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Flexibility of working time is not new concept. The difference today is the spread across varied groups of workers and activities and the many forms it has taken. Flexible working time is a very broad term. It refers to all working patterns that deviate from the 9 to 5 rhythm on an average weekly day. In this respect, non-standard work hours refer to work schedules that involve being at work at times outside the standard daily work schedule: evening, night, shift or week-end work). Over the passed years, traditional forms of expanding the duration of work - overtime, weekend, evening, night and holiday working - were regulated and have been eased by regulatory intervention or by collective agreements. The incidence of non-standard hours varies considerably between European countries, partly caused by differences in national regulations. However, also structural and demographic differences contribute to these inter-country differences in non-standard work hours.
There is a need to understand the dynamics of the changing workplace environment: traditional full-time arrangements are no longer standard and businesses can benefit from increased flexibility, including improved retention, productivity, work quality, and management. However, barriers persist in limiting the availability and effectiveness of these arrangements, such as ambiguous policies, lack of understanding of the business benefits, and rigid systems and structures. Despite these barriers, many part-time professionals, supervisors, and colleagues report that the affect of these arrangements are positive or neutral. There is a need to examine how full-time workers with caring responsibilities can use formal and informal means to attain enough working-time flexibility to balance their work and family responsibilities.
What are the different types of flexibility?
Need for flexibility
Case Study for an organization which focuses on flexibility.
Long working hours is a cause of concern for many organizations. To overcome this and to improve the condition in companies, working time regulation has also been introduced to stimulate employment within the work-sharing paradigm. This is considered as a social act where the work time is reduced considerably to provide sufficient time and focus on the family and personal lives of an individual.
Companies should focus on increasing the efficiency of the employees and their optimum utilization of the resources, rather than focusing on a fixed number of working hours. It is majorly when the employees are not satisfied with the additional work pressure and have to cope with extra responsibilities that they prefer to have work time flexibility. Generally the human resource managers have many options to react to the changing environment and adapt accordingly. Human resource mangers look for various options to enhance the productivity level of the employees, to improve their performance, to keep the employee work spirit high. Related to the response and the policies of flexible labor input applied, a distinction can be made between functional flexibility and numerical flexibility and between internal and external flexibility. In the operational sense numerical flexibility can be defined to include all those HRM practices that help to match the number of employed or engaged by an enterprise and/or the hours worked to the number needed and functional flexibility can be defined to include all those HRM practices that help to improve the skills of those employed or engaged.
Definitions of different types of flexibility
Study on the work-time flexibility arrangement has been conducted from several years. Different theories have been proposed by researchers for implementing work-time flexibility in the companies. Gareis and Korte (2002) have conducted a detailed study on the worker centric flexibility versus the company centric flexibility. The company's point of view and the employee's point of view for the work time flexibility has been considerably different. However, it is important for the organizations to reach a consensus and identify some methods to provide work-time flexibility to employees. Study done by Wilthagen(1998) has also highlighted the difference in flexibility calling it active flexibility versus passive flexibility. The same terminology has also been used in the research done by Visser (2003) for the difference in flexibility for the employees and the employers. The same has also been described the work-time flexibility as employer-orineted versus employee-oriented flexibility (Reily (2001), Rubery and Grimshaw, 2003). These are the various types of categories that have been created over the years with the study and research done from different point of views.
All these studies have indicated many similarities, focusing mostly on the difference between the employees' needs of flexibility and the employers' needs of flexibility. According to the study conducted by Gareis and Korte (2002: 1104) the work-centric flexibility could be defined having "more freedom to choose working times attuned to personal preferences and family requirements." Company centered flexibility can be defined as "brings supply of human capital in line with the temporal requirements following from business, e.g. times of customer demand, machine running times, optimal utilisation of capital invested" (Gareis and Korte, 2002: 1104). Similarly, Wilthagen (1998) and Visser (2003) put forward the notion of active versus passive flexibility based on the voluntariness of take up. When the employer imposes flexibility on the worker, it is considered passive. If workers voluntarily take up an arrangement based on their preferred working conditions, this is considered active. Flexibility is considered as one of the major parametes or work-time issue and finding the right balance between both of them. According to Felstead et al. (2002) the flexible work time could be defined as "flexible working-time practices in relation to work and family as those which provide some degree of responsiveness and adaptability to help employees reconcile work and family needs".
Since the seventies the popularity of flextime hours has grown constantly. At first, flextime allowed the employees to deviate from the standard 9-to-5 working day without a special supervisor approval, though most workers were still required to work 8 hours per day. In the mean time, flexible work hour schemes have become much more diverse. They are now widely applied in most industrial countries.
Secondary data collection and reference of journals and research papers have been the major source of information. Study on the difference in perspectives of employees and employers toward work time flexibility have also been considered.
Need for Flexibility In Organizations
Working time flexibility is just one option available to have flexible labor input. The human resource management (HRM) has various options available to react and adapt to these changing and volatile conditions. Related to the response and the policies of flexible labor input applied, a distinction can be made between functional flexibility and numerical flexibility and between internal and external flexibility. In the operational sense numerical flexibility can be defined to include all those HRM practices that help to match the number of employed or engaged by an enterprise and/or the hours worked to the number needed and functional flexibility can be defined to include all those HRM practices that help to improve the skills of those employed or engaged.
*Source: Working Time Flexibility: Two Cheers For Regulation, One Cheer For The Market
Working time flexibility not only concerns different time dimensions, it also concerns different actors and levels. Working time flexibility may refer to the increasing irregular distribution of working hours over the day, week, month, year or over career. The latter is rarely reflected in statistics on working time. It may easily be seen that when these different demand and a supply dimension meet that they may conflict or at least do not match easily. The transition from collective agreements with standardized labor conditions to tailor-made agreements implies increasing transaction costs for both employer and employee (like administrative, negotiating, and monitoring costs). Asymmetric information between employer and employee in regards to the consequences of working time changes, combined with more freedom of choice, may lead to badly informed individual choices. Markets, including working time flexibility cannot function without regulation that reduces or avoids market failures; on the other hand regulation is at the expense of individual choice by employers and employees and hence is suboptimal.
Flexibility resulted as the most important factor to influence work satisfaction; the second to affect family and social commitment and the ability to do the same job when 60 years old, as well as trauma, overall fatigue, irritability, and headache; and the third to influence heart disease, stomachache, anxiety, injury, and the feeling that health being at risk because of work. Variability was the third most important factor influencing family and social commitments. Moreover, shift and night work confirmed to have a significant influence on sleep, digestive and cardiovascular troubles, as well and health and safety at work. Time pressure also showed a relevant influence, both on individual stress and social life. Therefore, suitable arrangements of flexible working time, aimed at supporting workers' coping strategies, appear to have a clear beneficial effect on worker health and well-being, with positive consequences also at the company and social level, as evidenced by the higher "feeling to be able to work until 60 years of age".
There are five main measures that potentially address the need for flexibility for the employees: leave entitlements; work schedules; workplace flexibility; care facilities; and reducing the burden of family tasks. Workplace arrangements play a key role in facilitating or frustrating efforts to manage the tensions between work and caring roles, and efforts made by employers and supervisors to make work more care-friendly are valued by employees . The current work-and-family debate highlights the significant role of managers from all organizational levels in the reconciliation of work and family
Through interviews with Human Resources (HR), line managers and full-time employees, the case study illustrates how firstly, in this organization, the length of the 'normal' working week had expanded, with after-hours and weekend work merged into the ordinary hours of employment and the operational assumptions of unpaid overtime. The implications of this are explored through the experiences of full-time employees--in particular the time pressures experienced and the intersection of caring commitments and working-time flexibility for full-time workers (Bittman and Rice 2002). An examination of working-time flexibility available for full-time employees is then undertaken. As Whittard (2004) found, these systems operate informally and are entirely up to the discretion of line managers. Line managers in their workplaces can choose to facilitate employee-based flexibility in working hours but typically this required them to either intensify work for the remaining workforce or intensify work for the managers themselves. There is an understanding between of institutional and managerial impediments to implementing flexible working-time arrangements for employees with family commitments can limit access to these types of flexibility.
Taking the example of leading company Cisco and their organizational practices, the following were the observations through secondary research which has helped Cisco in providing flexibility to the employees and brought a balance between the organizational requirement and the employee's perspective for flexibility.
Cisco has already indulged in many key initiatives and plans for its employees and takes care of their well being in one way or the other to ensure that they have a better work life balance. It plans to introduce personal health coaching, via phone, Web, or in person, to help employees focus on and improve their individual risk areas. They would also help employees relieving the work related pressures and stress and provide a role and flexibility in their work which suits the requirements of both the employer and the employee. Employees have access to a 24-hour nurse line to get immediate answers to their health questions. Additional programs for specific health concerns have also been facilitated to focus more on the wellbeing of the employees.
Cisco also has an initiative which is called "Getting Back to Work" program, an integrated disability management program that streamlines the disability process. Here they guide employees through the completion of all necessary, and sometimes confusing, paperwork associated with leaves of absence and other activities.
Each year, the global economy, as well as our specific industry, changes dramatically. It is recognized that for employees to excel at their work and advance in their careers cross-training, multidisciplinary skills, and knowledge sharing are critical. To support this personal and professional growth, Cisco provides employees with a wide range of training and development programs. These training programs provide the employees with new set of skills thereby they could change join a new role with flexible timings or profile that suits them better. This would also ensure that employees get an opportunity to choose among the various vacancies that is available within the organization and move to a more flexible role. In FY2006, 12 percent of the employees were promoted and 7 percent transferred to another group or changed job functions completely. Through continuous training, we are developing an agile and productive workforce that can respond to those changes.
They also offer certification programs on new and upcoming technology, as well as numerous instructor-led and online workshops on topics ranging from general business and communications to specific functional responsibilities such as market and product positioning. The organization also has a program in which they rotate select high-performance employees through a range of assignments to ensure that their skill sets are broadened. The company offers individuals who participate in rotational assignments a range of local positions and overseas opportunities so that they can choose the one that best matches their interests. These employees spend two to three years on each assignment, preparing them for eventual progression within the company. This is the perfect example of flexibility than any employee would be looking for, as well as meeting the organizational needs.
Employees from different cultures and geographies, with a variety of viewpoints and styles of interaction, combine their unique backgrounds, experiences, and values to understand the needs of our customers. Company leaders recognized many years ago that young women were not traditionally participating in engineering and science programs that led to careers in the industry. The organization has created advancement and development opportunities for women and minorities in the technology industry, and has made progress in recruiting and retaining these individuals at our company.
Proportion of Women and Ethnic Minority Employees at Cisco FY 2006
Percent of Total Employees
Percent in VP Positions and Above
*Source - www.cisco.com
Apart from facilitating the development and providing opportunities to women, they also understand the changing needs of the employees at various stages of the life-cycle of the individual and provide flexible work time options to employees. This helps in nurturing and retaining the best of the talent that they have identified and optimizing the resources that they have to the benefit of the employer and the employee.
Challenges & Conclusion
Flexibility brings benefits and concerns from both an employer and an employee perspective and remains a contentious issue (Sheridan and Conway 2001). In the absence of formal policy support in this area, negotiating informal mechanisms at the workplace level to access working-time flexibility becomes important (Whittard 2004).
The ILO (International Labor Organization) has identified five dimensions of decent work in the area of working time and work-life balance. According to ILO decent working time arrangements should promote health and safety and gender equality, be family-friendly, advance enterprise productivity and competitiveness, and facilitate worker's choice and influence over working hours. The ILO has promoted a number of policy reforms, including: measures leading to an increase in child-care services, reforms of entitlements to care leave, reduced working hours, long-term care insurance, promotion of a family friendly culture and workplace and development of international legal standards.
Although work-family reconciliation has moved up the policy agenda in many European countries, there remains a lack of coherent policy and practical action. Different work-family models, combining in different ways leave entitlements, reduced working time, flexible working time arrangements (e.g., flexi-time and "time banking "schemes), taxation policies, social security benefit and allowances and active labor market policies, have been put in place across Europe with different outcomes. In respect of working time and work organization, there has been a marked trend away from the standard working week towards greater flexibility in the organization of working time. For working time flexibility to benefit both enterprises and workers, it is essential that both workers' needs and business' requirements be taken into account. For example, part-time work needs to be combined with equal treatment guarantees to help ensure that part-timers are not marginalized and to be reversible to ensure that they have the option to return to full-time work.
Flexible work hours are said to increase productivity and improve the international competitiveness of firms on one hand, and job satisfaction and commitment of the employees on the other. Proponents argue that employee and firms as well as the economy and the society as a whole benefit from more flexibility in hours regulations.