Editorial | Days off or layoffs?


Every year around this time, companies and their employees find themselves in the midst of the complex dance through the minefield that is the springtime holiday season. Over the course of less than two months each spring – this year from April 5 to May 28 – there are a total of five public holidays.

That’s more than half the nine annual public holidays people get off each year, and on the surface, everyone loves this period. Whether it’s time spent gardening, with family or travelling the continent, these days, people will tell you, offer a well-deserved respite from the daily grind after the dreary winter.

But ask around the office as employees – already playing catch-up after their five-day Easter weekend – face shortened weeks for Great Prayer Day, Ascension Day and Whitsun, and you’re likely to get a different answer.

And it’s no wonder Danes are stressed by these days off, since they come in addition to the statutory minimum 25 paid days off. That total, plus an average working week of 37 hours, puts the average Danish employee among those who work the  fewest hours in the OECD countries – a total of 1,550 hours in 2009, which is some 800 hours less than Koreans, who worked most that year.

While some credit this ‘work-life’ balance for making Denmark one of the best countries to live in, for businesses, it’s a burden, which is why the government, labour unions and employers alike have all agreed that it’s a good idea to get people to work more by eliminating two holidays. 

We’ve already seen the consequences of the cost of doing business in Denmark – this week alone Arla and Danish Crown announced job cuts. These most recent layoffs come after blue chip companies like Vestas, Danske Bank and Post Danmark, as well as scores of other companies, have eliminated thousands of jobs over the past year.

Given that the high cost of labour here is just one of the factors leading to these layoffs, it’s hard to see how cutting a couple of days off each spring is going to rescue the economy alone. Its true worth, though, may be its symbolic value.

Flexible working hours and copious amounts of holiday time have left many with the attitude that work in Denmark is something you do outside your free time. Eliminating two holidays would be worth the political struggle, if it instils people with the understanding that free time begins when your work is done.