Every organisation is trying to reduce their cost of production, regardless of their industry. One of the core contributors to this cost is that of their employees. Increasing market competition is forcing organisations to reconsider how they manage this cost to ensure they remain relevant to the market. This places a high significance on the importance of strategic human resourcing. Together with this, employees are also changing their minds with regard to what type and form of employment they require as other socio-economic factors become more important than permanent employment. These 2 elements are the primary reasons that flexibility in the work place is becoming a key factor of Human Resource Management.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE WORKPLACE
Flexibly in the work place creates a mechanism for organisations to acquire the required skills at specific times to deal with abnormalities in their product or service demand. The idea of flexibility is that organisations do not carry the financial burden of skilled resource cost while the resource is not required or while the resource cannot be utilised for profitable gain. Thus the concept of flexibility is closely related to that of free markets and capitalism.
Although flexibility is most often referred too in the context of numerical flexibility, 2 additional forms of flexibility are also available to organisations and employees:
• Numerical Flexibility: Matching organisational employee resource requirements with the required resources for the optimal period as to not waste any of the organisations funds on redundant or inactive employees.
• Functional Flexibility: Dissolving of functional boundaries of a role as to allow excess capacity in a role the ability to assist in another area of need.
• Pay Flexibility: The practice of offering varying degrees of financial compensation for the same or similar work based on geographical, social and economic differences.
Flexibility however comes with drawbacks. Putting any form of flexibility in place will require additional management and in some cases more intentional effort on the part of the employer. Any grant of flexibility will fall outside of a normal practice. This by implication will require boundaries for this flexibility to be created and documented. The result is that catering for any form of flexibility needs to still occur within a defined structure, but this structure must allow for some movement/variation. All employees that engage with an employee through a flexible agreement will also need to be informed so that they can adapt their way of working with this person. A flexible working arrangement will also place a large responsibility on the individual to ensure that their required work is completed in the same quality and timeframe as if they were part of the standard.
This is why, according to a study completed in Ireland (Price, 2011: 157), working from home actually increased the pressure on work-life balance, as employees were forced to work while they were at home. Should one decide to follow the approach of Atkinson (1984) and only employ core staff in permanent posts then the organisation may find itself in a position where it does not own any of the skilled resources’ Intellectual Property or know-how. So although this model helps organisations to keep fixed costs low, it also creates an unhealthy dependency on skilled resources that are external to the organisation.
OBSERVATION AND RECOMMENDATION
The concept of flexibility is often spoken about during our prospective employee interviews. More and more candidates are asking question regarding working hour and geographic flexibility as one of their key considerations for considering the advertised post. Unfortunately the trend is for the hiring organisation cheerfully respond with a positive response, but rescind on this once employment is underway. Often this is because the hiring manager does not trust employees to perform their required duties when they cannot be directly observed.
Although the concept of flexibility is often discussed and theoretically agreed too, it has not been successfully executed in general. This excludes functional flexibly, where the writer has experienced the complete opposite; organisations are more than willing to remove the bounds of a role so that the work can be performed. This is believed to be so because it has a direct benefit to the organisation; it does not have to procure additional resource capacity or additional skills.
Flexibility is a key factor in todays labour market. However the impact on the management of the organisation is not always fully understood, which may lead to a contracting of flexibility as employers actively look to reduce management overhead in exchange for the additional resource cost for permanent employment.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING:
• Drive, 2011 – Dan Pink.
• Success built to last, 2007- Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson
Atkinson, J. (1984). ‘Manpower strategies for flexible organisations’, Personnel Management (August)
Price,A. (2011). Human Resource Management (3rd ed., p.587). Pearson Education.