Flexible working hours or driven to overwork?

Stress VS Calm

There certainly is a trend towards the idea of Flexible Working hours – obviously there are job functions where this just would not be possible – but many, desk bound gigs – with the help of remote access to company resources online, email and that magical tool we all can’t live without – the mobile, can easily adapt work functions to flexible working hours. There has been a lot written about flexible working hours and the benefits that it provides to both the employer and employees –

Pros of FWH

As you can see, it’s pretty obvious that both sides of the coin could benefit from flexible working hours, happy employees means productive work – which in turn makes happy employers.

Not having a manager literally piggy-backing you all day in an office is certainly an advantage of flexible working hours and many people find that working from home allows them to perform creatively and a lot more diligently than with the distractions of gossip at the office water cooler. I reckon, if you are one of those lucky people that have flexible working hours adapted to your job function, you’re probably agreeing with me with a hand in the air waving like the Queen of England with a silent ‘Amen’ escaping from your mouth. Yes, there certainly does seem to be a lot of positives in working from home – or being able to do that yoga class at 2pm mid-way through your working day. I mean as long as you meet the deadlines required of you and deliver on your projects – surely there could not be a rebuttal to this working trend?

I think there’s one key downfall to having flexible working hours and that’s the concept of overworking.

You might be thinking, ‘Huh? Flexible working hours are supposed to create efficiencies, not the opposite’ and yes, I agree, the aim of flexible working hours is to help contribute towards working more efficiently. But are we really getting a good deal out of gaining the luxury of working flexible hours? Has perhaps flexible working hours morphed into  ‘working at all times whenever humanly possible?’

Let me ask you a few questions:

How many times do you check, reply or compose emails after hours? After the kids and the rest of the family has been fed, pyjama’d and tucked into bed? Right up to midnight? Or till two in the morning? Personally I am a victim of this, especially as a key account manager – where business hours is when I do my client visits, attend meetings and consult with internal personnel (product managers, supply chain and customer service desk). When the ‘normal’ business day is done (for me it’s 5pm), it’s then on with my ‘mother & wife’ hat and it’s time to prepare dinner, spend what little time I have with the lil fella before he doses off, bath-time and tucking him into bed. This is usually done by 9:00pm and sadly, I find myself chasing up on emails after all this – taking me quite regularly up to midnight.  Let me tell you, this is obviously not expected of me and isn’t written into my contract, but geez, without doing the extra work in the evenings, my to-do-list would quickly accumulate into a years worth of catch up.

So I honestly wonder whether a job function like mine, which is flexible in reference to working hours, is actually beneficial or whether it is the very contributing factor to an overload of work. Because the workload, expectations and responsibilities are high, how could anyone with these factors expect to only fulfil their tasks in a designated 7.5 hours of the day? It seems that people that tend to have flexible working hours attached to their job functions are people that have high responsibilities, and regardless on whether you have flexible working hours or not, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day.

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Clare Kelliher and Dierdre Anderson had written a research paper on how flexibile working hours actually intensified work loads. They had proposed that employees responded to the ability to work flexibly by exerting additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer. Does this ring true with you? It definitely reflects my insane desire to overwork.

Let me leave you with a scenario and please feel free to share your thoughts – if you started your working day two hours later than usual because you had to take your child to the doctors or had a boot-camp session you just couldn’t miss, is it your obligation to then commit to an extra 4 hours of work in the evening due to this flexibility?

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