The way of working and living has been revolutionised rapidly by the Covid pandemic. Among the changes brought by the pandemic is the shift towards spending less time at work desks and embracing more flexible work schedules. These changes have proved advantageous for both individuals and businesses, leading to increased productivity. According to a recent report by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO), flexible working arrangements and shorter working hours have been found to maximize employee productivity.
Two fundamental features
The report, Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World, examines the effects of various working time policies and practices on corporate productivity and employee well-being in different countries and regions.
Working hour differences:
In the first part, the work-life balance analysis indicated that a significant share of the global workforce works either long or short hours compared to an eight-hour day/40-hour week. More over one-third of all workers consistently work more than 48 hours per week, whereas one-fifth of the global labour force works short (part-time) hours of less than 35 per week. Jon Messenger, author of the Working Hours and Work-Life Balance Around the World report, remarked on the accompanying podcast, “It’s a very commonly believed myth, but still a myth, that long working hours are highly productive. In fact, we know that long working hours are not very productive.”
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Workers in the informal economy are more likely to work long or short hours. The ILO defines informal employment as economic activity that is not fully protected by formal arrangements, either legally or practically. In a second separate report, the ILO stated that informal employment grew at a “rapid pace” in 2022, after falling dramatically during the epidemic, and is currently on level with formal employment rates. According to the report, the disproportionate number of job losses partially explains this increase in the number of women with formal employment in 2020.
The study reveals that countries and businesses with the longest working hours typically have lower levels of production than those with shorter hours. The report also reveals that people in Asia and the Pacific work longer on average (47.4 hours per week), particularly in Southern Asia (49.0) and Eastern Asia (48.8). North America (37.9) and Europe and Central Asia (38.4) have the smallest average weekly working hours, particularly Northern, Southern, and Western Europe (37.2).
Working time arrangements:
The report investigates various working-time arrangements and their implications on work-life balance, such as shift work, on-call work, compressed hours, and hours-averaging programs. It stresses that the advantages of some of these flexible arrangements, such as improved family life, may be accompanied with drawbacks, such as increasing gender imbalances and health concerns.It validates prior research indicating that lengthy hours are particularly detrimental to work-life balance, resulting in decreased life satisfaction. Nevertheless, it also demonstrates that part-time work might be challenging for those who wish to work longer hours to increase their income.
Generally, discrepancies between workers’ actual hours of labour and their desired hours of work tend to have negative effects on both physical and mental health. Working-time mismatches typically result in decreased productivity, poorer job performance, and increased turnover and absenteeism, based on the viewpoint of the employers.
Flexibility during pandemic shows evidence of productivity
The report investigated the crisis response measures governments and businesses adopted during the Covid pandemic to keep organisations operational and the employees employed. The study found that the greater percentage of workers on reduced hours contributed to avoiding layoffs. The research also highlights long-term changes: “The large-scale implementation of telework nearly everywhere in the world that it was feasible to do so, changed… the nature of employment, most likely for the foreseeable future,” the report states. The pandemic crisis measures also gave strong new evidence that giving workers more freedom over how, where, and when they work can be good for them and for business, for example by making workers more productive. In contrast, limiting flexibility incurs significant expenses, such as greater workforce turnover. The report adds, “There is a substantial amount of evidence that work–life balance policies provide significant benefits to enterprises, supporting the argument that such policies are a ‘win-win’ for both employers and employees.”
Which working models ILO suggests?
The ILO has suggested some recommendations based on the analysis. They are-
- The typical workday (8 hours per day, five or six days per week) provides security, but is frequently too rigid to accommodate family obligations.
- Shift work might allow greater flexibility, but it can also necessitate working at odd hours, which has been associated with severe health hazards and disruptions to family life.
- On-call work, which is based on extremely unpredictable “just-in-time” scheduling, can significantly impact the health of employees. Flexible schedules that permit work to be completed within specified timeframes can result in an ideal work-life balance.
- Compressed work weeks have favourable impacts for employees, as they result in longer weekends for employees.
- Schemes in which hours are averaged over longer periods of one to four months can improve the work-life balance, but if they are badly constructed, employees may experience significant fluctuations in working hours that disrupt their personal lives.
- For many nations, a better work-life balance and higher productivity may be achieved if the government took steps to reduce working hours.
- Teleworking contributes to the maintenance of employment and expands employee autonomy. Yet, policies such as the so-called “right to disconnect” from work are needed to regulate these and other forms of flexible working arrangements in to limit their possible harmful impacts.