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Workforce Flexibility

Workforce Flexibility can be described in various ways, however the simplest way of explaining this relatively new phenomenon is that any kind of employment that differs from the traditional 9-5 job, yet still offers a permanent employment contract can be considered to be an aspect of workforce flexibility. The “flexible” aspect can relate to the employees or to the employer, or, in some cases, to both. From the employee’s point of view, “flexible work may allow more freedom to organize their employment to fit in with other parts of their life.

” (Introduction 2006). This can mean many different things to different people; it can be that mothers or fathers want to spend more time with their children, perhaps they care for elderly parents, or it could even be that the daily commute to work puts a huge dent in their family budgets because of the exorbitant gasoline prices! There are basically three types of flexible work: Flexible Location Flexible Time Flexible contract (Introduction 2006).

Flexible location can be described in different terms, but can mean working on the move, working from home, or working from telecentres/satellite offices. Flexible Time can include flexible hours, part-time working, jobshare, compressed working weeks, annualized hours

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or zero hours. Flexible contract usually refer to outsourcing, use of agency workers, temporary/fixed term contracts or casual labour. (Introduction 2006). Many times the first reactions from employers, co-workers, and even family when the subject of workforce flexibility arises can be incomprehension, resistance or confusion about the entire idea.

Slowly, the tide is turning, however, and people are beginning to realize that flexible work is not about slacking off, but rather about “improving the way the organization works, using property and IT more effectively, enabling staff to work more effectively, enabling staff to live more balanced lives, and reducing wasteful unnecessary travel and resource consumption. ” (Understanding 2006). Sound pretty enticing, doesn’t it! Many times workforce flexibility comes about due to existing problems in companies such as trouble recruiting or retaining staff.

The question then becomes: Could flexible working hours or term-working, perhaps with some home-based working mixed in solve these problems? The first step in changing people’s perceptions about workforce flexibility is to get past the far-reaching stereotype that the only people involved in such a thing or working women with small children. It is true that women are frequently the ones who take advantage of workforce flexibility, however the reality is that women tend to have more caretaking responsibilities, and fitting everything around their full-time job can be overwhelming at times.

As more men are taking over some of these caretaking tasks, however, equally more men are leaning toward flexibility at their place of employment. Telework has the perception of being fraught with “isolation, lack of supervision, lack of career opportunities, etc, but if the employee is coming in three or four days per week on average, or has regular contact with managers and colleagues at varying locations, contact and integration should not be a problem. ” (Understanding 2006). We all like to blame managers as obstacles to flexible working, and, in some cases this can be true.

“Managers have usually reached senior positions by doing things in a certain way, and what they have done has been, apparently, successful. ” (Understanding 2006). Managers sometimes fail to understand why things need to be changed at all, after all, their techniques have been working just fine, right? It may take some gentle persuasion and salient facts to persuade a long-time manager that these new ideas may actually make his company more productive, with happier employees to boot.

Two of the issues that managers and employers may worry about when allowing an employee to work more flexibly can be colleague resentment and equating work-life policies with “red tape. ” Once these issues are dealt with to the satisfaction of all, the new policies can be beneficial to all concerned. The UK Government has recently employed legislation that allows parents with children under six or disabled children under eighteen the “right to request flexible work. ” (Time for Balance 2006).

The government is certainly crossing their fingers and hoping that most of the requests to work flexibly can be dealt with amicably, and, in fact, outlines a process for doing so. It is very important in all cases that both employers and employees understand the legislation and know their rights and responsibilities. The legislation spells out the “legal framework” for appeals, arbitration and employment tribunals, and it is estimated that there could be as many as 40,000 tribunal cases dealing with disputes per year. (Time for Balance 2006).

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