Increasingly, employers are accepting the fact that long hours and systems which rely on overtime do not guarantee high productivity. Employee organisations and governments alike are pressing for specific policies to cut working hours. France is well known for introducing a 35 hour week enabling larger employers to exploit the law and introduce more flexible working practices.
By annualising the number of working hours on a ceiling of 1,600 hours, French companies have been able to better spread the intensity of time at work to accommodate peaks and troughs of activity.
The concept of Annual Hours, which originated in Scandinavia, takes the time component of a conventional working time contract and expresses it, not in hours per week, but at an equivalent net yearly hours value. The primary objective is to match working hours to the underlying needs of the business.
For instance, the core, skilled workforce of a seasonal business may be required to work extended hours during their "busy" seasons, yet be greatly under-utilised at other times of the year. Inevitably this leads to the twin evils of costly overtime in one period and ineffective time in another.
As the total hours actually worked by the employees fall within their annual contractual hours, no overtime premium is due for hours in the longer weeks. This results in higher productivity, lower unit labour cost, increased competitiveness and better service to the customer.
The introduction of an Annual Hours system also means that participants know precisely when and for how long, they are scheduled to work, and when their holiday time is due. This flexible approach helps workers to better manage work/life balance challenges.
Annual Hours programmes are usually displayed as a yearly calendar, enabling individuals to plan both work and leisure activities confidentially and into the future.
Similarly, the organisation has a reliable schedule of its workforce availability, tailored to its precise needs, and unaffected by holiday absence.
Systems can be developed which provide different numbers of people or labour hours as the day progresses. These can be designed on the basis of business demand with high accuracy and are ideal for warehousing or service department applications.
Annual Hours systems for manufacturing departments may be based on seasonal or constant demand profiles and can be constructed to provide many different and innovative applications ranging from day working to continuous shifts.
In other organisations demand may vary through the week or month reflecting a particular cycle within a department or function such as wages preparation, accounts or maintenance.
Colman's of Norwich introduced a range of working time measures enabling them to move away from a high overtime, traditional and restrictive environment to one which demonstrates employee commitment, flexibility and cohesive team working. Similarly, the Gleneagles Hotel has used an Annual Hours system to reduce labour turnover and to underwrite the high quality and service standards demanded at their five star resort complex.
Increasingly, the best workers are attracted to companies which operate progressive working-hours practices. This mirrors the investment by organisations to position their brands as employers of 'first choice'.
By taking a more holistic approach the entanglements and restrictions of traditional methods can be avoided. In this way, new and frequently unexpected flexibilities and freedoms can sweep away pockets of unproductive time and restrictive or outdated contractual arrangements.