New working time model involves change of culture
The model of working time on trust needs to be embedded in working time cultures and work organisations in order to be viewed positively in terms of enhancing working conditions.
A research project into German ‘working time on trust’ arrangements, funded by the Hans-Böckler Foundation, examines experiences of these voluntary schemes at company level. The project focuses on how this personal time scheduling system can contribute positively to quality of work and worker autonomy.
Definition of working time on trust
Under ‘working time on trust’ arrangements, employees may determine their own daily starting and ending times by agreement with colleagues and supervisors, in which case the company refrains from controlling the employee’s working times. The system generally signals the abolition of time registration (‘clocking in’), and company analysis and control of working times. The system is designed to be a more practical option than elaborate flexi-time models which often involve detailed time registration and complex administration.
The research project is based on eight company case studies and interviews with company experts from management and from the works councils. The 87-employee sample included more women than men. The level of formal qualifications was above average.
The case studies were derived from both the service and manufacturing sectors and the sample included large and small companies. Seven of the eight companies are bound to a collective agreement and all the companies have a works council.
The study analysed five issues:
- time autonomy;
- work organisation;
- culture of cooperation;
- leadership culture;
- performance and working time culture.
In six companies, the policy of working time on trust is based on a works agreement. In Germany, the agreement of the works council implies giving up their right of co-determination after the actual implementation. In some of the company cases, working time on trust is optional for employees, or they may try it out and opt to return to regular working time arrangements later.
The study found that most employees continue working to a regular time pattern. Although the scheme allows for variations in arrangements depending on individual interests and resources, the majority of workers only slightly, if at all, change their working times. This is at least partly due to the prevailing standard work organisation and working time culture. In companies where working time on trust is optional, colleagues who continue to work regular working hours narrow the possibilities for those who choose to work to a different schedule.
- time autonomy depends on the particular context within the company and within the employee’s private life also;
- abolishing time registration can create uncertainty for employees;
- there is a need to justify individual time preferences and to balance personal interests within a team or with colleagues and supervisors.
Worst case scenario
In a worst case scenario, the system could lead to increased demands on work performance, reduced staffing and the possibility of open-ended working time limits.
Best practice cases
The implementation of working time on trust is taking place alongside a process of change in working time culture. Greater individual working time autonomy is viewed positively by employees. This autonomy also represents an acknowledgement of their commitment.
The advantage for management is increased employee motivation, a higher profile in terms of workplace innovation, improved work procedures (‘self-realisation’ triggered by greater autonomy), and enhanced communication.
The fundamental precondition is to develop a working time culture that is constantly open to discussing time possibilities. Management, team representatives, and the works councils must all be involved in the process. Employees have the opportunity to learn new competencies in managing time autonomy.
It should be recognised that the system creates a potential for increased conflict within teams and therefore a systematic approach in managing the balance between personal interests, joint work processes and social integration is required.
Working time on trust is more than a new working time model: it is an integral element of reorganising the workplace. How it is implemented rather than the model itself will be the decisive factor in its success.
Böhm, S., Herrmann, C. and Trinczek, R., Herausforderung Vertrauensarbeitszeit zur Kultur und Praxis eines neuen Arbeitszeitmodells, Berlin, Sigma, 2004.