Healthy working time patterns
Working outside the "normal" hours of the standard working day can impact on employees' mental and physical health over the short and long term. Work rosters should therefore allow individuals enough convenient free time for them to recover and sleep, enjoy family life and pursue other interests.
Working time is defined in terms of its length, its location and how flexibly it is scheduled. Working patterns that deviate from the "standard" of approximately eight hours a day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays are referred to as “atypical working times”, no matter how common they may have become.
Approximately one-fifth of employees work outside the standard working day, and more than one in twenty employees also work at night. Roughly one in four employees work at the weekend, and almost a quarter of employees even work regularly on Sundays. About one-sixth work at least 48 hours a week, usually because they do overtime.
The ergonomic evidence demonstrates that employees can suffer short-term and long-term mental and physical problems due to unfavourable working time patterns. Various cause-effect mechanisms give rise to these conditions:
Atypical working times should be avoided if possible. Furthermore, the ergonomic evidence about shift work patterns still applies. In particular, night work should be reduced to a minimum.
Many employees’ working times are not rigid, but characterised by various flexible elements that can potentially pose risks to their mental and physical health.
The proportions of employees who frequently experience short-term changes to their working time for operational reasons, do on-call or stand-by duty and are contacted for work-related reasons outside their working hours are all greater than ten per cent. Meanwhile employees are being given increasing freedom to determine what their working day looks like. More than four in every ten employees have a great deal of influence over when they start and finish work.
Employers who require flexible availability undermine the reliability and predictability of working time. This prevents employees from planning their schedules ahead. The consequences can be a less favourable work-life balance, sleeping difficulties and health problems. Granting employees autonomy over their working times can promote good health. However, a very high degree of time flexibility may also have negative impacts if it results in the boundaries of working time becoming blurred.
Employees should only be required to work flexible hours where this is genuinely necessary, and the relevant rules should then be worded as clearly as possible. Rest periods should be observed. Employees should be allowed the discretion to take decisions about their own working times, while any harmful blurring of the boundaries between working time and free time should be avoided.