How Employable Are the People of Three Seas Countries?

Three Seas countries are attractive investment destinations for global corporations. Can it also result from the fact that people in the region can work longer hours than their Western European counterparts?

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One Polish proverb (literally translated) says that if you want to eat a cake, you have to work for it – aka no pain, no gain. I am sure similar proverbs are also well-known in other languages of the region.

The people in Three Seas countries take proverbs alike very seriously. According to Eurostat data from 2021, the average employed resident of the European Union spends 37.6 hours per week at their first and second jobs. Apart from Serbs, which are not EU residents, Greek employees (or employers) work the longest weekly hours (41.6), and the Dutch work the shortest (32.6). What is interesting to us, however, is that the average employed residents of all the Three Seas countries, besides Austrians, work more hours per week than the EU average—starting from employed Poles who devote more than 41 hours per week to their jobs and ending with Estonians who clock in at almost 39 hours.

Working hours and unpaid jobs

One could notice that thus far, I stubbornly underlined that these working hours data refer only to the employed persons. I did so for a reason – these data apply only to those who actually have paid jobs. If one wants to see how much time is devoted to working by population as a whole, one has to “correct” these data for employment rates – the shares of working age adult (here 15-64) population having any paid job at all.

As employment rates differ a lot among countries, one could expect that such a correction could change a lot. And for some countries, it does so. For example, many employed in the Netherlands work only part-time, which is why this country is at the bottom of the “working hours of employed” list.

On the other hand, as much as 80% of working-age adults there have jobs – here they are at the top of the list. It means that an average working-age adult in the Netherlands (either having or not having a paid job) devotes more than 26 hours per week to work. It moves the Netherlands above the EU average of 25,8 hours. On the other hand, although employed Greeks spend more than 41 hours per week working, only slightly more than 52% of them have jobs. It means that an average (working age) Greek spends around 24 hours a week working, the third lowest figure in the EU.

This correction also changes a little bit for the countries of our region. Due to low employment rates Romania and Croatia move below the EU average of the “total working hours” list. And the opposite – due to relatively high employment rates, Austria moves above the average. The general picture, however, does not change much. In the vast majority of the countries of the region, working-age adults spend more time working than the average Europeans do. Does it mean that the people of the Three Seas region are more “willing to work” than others?

The employable Three Seas

No, it does not. This interpretation would be simplistic and wrong. The average working hours of those employed and the employment rates in individual countries are the results of numerous factors. These factors start from widely defined labor market efficiency, skill levels, or skills matching non-obvious factors such as transport infrastructure development or social protection systems characteristics.

What it means, however, is that the people of our region are highly employable – highly qualified, mobile, willing to work, and swiftly adapting to changing technological and organizational changes. It is one of the important factors making our region one of the most favorable places for international investment.

Mateusz Walewski

Chief economist of BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) since 2018. Previously worked among other for PwC and CASE - Center for Social and Economic Research. Participant of numerous research projects and advisory services for the private sector and governments across Central and Eastern Europe. Member of the Team of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland in years 2008-2010. Author of publications and consultancy reports on macroeconomics, labor market and social policy issues. A graduate of the University of Warsaw and the University of Sussex.

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