As a contemporary area, flexibility in human resource management has been vaguely defined. This is because some scholars associate flexibility to time, while others associate it with job function and even location.
Recent studies have identified four primary areas where companies can implement flexible working policies: namely apportioning competencies and know-how to job responsibility, also known as functional; flexibility in terms of regulating workplace input to match output, also known as numerical; flexibility in terms of switching from company-hired employees to using contractors; and using motivation and reward schemes to actualise flexible working policies, also known as financial flexibility. Also, other people classify flexibility into job functional specialisation and firm-based flexibility. This type of flexibility is underlined by a unique skillset or competence needed to complete specific or specialised tasks at the workplace, such as tasks performed by consultants. The aforementioned clearly demonstrate the multidimensional forms flexibility takes within the work place.
In line with the above-listed 4 areas, organisations can adopt 2 main types of flexibility; thus, flexible working arrangements which mainly are to the advantage of employers; and flexible working practice that benefits both employers and workers. Both types of work flexibility are common globally; however, in developed countries such as the United Kingdom flexible working arrangements are more popular, with zero-working contracts topping the list.
Types of Flexible Working Practices
Flexible working practices include part-time working, flexi-time, job-sharing, term-time, home working and flexibility that has to do with time – such as regulating working hours beyond the traditional eight hours daily. An employee is said to be a home or remote worker when they perform their job at their private residence. Freelancers and mobile workers constitute home workers. Job-sharing is where two or more people are hired on temporary or part-time basis to collectively perform the same role that equals a full-time position.
Flexibility that constitutes time or hours to perform a job function can be segmented into various forms; such as allowing an employee to perform duties within a year rather than weekly, also known as annualised hours. There are instances when workers perform their duties within a compressed period, hence workers perform their duties over a shorter duration. Another type of flexible working practice is when workers are given the opportunity to adjust the time they start and finish work.
How Businesses Benefit from Flexible Working Practices
From an employer’s perspective, benefits of flexible working practices are enormous. Firstly, they improve work culture as a result of improved trust, loyalty, motivation and communication. Flexible working practice also improves the brand image and reputation of employers, because they are perceived to be employee-focused and care about their workers. Furthermore, flexible working practice helps employers to reduce cost. When employees work from home it leads to reduced overheads.
For instance, British Telecommunications saved over £80million annually in accommodation cost by fifteen thousand employees working from home. Also, the company reduced its expenditure on office accommodation by £700million over 8 years as a result of having over eighty thousand flexible workers in total, with fifteen thousand working from home.
Furthermore, competent personnel are attracted to companies that offer flexible working; therefore, employers who do not join the flexible-working bandwagon risk losing their best staff to companies which offer flexible working. Also, research has shown that employers witness higher employee retention when they offer flexible working. Higher retention leads to less recruitment cost, hence saving companies needed capital. Companies that offer flexible working are able to recruit and retain more clients because of how attractive they become in their industry. Flexible working practices also afford employers the opportunity to manage demand and also offer round-the-clock service.
How Workers Benefit from Flexible Working Practices
From an employee perspective, flexible working has made it possible for people to have a balanced life, and hence are able to integrate working with other important life activities. Flexible working offers people the opportunity to take care of their needs while working at the same time. For instance, people with home responsibilities such as taking care of dependents or people with disability are now able to comfortably manage work and personal life.
It has also been established that flexible working reduces work pressure and improves health of employees. For instance, workers who are working from home do not go through the stress of early morning and after-work traffic jams. Workers are also able to take frequent breaks in between work while working at home, which helps them manage their stress level. Home workers are able to have time to exercise as well. This phenomenon makes home workers to be happier, healthier, motivated and satisfied. From a different perspective, employee satisfaction and motivation is also linked to rewards; hence, without competitive remuneration, employees working flexible hours might still not be satisfied and motivated.
How Society Benefits from Flexible Working Practices
From a societal perspective, flexible working practices benefit society in several ways. As indicated above, flexible working helps companies to save space – which leads to less energy usage. Globally, electricity is mostly produced largely from fossil-fuel sources; and these have detrimental effects on the environment because of carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing office space results in less energy usage, and this translates to less carbon dioxide emissions. Similarly, because home workers do not travel to their workplace, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced because of less movement of cars on the road.
Flexible Working Practices and Productivity
Businesses aim to achieve higher performance at a reduced cost, hence productivity is critical in the flexible working practices discourse. It is argued that home workers achieve higher productivity compared to their colleagues in the office. However, this is not entirely the case due to various reasons. Sometimes a person’s temperament can determine how productive he/she will be while working from home.
Again, still using British Telecommunications Plc as a case-study, the company witnessed higher productivity of more than thirty percent in remote workers compared to staff stationed at the office. Additionally, home workers take less sick-leave compared to their colleagues working at the office, which is an advantage to employers. The issue of improved job quality and productivity as a result of implementing flexible work practices is not straightforward, and hence debatable. A candid view is that productivity can be ensured when labour outputs are measured based on key performance areas and targets instead of time duration used to perform tasks.
In conclusion, there are studies which support the fact employees are of the view that flexibility brings about improvement in job quality in terms of control, autonomy and work-life balance when employers implements it in a company. In line with this, it is safe to say that flexible working practices are beneficial to both employers and employees. Employers that are yet to adopt workplace flexibility policies can start gradually – for instance, by adopting a hybrid system whereby employees work from home and the office concurrently and then gradually shift to hundred percent home-working.
About the writer:
King Adawu Wellington is a business strategist with expertise in executing projects and helping companies achieve their goals in diverse industries.