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Opinion

You should work more, we are told
Sune Steffen Hansen

November 29th, 2023


The most pressing political issue right now is the shortage of labor. According to the government there is a solution: you should work more. However, this does not resonate with public opinion as many people already feel overburdened with work.

Photo: Sune Steffen Hansen

You are probably familiar with the never-ending emails in your inbox, or the constant pressure of meeting work related deadlines. And perhaps you also know that horrible feeling, which occurs when you pick up your kids from daycare just before closing time and after a long day’s work. 

If so, you share the same sentiments as many other citizens in this country. 

Denmark might be known for happiness and a work-life balance that benefits families, but that has not stopped stress-related diseases and the rate of sick leave from increasing rapidly in recent years.

So yes, you might live in a country that is better off workwise compared to many other countries, but you’re still part of the modern labor market that pressures us with a constant workload. Hence, more work is not a priority for many individuals.   

Personally, I have met this feeling numerous times in my capacity as a voter analyst. Through the years, I have conducted many focus groups with various people. Although the issue at hand might not be related to work, many participants would end up talking about the increasing demands they experience at their job. 

Why? Because it is at the forefront of our thoughts. After all, we do spend a significant amount of our lifetime working. 

Now, most political parties in this country see it differently when it comes to the working culture. Not least the government that abolished the national holiday Store Bededag (Great Prayer Day) less than a year ago. 

Looking at the statistics, we might understand why. The working hours of people in Denmark have not changed since 2009 and with an average of 33.4 hours a week, Danes are among the top five countries in Europe for part-time work.

That generates an economic challenge as the labor force decreases over the years due to the retirement of the older generation.

Because of this, ‘working time’ and ‘retirement age’ have become a hot political potato that dominates the political agenda.

Our politicians are still hesitant to invite too many foreigners to this country, and so the answer lies with those people who are here. They need to work more to pay for welfare in the future. 

This month for instance, one of the prominent members of government, the Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek, wrote a book addressing how to change the ‘working-hours mentality’ of the modern Dane.

The book drew attention as the minister bites back at what he calls a rising trend of self-retirement and part-time work in this country. He is far from alone in his perspective; many of his colleagues in Folketinget, including the Prime Minister, have expressed the same opinion. 

In general, most people accept the solutions to major societal challenges we need to address, if these solutions have a broad support among the political parties in Folketinget. This is probably part of our trusting nature as Danes. We do not demonstrate or strike very often, and we are often seen as pragmatic in our approach.

But when it comes to working either more or longer, I have a hard time seeing the government, or any other party for that matter, carrying this through without an uprising.

After all, as one young participant from a focus group told me: “if because of the later retirement, I have to work until I am 70-ish, the least you can do is to let me have a life while I do that.”

About

Sune Steffen Hansen

Partner, Rud Pedersen Public Affairs Denmark Voter analyst and commentator in Danish media Former advisor for Socialdemokratiet, with a Master’s in Political Science (University of Copenhagen)


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