As an employee, having the freedom to set your own work times definitely has its advantages. That was the conclusion of a thesis research project recently carried out by Dr Hylco Nijp. Employees who have the flexibility to set their own work times, the study showed, feel healthier and more motivated. The study also found that many people in the Netherlands would like to have more control over their own work times than they have now. However, finding ways to give large groups of employees control over their own work times is often a difficult process. The following case study shows why.
The public transport sector is an example of a sector where the work times for large groups of employees are regulated in collective shift rosters. The services have to be provided in accordance with a strict timetable, and everything has to be carried out exactly according to the set procedures. The timetable for the scheduled services is translated into shift rosters for the drivers, which have to comply with strict regulations, and after a lengthy, formal consultation procedure these shift rosters are then set for a period of several years. Naturally, during the consultation process issues like how to achieve a good balance in all the rosters, a fair and equal distribution of the heaviest shifts, and making sure the shift rosters are as regular and predictable as possible are discussed in great detail.
But despite all these efforts, the collective shift rosters are always an off-the-shelf product, even though the swapping of shifts and interim changes that inevitably take place are the ultimate proof that “one size doesn’t always fit all”. Not because the shift planning itself is inadequate, and not because it hasn’t been discussed properly, but because a collective shift roster that is set for a period of several years is never going to be just right for every single employee. And the worst part is: this type of long-term collective shift roster also becomes more and more inefficient for the company itself as time goes by. Nowadays, companies have to be able to respond flexibly to any changes in the demand for public transport if they want to keep their passengers happy.
“It all seems pretty straightforward,” you might say. “Everybody wants the same thing. The companies want more flexibility and the workers want more flexibility. It’s a win-win situation.” If only it was that easy… A more personalised form of shift planning also calls for a change in the role played by co-determination within a company, both in relation to the collective labour agreement and the employment conditions. The average age of workers in the public transport sector is very high, as are the number of years of service and the level of trade union membership. It is a sector where some collective agreements are firmly fixed in concrete. So we need a major breakthrough. For example, based on successful small-scale pilot projects around “working when you want”, the positive effects of which can then be incorporated in agreements on a much wider scale. Or by following the example of Flanders, where “worker-friendly planning” has been successfully introduced on a large scale for bus drivers over the last five years. However, people are often resistant to the idea of replacing existing, familiar methods with new ones they know nothing about.
Perhaps a new way of looking at the situation might help to overcome this fear of the unknown. Instead of worrying about the complications that might arise down the road, perhaps it would be better to focus on the here and now. After all, if you don’t change anything, then it will stay exactly the way it is. Doing nothing is also a choice. But is that a responsible choice, for example if we look at the sustainable employability of the growing pool of elderly employees who now have to work longer before they can retire? What lessons can we learn from the analysis of sickness absenteeism, medical complaints, and employee satisfaction surveys? To what extent are shift rosters evaluated beforehand in terms of the short-term and long-term health risks? And are the existing rosters periodically evaluated based on the same criteria, also in combination with an analysis of medical complaints and sickness absenteeism?
Sometimes you need to see it before you believe it. Déhora’s Roster Risk Profile Analysis makes it possible to identify the direct and indirect risks for physical and social health associated with shift rosters in a scientific way. It provides a solid, objective basis for discussions with management, shift planners, HRM, and workers representatives about how to create healthier shift rosters, both now and in the future. This means you can improve the health factor of your shift rosters right now, and make them even better as time goes on!