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The Financial Express

In praise of flexible working time


-Reuters file photo -Reuters file photo

Every bad experience in life has a silver lining. So, has the one gathered from the coronavirus disease that struck the world in 2020. Of the many changes it has forced upon our life, flexible working time is one. Since it was not possible for governments and businesses to keep their operations closed indefinitely, it was necessary to find a way out. Under any circumstances, the government has to function, business has to run and life must go on. So, there has to be a compromise.  As the lockdown-induced supply chain disruptions caused businesses to sustain losses, they could not pay their employees as before. As jobs were in short supply, many workers had to accept lower pays just to keep their heads above water. This was mostly the case in the developing and least developing countries where the governments could not afford to pay workers required unemployment benefits. Since both sides (the employer and the employee) realised that it was an emergency, they adjusted to the reality.

The office time was shortened and rearranged according to government directives. Digital platforms enabled employees to work from locations outside their office. The culture of working from home developed. So, working time underwent rescheduling, rearrangements and it became flexible. The idea of flexible working time got more currency than before. To cut a long story short, the traditional working time underwent transformation, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But what was the  product of crunch time as a stopgap measure has now proved to be a blessing in disguise. In a new report titled, "Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World", released last Friday (January 6), the International Labour Organization (ILO) claimed that flexible working hours are beneficial for both economy and business. Actually, it helps   employees have a better work-life balance. The study  based on which the report was prepared was the first of its kind to focus on work-life balance and examine how working hours and time schedules impact on the performance of a business organisation and its employees. Mention may be made here of the so-called 'Big Resignation', or 'Big Quit' that brought the issue of work-life balance in the forefront of social and labour market issues in the post-pandemic world, according to the lead author of the ILO report, Jon Messenger.

The 'Big Resignation' refers to the phenomenon of voluntary resignation of  more than usual number of employees during pandemic in later part of 2020 and early 2021. However, the voluntary quitting of jobs in that manner might not have any causal connection with the pandemic, for  statistics show that the trend (of such resignation) actually started more than a decade back. In fact, the rate of quitting job dropped sharply at the early phase of the Covid-19 attack. The obvious reason was scarcity of job due to pandemic-induced shutdowns. But as soon as the vaccines were rolled out and the inoculation drive against the pandemic gained momentum, the restrictions on the movement of people were relaxed and the businesses resumed operation. The development again saw the return of the job-quitting trend. However, one needs to keep it in mind at this point that the trend of leaving jobs is an experience observed in the advanced economies where there are more job opportunities than in the developing economies.

A study shows that with the resumption of business activities following the pandemic, the rate of leaving jobs nearly doubled from around 1.6 per cent in early 2020 to close to 3.0 per cent in late 2021.So, it appears, the temporary job scarcities attributable to pandemic-related closures of businesses operating at a reduced rate led to a temporary lull in the more than a decade long  pattern among the workers to go for voluntary resignation. But what prompts these workers to quit jobs? Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center show that 63 per cent of the workers quit because their jobs are low-paid, another 63 per cent resigns seeing that they have no opportunities for further advancement in their career, while 57 per cent leave job as they feel unrecognized or disrespected. The tendency to give up work is found more prevalent among the younger adult workers, especially, who are engaged in low-paid jobs. But older workers and those with higher pay are less prone to quit work.

But where do those people go after leaving their jobs? In fact, the study further showed that the quitters were leaving jobs not for the fun of it. On the contrary, they were landing themselves with jobs that offered them better pay, benefits and more flexibility. Those employees belong mostly  to the category of what they call 'essential workers'-those employed at the groceries,  retail stores, restaurants and hospitals. Though often glorified as heroes, especially during the pandemic, the approvals they got were not equal to their incomes.  Moreover, they knew they remained as expendable as ever. So, they were looking for better opportunities.

In sum, the pandemic condition gave 'flexible working arrangements' more acceptability among the businesses. And the online digital platforms made  remote work popular both among workers and employers. Small wonder that the latter (the employer) found it more profitable. The ILO report will definitely give a further boost to the practice. 

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