Flexible working

Flexible working is perhaps the most popular measure for improving work-life balance, and also the easiest on your budget and the quickest to introduce.

Please note: Flexible working does not automatically mean an improvement in work-life balance by itself. Flexible working can also blur the line between work and private life. Evaluating the measures in a timely manner and maintaining open communication with your employees on this at all times may prevent potential risks.

Naturally, flexible working is not an immediate possibility – or even an option – for some positions. However, there are a great many different measures or actions that can be taken to make work more flexible. Several of these are explained in more detail below. It is for you as an employer, along with your employees, to find out which measures are the best fit for the specific needs and working situation.


Introduce flexible shift rotas.

Many companies choose to introduce a flexible working hours system. Employees can choose their own start and end time for the working day, within a certain timespan. For example, you can have your employees start between 8am and 10am and end between 4pm and 6pm respectively.

This is handy, not only for colleagues who have to commute long distances, but also for parents who can then organise taking children to school and picking them up better.

You can also choose to temporarily adjust shift rotas or to work with plus and minus hours. This can be handy for e.g. companies doing seasonal work (winter sports shops, ice-cream sellers, catering establishments, etc.). But do make sure you stay within the legal time periods and do not ask too many excess hours from your employees. At the end of the year, your employee must not have worked more than 38 hours per week on average. This should always be discussed with them.

A few legal matters:

  • The weekly working time may fluctuate between a maximum of 5 hours above or 5 hours below the normal weekly working time (which is 38 hours, at most companies).
  • The weekly limit is 45 hours worked.
  • The daily working time may be a maximum of 2 hours above or 2 hours below the normal daily working time (which is 7:36 hours, at most companies).
  • The daily limit is 9 hours worked.

In order to introduce flexible shift rotas, you must set this out in the employment particulars, or a Collective Labour Agreement must be concluded at company level. More information on work and rest times can be found at the FPS ELSD website.


Make ‘self-rostering’ possible at your company.

Let your employees plan their own shift rota in line with a work-life balance and ensure that the number of employees is aligned with the supply and demand for work from customers. Self-rostering originated in Sweden and are gaining popularity in Belgium too, often being used at companies that work with shift systems. Self-rostering are a way of matching up the varying and personal wishes of employees – such as older employees who are no longer keen on night shifts, younger employees with no children who would rather work nights for the extra pay, or employees with children who prefer to work around school hours – as far as possible.

Self-rostering generally involve 3 steps:

  • Within the predetermined hours required and the time rules in social legislation, employees draw up their own ideal shift rota, entirely separately from others. This will often be derived from a basic schedule, which can then be adjusted.
  • Employees then put their various ideal shift rotas together in mutual consultation, moving things around where needed. Who could start an hour earlier or swap a day off? It can be handy here to record who has adjusted their own ideal shift rota, so you can give priority to this employee next time.
  • The remaining points for discussion or sticking points will be dealt with by the team leader, the line manager or a planner. The final rota will be announced in good time, for example a month in advance.

Self-rostering can offer a great many advantages, such as a better work-life balance, greater motivation, greater involvement and greater productivity. However, introducing self-rostering can be a challenge, particularly in the early stages. It could, for example, lead to splitting up well-established teams and creating extra administration, workload and responsibility for the line manager. You can prepare yourself for these potential challenges in good time through open communication and by providing suitable training for managers. It is advisable to use specially designed software for this.


Introduce a four-day working week.

You could choose to introduce a four-day week at your company, such that your employees do continue to work the same hours (meaning that production does not suffer from this), but also have a full day or two half-days free to spend with their family.

There are two regimes for dividing up a ‘four-day week’, whereby the weekly working hours are spread out.

  • either over four working days per week (e.g. 4 sets of 9 hours/day);
  • or over five working days per week, but in a system of three full and two half working days per week (e.g. 3 sets of 9 hours/day and 2 sets of 4.5 hours/day).

More information on the four-day week can be found on the FPS ELSD website.


Arrange your working hours through school bell or co-parenting contracts.

School bell contracts are agreements where work is only done during school hours. This gives parents the ability to take their children to school and pick them up without needing to arrange for out-of-school care.

Please note: These are part-time contracts, but the working hours are somewhat closer to a full-time job. Only part of the morning and part of the afternoon is abandoned, whereas normal part-time contracts generally work with half or full days, making the working hours less flexible in practice. Doing things this way also has less of an impact on pay.

A co-parenting contract takes account of the fact that certain separated parents are responsible for caring for their children in alternating weeks. It allows the employee to work less in the week that the children are with him or her, and to work longer days in the other week. This takes place by working with a variable shift rota over a 2-week cycle.

Naturally, this form of variable shift rota is also possible for people with a different family situation that also demands a certain degree of flexibility, for example if there is a partner who works in shifts or who has to travel abroad for his/her work at regular intervals.

In order to introduce flexible shift rotas, you must set this out in the employment particulars, or a Collective Labour Agreement must be concluded at company level. More information on work and rest times can be found at the FPS ELSD website.


Have your employees work from home.

One measure now familiar to everyone is working from home. It allows your employee to better fit their work and private life around each other. By organising their working time themselves, they can take their children to school and will not need to cancel engagements that can only take place during business hours. Moreover, no time is lost to commuting.

This measure can often ensure that your employee does not move to part-time work, so you can still rely on her/him full-time.

A distinction is drawn between occasional (highly exceptional, for example for a doctor's appointment or a rail strike) and structural (with fixed regularity, for example 1 day per week) remote working.

Set out the remote working measure in the employment particulars, as is legally required for structural remote working. You can include in this what kind of work is eligible for remote working, the maximum number of days, situations in which remote working is not possible, what work equipment you will provide for this, and so on. Also determine whether you will contribute to the costs of a home office as the employer (such as Internet connection, heating and electricity) and in what manner. You can do this by paying out a fixed amount of compensation per month.

For more information on setting up remote working, you can turn to your Social Secretariat.

Please note: Working remotely does involve a degree of responsibility on the part of the employee. This means good supervision and monitoring by the (line) manager will be necessary, particularly at the start. However, it is important to coach for results (output) and not for the number of hours worked. Indeed, paying excessive attention can damage the trust between you as the employer and your employees.

Remote working should also remain a voluntary option. Every employee should determine for themselves where she/he can work most efficiently and how the work-life balance can be optimally achieved.

Please note: Be sure to preserve the right to disconnection when people are working from home. Make the expectations around this clear in advance. You can find more ideas on this in part 3, ‘disconnection’.


Have your employees flexi-work or work decentralised.

Flexi-working means your employee is working somewhere other than at home or at their ‘normal’ desk. This could be a co-working space, for example in a city where many of your employees live, or a different (regional) branch of the company.

Flexi-working offers an alternative to working from home, for example for employees who find it difficult to concentrate at home or for employees who need office equipment that is not available at home.

Moreover, the employee will save on commuting time and it provides opportunities to better align their work and private life.

Just as with working from home, you set out the flexi-working measure in the employment particulars. For more information on setting up flexi-working, you can turn to your Social Secretariat.


Plan meetings within family-friendly hours.

In order to promote your employees' work-life balance, you can stipulate that meetings cannot start before a certain time, such as 9:30am, and cannot end later than a certain time, such as 3:30pm.

That way, employees at your company will have enough time to take their child(ren) to school and pick them up, or for example to get to the pharmacy in time, without having to miss part of the meeting and being unable to give their valuable input for this reason.

In addition, this measure can cause people to think about how people can meet as efficiently as possible, such as sufficient preparation for the meeting, not digressing into unimportant topics, and so on.


Job sharing or duo jobs (or trio jobs)

One measure often chosen by employees for a better work-life balance is part-time work. For the employer, this is not always easy to organise or deal with. Introducing duo or trio jobs could offer a solution to this.

With a duo job, 2 part-time employees share one full-time job and divide up the responsibilities. This requires a good rapport between the employees, who are both responsible for the collective end result.

Duo jobs can also be introduced at companies that work with shift systems. For example, an employee who prefers a night shift could be placed in a duo job with an employee who prefers the day shift.

Trio jobs take things a step further. This is where 3 employees occupy 2 full-time jobs together; each of them works 2/3rds of it. Shared responsibility can also be employed here, and the planning needs to be aligned.

Duo jobs and trio jobs meet the demand for part-time work from the employee, while guaranteeing you as the employer that the tasks will definitely be carried out. The employees within the duo or trio job taking on the responsibility for planning and sharing out tasks amongst themselves guarantees flexibility.

Please note: Dealing with shared responsibility within the duo or trio job does require some experience on the part of the employees. This means good supervision and monitoring by the (line) manager will be necessary, particularly at the start. However, it is important to coach for results (output) and not for the number of hours worked. Indeed, paying excessive attention can damage the trust between you as the employer and your employees.