January 18, 2016

Allowing employees to choose their working hours boosts company productivity

A new report, publishing tomorrow (Tuesday, 19 January), on IZA World of Labor, finds that allowing employees autonomy to choose their working hours improves individual and firm performance without promoting overload.

In recent years, firms have been increasingly replacing the traditional nine-to-five, five-days-a-week fixed working time model with arrangements that provide workers with more discretion over individual working hours and work locations. The most common practices allowing more autonomy are flextime, self-managed working time, and working from home models.

While managers often raise concerns that working-time autonomy might encourage workers to reduce their efforts, some worker representatives claim that it actually leads to harmful work strain. However, economist Michael Beckmann shows that empirical evidence on the performance effects of working-time autonomy is surprisingly clear-cut, and contradicts the shirking hypothesis.

Beckmann presents the findings of recent studies showing that self-managed working time has a significantly positive impact on worker performance, particularly when employees engage in creative tasks. Furthermore, the positive productivity effect can be increased if employees are allowed to participate in the decision to select a particular working-time arrangement. Working-time autonomy is also likely to increase an employer’s desirability to employees, as indicated by sharply declining turnover rates once such a policy is implemented.

Finally, the evidence does not support the claim that working-time autonomy is responsible for (unhealthy) work intensification. Indeed, the reverse appears to be true: low control over working hours increases the risk of work strain and subsequent health problems, while greater autonomy may create a buffer against health problems. Certain work contexts are not amenable to working-time autonomy, but in most instances implementing working-time autonomy can be a favorable tool for managers.

Media Contact:

Please contact Sarah Williams for more information, a preview of the report or author interviews: Sarah.Williams@bloomsbury.com or +44 (0)20 763 155 08

Notes for editors:

  • IZA World of Labor (http://wol.iza.org) is a global, freely available online resource that provides policy makers, academics, journalists, and researchers, with clear, concise and evidence-based knowledge on labor economics issues worldwide.
  • The site offers relevant and succinct information on topics including diversity, migration, minimum wage, youth unemployment, employment protection, development, education, gender balance, labor mobility and flexibility among others.
  • Established in 1998, the Institute for the Study of Labor (www.iza.org) is an independent economic research institute focused on the analysis of global labour markets. Based in Bonn, it operates an international network of about 1,300 economists and researchers spanning more than 45 countries.