Flexible working hours, health, and well-being in Europe: some considerations from a SALTSA project

Chronobiol Int. 2004;21(6):831-44. doi: 10.1081/cbi-200035935.


The project brought together researchers from 9 EU-Countries and resulted in a number of actions, in particular the following: (a) There is an urgent need of defining the concept of flexible working hours, since it has been used in many different and even counterintuitive ways; the most obvious distinction is where the influence over the working hours lies, that is between the "company-based flexibility" and the "individual-oriented flexibility"; (b) The review of the Legislation in force in the 15 European countries shows that the regulation of working times is quite extensive and covers (Council Directive 93/104/EC) almost all the various arrangements of working hours (i.e., part-time, overtime, shift, and night work), but fails to provide for flexibility; (c) According to the data of the Third EU Survey on Working Conditions, longer and "irregular" working hours are in general linked to lower levels of health and well-being; moreover, low (individual) flexibility and high variability of working hours (i.e., company-based flexibility) were consistently associated with poor health and well-being, while low variability combined with high autonomy showed positive effects; (d) Six substudies from different countries demonstrated that flexible working hours vary according to country, economic sector, social status, and gender; overtime is the most frequent form of company-based flexibility but has negative effects on stress, sleep, and social and mental health; individual flexibility alleviates the negative effects of the company-based flexibility on subjective health, safety, and social well-being; (e) The literature review was able to list more than 1,000 references, but it was striking that most of these documents were mainly argumentative with very little empirical data. Thus, one may conclude that there is a large-scale intervention ongoing in our society with almost completely unknown and uncontrolled effects. Consequently, there is a strong need for systematic research and well-controlled actions in order to examine in detail what flexible working hours are considered, what and where are their positive effects, in particular, as concerns autonomy, and what regulation seem most reasonable.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Employment*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm
  • Time
  • Work Schedule Tolerance
  • Workload