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Editorial: The need to limit working life without boundaries

| By: Berit Kvam

Mixing work and free time can have unwanted consequences. Nordic Labour Journal puts the spotlight on our portable working hours. How will we deal with the grey zone between work and free time?

One in three Norwegian workers is contacted by work outside of working hours once a week of more, according to figures from the latest Statistics Norway survey on work environments presented in this edition of Nordic Labour Journal.

Danish unions are increasingly worried about the lack of working life boundaries, as you can read in Online culture's effect on work-life balance. A survey commissioned by the Danish union representing lawyers and economists, Djøf, shows one third of members feel work and private life blend because of increasing expectations of self management and because it is now possible to work from home in the evenings, at weekends and during holidays. Many feel such flexibility to be an advantage. But it can also be a source of stress, and long-term stress without any chance of restitution can be a health hazard, according to research in Work without boundaries can severely increase number of burnouts. The Danish unions find it difficult to give standard advice on how to limit the tendency to mix work and private life. Djøf encourages members to enter into collective agreements at work and argues work-life balance should be a topic in employee conversations. 

Working hour agreements are under pressure, says the director at Norway's Labour Inspection Authority in the Portrait. Often the need to be flexible and the need to look after your health collide. One of the most difficult tasks is to map exactly how much academics really work outside of agreed working hours. Yet the Labour Inspection Authority, she says, is not a life inspection authority. People must be allowed to decide how they spend their free time. 

Working hours and flexibility is also a concern on a Nordic level. In Finnish presidency to continue fight against youth unemployment   you can read about how these issues are the topic for a Nordic conference in October.

The author of the book "Working life without boundaries" from Copenhagen Business School feels the unions are doing a poor job when it comes to helping members manage themselves. He also argues employers who leave employees to define their own boundaries are letting them down. His message: a business must define clear targets and leaders must communicate that it is OK to say no to certain tasks. 

The grey zone can trick us and it can be detrimental to our health in the long run. That's why the boundary must be made clearer. Perhaps the Finnish IT company which keeps on growing and growing is right when it says: the working day is 7.5 hours.


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