PROSPER – Flexibility of Work Matters


Globalisation and digitisation are making the world of work even more flexible. Work 4.0 is becoming increasingly independent of time and place. Experts are already speaking of a 24-hour society. Flexible working hours with late, night and weekend work are becoming more widespread. In the public debate, more and more voices from industry, commerce and the skilled trades are increasingly calling for a further loosening of statutory working time regulations. This includes, for example, the demand that the daily maximum daily working hours are abolished in favour of weekly or monthly maximum working hours.

As a result, a work-life balance is no longer possible – with negative consequences for health, performance, social commitment and thus for the cohesion of our society. Employees are already feeling increasing pressure to perform and meet deadlines. More and more tasks have to be completed faster and faster. The result are excessively long working hours, missed breaks, constant availability and work in the spare time. At the same time, the proportion of mental illnesses has increased sharply in recent years. Many employees are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile the demands of their jobs with their private lives. Occupational medicine findings underscore the importance of the eight-hour day for well-being and health. They argue against extending individual daily and weekly working hours.

People who constantly work too long have been shown to put their cardiovascular health at risk. People who work excessively long days suffer more often from high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks. Gastrointestinal health is also at risk when working too long. Those who constantly work 50 hours and more a week risk stomach problems and even stomach ulcers. In addition, initial findings show that men and women with excessive working hours have an increased risk of diabetes.

Finally, the psyche also takes a beating when working too long. Mental exhaustion, sleep disturbances, the inability to switch off, stress and anxiety, but also burnout can be the result of working too long. According to available findings, constantly long night shifts of more than twelve hours are associated with a higher risk of burnout. . In addition, long working hours prevent the excessive stress from being adequately compensated for by social, cultural and sporting activities, as there is not enough time for them.

Working long hours is not efficient. The longer the working time, the more fatigue increases, while performance and attentiveness decline, putting safety at risk. After the seventh hour of work, the risk of accidents increases significantly and after the ninth hour – once again, sharply. After the twelfth hour, the risk of an accident is twice as high as during a normal working day. Not only the risk of accidents increases, individual productivity per hour also decreases when working more than 40 hours per week. In this respect, there is a lot to be said against extending individual working hours. It makes more sense to distribute them wisely and to ensure sufficient recovery time – the keyword here is flexibilisation. The important thing here is flexible working hours must be designed in a way that is compatible with health and human needs.

Flexible working hours can offer significant advantages when done right, including:

  • Job security. Companies with flexible working hours can better respond better to fluctuations in orders.
  • Flexible working time models enable longer operating and machine running times and thus shorter throughput times.
  • Job attractiveness. Qualified specialists like to work and make decisions autonomously.
  • Opportunities for further training. Training is usually paid for by the employer and takes place during working hours. Small and medium-sized companies in particular often invest too little in training measures.
  • Employees who have a say in the duration and distribution of their working hours and distribution of their working hours, employees are often more motivated and therefore more productive.
  • Improved quality of life. People remain mentally and physically healthy above all when they are basically satisfied with their lives, if they are basically satisfied with their lives.

Some working time models are better suited to the needs of the company, while others reflect the needs of the employees. Companies are called upon to develop intelligent working time solutions that do justice to both sides of the equation and take into account as many interests as possible. After all, employees who can help shape their working hours are more satisfied with their work-life balance, are more motivated at work, are demonstrably more productive, and remain healthy for longer. In times of demographic change and shortage of skilled workers, these are advantages that should be exploited.


The summary is based on the following publication:

Flexible Arbeitszeitmodelle. Überblick und Umsetzung. Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (BAuA). Druck & Verlag Kettler GmbH, Bönen. Oktober 2019