Study: Flexible Hours Make People Work More, Not Less

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Aug 29, 2016
Flex Time

Worried that employees will treat flex time as slack time? A new study has found that you have nothing to fear, as flex time leads workers to put in more hours, not less, according to FastCompany. The study, published in the European Social Review, looked at a longitudinal data set of about 40,000 Germans who were interviewed every year since 1984. Of these, around 24 per cent of all employees have flex time: 23 per cent of women and around 25 per cent of men.

"On average, employees with working-time autonomy work the longest overtime hours, working almost 4 h more overtime compared to individuals with fixed schedules (Model 1-1, differences between groups). When switching from fixed schedules to flexitime, workers work more than half an hour more overtime per week and almost one and a half hours more when switching to working-time autonomy (Model 1-1, changes in individuals)," according to the study's text. 

The researchers have put forth several hypothesis as to why this was. One was that workers will work harder to show that they can be trusted with increased autonomy. Another is that they simply have more to do, as companies can assign more work to them without running afoul of labor laws that typically apply to those with fixed schedules. They also propose a psychological effect from blurred boundaries between work and home life, with the increased flexibility allowing work to bleed into the time they would ordinarily be using for leisure or personal chores. 

However, the study also found a strong gender divide in how extra work is rewarded. While men were found to have made more money when they worked extra hours, the study said the effect was less pronounced in women. 

"Both men and women gain additional income when using schedule control mediated via overtime hours. However, women, even full-time working women, do not reap the direct benefit men do in terms of income gains. This gender discrepancy exists even when we take into account the sex segregation of the labour market, i.e., sectors and occupations, as well as self-selection of time-invariant characteristics in jobs, i.e., an individual’s ambition or work devotion," said the study. 

One possible reason for this, according to the study, is why people will take on additional hours when given more control over their schedules. Mothers, for example, may work longer when there's a lull in family responsibilities so they can take off when needed, versus men who may be doing it as part of their promotion or as a high-performance strategy, rather than as a way to manage their home lives. The study also raised the possibility of outright discrimination, though. 

"However, beyond workers own motivations, this discrepancy may be due to employers’ discriminatory perceptions. Thus, even when women use schedule control for performance goals and increase their overtime hours and/or work intensity when gaining schedule control, their efforts might not be perceived as such by employers who might hold traditional gender role ideals," said the study text.

It pointed out that this conclusion lines up with other academic research in this area. It said that further study was needed, though, to get a better handle on the particulars of this situation. 

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