An Investigation on the Relevance and Usage of Workplace Flexibility in Contemporary Working Environments

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

34 Pages, Grade: A



1.1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Research Objectives
1.4 Research Questions
1.5 Significance of the Study

2.1 Literature Review
2.1.1 Relevance of Workplace Flexibility
2.1.2 The Level of Using Workplace Flexibility in Contemporary Firms

3.1 Methodology
3.1.1 Sampling Procedure
3.1.2 Measures
3.1.3 Data Collection
3.1.4 Data modeling and Analysis
3.2 Expected Results
3.3 Project Schedule

4.0 References


1.1 Introduction

Labour/workplace flexibility is a heterogeneous and expansive concept. International criterion of labour classification discerns arrangement considered as workplace flexibility in to two: qualitative and quantitative (Goudswaard & De Nanteuil, 2000). The former entails the improvement of work quality using profound skill content while the latter involves reduction of labour involved during production operations. Examples of quantitative labour flexibility include part-time employment, temporary work (numerical labour flexibility) and non-fixed working hours. On the other hand, work autonomy, teamwork, use of many working skills (functional labour flexibility), job rotation and employee involvements are qualitative work flexibility examples. Atkinsons (1984) provides a neo-liberal definition of labour flexibility as easing labour markets and associated institutions to reach a sustainable equilibrium following supply and demand intersection. In this context, labour flexibility is divided in to four: functional/organizational flexibility, which entails outsourcing and job rotation to transfer employees to different tasks and activities. Second, is functional wage/financial flexibility where wage discrepancies and levels are evident in employees. Thirdly is temporal flexibility where working time and work schedules are adjustable to the preferences of workers. Lastly, is the labour flexibility that incorporates external numerical in that employees in a particular company change with time through temporary and permanent employment (Atkinson, 1984). Modern tendencies have manifested functional flexibility of strong diffusion hence a move towards workplace practices, which induce high performance as Betcherman (1997) assents. In such organizations, workplace flexibility is an imperative tool to competitive success of organizations. In particular, this prospect is transformative to profound labour market management hence escalating production, profitability as well as bettering working conditions. Economists, in evaluating the impacts of workplace flexibility also agree that the concept should be affirmative towards the satisfaction of workers a situation, which has not always dominated as Freeman (1998) explains. This research tries to understand issues regarding workplace use and importance in modern day working environments in rural Connecticut.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The changing desire to realize economic security following the global economic crisis worldwide demands all families to work extra hard. With the amalgamation of work and family responsibilities, the role of work flexibility must not remain derelict. Although this is imperative, deficient flexibility in contemporary working environments is predominant in many workplaces (Atkinson & Meager, 1986). In these predispositions, workers must fit into the intricacy of the schedules and timelines, which are heavily structured to deliver firms’ expectations in the stipulated guidelines (Root & Young, 2010). Workplace flexibility has thus evolved to be a function of workers’ needs, management values and nature of employment protocols and processes. Reduced regulatory apparatus such as medical leave provisions and family too aggravates the deficiency of workplace flexibility. Often at times, the desires to optimize work flexibility are contrary to personal and family demands, responsibilities that have a rigid nature to change. In these circumstances, workers are coerced to contrive in such formal boundaries and generate opportunities to mitigate, resolve and attend to such crises and emergencies owing to their imperative nature just as work is (Root & Young, 2010). Workplace flexibility thus remains unrealistic in contemporary working prospects characterized by time famine.

Karen, Katelin and Shelley (2004) in trying to diagnose workplace flexibility derelict as a policy issue in contemporary organizations make a number of observations. First they accentuate that current work climate does not inculcate family responsibilities hence little reverence and relevance to labour flexibility. In environments where it is available, a tremendous cost to do with job security, wages and benefits is the accrued opportunity cost. The problem also exacerbates when labour flexibility introduces enormous price in the entire society. Despite these observations Karen, Katelin and Shelly (2004) still observe that workplace flexibility issues are not gravely dealt with. Instead, they are considered private issues of the employer and the workers contrary to the views of Atkinson and Meager (1986) who assert that labour flexibility prospects facilitate organizations to meet their needs. In another viewpoint, workplace flexibility should be a watchdog for reduced absenteeism, employee retention and commitment. However, employee reports indicate that its execution remains less exploited and under-supported owing to retrogressive organizational cultures and managerial resistance (lack of transformational leadership with a situational focus) hence limiting job advancement and employee development (Karen, Katelin & Shelly, 2004).

Perhaps the most worrying issue is not the lack of flexibility but its role and applications in diversified workplaces as Galinsky, Sakai and Wigton (2011) highlight. Evenly, a predominant issue with workplace flexibility is it impartial provision based employee advantage. In this context, employees at corporate management level have better working flexibilities compared to workers in lower management. To evaluate the root analysis of poor workplace flexibility provision Galinsky, Sakai and Wigton (2011) elucidate that employers are skeptical on the relevance of workplace flexibility. In fact, majority of them perceive this concept as an opportunity for employees to exploit and abuse them. Workplace flexibility deficiency too is an indicator of reduced job satisfaction, employee health maintenance and employee engagement since in such cases employers appear insensitive to additional employee issues with their precedence being profit-focused. With this basic knowledge, the objectives of the research are to analyze literature, perform an empirical study in a survey to confirm the level of work flexibility usage among workers in rural Connecticut.

1.3 Research Objectives

1. To do a critical analyzes of literature on the pre-existent application of workplace flexibility in modern working environments.
2. To empirically establish the relevance of workplace flexibility among modern workers and employers
3. To empirically establish the level of workplace flexibility use for diversified workers and employees

1.4 Research Questions

1. What does literature say on the use and application and the relevance of workplace flexibility?
2. Does workplace flexibility have any relevance and importance to employers and workers?
3. How far is the application of workplace flexibility among employers and workers in modern work climate?

1.5 Significance of the Study

The scope of this study will be informative to both workers and employers. In case of the latter, they will be informed on approaches to stringently watch the provisions of labour flexibility. Furthermore, they will get motivated to lobby for better labour flexibility in their organizations using amicable approaches. For employers, this is a wakeup call to foster labour flexibility without compromising their organization goals. To them, this is an affirmative action plan to holistic organizational development by prioritizing not only customer needs but also the employees’ demands. In addition, policy makers will apply this analysis to streamline their legislations in favour of impartial workplace flexibility provisions for all workers irrespective of their status and qualification in the particular organization. With the consideration of this information, amendments or the formulation of new provisions to support workplace flexibility will be put in place.


2.1 Literature Review

2.1.1 Relevance of Workplace Flexibility

Over the last few decades, the labour markets have restructured owing to industrialization of economies as Barling and Gallagher (1996) observe. The observable changes include the modification of employment nature and gender compositions of the labour market in aspects of demographics. With the induction of part-time and full-time employment mix, women in the labour market have escalated significantly. Burgess and Strachan (1999) observe this new arrangement claiming that it fits in the schedules of both old and young women owing to their diversified forms of responsibility apart from work. The decentralization of organizational relations, which began in the late 1980s worldwide also, prompts the aforementioned labour changes demanding for flexible workers if their holistic development is feasible. From an industrial viewpoint, labour flexibility ensures there is award provision based on liberalization hence firms are at better competitive positions (Atkinson, 1984). As such, changes towards less precedence on awards for conditional employment to bargains of employers and workers on how to have mutual progress are of precedence in contemporary tendencies (Campbell, 1993). This liberalization began in the 1980s with its effective and efficient execution being fostered by the Workplace relations provisions of 1996. A core emphasis in this act is the enhancement of objective workplace flexibility without any affiliated restrictions particularly for employers. In this act, employers choose the maximum or minimum working hours for their perceived full-time or part-time workers (Baird & Mcgrath-Champ, 1998). Although these industrial regulations foster workplace flexibility making employment family friendly, literature documents that employees are yet to optimize its use in their specific organizations in order to balance family and work obligations for workers. Charlesworth (1996) reinforces the aforementioned purport claiming of eroding predictability and regularity in modern aspects of workplace flexibility. Sharing similar sentiments Baird and Mcgrath-Champ claim that “many provisions negotiated in enterprise bargains actually conflict with the needs of workers and families, for example, a wider span of hours, incorporation of overtime and base rates into annualized salaries” (1998, p. 14). In their survey, these authors express increased incidents of dissatisfaction (rated at 27%) in the balance of work and family responsibilities following the induction of such flexible working arrangements. A survey by ACIRRT (1999) also agrees with these findings claiming that only 10% of the provisions in the Workplace relations act are family-friendly and seek to balance both work and family. Evenly, there is an ongoing critique on the perceptions that part-time arrangements of facilitate women to balance their family responsibilities. A study done by Junor et al (1993) on part-time women working in finance sectors establish that such workers appear powerless and do not have a sense of belonging in their employment place. In particular, the workers highlighted that organizations perceived their nature of employment as too costly hence could not offer such workers annual leaves.

As such, there is an existent gap between equal opportunities in business processes often induced by workplace flexibility arrangements. According to Alison and Lou (2001), numerical flexibility often enhances competitive positioning for organizations by increasing productivity and concurrently focusing on cost leadership. Often, this is viable if the human resource has greater flexibility. On another standpoint using workplace flexibility focuses on “securing lower labour costs, tighter manning levels, higher machine utilization, greater staff mobility and few interruptions and bottlenecks in production as Blyton (1992, p. 301) highlights. This opinion however only considers flexible labour on temporary, part-time and casual employment while remaining derelict of tele-working, home-working, outsourcing, self-employment, zero hour contracting, freelancing, subcontracting, flexi-time, consultancy work and seasonal as well as fixed working. As Felstead and Jewson (1999) highlights, all these flexible working approaches vary in the aspect of institutionalization as a norm just like other secure and open-ended employment forms. With such prospects then we can shift from traditional to contemporary working patterns. In providing equal opportunities, workplace flexibility often ensures equal engagement of employees in workplace obligations as well as equally addresses family issues (Raabe, 1996). To ensure that flexible working arrangements suit the workers, there is a need to shed the `family and work dichotomy perception. This will definitively decipher family-friendly working approaches or otherwise. Holt and Thaulow (1996) tries to demystify this issue claiming that family-friendly work arrangements often meet employees’ basic needs (they offer economic support as well as emotional and practical care). in this context, this is an income that can meet the affiliated living expenses, facilitates comfortable daily living responsibilities (including child care, time off if need be, parental leave and flexible working timeline) and reduces employee stress and workload. In defining this viewpoint on workplace flexibility, the workers and employer’s perceptions must interplay.

The issues raised by different employees emanate from the specific nature of their work particularly in aspects of delivery. For instance, workers with family responsibilities focus seek fulfil them and show better sense of commitment while those in the working in the supermarket seek for more unpredictable and longer shifts as ACIRRT (1999) reports. Although there is divergence in the specific needs, the motive is the same; to have greater autonomy and flexibility to strike a balance of work-related or otherwise commitment as Lewis and Lewis (1996) underscore. In essence, there is a distinct gap between the role of workplace flexibility from the employer and worker’s perception and perspective.

Modern prospects are seeking to bridge this gap by improving their HRM. This undertaking comes on recognizing the different needs of employers, workers and the organization in question. Evenly, the parties in debating the interplay and congruence in these assumptions at time fail to communicate effectively. One such type of negotiation is highlighted by ACIRRT management saying, “The part-timers came to us and said, “This roistering is really awful. It is difficult to for us. Can we sit down, and, sort of, work around what your need are and what our needs are so that we can work something out?” (1999, p. 6). They then reply affirmatively but remain firm that they too must be understood if negotiations must continue. In such a context as Junor et al (1993) agrees with ACIRRT (1999) never precedence the need of employees. In particular, families responsibilities puts the prospects to flexible workplace environments at the back foot hence diminish the employee negotiation power. To reinforce these suppositions Kramer (1998) that though workplace flexibility aims at holistic development of employee and employer, workers have expressed of negating change on its introduction costing them employment satisfaction.

For workplace flexibility to be viable in contemporary organizations, modern prospects offer a recipe. First, the organizations must use transformative leadership to add organizational value using both intellectual and physical labour. In essence, Bratton and Gold (1999) state that workplace flexibility is reinforced by HRM, which seeks to close the gap between actual performance and employees’ potential. Contrary to these opinions, employer prioritizes on cost leadership and prompt financial goal realization for the organization as ACIRRT (1999) reports. Pfeffer and Vega (1999) support these ideologies by encouraging increased commitment, attention and top-bottom leadership strategy. For this approach to be viable, HRM must be strengthened to expose explicitly the workers and employers’ needs using negotiations. Nankervis et al (1999) puts this issue in perspective highlighting the need to appreciate business flexibility unquestioningly as well as its inevitability in modern business environment dynamics from both the worker and employers’ perspective. In this recipe, the reciprocity of working relations must be precedence. This is with the observation that focusing on the employers’ needs exclusively would hamper the transforming of employees’ efforts to actual performance and objective realization. Alison and Lou (2001) thus advocate for HRM revision to manage organizational flexibility. This is unlike current predispositions where the HR’s role is to communicate on already pre-determined employment changes to employees without their prior to consideration as Kramer (1998) observes. Evenly, organizations focusing on optimizing the benefits affiliated to workplace flexibility must enhance their reciprocity in employment relations as well as a pluralistic approach other than authoritarian approach to goal realization. Alison and Lou (2001) advocate for the use of the Harvard Model, which emphasizes on the balance of stakeholder needs as well as mutual satisfaction in the introduction of labour flexibility. As such, both employers and workers must collaborate in partnerships other than imposing various flexibility approaches without critical evaluation on the resultant impacts to organizational performance. Nankervis et al (1999) put this perspective right claiming that HRM should not be employers’ advocate but also employees’ in order to respond to organizational goals through a flexible workforce. Grover and Crooker (1995) assent that reorganizing the HRM to produce family-focused and responsive policies are directly proportional to positive work attitudes. Vicariously, the organizational reputation on using consensual workplace flexibility arrangements also develops. In a survey by Brumit and Kropf (1999), labour flexibility is observed to induce real time benefits to organizations with regard to lower quitting intentions, increased commitment and superior quality delivery in both product and service industries.


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An Investigation on the Relevance and Usage of Workplace Flexibility in Contemporary Working Environments
Monash University Melbourne
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investigation, relevance, usage, workplace, flexibility, contemporary, working, environments
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Wilson Truman (Author), 2011, An Investigation on the Relevance and Usage of Workplace Flexibility in Contemporary Working Environments, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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