Flexible working has an overall benefit for all, says ILO

A new ILO report on work-life balance says flexible working is a win-win, given longer working hours reduce productivity.

working families 2019


Giving workers more flexibility in how, where and when they work is a win-win for employers and employees while  restricting flexibility brings substantial costs, including increased staff turnover, according to a new report from the International Labour Organisation.

The report, Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World , which is the first ILO study to focus on work-life balance, calls for reductions in hours of work in many countries to promote both a healthy work-life balance and improved productivity, given research shows that longer working hours reduce productivity.

It found that a substantial portion of the global workforce are working either long or short hours when compared to a standard eight-hour day/40 hour working week. More than one-third of all workers are regularly working more than 48 hours per week, while a fifth of the global workforce is working short (part-time) hours of less than 35 per week. Informal economy workers are more likely to have long or short hours.

The report analyses different working-time arrangements and their effects on work-life balance, including shift work, on-call work, compressed hours and hours-averaging schemes. It cautions that the benefits of some of these flexible arrangements, such as better family life, may be accompanied by costs including greater gender imbalances and health risks.

It also looks at the crisis response measures governments and businesses used during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep organisations functioning and workers employed. It found that the increased proportion of workers on reduced hours helped to prevent job losses. Long-term changes are also highlighted: “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 says.

It states: “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.”

The report includes a number of conclusions and recommendations, including:

  • Working-time laws and regulations on maximum daily hours of work and statutory rest periods are achievements that contribute to the long-term health and well-being of a society and must not be put at risk.
  • Longer hours of work are generally associated with lower unit labour productivity, while shorter hours of work are linked with higher productivity.
  • Countries should make use of the experiences they developed with working-time reduction and flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis. Inclusive short-time work schemes with the highest possible allowances not only maintain employment but also sustain purchasing power and create the possibility of cushioning the effects of economic crises.
  • Teleworking helps maintain employment and creates new scope for employee autonomy. However, these and other types of flexible working arrangements need regulating, to contain their potential negative effects, through policies such as what is often called a “right to disconnect” from work.

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