Skip to content

Work-life balance

IOSH policy position on flexible working

All workers deserve rewarding employment and some level of flexibility to achieve stable, secure, sustainable employment and mutually-agreed working arrangements.

The facts

  • Compliance with working-time requirements remains a challenge in today’s world of work. In developing countries many workers, particularly those in the informal and rural economies, are excluded from any form of control to ensure compliance with provisions respecting working hours and rest periods.
  • Globally, long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000, according to the latest global estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.
  • According to the International Labour Organization and World Health Organization, working long hours is known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, being recognised as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. The number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at nine per cent of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index compares some key factors that contribute to wellbeing in OECD countries. The data identifies that ‘10% of employees in the OECD work 50 hours or more per week in paid work’.
  • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality includes a specific target that aims to promote the shared responsibility within parents and careers.
  • The ILO report on Working-Time and Work-Life Balance around the World, 2023 ‘provides a comprehensive review of both main aspects of working time – working hours and working time arrangements (also called work schedules) – and their effects on workers' work-life balance’.

Our position

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to work-life balance and implementing flexible working. But IOSH recommends regulators and organisations recognise the need for more family and worker-friendly workplaces.

A flexible organisational culture includes being responsible, accommodating individual needs, and adopting a management approach that values and supports people.

Improvements in work-life balance, in the quality of working conditions, facilitate workers to lead healthier and more sustainable lives. It can also lead to them experiencing greater job satisfaction and productivity, positive mental and physical health and lower absenteeism or presenteeism.

Improvements can include arrangements like remote work, working pattern or location changes, having the ‘right to disconnect’ and flexi-time or job-sharing.

We believe that work-life balance and flexibility should be part of performance conversations and considerations. It should start from the very beginning of employment and be an ongoing process. It requires leadership to be open to experimenting, adjustment, and adaptation. It also needs open and constructive conversations with workers.

Enabling all workers to benefit from flexible working arrangements, where possible and appropriate, shouldn’t remain a pipe dream. Aligning flexibility and protection practices needs to be extended to different forms of atypical working time, to cover segments of the workforce working at night, on weekends, on shift work, or in other forms of on-call work including the platform economy and on-demand work.