Employees being given the choice of work hours. Why not?

A popular job site recently released a new advertisement that has an employee walking out of the office after finishing his work. His colleagues taunt him for ‘taking a half day’ from work. This was despite the individual finishing the day’s assignments. Staying longer at the workplace, unfortunately, is equated with being more productive. Just because a company has an 8 hour or 9 hour work day does not mean that an employee must sit around even if there is no work.

A 2018 study by Swiss investment bank UBS had said that an average employee in Mumbai works 3,315 hours a year, which is the highest in the world. Out of this how many hours are productive and how many involve employees sitting around because it is considered inappropriate to leave before the others is a question that needs to be asked.

A bank chief was known to get fired up if his team leaves office before him. He made his displeasure known by calling them out publicly and asking why the particular individual left ‘early’. When such a mandate is initiated from the top, it slowly becomes a part of the company culture to stay back in office without any reason.

On the other hand, capital goods major in Mumbai ensures that each employee leaves office at 6 pm, irrespective of whether their work is over or not. The human resource official said that employees should learn to plan their day better and not sit around till the last hour to complete work.

While multiple labour laws mandate companies to pay overtime if an employee works beyond 9 hours a day, this is rarely enforced in corporate workplaces. Even working on weekends is no longer a rarity in India Inc. How many of them pay for the additional number of hours clocked in? Less than 20 percent.

While an 8-hour workday is a standard timing across companies, employees are well aware of their responsibilities. There could be days where one would have work for 10 hours while on others he/she may get done in 5 hours. Taking this situation into account, does it make sense to have rigid working hours or should employees be allowed to take a call depending on their work areas.

There are professions like the armed forces, police, fire services and medical sector where these policies cannot be strictly enforced since these individuals are into emergency services. However, in a non-factory work setting where most of the daily job consists of mental work, there could be early steps to allow employees to maintain work timings as long as their assignments for the day are complete.

Trusting the employee is the first step towards freeing the stringent work hour culture. When each employee is given the freedom to choose his/her work timings, the person will automatically be responsible for his job role.

The key here then will be, not how many hours one needs to clock, but how to work efficiently to complete the day’s tasks and be free to leave once it is done. Unless the job involves an individual being present in the work-site, it does not matter what is the number of hours he/she is required to mandatorily sit in the office.