Employment Basics

Work-life balance in Italy

If you’ve been offered a job in Italy, here’s what to expect in terms of work-life balance – including working hours, holidays, and parental leave.

Work life balance Italy

By Gary Buswell

Updated 14-3-2024

Italy is full of culture and scenic beauty to enjoy. So naturally, you’ll want to make sure you get enough free time away from your workplace. Fortunately, the country’s work culture ensures that workers have plenty of leisure time. In addition, Italy scores well in terms of work-life balance thanks to strong unions negotiating labor laws and a social security system that provides a range of benefits.

Read on to discover more about the work-life balance in Italy. Sections include:

Italian work-life balance: an overview

There’s good news for anyone moving to Italy for work purposes: it does very well in terms of balancing work and leisure activities. In fact, Italy is the highest-ranked country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for work-life balance according to 2020 figures, with a score of 9.4 out of 10. According to the OECD’s Better Life Index, only 3% of workers in Italy work very long hours compared to the OECD average of 10%. Additionally, Italians spend an average of 16.5 hours per day on non-work activities (including sleep), while the OECD average is just 15 hours.

A girl in the foreground sits on the sofa and is looking at a tablet. In the background, out of focus, her father works on a laptop.
Photo: Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

This is partly down to Italy’s relatively relaxed work culture. Although Italy is home to many entrepreneurs and weekly working hours are in line with the European Union (EU) average, there is a strong emphasis on free time and the family. Work-life balance in Italy is achieved through a mix of labor laws on work hours and holiday pay and a strong social security system that provides benefits such as paid parental leave.

Italy also has a tax-funded public healthcare system providing free or low-cost services to all workers, as well as affordable childcare. Although Italy has one of the EU’s lowest rates of working from home, it has improved its flexible and remote working options since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it implemented the EU Directive on work-life balance in 2022.

Italian work culture

Italy’s economy consists mostly of small and medium-sized businesses, most of which are family-run. The small business mentality still dominates the work culture to an extent in Italy, with organizational processes generally less formal, decision-making more centralized and top-down, and business relationships based on trust and close personal ties.

Interestingly, many of Italy’s labor laws and policies have been determined through collective agreements between trade unions and employer confederations rather than national government policies. For example, there is no statutory minimum wage or holiday entitlement. Instead, these have been set by agreements that vary slightly across the different sectors.

Working hours in Italy

The standard working week in Italy is 40 hours, with the maximum number of contracted hours being 48 hours per week. Anything over 40 hours a week or eight hours per day counts as overtime, payable at a higher rate. In actual fact, Italians tend to work lower hours than these.

Main lobby full of commuters at Santa Maria Novella Railway Station in Florence, Italy.
Photo: Busà Photography/Getty Images

According to OECD figures, in 2021, employees in Italy worked an average of 1,669 hours, slightly below the OECD average of 1,716 hours. This works out at just over 32 hours per week. EU figures, on the other hand, show that the average Italian working week is around 35 hours (similar to the EU average), with self-employed business owners averaging around 46 hours per week.

The standard working day in Italy starts at around 09:00–09:30 and finishes at around 18:00–18:30, with a lunch break starting around 13:00 and lasting up to two hours. It’s not unusual for employees in Italy to take even longer lunch breaks and finish working later in the evening. Italian law states that all workers should have at least 11 hours between work shifts.

Annual leave in Italy is determined by collective agreements and varies across sectors. The standard minimum amount is 20 days of paid holiday per year, although many employers offer more. This is in addition to 12 national public holidays per year in Italy.

Italian parental leave

Statutory maternity leave in Italy is five months, which can start up to two months before the due date. The minimum pay for this is 80% of the average salary. Fathers can take 10 days of paternity leave during this period at 100% of their income. They can also take maternity leave if the mother cannot look after the newborn, for example, due to serious illness, disability, or death. Allowances are contribution-based, so you must have made social security contributions.

A father sits with his daughter on a bench on a sunny day
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Additionally, working parents can take up to 11 months of shared parental leave during the first 12 years of the child’s life. Statutory pay for this is 30% of your average salary, although families earning over a certain threshold can only claim for six months during the child’s first three years. Shared leave increases for up to two years if the child has a serious disability. Parents are also entitled to take time off at statutory sick pay rates to look after sick children.

Employers can increase these pay and leave allowances using their own funds. Indeed, many larger firms do this to attract employees.

Resources for maintaining a work-life balance in Italy

Financial resources for work-life balance

Italy offers a range of financial support to alleviate the pressures of work. This includes:

  • Additional forms of paid leave through various labor laws and collective agreements, such as leave for family, marriage, or educational purposes
  • Financial subsidies for parents, such as the universal child benefit and the maternity allowance
  • Means-tested funding for parents, such as kindergarten childcare vouchers and bursaries for secondary school materials
  • Tax credits and allowances, such as the relocation scheme (lavoratori impatriati) offering low tax rates for workers moving to Italy for the first five years – the Italian government provides a full list of credits and allowances

Some of these resources are available to all Italian citizens and residents, while others are only accessible if you’ve made sufficient social security contributions.

Reduced working hours options

Workers in Italy don’t have any statutory rights to reduced or flexible working arrangements except in situations where they cannot perform their job otherwise. These circumstances include looking after a child with serious health issues. However, all workers can request more flexible working arrangements, and it is up to the employer to consider them.

EU studies have found that Italy is a fairly average performer regarding flexibility in employment. 73% of workers in Italy feel they may choose or change their work methods and conditions, compared to the EU average of 69%. However, only 47% said they may accumulate overtime and exchange it for days off, lower than the EU average of 53%.

Remote work

Italy has slightly lower remote working rates than other parts of Europe. EU statistics show that 12.2% of Italian employees normally worked from home in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, just below the EU average of 12.3%. Prior to COVID-19, the Italian government passed a law (81/2017) to strengthen the rights of remote workers and home workers in Italy, ensuring that they have the same rights to pay, time off, and benefits as those performing their duties in the workplace.

A self-employed worker working from home.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

The emergency remote working measures for the COVID-19 pandemic ended in Italy in August 2022. However, many companies continue to utilize remote working to reduce their running costs and provide flexibility for workers. Italy also has plans to launch a remote working visa, similar to the one in Spain.

Support services for work-life balance

You can access support in Italy, such as mental health treatment, if you suffer from work-induced stress. All workers can access public healthcare either free or at a low cost. You should speak to your doctor first, as they can help you access services such as counseling or psychotherapy. You can also get private treatment if you have a health insurance policy in Italy.

If you are experiencing work-related issues or feel that you are being pressured into working too many hours, you should speak to your employer, your trade union representative, or your local employment office. You may have a case to take to an employment court if your employer breaks labor laws.

Work-life balance for the self-employed in Italy

EU statistics show that self-employed workers work more hours per week in most member states, including Italy. The average working week in Italy in 2021 was 46 hours for self-employed business owners with staff and 39 hours for freelancers, compared to 35 hours for employees.

Self-employed workers pay freelance taxes, social contributions that entitle them to many of the same benefits as employees, including maternity/paternity leave, old-age pension, and unemployment allowance. However, they have to pay higher rates as they don’t have an employer to split costs with. Although basic maternity/paternity leave entitlements are the same for self-employed workers in Italy, the additional parental leave is shorter. Those self-employed can only claim the 30% salary for a further three months during the child’s first year.

Tips for achieving a good work-life balance in Italy

  • Make sure you take breaks during the working day – a minimum of 10–15 minutes every two hours.
  • Don’t take on too much overtime and use up all of your annual leave.
  • Use your leisure time to enjoy the local culture, visit nice places, or unwind by playing a sport.
  • Practice good time management to avoid overburdening yourself with uncompleted tasks at the end of the working week.
  • Ask for flexible working hours or remote working a few hours a week if things are getting too much.
  • Prioritize your health, including your mental health. Overwork can have fatal consequences. For example, around 750,000 workers die each year globally from heart disease and strokes attributed to long work hours.

Useful resources