An increasing number of Estonian employers offer flexitime and telework. However, the study on employee-friendly flexibility commissioned by the Foresight Centre indicates that flexible work options tend to be more accessible in large companies, or for employees with higher education levels or qualifications.
Foresight Centre expert Johanna Vallistu explained that the flexibility of employment relationships has been rapidly improving in Estonia over the recent years. “After the economic crisis, flexible work options have increased in Estonia to the point of catching up with the European average – a total of 65 % of Estonian businesses offer these. The number of employers who offer telework is growing, and nearly one in five Estonian employees have access to this – which also puts us on a par with the European average,” explained Vallistu.
Vallistu posits that the reason behind the increased flexibility of work times and formats could lie in the contrast with the lesser opportunities offered during the economic crisis; Estonia has now surpassed the pre-crisis level and our indicators have also grown faster than the EU average.
In connection with the Foresight Centre study on the future of the labour market, Heejung Chung, PhD., Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Kent, looked into the development of work flexibility, telework, and work autonomy. “The results of the analysis make it clear that a managerial or expert level employee has up to eight times better access to telework and four times better access to flexitime than someone working in sales, for example,” Vallistu said. The analysis was based on the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey.
Generally speaking, it is large companies who offer flexibility in Estonia; however, it is often available to only some of the employees. Small companies offer flexibility less frequently; yet when they do, it is often available to all the employees.
In other EU Member States, parents of small children have better access to flexible work options than in Estonia. “The Estonian results do not yet reflect this trend,” said Vallistu.
The Foresight Centre expert also pointed out that it might be worth to reflect on whether flexible work was a privilege, or should we pay more attention to its risks for the employees. “The study shows that teleworkers are four times more likely to worry about work during their off time, and five times more likely to work while off duty,” Vallistu said.
Kerly Espenberg, analyst at the Centre for Applied Social Sciences of the University of Tartu, emphasised that the biggest risk connected to the flexibility of work time and place is that the employee is unable to draw a line between work and home life. “It is easy to take a second to check your work e-mail in the evening, but you would run a risk that if an assignment has been sent, you might need to complete it. This can lead to overtime work that the employee does not perceive as such, and that the employer is not even aware of,” Espenberg added.
At the same time, results of international studies show that, as a general rule, employees with a flexible organisation of work are more happy with their work-life balance, and are working more productively and more hours than others, while also being less frequently absent from work, or ill.
This year, the Foresight Centre is carrying out a study on the future of the labour market, with the objective of understanding the developments of the labour market and the contributing factors behind these by developing preliminary studies and scenarios. The relevant analysis was based the 2005, 2010, and 2015 data of the European Working Conditions Survey, and the 2009 and 2013 data of the European Company Survey. The research project on the future of the labour market will be completed by the end of this year.
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