic – and not just temporal – roots of work-life imbalance. It concludes that if we are to continue to pursue work-life analysis, the conceptualisation of work-life needs to more full incorporate economic-based imbalance if it is to better represent class inequalities.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions’ views

European Commission

Roadmap / August 2015 – A new start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families, which will replace the 2008 Commission proposal to amend the Maternity Leave Directive. The objective for this new initiative is to modernise and adapt the current EU legal and policy framework to allow parents with children or those with dependent relatives to better balance caring and professional responsibilities, to encourage a more equitable use of work-life balance policies between women and men, and to strengthen gender equality in the labour market.

New start for working parents and caregivers: Commission launches public consultation on work-life balance / 18 November 2015 – The EC launched a public consultation ( First stage consultation document ; second stage consultation document ; second stage consultation analytical document ) on how to improve work-life balance and reduce obstacles to women’s participation in the labour market, thereby contributing to the employment headline target of the Europe 2020 Strategy. This consultation follows the withdrawal of the Commission’s 2008 proposal to amend the 1992 Maternity Leave Directive. The Commission committed to replacing that proposal with a ‘ new start’ initiative in its Work Programme for 2016. It will seek:

  • to address the low participation of women in the labour market by improving the current EU legal and policy framework,
  • to enable a better balance between caring and professional responsibilities for working parents and people with dependent relatives,
  • to allow for a greater sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men,
  • to strengthen gender equality.

The consultation document gives an overview of the main challenges of work-life balance for parents and people with caring responsibilities and takes stock of EU-level measures already in place. In parallel to the social partner consultation on legislative measures, the consultation invites the public to provide feedback on the challenges and a possible range of EU-level policy responses.

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution of 13 September 2016 on creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance (2016/2017(INI) ) and FEMM-EMPL Report on creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance, 2
The report calls for improvements to legislation on parental leave and stresses the importance of quality child care services and flexible forms of work. It urges the EC to bring forward proposals on:

(1) a paternity leave directive with a minimum of a two-week fully paid leave;
(2) a carers’ leave directive which supplements the provision of professional care, enables care for dependants and offers the carer adequate remuneration and social protection;

Public hearing Creating Labour Market Conditions Favourable for Work-Life Balance, 22 March 2016

Tackling social dumping: MEPs call for fair wages and social justice for workers , 21 September 2016

International organisations


Work-life balance website

International Labour Standards on Work-Life Balance


Better Life Index – Work-life balance



Reconciliation – a safety net for all families! February 2016

European Reconciliation Package 2015


ETUC position on first-stage consultation of the EU social partners on a ‘New start’ for work-life balance , January 2016

Discussing work-life balance – tensions and possible solutions , May 2016



Statistics explained – Quality of life indicators – productive or main activity ; Work-life balance ,


Better Life Index – Work-life Balance, 2016
Work-life balance in detail by country – ranking and indicators.

How’s Life? Measuring Well-Being , 2015
The study includes a wide variety of statistics, capturing both material well-being (such as income, jobs and housing) and the broader quality of people’s lives (such as their health, education, work-life balance, environment, social connections, civic engagement, subjective well-being and safety). The report documents the latest evidence on well-being, as well as changes over time, and the distribution of well-being outcomes among different groups of the population. Work-life balance on p. 74

EU Member States

The  OECD Family Database consists of cross-national indicators on the situation of families and children.
In view of the strong demand for cross-national indicators on the situation of families and children, the OECD Family Database was developed to provide cross-national indicators on family outcomes and family policies across the OECD countries, its enhanced engagement partners and EU member states. The database brings together information from various national and international databases, both within the OECD (see  related OECD databases ) and external organisations. The database currently includes 70 indicators under four main dimensions: (i) structure of families , (ii) labour market position of families , (iii) public policies for families and children and (iv) child outcomes .

Eurofound yearbook 2015: Living and working in Europe , Publications Office of the EU, Luxembourg, 2016 . Chapter on Sustainable Work , p. 62 Classifying Member States

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