Some people wake up at the break of dawn, rested, cheerful and ready to face another workday. Others are not quite so lucky. Very active and full of energy at night, they don't go to bed until way past midnight. When the alarm goes off at 6:30 am they blink in disbelief thinking: “It can't be morning already!” Rolling over with an unhappy grunt, they hit the snooze button. Five minutes later, they hit it again. And again. And again. When they finally drag themselves out of bed, they're probably inexcusably late for work.
The Night Owl Network, a private organization in Canada, helps those who function better at night survive in a world dominated by early bird schedules. In Scandinavia, a foundation called B-Society campaigns against the “tyranny of early rising” and petitions for employers, schools and other public institutions to accommodate those whose biological makeup makes them most productive later in the day.
According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Sweden – compared with other European countries – has the greatest number of people enjoying flexible work arrangements. “Why do we need to work at the same time and in identical patterns as the industrial times, when today's innovation society does not demand this from us?” ask B-Society advocates. That's a question more and more Germans are posing as well.
In the Frankfurt area, people who can remember clocking in and out at the office as recently as last year are now enjoying increasingly popular flexible working arrangements. Employee-friendly schedules, which allow workers to adjust their office hours to personal commitments, are becoming more and more common especially among high-skilled employees and those in managerial positions. The term “flexitime” supposedly even has German roots. It comes from the German word Gleitzeit, which means “sliding time” and was developed by German businessman Wilhelm Haller.
Working outside the traditional 9-5 structure, a flexitime arrangement allows the employer to typically designate a Kernzeit or “core hours” – say between 10 am and 3 pm – when all employees are expected to be at work. The rest of the day is flexible, with employees choosing when to put in the hours to arrive at the contractual weekly or monthly total and make sure all work is completed in time.
Flexible work schedules can be a blessing not only for night owls but also for families with young children, when both parents work. They often become bargaining tools between employers and job candidates. In a 2005 survey by the Federal Population Research Institute (Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung), over 90 percent of respondents between 20 and 39 years old said family-friendly flexible work arrangements were important or very important to them.
But the extent to which German companies officially allow flexibility varies greatly. According to a recent study by the Düsseldorf-based Hans Böckler Foundation, over 35 percent of women and nearly 30 percent of men would like to see improvements in this area. In Germany, a vast majority of women who work, do so on a part-time basis. In the Hans Böckler Foundation study, 25 percent declared they would be happy to increase the number of working hours if their employer offered family-friendly schedules.
In the Rhein-Main region, several large companies offer their employees full flexibility. Others operate on the “core hours” basis. In general, the flexible schedule arrangements depend largely on the nature of the work. For example, regardless of the company's flextime policy, call- or service centers must be accessible during their normal opening hours. Siemens, the electronics and engineering giant, offers a variety of options for organizing work in a way that allows employees to balance work with personal life. According to the company, employees who find that balance are more dedicated, more successful at their jobs, and better prepared to go that extra mile when it's needed.
About 4,000 Siemens employees across Germany enjoy flexible or part-time work arrangements. Each employee agrees on specific terms and conditions individually with their supervisor. Siemens spokesman Marc Langendorf says that employees who take advantage of flexible work hours, usually do it for a reason, for example, because they have childcare responsibilities at home. He believes that the employer's trust and understanding for personal commitments gives them additional motivation for their work.
"At Siemens, we evaluate our employees based on performance and not on how many hours they spend at the office,” says Langendorf. Arcor, a large telecommunications provider with regional offices in Eschborn, has offered flexible schedules for years with the “core hours” between 9 am and 3 pm. The remaining hours (38 per week for full-time employees) must be completed within the 6 am – 8 pm time frame. “Our experience with flexible working hours has been very positive,” says Thomas Rompczyk, a corporate communications officer for Arcor. “The fact that employees can work more independently increases their job satisfaction.”
Christiane Retting of Harxheim, mother of 9-year-old son, works as a buyer for an international pharmaceutical firm in Rheinhessen. She chose to work on an 80 percent basis (30 hours per week), so that she can be there for her son in the afternoons, when he comes home from school. Her employer offers flexible work arrangements without any “core hours.”
Retting usually brings her son to school around 7:30 am and spends 30 minutes commuting to her office in Ingelheim. If family commitments keep her at home longer one some mornings, coming in one or two hours later is not a big problem. After all, there are days when she stays at the office late to finish an important project, so it all evens out. “At my company, the approach is very common sense,” says Retting. “We are not a factory, where shift work mandates strict work schedules, so when I have a doctor's appointment in the morning, I don't have to take the whole day off.” Retting says she could no longer imagine her professional life without the flexibility she now enjoys.
For the lucky Frankfurt night owls whose work schedules allow sleeping in and young mothers who spend early mornings at home, flexitime mean a great improvement in their quality of life and it can even save them money.
The regional Rhein-Main public transportation authority RMV introduced the 9 am monthly pass for later commuters not travelling at peak rush hour times. As its name would suggest, the pass is valid from 9 am until end of day on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.
In addition to a significant discount of up to 20 percent off the regular price, the transferable pass is for those people dreading squeezing into an overcrowded commuter train at 7:30 am with your briefcase wedged between your legs and fellow commuters breathing down your neck.
“The 9 am pass is our contribution to the national economy,” says RMV spokesman Peter Vollmer, explaining that the discount encourages commuters to take advantage of flexible work schedules.
That in turn eases the passenger load during the hectic morning commute and fewer expensive extra trains and busses on major routes. “Everyone benefits,” says Vollmer. “The commuter and – in the end – also the taxpayer.”
And that's enough for any flexitime worker in the Rhein-Main region to hit the snooze button one more time.