Accueil » 38-3 ( 1983) » La qualité de vie au travail et l’horaire variable

La qualité de vie au travail et l’horaire variable

Viateur Larouche et Johanne Trudel


L'objet de cette étude est de vérifier si la transformation des horaires de travail peut affecter directement la qualité de la vie au travail. Les auteurs précisent d'abord le nouveau concept de qualité de vie au travail, ils font ensuite le tour des différents types horaires alternatifs de travail et enfin analysent d'une façon particulière l'horaire variable à la lumière de quelques cas pratiques.


The Quality of Working Life and the Flexible Schedule

During the course of the last few years, the concept of the quality of working life has become very popular. However, in examining the origins of this concept, one notices a new, rather-sophisticated attempt, to reconcile the work aspects related to productivity (the organisational objective) on the one hand, and satisfaction (the individual objective) on the other hand. The goal of the present article is to verify, whether or not, work schedules can directly affect the quality of working life.


The literature dealing with the quality of working life reveals the existence of two schools of thought. The first trend, espoused by the researchers of the human relations school, associates the quality of working life with the satisfaction of the needs of the individual. Its advocates propose a reevaluation of the role of the individual (participation in decision-making, greater autonomy, etc..) within the organisation to allow the individual further development. The second trend associates the quality of working life with the socio-technical approach, developed by Eric Trist, Fred Emery and their colleagues from the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. According to Louis E. Davis, of U.C.L.A., the notion of the quality of working life must be applied to the nature of the relations between the employee and his environment. It must also take into account the technical and economic factors as well as the often neglected human factor within the work organisation.


It is important to situate the flexible schedule within the context of alternative schedules. Considered alternative to the traditional 9 to 5 schedule, they include the

shorter work week, the extended schedule, part-time work and job sharing. The flexible schedule formula has a fixed segment, two mobile segments, and a lunch time break: all of which fits within the limits of the business hours of an establishment. It has daily, weekly and monthly variations.


Such analysis permits us to detect advantages and disadvantages of the flexible schedule for employee and employer. For the employee, the advantages: establishment of an individual rhythm; less transportation difficulties; abolition of punctuality control; elimination of on-the-job freeloading; elimination of privileged positions for certain employees; better planning and organisation of teamwork; efficiency in task completion; greater motivation; better integration of social, recreational and family activities. The disadvantages for the employee include: loss of revenue; restrictions of certain work schedules (i.e. assembly lines); recording of hour worked.

The introduction of flexible schedules can also turn out to be profitable for employers. Advantages include: better management of human resources; better recruitment and decrease in labour turnover; decrease in lateness and short term absenteeism; abolition of special schedules; reduction of overtime; reduced processing time and better organization of workload; better utilization of equipment and decrease in capital costs; increased hours of client service. However, there are certain disadvantages for the employer, including: increased operating costs; cost of recording hours worked; compensation (in money or holidays) for overtime; impossibility of offering the System to all employees; communication difficulties; loss of authority and prestige for executives; heavier workload for executives.


Several case studies have been examined to determine the link between the flexible schecule and the quality of working life for those affected. A year after its introduction, the employees of the Smithkline Corporation acknowledge a positive attitudinal change regarding several aspects of their work. They particularly enjoyed: participation in the organisation of the work schedule; the possibility of settling Personal business during the daytime; increased individual flexibility in the scheduling of workloads and the quality of the support service. Supervisors noticed improvements in: employee morale; communication concerning task assignment; flexibility to undertake projects and experiments; and overall employee production.

The employees of the General Assurance Society, who were questioned at three different times over a four month period during the experiment, attested to increased job satisfaction because they were better able to use their skills. They were not bothered by the need to record hours and, in fact, appreciated being able to accumulate overtime credits which could be used for activities unrelated to work. Performance improved, team spirit increased, and there was better participation in planning.

Two months after the introduction of the flexible schedule at the Berol Corporation, a 50% decrease in the absentee rate was observed. Lateness was almost completely eliminated (less than 1%) and the number of personal holidays decreased (from 2.3 days to .05 days per employee per year). Work output remained the same according to 60% of the respondents. As to the level of satisfaction, 89% of the employees declared that they were more satisfied. At the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, productivity increased in 2 out of 5 work units after the introduction of the flexible schedule. The Desjardins Life Insurance Company also enjoyed decreased turnover and absenteeism, and reduced overtime payments.

In light of the question formulated at the beginning of this article and the case studies presented, can it be claimed that the flexible schedule will turn out to be the key element in improving the quality of working life? Despite the shortcomings of the methodology used in this study (absence of control group, short observation period, contamination of the dependent variable...), it is possible to detect the emergence of certain trends relating to the impact of the flexible schedule on the quality of working life. Even though it is necessary to be cautious concerning results, if we take into account the employer-employee dichotomy we observe that the introduction of this mecanism has certain advantages for both employer and employee.


In general, even though the results are fragmentary, it would seem that the advantages of the flexible schedule compensate for its disadvantages in terms of the quality of working life.

These results support those found in a 1975 poll of 60 American organisations which have experienced use of the flexible schedule. The organisations polled stated that the positive aspects of the Systems compensated for the disadvantages in a convincing way.