Poles work more hours a week and more hours a year than anyone in Europe, according to the European Statistical Office. Poles work 2,366 hours a year. The second-place Danes work 2,288 hours.
And Poles work 45.5 hours a week, versus 44 for the Danes. The average Briton works 43 hours a week, the average Italian 42 and the average French citizen 40. More than a third of Poles say they have just three hours of free time during their work week and one of eight say they have no free time.
The government’s wage and hour laws are supposed to limit Poles to working only 40 hours per week. But many Poles work longer, especially those who have a second job or who have their own practices, such as doctors. One reason that some Poles probably work more than 40 hours a week is simply to keep their jobs. Jobs are still scarce in many fields, and if an employee doesn’t want to work more than 40 hours a week, someone else would be happy to have his job.
Companies that offer services as opposed to products know they must make those services available to clients when the clients want. That tends to lengthen the hours that service employees work.
There appears to be a strong connection between the hours that Poles work and the kind of activity they engage in during their time off. Fewer than one in 10 Poles say they participate in sports or go to a theater, cinema, restaurant or pub. Instead, most vegetate.
Sixty-seven percent say they watch television in their free time. Thirty-four percent said they do nothing, 28 percent say they read newspapers or listen to music and 24 percent say they sleep.
In his spare time, 30-year-old Michal of Warsaw reads newspapers, watches films and uses his computer.
He said he knows those aren’t ambitious ways of spending his free time, “but after leaving work I don’t have the energy to go to a party or to the theater like I did when I was studying.”
“On the weekend,” he added, “I want to switch myself off, not doing anything that requires thinking.”
Krzysztof Lecki, a sociology professor at Slaski University in Katowice, understands why Michal wants to kick back when he’s not at work. “We jumped very fast from the time of communism, when we had a lot of free time,” to a situation “where we must work hard all day,” he said. Joanna Heidtman, a social psychologist, thinks spending free time relaxing rather than engaging in vigorous activity is a healthy reaction to working too much.
In many cases people want to be active on weekends but their “exhausted body does not allow them to,” she said.
“We work more and more,” she said. What’s more, these days more people work with their minds, “and it exhausts us more than working physically,” she said.
That is why, after a week of intensive work, the normal and healthy reaction is resting our minds, she said.