“The 40-hour work week is a reality in Germany. To think differently is to ignore reality,” said Martin Wansleben, head of the DIHK.

The agency polled 20,000 companies across Germany and found that one in three already operated a 40-hour working week.

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Eastern Germany seems to have taken the lead: two-thirds of companies there operate a working week of 40 hours or more. However, in western Germany, only 30% work longer than 35 hours per week.

The DIHK said if the trends highlighted by the survey continued, one in two German companies could be working 40 hours per week within the next few years.

“In western Germany, half of all those businesses still working less than 40 hours are planning to move to a 40-hour work week within the next three years,” the DIHK said in a report on its findings.

That is not to say that they will succeed, however. The DIHK said it expected at least a third of the companies that were planning to move to a 40-hour week to be blocked by trade unions.

Currently, the shift to longer working hours is largely confined to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and is not taking place in many of Germany’s large industrial companies, which employ about 30% of the workforce.

While 70% of SMEs reported working more than 40 hours per week, only 10% of large companies said the same.

The DIHK survey also suggested a shift towards more flexibility in terms of structuring working hours. Flexible working hours are already practised by two-thirds of all businesses and are growing in popularity, the DIHK said.