Europe Appears More Open To Long-Term Telework Than US

By Anne Cullen
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Law360 (September 22, 2020, 4:53 PM EDT) -- European employers have embraced telework at greater levels than their U.S. counterparts and are more willing to stick with it even after the virus wanes, according to a survey released Tuesday by Littler Mendelson PC.

After surveying more than 750 European businesses between July and August, the firm found that 80% said they are requiring or considering requiring more employees to work remotely, compared to just half of the U.S. companies that responded to a similar Littler questionnaire in May.

The firm's new data also showed that a greater percentage of employers in Europe are making their policies more telework-friendly in the long term — a little over 40% — while the earlier survey showed less than a third of U.S. companies had those changes in the pipeline.

The disparity likely stems in part from cultural differences, according to Littler labor and employment shareholder Stephan C. Swinkels, who is based in the Netherlands and specializes in international law and cross-border issues.

"We work to live, and possibly some people in the United States think more like they live to work," Swinkels told Law360.

Europeans tend to have a better work-life balance than their peers across the pond, as they are generally afforded more vacation time and parental leave options as well as a lower pension age, among other benefits. Part-time work is also more prevalent in Europe, Swinkels pointed out.

"Work should fit in your life," he said. "I think that a lot of people in Europe, including employers, see this development as something they can fit in their employees' lives."

According to Littler's newly published research, many European businesses view the widespread transition to remote work as a silver lining of the global health crisis, with roughly two-thirds citing a greater acceptance of remote work as a positive lasting impact of the pandemic.

"It's the new work," Swinkels said. "I think we're ready for it in Europe."

The firm surveyed in-house attorneys and human resources executives from businesses across several European Union nations — including the U.K., France, Italy and Germany — in late July and early August, roughly six months after the initial round of government stay-at-home orders. The businesses that responded ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 10,000, with a little over half reporting a roster of 500 workers or fewer. 

Much of the survey highlighted businesses' changing attitudes toward telework, which Swinkels said likely differ from the way U.S. employers view the setup. 

Historically, U.S. businesses have been hesitant to let employees work remotely out of concerns they won't be productive. However, Tuesday's survey revealed that more than 41% of European businesses believe telework will be a boon to productivity. 

Swinkels said European employers are generally more concerned about how physical distance can affect the "softer side" of the relationship with the employee, including intangibles like company loyalty or a connection with their colleagues, whereas U.S. businesses tend to focus on output and hard data. 

"I've hardly had any employer, any client who said, 'I'm so concerned about the productivity of my employee when they're working from home,'" Swinkels said. "They may be concerned about the amount of work they can give to the employees, but not that."

Littler also gauged European companies on their efforts to support employees' mental health, and the firm said it was encouraged to find that nearly all of the businesses surveyed had taken some action to support their workforce's well-being, such as by offering more flexible work schedules, keeping lines of communication open and providing mental health services and assistance plans. 

Many employers in the U.S. have taken similar steps, including adjusting child care benefits, making wellness apps available and allowing workers more flex time throughout the day if they're teleworking, though the topic wasn't addressed in Littler's June survey. 

--Additional reporting by Braden Campbell and Vin Gurrieri. Editing by Alanna Weissman. 

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