No Turning Back on Flexible Work | ILO
Innovative working time arrangements, such as those introduced during the COVID-19 crisis, can bring benefits for economies, businesses, and workers, including greater productivity and improved work-life balance, according to a new ILO report. The report, Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World, looks at the two main aspects of working time; working hours and working time arrangements (also called work schedules) and the effects of both on business performance and workers' work-life balance.
It includes a range of new statistics covering hours of work, both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.
The study, which is the first to focus on work-life balance, 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.
Flexible working hours can benefit work-life balance, businesses, and productivity. “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 states.
The report also looks at the crisis response measures governments and businesses used during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep organizations 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.
The COVID-19 crisis measures also yielded powerful new evidence that giving workers more flexibility in how, where and when they work can be positive both for them and for business, for example by improving productivity.
Conversely, restricting flexibility brings substantial costs, including increased staff turnover.
“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 states.
“The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ phenomenon has placed work-life balance at the forefront of social and labour market issues in the post-pandemic world,” said Jon Messenger, the lead author of the report.
“This report shows that if we apply some of the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis and look very carefully at the way working hours are structured, as well as their overall length, we can create a win-win, improving both business performance and work-life balance.”
The report includes recommendations.