People & Leadership

The EU Working Time Directive: What HR and People teams need to know

A ruling from the European Court of Justice means EU states must keep records of employee’s working hours. Here’s what you need to know.

More and more people are working beyond the average 40-hour week.

Many of us feel as though more hours equal getting more done. So much so that we’re becoming a workforce obsessed with being busy.

In the US, for example, the average employee works 47 hours a week, with four in 10 working at least 50 hours, according to Gallup.

However, working more doesn’t mean we’re getting more done. In fact, Sage People’s research revealed that one in three full-time employees admit to being productive for less than 30 hours a week.

What is the EU Working Time Directive?

In an attempt to legislate against this problem, the EU passed the Working Time Directive in 2003. This law says that no employee should work longer than 48 hours a week and that employees are entitled to an 11-hour break every 24 hours – unless they specifically choose to opt out.

However, some trade unions have questioned the law’s effectiveness – particularly when it comes to companies accurately recording the amount of time their employees spend working.

What’s changed with the EU Working Time Directive?

A ruling from the European Court of Justice means that in order to properly implement the EU’s Working Time Directive, every EU member state must make sure that employers keep accurate records of every employee’s working hours.

Why has this happened?

This ruling follows legal action raised by a Spanish trade union, which wanted to force Deutsche Bank to record hours worked each day by its members so that compliance with the Working Time Directive can be correctly monitored.

What do these changes mean for employers?

In a nutshell – employers need to establish systems that accurately record every employee’s working hours in order to make sure they’re working within the legal limits.

This means setting up an “objective, reliable and accessible system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured”.

How does this ruling impact HR teams?

As the natural gatekeepers and processors of personal data, HR teams could potentially be called upon to access this information.

Ask yourself how data driven is your workforce? What kind of visibility do you really have over your people and information about attendance and leave?

These are crucial questions not purely for this legislation, but also for better workforce visibility.

The more analytics at your fingertips, the more business decisions can be made from actionable insights, instead of gut feel.

For example, you know your customers inside out, but what if you had the same level of insight and visibility concerning your employees? What if you knew where every high-potential employee could add most value? What about how your staff prefer to work? Or, who is likely to become a flight risk?

What should we be thinking about when tracking employee time?

This is where HR cloud technology can help. Think about whether your current system can easily:

  • Give you complete visibility of attendance and leave, using integrated metrics, reporting and dashboards, while keeping an eye on cost to the business.
  • Adapt to different countries’ legislation, Including set up different policy settings for different countries.
  • Manage planned and unplanned absences by team or individual, including things like jury service, sabbaticals and maternity leave.
  • Allow employees to stay autonomous and let them request paid time off and other absences themselves, as well as being able to submit timesheets easily online.
  • Set up flexible working patterns and have different hours per day and shift schedules allocated to different team members.
  • Enable you to stay on top of leave balances and manage cover, with clear visibility of individual and team absences.

The bottom line is that your business needs the right system and capabilities to easily and completely visualize your employees’ data on time and attendance.

If you currently don’t, then you may be behind the curve when it comes to understanding how your business and your people are working – as well as the law. This is why it’s fundamentally important to have a HR and People system that can do this.

Poor work-life balance equals less productive people

It’s the law of diminishing returns.

Often the longer employees work, the less they get done. It’s crucial that companies get the balance right, as not only can poor work-life balance mean less productive people, but also an unwell and unhappy workforce.

Getting a HR tech system in place that can give you a thorough and clear view of your workforce and their attendance should be a priority for your HR and People teams.

Being one step ahead of legislation is a bonus, too.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2019 and has been updated for relevance.