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Nonstandard Working Schedules - Is Your Organisation Ready For It?

If you were to ask your parents what a standard job looks like, they would say, "Working in an office for 9 to 6 everyday from Monday to Friday. " This type of 45-hour work week have been the norm for office jobs since the 1920s. While nonstandard working hours exist for certain industries, i.e. healthcare professionals, factory workers and firefighters, most people still expect to work from 9am to 6pm. Recently, nonstandard working schedules have seen a rise in popularity. The Singapore government has even introduced a flexi-work scheme in response to its popularity.

What are nonstandard work schedules?

Nonstandard work schedules are any work arrangements that fall outside the traditional work arrangement. Contract workers, temporary workers and part-time workers all have this kind of arrangement. Others include rotating shift works, night shifts (as they happen after the standard 9 to 5), compressed work schedules (working longer hours on 4 days a week) and flexi-time (employee decides when they clock in and clock out).

Due to rapid technological and social changes, more organisations are relying on nonstandard work schedules to maximise their operations. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nonstandard work arrangements allow businesses to properly adjust to market demand variations and temporarily absent workers. This is especially the case in service and manufacturing sectors.

Additionally, more employees are looking for companies that offer nonstandard work schedules in order to have a better work-life balance. Notably, young people who are entering the workforce and people with familial obligations, such as young children and elderly relatives, prefer such arrangements. If your company is looking to utilise nonstandard work arrangements, it is crucial to explore the consequences of such arrangements first.

A paper published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour conducted a meta-study on over a hundred papers that researched the consequences of nonstandard work arrangements on businesses and employees. In general, the benefits and downsides can be placed into three categories: work-related results, health results and personal results.

Work-related results

Nonstandard working hours have been seen to have negligible effects on worker productivity and output. The caveat being that working night shifts directly leads to lowered productivity. However, that can be resolved if employees are able to take a short nap before work. Employee satisfaction and engagement also went up and absenteeism was reduced. This was because workers, especially those using flextime, can plan their work around their personal lives so that these two do not conflict. Employees perceived that organisations provided more support in terms of flexible schedules and that led to a lower turnover rate.

On the other hand, stress and burnout were higher in employees who had nonstandard schedules. This was especially the case for workers that had rotational shifts and workers whose schedules conflicted with their personal lives.

Health results

Employees' health in nonstandard work schedules is measured in three categories: physical, behavioral and mental. While physical health results are often conflicting, there is indicative research that nonstandard work arrangements lead to an increase in chronic ailments. Additionally, physical injury was much more likely to happen in night shifts and rotating shifts. Employees with nonstandard work schedules are also more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns and eating habits. Mental well-being also declined for employees in nonstandard work arrangements. This was especially evident in workers who worked rotational shifts and night shifts.

Personal results

Research is equally split between the positive and negative consequences of nonstandard working hours on employees' personal and family lives. Unpredictable schedules that clash with social demands have shown to increase work-life conflict. Nonstandard work schedules that conflict with an employee's partner work schedule have been seen to lead to greater familial dissatisfaction. Additionally, nonstandard working hours negatively impact employees with children the most as research has shown that parenting quality dropped when parents worked nonstandard hours. Consequently, working night shifts have proven to be the largest factor in personal conflicts.

It may seem as if there are more negative consequences of nonstandard work schedules health-wise and personal-wise. The paper qualifies this by noting that nonstandard work schedules are successful when employees are the ones deciding them. In a nutshell, employees have to decide what type of work schedule fit their needs and organisations should be willing to facilitate this process. Metrics that organisations can consider are employees' family obligations, their personalities and how they spend their leisurely time. As for the negative health and personal impact, organisations can conduct further research on how to mitigate them if they want to fully utilise nonstandard work arrangements. Do look out for our next article where we will go more in depth in how organisation can manage nonstandard work arrangements.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t: you're right. - Henry Ford.


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