The duration, location and distribution of working time have a decisive influence on the mental and physical well being of working people. Accordingly, the humane design of working time plays an important role in health and safety at work. What distinguishes humane working hours, which work schedules are recommended from a health perspective and which are not, how enterprises can be helped with a health-promoting design of working time - these and other questions are pursued in research and development projects by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA). The knowledge generated in this way has become standard in the domain of working time and much, in the context of policy advice, has found its place in regulations.
Currently, discussions and efforts are focused on the design of working time, particularly towards increased flexibility and an extended working time. Thereby, long working hours neither make sense economically nor for the safety and health at work. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, investigations have shown that the most efficient duration of the working day is eight hours. Longer working hours lead to a significant increase of accident risk - from the ninth hour it increases disproportionately - and to a decrease in performance and a higher health risk to workers. Besides, long hours often contribute to burnout, which has already led many companies to put more emphasis on the issue of work-life balance to maintain the creativity, innovation and productivity of the employees.
In addition to the extension of working time, many companies look for flexible working hours as a tool of choice to improve their economic situation and their competitiveness. On the operations side, beside the want for flexibility, the target is to adapt the use of personnel to the workload or contract situation and to absorb short-term peak order times with additional work beyond the normal working hours. In traditional work models this happens through overtime, which however means additional costs in terms of business aspects as well as increased coordination efforts of work organisation. In addition, overtime leads to greater stress and lower predictability of idle or free time on the side of the employees. In addition, there are times when, due to lower demand, the staff is not fully occupied but then carry the full impact on the cost side.
Flexible work time basically means a new starting point for the organisation of working time. While primarily in the past, the design of collective working time and collective leisure was the centre of attention, the current working time and that of the future is more demand-oriented, i.e., the individual work hours are more dependent on variable aspects.
New forms of work, such as part-time work, multiple jobs, mobile working, teleworking, temporary or mini-jobs, further aggravate this problem. In this respect flexible working hours are hardly comparable with the "old" working patterns - five-day week, 38.5 hours between 6 am und 6 pm. Accordingly, new questions and tasks concerning occupational health and safety issues also arise, which are currently pursued by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA):
- Is the remaining time still sufficient to compensate for the load?
- Are paid work and "care work" (raising of children; care of relatives) compatible? Can leisure time still be planned sufficiently?
- How can flexible working time models be designed, so that, in addition to the employer’s wishes, the needs and desires of employees are sufficiently considered?
- What demands do new ways of working make on the organisation of working time?