29 June 2016 – Innovation and creativity are the driving forces that ensure the competitiveness of Europe’s economy, but which conditions help to flourish creativity? At its 4th Interest Group meeting in the EU Parliament, the European Sunday Alliance (ESA) discussed together with MEPs about the close relationship between recreation time and innovation. Under the patronage of the MEPs Evelyn Regner (S&D) and Thomas Mann (EPP), the event entitled “Competitiveness needs innovation, innovation needs creativity and creativity needs recreations” brought together participants from business, churches, politics, trade unions and family organisations.
After a brief introduction of the subject and the speakers by MEP Evelyn Regner, Martin Wilde underlined in his opening statement that the objective of reasonable working hours is not in conflict with economic competitiveness, but that both are correlated. The General Secretary of the Christian Union of Business Executives, UNIAPAC Europe, explained that recreation unleashes creativity and that hence there is a direct economic reason to limit high working hours.
Sandra Parthie from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research provided the basis for the discussion. Referring to data from Eurostat and the European Working Conditions Survey, she demonstrated in her presentation that innovation is a complex phenomenon driven by far more variables than working time and that there is just scant empirical evidence on work-overload in the EU member states. The share of employees working more than 45 hours per week is, in contrast, rather small and a large majority of people are satisfied with the balance between their private and professional life. She, however, admitted that the surveys need to be updated as most of the data have been collected in 2010.
Drawing from his insights from Hungary, József Tóth, however, called into question the extent to which the official figures capture the reality in his home country. The CEO of T. Szinfolt Ltd., a family-run business in home decoration, criticised the fact, for instance, that the figures do not include people working in the grey market. There needs to be more responsible business holders who protect their employees from excessive working hours, especially in the retail sector in Hungary where Sunday work and late evening shifts are part of the normal working time. Mr. Tóth therefore regrets that the Hungarian government in April repealed its law on Sunday shopping restriction.
The last speaker, Christina Colclough, looked more closely on the notion of innovation. According to the Head of EU affairs at UNI Europa, innovation is not a product, but a process that guarantees Europe’s sustainable future. Highlighting findings from her own PhD thesis, she identified network, trust, and enthusiasm as the three underpinning factors that provide the fertile ground for innovation. Seeing that digitalisation and individualisation of work lead nowadays rather to a culture of competition than to networking and creativity, she doubts about Europe’s future innovation capacity.
In the following roundtable discussion, the participants agreed that there is an urgent need to improve the quality and timeliness of social statistics in order to draw more valid conclusions on working time. Qualitative analysis, in particular, could provide more evidence on how long EU-citizens actually work. Furthermore, a breakdown of the data among education levels, age groups, and employment forms is needed. The Interest Group stressed that synchronised free time cannot be assessed in terms of money, but needs to be protected to promote workers’ well-being and to create an enabling environment for creativity and innovation in Europe.
The discussion closed with a brief presentation on the work programme of the upcoming Slovak EU Council Presidency on social affairs. Xénia Malá, policy officer at the Slovak Permanent Representation, outlined that her government will closely follow the issue of work-life balance and organise a two-day conference on 21-22 September in Bratislava on “Reconciling Work and Family Life in a Changing Society”. Moreover, she stressed that Ministers for Employment and Social policy will address the impact of digitalisation on work at their informal meeting on 14-15 July.
In his conclusion, MEP Thomas Mann indicated further steps for the Interest Group. Referring to the achievements of the European Sunday Alliance, he stressed the need to strengthen the cooperation with the European Commission to ensure that the issue of work-life balance is properly addressed in the long-awaited proposal on revision of the Working Time Directive and further initiatives in EU social policy.
The Interest Group continues to follow the issue of work-life balance and will organise a conference in the European Parliament in Brussels on 15 November 2016. In two panels, speakers from academia and EU-institutions will discuss with representatives of the ESA member organisations the impact of digitalisation on work-life balance.