The rainy season brings out the worst in cities like Nairobi, long lines at bus stops that make you feel like you’ve been punched in the face just by looking at them. The latest figures from World Population Review peg the population of Nairobi at 3.5 million people, a majority of whom who frequent the city daily aiming to get into the city by 9 am and leave at 5 pm. Add rain to the equation and you’ve got yourself an excruciating traffic problem.
On the other hand, what would happen if employees had more flexible working hours; working some days of the week from home or leaving work earlier than 5 pm? Would the extra free time and the liberation from human/traffic jams make people more productive at work? Some organisations in other parts of the world have tried instituting flexible working hours with mixed results. Some have experienced savings and boost in profits, while some have found the resulting extra costs too much of a burden to bear.
The concept of flexible working hours is not totally new, car maker Toyota has been at it for more than a decade at their service centre in Gothenburg Sweden. The change to flexible hours at the centre was brought about by Managing Director Martin Banck who had observed that staff had become increasingly stressed and prone to mistakes. The result of which was frustratingly long lines for customers who were bringing in their vehicles for service; that has since changed.
Under the flexible work programme, Toyota employees work in six-hour shifts with shorter breaks, one shift starts from 6 am in the morning and another at noon. So far the initiative has decreased staff turnover, increased morale, made it easier to recruit new people and increased the service centre’s profit by 25 % according to the general manager.
Closer to home, the increased traffic snarl-up in Nairobi recently ignited a discussion on twitter about and the possibility/need for flexible working hours in Kenya, especially considering people don’t always work through the nine to five schedule. A tweet by a user @Gicharuthemayor captured that point of view perfectly, “work only happens from 10am-12pm then people spend an hour wondering what to eat for lunch, after which, work happens from 3-4pm before some plot is made on how to escape. On Fridays it even worse after lunch.”
Research has shown that even though people spend less time at work under flexible hour arrangements, the amount of work done isn’t really affected. A research was done using 246 clerical-level employees, where researchers experimented with offering employees flexible working hours for four months; found that as a whole they were no negative effects on productivity due to the flexible hours.
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group with over 400 companies is also an advocate of flexible working hours. His argument is that it shows trust in workers, even allowing older employees who don’t want the hustle of a full-time job to bring their expertise to organisations while balancing their private life. In his book Screw It Just Do It, he further builds on that argument saying that companies need to have a lot more flexibility because most of the peoples’ time, is spent at work. Additionally, Richard credits initiatives started in 2013 like working from home and recently unlimited leave within the Virgin Group as key to attracting top talent and improved staff morale.
Another notable supporter of flexible working hours is video streaming service provider Netflix who have scrapped the nine to five working schedule in favour of more flexible hours. Netflix was the first company to loosen limits on the amount of time employees can take off work, under its paid parental policy programme, parents fresh from having a baby or those who have adopted can take up to one year of paid leave. Netflix has a guide titled Reference Guide on our Freedom and Responsibility Culture with a part that epitomises the company’s view on workplace flexibility, “We should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked. “
In contrast, it is important to note that not all industries can accommodate flexible working hours effectively; a 2015 experiment in Sweden proved that clearly. At the Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg Sweden, the working hours of 68 nurses were reduced from eight-hour shifts to six-hour shifts while wages were kept the same. The aim of the experiment was to determine whether the productivity and satisfaction of nurses would be improved by shorter hours.
By the end of the experiment-2 years later, even though staff wellbeing and morale at the home was improved, they had hired 17 extra staff to cover the employee shortage and cost shot up (an extra $1.33 million was spent) as a result the initiative was not adopted on a permanent basis by the city council due to the extra costs. So even as the conversation goes on about the possibility of flexible working conditions in Kenya, we should not forget that there are two sides to the coin and that not all industries are going to be able to do so effectively.
Need more convincing, check out this article by Forbes on Why A Flexible Worker Is A Happy And Productive Worker.
Speaking of being productive, Did You Know Open-plan Offices Reduce Productivity And Impair Memory?