Workplace 4.0

Workplace 4.0

Conventional workplace, home office, coworking space – where are things heading? And are we at loggerheads with the legislation?

Workplace 4.0

Cozy (or pretending to be) with the laptop under the Christmas tree, thoughts torn between projects that still need to be completed this year, feverish last-minute gift purchases from Amazon and planning the Christmas menu. So just the right time to reflect on the issue of working time and legislation, right?

Today in the home office, tomorrow in the coworking space with other freelancers or home-office workers who have had enough of solitary conversations with the refrigerator. Everyone agrees that the new working world is no longer like that of our grandparents. But does everyone also think this is good? And are we at loggerheads with legislation?

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) is trying more or less successfully to adapt the rules of time recording to today’s situation. But for each rule there are several scenarios that still fail to fit. And the law is not only concerned with our working hours, but also with the protection of our oh-so-fragile health. Article 6 of the Swiss Employment Law requires the employer to design the company facilities and the workflow in such a way as to avoid risks to health and excessive stress as far as possible. The law even stipulates that the employer must ensure that the worker does not have to consume alcohol or other intoxicating substances at work. That is comical, especially when one takes into account that more and more people are coming to work not on alcohol, but “doped” with medications. Stimulants, anxiety blockers and the like are taking the place of alcohol. And these are even more dangerous, because they are not immediately obvious to those in the environment. Anxiety blockers in particular can lead to destructive behaviour in the workplace, because natural inhibitions simply do not work any more.

And these things are obviously much more difficult to identify with home-office workers. How can the employer influence the workflow of a home-office worker at all? And how can it avoid the aforementioned excessive stress “as far as possible”? The phrase “as far as possible” in itself leaves much room for interpretation. Is it necessary to protect the employee from him/herself? Large German corporations are doing this by shutting down mail servers at night, for example. Employees who only ever start work at night will feel constrained by this, their freedom curtailed. Others find it good.

It is interesting that not all generations currently in the labour market have the same opinion.

Christian Scholz analysed the behaviour of the different generations with regard to the requirements of employment law [1]. Generation Y is unanimous that the law protecting workers is paternalistic and to be ignored if possible. For generation Z, however, it is a friend and helper in the quest for a strict separation between work and leisure.

This is not really surprising when everything in life always runs in cycles. The very young are therefore the very old as far as their attitude to work is concerned, and they may even be right. Protection or harassment is thus only a question of mental attitude.

The trend is increasingly towards project workers, sole traders and freelancers who perform a task on a piecemeal basis and thus move from one commitment to the next. But take note: this was also the case before, and even now one can occasionally still see black-clad journeymen on the road as a prerequisite for master craftsmanship.

This is fine for the employer. They are no longer his/her employees, so he/she is not responsible for their working hours or the protection of their health.

Many of the so-called goodies “sold” to employees as luxuries are mainly advantageous for the company when viewed in the light of day. Offices too small or too expensive? The home office provides relief and only in the rarest cases does the home-office fee cover the real costs of the home office. BYOD is trendy and fun but further exacerbates the problem of permanent accessibility. “Watch closely” is the motto. The fact that especially the very young generations like to have two mobile phones at the start once again shows how they cling on to the work–life divide.

However, the constant availability of employees not only raises the question of long-term stress, but also the question of how to categorize this time. Standby time? Working time? Answering a work email is quite clearly working time. However, if emails repeatedly have to be answered during what is supposed to be leisure time, then the uninterrupted intervals become shorter and shorter, and are therefore no longer useful for leisure. So should the whole time be declared to be working time? Looking at things in this way, many of us would probably have 18-hour days and 7-day weeks. And what if the employee does this voluntarily? Because he/she does not manage to sing two hours of Christmas carols but is always checking mails and feeding the company’s social-media accounts, can Christmas then be counted as overtime?

The solution

There is no solution – at least not a perfect one. The legislature is certainly right in wanting to regulate certain things. The emphasis here is of course on “wanting”, because rigorous chasing-up and especially round-the-clock monitoring are impossible and certainly unwanted by all generations.

How about a pinch of healthy human understanding, self-responsible and honest employees, companies who treat employees as people, and delicious Christmas fare. And plenty of alcohol under the Christmas tree, of course… :-) Who wants to answer emails then?

[1] Source: Bildpunkt

Published: 10. May 2017

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