Are lifelong hours the answer to flexible working?
The world of work is facing huge change, with decision-makers grappling with issues such as Industry 4.0, digitisation, demographic change, diversity and the integration of different cultures.
Employees increasingly want the option of working in different locations and flexible working hours, while employers need to ensure that new working practices comply with the law. Concepts such as ‘New Work’ and ‘Work 4.0’ that reflect changing attitudes and innovative employment practices are transforming the world of work.
The proliferation of co-working and public work spaces is already blurring the boundaries between work and free-time. The internet, network technologies and mobile devices have made it possible to work almost anywhere around the clock.
However, employment regulations such as Germany’s statutory 48-hour week with a maximum ten working hour day, strict rules on breaks and the ban on work on Sundays and public holidays run contrary to these changing needs and obstruct the true flexibility that many people would like to see.
Changing life phases
Working hours geared more towards the different life phases people go through is one model of flexible working gaining increasing interest. The aim is to stagger the ‘rush-hour’ of people’s lives – the period between the ages of around 25 to 45 – so employees can adapt their working hours to the changing needs of their lives.
A lifelong working hours account or long-term company work accounts could be used to implement a working hours model attuned to different life phases, based on a free agreement between the employee and the employer. For example, employees could choose to forgo part of their wages or paid time off for a period of their working lives and redeem them at a later date for longer periods away from work.
To be able to structure these options for organising working hours sensibly, the framework conditions need to be adjusted. Currently, the European Directive 2003/88 EC sets forth a 48-hour week which can be departed from by mutual agreement. This could be used to relax the strict labour regulations in Germany and many other countries to bring them more into line with the social change they are experiencing.
Lawmakers, of course, need to create clear frameworks to ensure employees are protected. But they should also give employees and employers the opportunity to organise their working conditions themselves and become more equal partners, within the scope of the legislation.