How do Belgians work in Belgium?
Belgians generally enjoy an effective work-life balance. They work to live, rather than the other way round, but generally manage to enjoy the business of working. However, being great enthusiasts for the good things in, they make sure that both work and leisure receive equal attention. The average summer holiday entitlement is a minimum of four weeks, and most Belgians who can afford it (or are not self-employed) make sure that they get a break that is at least that long. Belgium is a country good for work-life balance.
Many of them, particularly those working in strictly administrative functions, are in fact assiduous timekeepers. It is a matter of ‘nine-to-five’, or whatever the formula may be, and that is it! Yet they are generally hard and intelligent workers from nine to five.
Belgian organisations are aware of the business case for work-life balance, and some of them are now introducing flexible time and related policies to ease the pressures, particularly since many of the larger companies are located in the main cities. Belgians, with their attachment to their local communities, often commute in to work from the countryside. Consequently, the morning and evening rush hours around Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liege, etc, see enormous tailbacks of commuter road traffic, a challenge that employers are trying to address by staggering working hours.
Working place in Belgium
Home-working or teleworking is slowly on the increase, mainly at the insistence of employees who want more time with their families and less time lost in commuting: recent legislation has acknowledged this reality and now makes flexible arrangements an accepted part of the employment landscape. They suit many Belgians, but are still only occasional practice, principally with the subsidiaries of foreign-owned multinational corporations. The traditional rump of SME business management however, still tends to view productivity as a matter of “bottoms on office seats”.
Belgian law fixes working hours at 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Both limits must be observed simultaneously. These maximum limits may be reduced by collective agreement.
National holidays in Belgium
Whether you’re living in Belgium or just visiting, it’s important to note the dates of Belgium’s holidays as many businesses typically close. Annually there are 10 Belgian national holidays for workers, seven of which have fixed dates each year.
Most of the holidays in Belgium are observed nationwide but there are three public holidays in Belgium that are only observed by the language communities: Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and the German-speaking provinces in eastern Wallonia.
National Belgian public holidays are the following (there are also some regional events):
- New Year’s Day 01.01.
- Easter Day March/April
- Easter Monday March/April
- Labour Day 01.05.
- Ascension May/June
- Pentecost May/June
- National Day 21.07.
- Assumption 15.08.
- All Saints Day 01.11.
- Armistice Day 11.11.
- Christmas Day 25.12
Working hours in Belgium
The traditional 8.30-5.30 (sometimes 9.00-6.00) five-day working week, with an hour off for lunch, generally still applies in most Belgian companies. Only middle-to-senior management confronted with a crisis situation are likely to work longer hours, possibly compensating with time off later. Generally, all levels, except possibly the very top, will respect the traditional working hours: however management may choose to come in later than administrative staff. This has a lot to do with the latter balancing their work with family life: by getting home by 5 p.m., they miss the rush hour and have time for their families and for leisure activities. Managers may take work home with them.
Government and local administration offices are generally open to the public from 8.30 AM– 1.00 PM. Most stores are open from 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM.
The EU Working Time Directive has been adopted by the Belgian government limiting individuals to a maximum working week of 48 hours.
Business culture in Belgium
With the introduction of flexible time, home working and the like, working practices are slowly changing . Under EU legislation, part-time and temporary workers are protected by law: new national legislation also now provides protection for home workers. In fact, Belgium is a front-runner in the application of legislation assuring equal treatment in hiring, employment and training for all persons regardless of race or origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability or age.
Businesses adopt their own policies, procedures and have their own cultures and values. The best way to establish what these are is to talk to the employees and ask how the organisation works. All companies have something unique to themselves, even if the product they produce or sell is the same as that of others.
- Uni Brussel – Health Insurance: http://www.vub.ac.be/english/infofor/prospectivestudents/preparing/health.html [en]
- Expatica: http://www.expatica.com/be/health_fitness/healthcare/belgian-healthcare-system-1493_8299.html [en]