Since the turn of a new century, the need to build smarter flexible working relationships in the workplace has seen businesses make transitions towards more modern and complementary practices. The need to implement flexible working schemes was encouraged during the late 20th Century due to the number of non-working women entering the labour market through part-time, temporary and agency work which had greater benefits for employees. However, although flexible work regimes suited the labour changes then, is flexibility now seen as being beneficial for employers rather than their workers? Many studies have examined this matter but have found no definitive evidence to support or oppose the statement, attracting a lot of debate as a result.
This paper will consider some of the arguments for why flexibility is good for employers and bad for workers and will outline some of the problems with this concept; it will then put forward a number of reasons why flexibility is also good for employees pointing out influences on productivity, retention, and perceptions.
Nowadays, flexible working covers an extensive range of employment practices, from seasonal employment to stable rigid work schedules. The Sloan National Initiative, 2010, defines workplace flexibility as the ability to have flexibility in the scheduling of hours, number of hours worked, career flexibility with multiple points for entry, exit and re-entry into the workforce, and the ability to address unexpected and ongoing personal and family needs.
Flexible work patterns can be categorised into seven known approaches, though, there are three that are generally practiced, which are numerical, functional, and temporal flexibility. Numerical flexibility, also known as quantitative employment is usually seen among short term, part-time employees. Employers can adjust these workers hours of work to coincide with changes in demand by implementing longer or shorter hours of work. Functional flexibility, otherwise known as qualitative employment is typically long term permanent staff. These employees have broad job specifications, so can cope with a larger number of tasks therefore the potential of flexibility is far greater without employing supplementary staff, which is why employers tend to invest in more training for these employees. And temporal flexibility is a means for employers to increase the workforce for short lengths of time such as seasonal work or fixed term contracts. A good example of this is Christmas temp jobs.
Flexibility and Employers
Progressively, there is a growing need for flexibility in the workplace, Kalleberg, 2001 suggests that ‘organisations will persist in using labour utilisation strategies that are functionally and numerically flexible to respond to competitive, technological, & labour supply pressures’ pg 495. Grugulis et al, 2003 suggests that ‘traditional employment patterns still exist , but are supplemented by networks of consultants, temporary workers, outsourcing and subcontracting’ pg 45, and as managers are faced with continually changing and conflicting demands as consumers want products/services tailored quickly, employees are faced with the stress of long hours of work resulting in exhaustion. Karlsson, 2005 warns of when employers push more market risks onto employees, employee moral declines.
Karuppan, 2006 reports that in one organisation ’employees were asked to rate the importance of cost, quality, speed, and flexibility in their department’ to ensure that the emphasis placed on flexibility at the top of the organisation was being perceived by everyone on the shop floor as important. Management consequently found that supervisors rated flexibility very highly, but conversely workers ratings of flexibility were consistently low’ pg 14, this tells us that what the managers consider as important is not recognize by the workers which indicates a breakdown in the lines of communication; to improve this ‘management should explain how the company’s strategy shapes everyone’s work and stress the important of each ones contribution to gaining a competitive advantage.’ (Karuppan, 2006:16)
Employers are now outsourcing and subcontracting workers more than ever as ‘some 90% of organisations subcontract one or more other services and about use both contractors and one form of non-standard labour (culley et al, 1999:35). Grugulis states that ‘in every case work was outsourced, work was more tightly codified and controlled than under-taken in house’ pg 48 and that the ‘number of low-skilled that were outsourced on short term contracts were monitored through tightly defined audit list, to the frustration of the workers employed’ pg 56 which can cause low morale and lead to a counter-productive workforce.
Although, collaborations and outsourcing employees may produce wide range of products and services the level of employee skill level is lowered as ‘most of this work is unskilled’ (Grugulis et al, 2003:45). Which is in addition to fairly uncomplicated tasks being split between a numbers of employees; this does not encourage job enrichment or satisfaction which could have adverse affects on employee moral and/or retention. Organisations whose workforce is predominantly numerical or temporal do so to merely increase profits and care less about performance or quality; and as they invest less in their employees this can result in higher levels of employee turnover. In order for organisations to overcome this ‘Managers should put their money where their mouth is. If a particular strategy is to benefit the company financially, it should benefit the workers as well’ (Karuppan, 2006:16).
Flexibility and Employees
Everybody’s perception is generally very different, whilst still sharing the thoughts and feelings of those whose circumstances are similar. In any case, employees view flexibility as having a greater control over their work which encourages a high moral and job satisfaction that may promote employee engagement. If employers have supportive work-life policies their employees are more likely to be happier in their working environment, and may be more inclined to stay with the organisation, which contributes to employee retention, which are factors of ‘positive effects on perceived control over work and family matters, which improves efficiency and effectiveness’ for their employers (Richman et al, 2008:184,186). Employees report that workplace flexibility ‘influences decisions to join an organisation, satisfaction with their jobs, and plans to stay with their employers’ (Richman et al, 2008:184).
Burchell et al, 2002 reports that in 2000 researchers advised of pessimistic long term effects to businesses, as a result of flexibility being damaging to employees and the effects of flexibility are negative for workers that are made redundant, experience job insecurity and work load increases’ ‘all of which lead to a deterioration in the health and well-being of workers at all levels, which has some bearing on family problems (Nolan 2002). On the contrary, countries such as those in Scandinavian have successfully implemented a unified relationship between numerical and functional employees. Scandinavian countries who have long working hours offer the best benefits for part time workers, especially expectant and new mothers, as they offer some of the longest maternity leave periods; And attain lower levels of unemployment by retaining lower salaries compared with western countries (Kleinknecht et al, 2006).
On the whole, there are many rewards of flexibility for both employers and their employees, but more flexibility in the work place is not necessarily productive. The general downside that part-time and temporary employees face is that supportive work-life policies are inadequate, however, if the government is able change legislation to provide similar social benefits to that of full time employees, employers may find that they will find more reliable employees who may in due time invest more into an organisation demonstrating loyalty. In addition, part-time and temporary employees are invested in less, which can explain the connection between these employees being less skilled and unable to transfer their skills to more complex tasks. All things considered, flexibility is more beneficial in the long term for employers than it is for numerical and temporal workers, vice versa, but functional workers are unscathed.