Origins of Flexible Working Hours

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Ciaran Rowsome FlexTime CEO

Hi, I’m Ciaran Rowsome,

I hope you will enjoy and can interact with the new FlexTime blog. The plan is to cover the subjects of working arrangements in general, including flexible and mobile working, employee engagement, and the new technology emerging that can have an impact in the workplace and beyond…

Members of the FlexTime team, with their years of experience in the subject, will also join us in the blogs. We will have other guest bloggers too;  indeed, maybe customers of FlexTime would like to tell us their experiences. Do you too have stories to tell? If so, let’s hear them!

So Here’s Blog No.1 … I’m going to start with a short Question and Answer session… see what you think…

Q1: Do you ever wonder what were the origins of flexible working hours, also called “flextime” or “flexitime” were?

A. To find out we need to go back to the beginning of time; or rather, the beginning of flexible time…  

Q2: Wow, was it that long ago? 

A. Well, no, but it was back in the late 1960s.  It all happened at the H.Q. of the massive aerospace company, Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) , located in Munich, where they employed 3,000 white collar and R&D staff.

There were huge challenges for employees at MBB, in arriving to work on time, due to their major “bottleneck” issues with car traffic. This was on both entering and exiting their site and also while moving around on the roadways outside.

Increasingly employees were arriving late, leaving shifts early; time was being lost.  Morale was low and productivity was being hampered.  Clearly, it was a problem for management at MBB.  

MBB decided to do some research into how they could alleviate the situation and gave the responsibility to a sociologist called Kristel Kammerer.  She quickly realised some fundamental questions needed to be asked, for instance:

 Q3: “Why 9.00 And Why 5.00?”

A. In other words, why were fixed times being applied to the beginnings and endings of the standard working day and/or shifts?  Could the employees’ workloads be buffered so that their arrival/departure times at work could become less important?  Therefore, resulting from the measurements and assessments in the study, a new type of working time was born.

Initially, it was quaintly called  “gliding time” or the German “gleitzeit”.  This idea allowed management to agree to a period of time in the morning within which the employees could choose to arrive.  Initially, this period was between 7.00am and 8.00am.  A similar period between 16.00pm and 18.00pm was available at the end of the working day in terms of when they could leave.  So, the early “scheme” was modest.  

It was some time later when other ideas emerged in the general workplace which was to move the “gleitziet” concept to what we know of today as “flexible working hours”, “flextime” or “flexitime”. 

Those ideas were, for example, the choice for employees to have: –

  • a flexible lunch break any time between say 12:00 to 14:00
  • the facility to allow employees to build up an excess bank of hours to carry forward for use as a flexi day per month.
  • Core periods say 10:00 am to 12:00 pm and 14:30 pm to 16:00 pm, when employees have to be in attendance became a central feature of most flexitime schemes. 

Later still, other notions have been adopted and which we now term as  “flexible working arrangements”.  These were, most notable the facility to work from home and also for mobile working, but hot desking, job sharing, the compressed working week, and annualised hours are all seen as components of flexible working arrangements too. The latest idea has been agile working and we will be writing in our blog about how this and other such arrangements are developing, in practice.   

Q4: What were/are the outcomes from these flexible working practices?

A. Much research has been done in the years since that early breakthrough.

This includes regular studies that we at FlexTime have carried out.  In forthcoming blogs we will also cover some of these studies in more detail; but for now, we can say that wherever the concepts are embraced they have played a significant role in the reduction of absenteeism, overtime, employee turnover.

Studies also show an increase in employee morale leading to improved workplace commitment. 

As our picture suggests, traveling to and from work became so much more relaxing too…

So, following those initial questions “Why 9? Why 5?”, gone forever was the sole notion of the fixed hours working day.  Before very long the perceptions of what the working place ought to be changed too.  Later on all of this.

The modern workplace had moved on. 

Ciaran Rowsome