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Pilbeam and Corbridge defined flexibility as the ability of an organisation to adapt the necessary people’s inputs in terms of composition, size, cost and responsiveness in order to effectively meet organisational goals and objectives (Pilbeam & Corbridge, 2010). Examples of scholars who have written about the concept of flexibility are Taylor and Atkinson (Cheng & Jarvis, 1996).
There are various types of flexibility and they include financial, numerical, functional, temporal and locational flexibilities. These work to ensure that organisations are not understaffed or overstaffed (CIPD, 2012). Financial flexibility has to do with the ability of an organisation to deploy financial resources only where necessary and avoiding unnecessary costs in organisational processes. Functional flexibility is the allocation of organisational functions to specific individuals.
It also has to do with the ability of an organisation to have a workforce which can perform various tasks at any given time. Numerical flexibility has to do with the staffing of organisations depending on how much work is available at any given time (Acas, 2012).
Temporal flexibility is the engagement of workers on temporary basis, otherwise known as contractual employment while locational flexibility is the ability of an organisation to facilitate its employees to work from their homes so as to cut on key infrastructural costs such as office space and transport (CIPD, 2013).
The driving interest of the topic of flexibility in the UK is the need to liberalize the labour market. In 2003, the UK government introduced the right to work in a flexible manner especially for care givers and employees with children aged six years and below. In 2009, the right was extended to include parents with children of up to sixteen years. However, the right was enjoyed by those employees who had been in employment for at least 26 weeks (Flexibility, 2012).
Currently, over 90% of all employees in the UK have access to at least one form of flexible employment with part time employment leading with 72% of all employees followed by flexible time at 50% while job sharing comes third at 45%. Some 37% of all employees work in compressed weeks while 24% work at home (Hooker, Neathey, Casebourne & Munro, 2007).
According to Atkinson’s model, flexibility has the advantage of reducing employee turnover and saving on the costs of recruitment. It also reduces cases of absenteeism as well as improves customer service because employees work as per the given timelines (Vallespir, 2010).
Atkisons, while working at the Institute of Manpower Studies became well known for his flexible model otherwise knwon as the ‘flexible firm’. Since 1980s, the flexible firm model has gained popularity especially for its intention and ability to restructure the labour sector across the world and especially in the United Kingdom. This followed the financial cricis of 1980s which hardly hit many firms. The firms thus opted to apply the ideas of Atkisons so as to survive (Murray, Poole, & Jones, 2006).
The core principle of the model is the segmentation of employees into permanent or ‘core’ and part time or ‘periperal’ employees. The ‘core’ employees work on full time basis while the part time employees work on contract basis. The overall objective of Atkisons model was the improvement of the quality of work and services offered by various firms.
In determining the ‘core’ employees, a firm is usually guided by the skills possessed by people. In essense, ‘core’ employees have rare skills and that is why they are engaged on a permanent basis. This is not to say or imply that the ‘periperal’ employees must be in possession of poor skills but what it means is that the ‘core’ employees have to posses the ability to multitask. For example, a person who is trained as an accountant can also posses skills in strategic management, which can be beneficial to the organization. This employee is better retained by an organization because he or she is an important resouce to it.
Organizations also foucs on training and retraining of the ‘core’ employees from time to time so as to enable them to multitask. On the other hand, it is not a must for ‘periperal’ employees to posses more than one skill because they are hired for a specific period of time to undertake specific tasks.
When the tasks are not there, there is no need of having the persons on the pay list because such an act would mean that the organization woud be incurring unnecessary expediture, which would otherwise been used in other useful and profitable activities. Periperal workers are more sucseptible to layoffs especially during financial crisis.
A succesful flexible firm usually has work flexibility and employment flexibility. Work flexibility includes things like establishment of work teams or groups, schedulling of work and how work load is balanced within an organization. Employment flexibility has to do with engaging employees either on permanent or temporary basis or as per necessity.
For companies to effectively implement the Atiksons’ model, there is need for collaboration between the companies’s CEOs and the personnel departments, which essencially deals with human resource management. There is the need for the two to jointly develop an organizational startegy, especialy with regard to staffing. Communication between the two is therefore a very key ingridient for the succes of the model because industries keep on changing and thus the need to be always strategic.
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The need to embrace the flexible firm model is also based on the changing nature of the world especially with regard to information and communication technology which has made it much easier to work at home or any other place of the worker’s convinience. Many firms across the United Kingom and the European Union have embraced technology as a means of cutting expenses on office space, furniture, transport and other physical infrastructure.
Arguably, there has been a radical depature from focusing on the hardware aspects of work to focusing on the software aspects of work. What this means is that organizations are able to engage people who are able to work from their home, provided they are able to understand their roles and how to discharge those roles in an efficient and effective manner.
There has also been the expansion of the education sector, which has seen many academic institutions introduce online academic programs such as degree and masters progrms (VanNostrand & Brekke, 1997). Students are enrolled for certain programs after which they are send the course materials online to study at their home and only go to the institutions for exams. Some institutions even go to the extend of offering the exams online.
A good example of an institution which has been practicing this mode of study is the Liverpool University which offers masters programs through an online platform. This has enabled many learners to access education and also enabled the institution to cut on the costs of hiring lectureres and for building classes and purchasing other learning infrastructure (Kanigel, 1997).
Flexibility in the United Kingdom is a topic of major interest both to the employers and employees. As mentioned in the introduction, the concept has been instituionalized since 2003 when the government through legislation gave employees with children aged six years and below the right to work flexiblby (Study mode, 2013).
According to a survey conducted by third work-life balance employer, majority (92%) of UK employers said they were willing to grand their employees an opportunity to work flexibly (Brown & Remenyi, 2004).
However, about 27% of the interviewed employees said they had to approach their employers to request to work in a flexible manner despite the legislation requring all employees with children aged up to sixteen years the right to work flexibly. This is an indication that the employers largely accepted the idea only because of the legisaltion (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009).
The survey further revealed that females were more likely to request to work flexibly than their male counterparts. Majority (68%) of those who made such requests had been in the employment for at least six months while 21 % who made such requests had been in the employment for less than six months. The survey revealed lack of awareness about the legislations giving employees the right to work flexibly (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009).
This is due to the high number of employees (19%) who applied to work flexibly without them qualifying for the same. In order to increase the levels of awareness, the Britain government has established programs and plans to encourage employers to adopt more family friendly work arragments so as to allow as many employees as possible get access to flexible working. An example of such programs is the Building Britain recovery of 2009 (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009).
Recently in the UK, there have been calls for employers to ensure that their employees are at liberty to choose what time to work and at which location (House of Commons business committee, 2007).
This has been necessitated by the dynamism of the workforce, where you find people having more than one skill or competency and are able to do more than one job at any given time (Bureau of business practice, 1998). This has been seen as a complete departure or the need to depart from the classical scientific management theory by Frederick Winslow Taylor (Spender & Kijine, 1996).
Taylor argued that for organisations to achieve efficiency and increase their productivity, they had to analyse jobs and employ people who were able to do those jobs (FAO Corporate Document Respiratory, 1997).
He came up with four principles of scientific management which include scientific selection and training of employees as opposed to the idea of selecting and leaving them to train themselves; the replacement of the traditional “rule- of-thumb” methods of work with a scientific analysis, formulation and interpretation of jobs or tasks; close supervision and monitoring of workers who were given clear instructions regarding their tasks and duties to perform and division of work among the managers and the employees with the managers being tasked with scientific planning of tasks as the workers executed those tasks (Taylor, 2008 ).
Through flexibility, organisations are able to increase their productivity and improve the recruitment and retention of a workforce which is diverse. Atkinson argued that through flexibility, the employers are able to brand themselves as best employers due to the high motivation among the peripheral employees (Browne, 2006).
However, flexibility leads to increased workload among the employees, leading to fatigue. It also kills career growth and development. Since employees work on temporary basis, they are isolated from each other and this kills the intrinsic value of work (Gleason, 2006).
On the part of the employers, flexibility has the problem of posing as a threat to human resource development, which is one of the key ingredients of successful organisations. The employers are also unable to benefit from the multiplicity of talents and skills which are present in the contemporary workforce because the employees are engaged to do a specific task and they can only do another task under a new contract (Taylor, 2005).
An example of an organisation which has practiced flexibility in its operations is the Border Force Agency, which uses teams of competent professionals on contract basis. The teams are only deployed when there is need to deploy them (Lizabeth & McCabe, 2005).
Through this, the organisation manages to save a lot of financial resources which were otherwise supposed to pay the teams if they were to work on permanent basis. Another example is the Citi bank, which during the Olympic Games allowed 30, 000 of its employees to work at home. This saw the bank save 30% in travel costs and effectively solved the transport problem experienced during the Olympic Games.
Flexibility is a strategy employed by contemporary organisations to ensure attainment of their objectives using the minimum human resources. It is based on the philosophy that the engagement of employees on permanent basis only helps organisations to waste fiscal resources in paying permanent employees. It can be contrasted with the Taylor’s approach, which agitates for scientific management of employees.
Currently in the UK, over 90% of all employees have access to at least one form of flexible employment, with part time employment taking the lion’s share at 72% of all employees working flexibly. Legislations have been passed to give employees the right to work on part time basis in order to create a work life balance and also to get opportunities to further their studies. However, it leads to isolation of employees.
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