While flexible working arrangements may render the traditional workday obsolete, concepts like triple-peak work hours may jeopardize the work-life balance employees are seeking.
A report from Microsoft Corp. found triple-peak work hours — in which employees divide their workday over three separate blocks of time, including late in the evenings — are increasing in popularity. A separate report from Axios HQ found even weekends aren’t off limits to this trend. The report, which analyzed open rates of 8.7 million emails sent via its platform between January 2022 and March 2023, found business emails sent on Sundays between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. had an average open rate of 54 per cent.
The post-pandemic flexible workplace still requires some level of structure and planning, says Arla Day, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Saint Mary’s University, noting while many people are benefiting from autonomous working, it doesn’t work for everyone. “It depends on the person. If it’s preventing individuals from disconnecting [from work] . . . then definitely, it is a problem.”
By engaging with their employees, employers can determine how to make flexible working policies that support the organization as well as the individual, she says, noting the importance of employees’ cognitive attention and focus, which can ebb and flow over the day. “We need to acknowledge everybody is unique [and] that no one size fits all.”
Day believes flexible work hours can be rolled out successfully if employers tread slowly and carefully, supporting employees along the way. For instance, she suggests organizations implement a trial period to determine how to ensure employees aren’t unintentionally thwarting the work-life balance they’re seeking by working odd hours.
Juno College of Technology is one company that adopted this strategy when it began transitioning to a four-day workweek last year. The company took a phased approach to ensure employees adjusted their time management to meet key targets before officially adopting a four-day work schedule in 2023.
Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and client insights at Telus Health, says this mindful approach works well for both employees and organizations because it ensures proper change management systems are in place to help employees adapt to a new schedule.
“Flexibility is always good. Being able to have control over your life and time is always a positive thing, but . . . what we forget is that structure actually gives us a sense of boundaries and a sense of calmness. Some people do better with lack of structure than others. An unstructured workday can be pretty overwhelming for certain people, not just in terms of burnout but also in terms of productivity.”
It’s crucial for employers to offer support mechanisms, such as time management and coaching on how to lead in this new workspace, to make flexible working arrangements successful, she says. “Training for managers on building resilience in their teams is also important because any kind of change can cause stress.”
While this type of working may be new to North American workers, Day says many countries have traditionally worked in this way, with people taking long breaks throughout the day. Trust plays a big role in the success of this policy, she notes, adding in countries where this style is the norm, there’s usually a mutual understanding that both the organization and its staff are working towards the same goal.
Allen agrees. “A healthy workplace is one where people are psychologically safe and feel respected and supported. So that sense of holding themselves accountable, while knowing they have the trust of [their] employer is really, really helpful.”