Annelies Kruijthoff is the epitome of the happy Dutch worker.

She works three days a week, takes care of her two toddlers the rest of the time and has found the right balance between career and family.

Thanks to the Netherlands' liberal labor laws, workers can choose between a 5-day work week or a shorter schedule with a proportionate pay difference regardless of their reasons.

In the beginning, it was difficult for me to work less but now I feel comfortable. It gives better balance between family, work and children, said Annelies, 39, who switched to part-time work in public relations after her first child five years ago.

A decade ago, the government, faced with rising unemployment in the 1980s and wanting to draw more women into the workforce, loosened the labor laws.

This gave part-time and temporary workers the same social security and job protection rights as full-time employees, and let permanent workers have more flexible work arrangements such as shorter or longer working hours.

The strategy worked.

Data from Eurostat put Dutch employment at 75 percent in the last three months of 2006, the highest in the 27-member European Union.

The Netherlands, with 16 million people, also led the list in part-time workers, who make up 46 percent of its workforce. Germany was a distant second at 25 percent.

Close to a fifth of the Dutch workforce is on a temporary contract, the data showed.

Working an average of 33 hours a week, the lowest in the EU, compared with latest EU entrant Bulgaria which averages 41.6 hours, Dutch workers are also -- according to a May study by market researcher FDS International -- among the world's least whiny.

Annelies feels her efficiency may be even better now.

Productivity and efficiency are a little bit higher. Of course, you will have more to do, you have more deadlines in a short time, she said.


With companies finding more flexibility in hiring and firing workers, baby boomers putting their families first, and with an ageing population economists see growing demand for flexible workers.

The vast majority of women in the Netherlands work part-time. They want to combine work with looking after their children and parents, said economist Michiel Vergeer at Statistics Netherlands.

The social stigma that used to be attached to part-time or temporary work has also gone.

A lot of people work part-time. It is very desired because it means you have enough family income. It is really seen as a luxury, said University of Amsterdam researcher and part-time lecturer Hester Houwing.

For supermarket group Albert Heijn, the country's largest, which employs a high percentage of part-time and temporary workers, flexible employees keep its stores open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or even up to 10 p.m. for some outlets.

It is what we need, and we see that employees like the flexibility, they can work in the morning or in the afternoon, said spokeswoman Els van Dijk.


Not everyone likes the flexibility of part-time or temporary work and some feel it limits their career potential.

Theunis Boschma, 34, a temporary worker at mail company TNT since August 2005, would like a full-time job which, he feels, would ensure permanency and better pay.

He fears this is not likely with his current employer, which has 59,000 employees and recently said it will shed up to 7,000 jobs to cut costs.

I would rather have a steady job. I am a single guy, I have no family and no children, he said: but the threat of losing his job hangs over his head.

I have a feeling I need to prove myself. If I do not do it right, they may say 'we will not need you anymore', he said.

And for the ambitious, switching to part-time work could spell the end of their career.

Once a manager, Nathalie, 36, was demoted to personnel officer at a jobs agency when she cut back her working week to 3 days after the birth of her daughter.

It does affect your career but it is a choice you make. If you want to become a manager, then you have to work full-time. I think it is worth it but it is personal, she said.