Flexible working hours are good for business: UN

Flexible working arrangements like those introduced during the COVID-19 crisis are not only good for employees but also boost productivity and potentially a business’s bottom line, the United Nations said Friday.

In its first report focusing on work-life balances, the UN’s International Labour Organization evaluated the effects of working time, working hours and working time arrangements on the well-being of staff and also on business performance.

“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,” Jon Messenger, lead author of the report, said in a statement.

The report examines the crisis response measures governments and businesses used as the pandemic spread, aimed at keeping organizations “functioning and workers employed.”

It found that the larger proportion of workers on reduced hours helped to prevent job losses.

And it determined that the “large-scale implementation of telework” put in place around the world had “changed not only teleworking but also the nature of employment, most likely for the foreseeable future.”

The COVID-19 measures provided powerful evidence, the ILO said, that giving workers more flexibility in how, where and when they work could be positive not only for them but also for businesses, including through increased productivity.

On the flip side, restricting flexibility increased costs, including because of increased staff turnover, the report found.

“There is a substantial amount of evidence that work-life balance policies provide significant benefits to enterprises,” it said.

The ILO emphasized that teleworking and other flexible working arrangements helped maintain employment while encouraging more employee autonomy.

But it said regulation, including so-called “right to disconnect” policies, was needed to avert negative effects.

According to the report, far from everyone in the global workforce works a standard eight-hour day, or 40 hours a week.

More than a third regularly work more than 48 hours each week, while 20 percent work fewer than 35 hours per week.

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