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Why Do The Swiss Work So Much?

Swiss work
Patric Ganz
  • On October 4, 2015

“The Swiss work so much,” a fact I realize anew when I come back to Switzerland from longer travels. Almost 90 % of the Swiss men work full-time and more than 44 hours a week ( That`s nearly 9 hours per working day. Fortunately, the Swiss law guarantees each full-time employee 20 days of holiday each year (, otherwise they might work even more. I don`t even make an effort for an international comparison; people elsewhere may work more, but it wouldn`t change the fact that the Swiss work a lot. Why is that so? Isn`t life too precious to burden oneself with such a workload? And why don`t I accept this hard-working way of life?

Omnipresent Fear of Losing the Job

Sorgenbarometer 2014

Excerpt from the Sorgenbarometer 2014

Every year the big bank Credit Suisse carries out a study about the five major concerns of the Swiss.
Unemployment is by far the largest concern since many years ( However, the vast majority of the interviewees think that their own job is safe and that they will not lose their job (see illustrations).

Sorgenbarometer 2 2014

Another excerpt from the Sorgenbarometer 2014

What is more, the unemployment rate in Switzerland is super low (around 3 %, How is this obvious discrepancy to explain? Why are people so scared to lose their job? My guess is: Because the Swiss people have too high monthly fix costs, some meager months could already lead to serious financial problems. The material needs of most Swiss are comparatively great. Or why do my fellow travelers from other countries always make fun of the way too well equipped Swiss people? A house, cars, furniture, electronic devices, costly leisure activities, or expensive holidays are within reach of most Swiss people. If you can allow yourself to have all that with your job, go for it! But don`t be surprised when you end up feeling the omnipresent fear of losing your job.

How can I be so fearless and how can I even actively look for those “months off”, those “mini-retirements” (Tim Ferris), in other words;  my yearly traveling time?

Performance Society and Self-fulfillment on the Job

Why does work play such an important role in the life of Swiss people? Partly it can be explained with the “Protestant Ethic Thesis” of Max Weber. Over the last centuries, the Swiss incorporated this Protestant working ethic. The Reformation profoundly affected the view of work, dignifying even the most mundane professions as adding to the common good and thus blessed by God, as much as any “sacred” calling (in: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905). This thinking provided the basis for the performance society we live in today, also in Switzerland. Andreas Gross, a Swiss politician, explains it with the help of a joke:

“The Italians work to live, the Swiss live to work” (Tagesgespräch on

I personally think, he has a point there. Even schooling is preparing us mainly for the tough working life and to find good access to our performance society. Other aspects such as broaden one`s horizon, fun, learn to think independently, or find ways to happiness and truth etc. come second when I listen to political discussions.

The jobs people look for nowadays need to be fulfilling. To find self-fulfillment on the job is vital; especially when you work most of your time on this earth. Otherwise, people in Switzerland wouldn`t work so much! I feel totally disconnected with people who make statements like the following:

“Work is life and life is work” (Marion Weichelt Krupski, TA, 30.09.2015)

Wow, is life really that simple and uniform? And I once thought that life is multifaceted and offers different ways of finding happiness (if that is the goal) and self-fulfillment. For example: Although you`re an outstanding chemist and totally love your job, it doesn`t mean that you are only good in that particular job. Maybe you are even better in wine-making, diving, teaching yoga, consulting couples or helping old people? And do you remember one of the top five regrets of the dying by Bronnie Ware that goes like this: “I wish I hadn`t worked so hard” (see: travelers die happier)! Swiss people really have to work on that if they don`t want to end up full of regret.

Switzerland is a performance society that generally doesn`t accept attempts to self-fulfillment outside of your job; part-time work is still a niche existence and the obstacles to work part-time are still great (e.g. Input,

Switzerland – The Ideal Setting for Nonconformists?

Switzerland offers the ideal setting for people who want to live a nonconformist life, if they can deal with the lack of understanding they`re facing when talking to other Swiss with more normal life scripts. Because Swiss work so much and because it is accepted to work so much, the legal system of Switzerland allows you to work long hours per day, per week, per month. In combination with the high salaries in Switzerland (thanks to the high material needs of the average Swiss and the achievements of the trade unions), it forms an ideal setting for materially modest people who want to save money in a short time to enjoy more non-working time. Seasonal workers from different parts of Europe and the world realized that as well as some Swiss. The Swiss musician Stiller Has, for example, once declared that he worked only through the summer and used the rest of the year to make music and enjoy life. Sometimes I also meet Swiss people who travel six to nine months a year, like me. In short, people with a nonconformist lifestyle can substantially profit from the environment that more conformist people form due to their everyday actions.

Swiss Work Culture – Why the Swiss Should Not Work so Much

I want to challenge the Swiss to rethink their massive workload with the following visual and aural message by José Mujica, nicknamed Pepe Mujica, who was the president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015 (starting from 1:55 min): “…when I buy something, or you, you`re not paying money for it. You`re paying with the hours of life you had to spend earning that money. The difference is that life is one thing that money can`t buy. Life only gets shorter…”

If Swiss people spend only money for what they really need to achieve their personally defined goals, they would hopefully work less. However, since that is illusory as I tried to explain above, I always look forward to finding the same ideal setting again every time I come back from traveling.

Why do you think Swiss work so much? Do people in your country work so much, too? Why do you think people work so much in your country? Can you add more important factors than the ones I explained in this article?

Greets from Switzerland


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