Does flexible working benefit organisations during an economic recession

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Assess the value flexible working is said to make in an organisation during an economic recession

Flexible working is a way of a work practice that allows the employees' freedom in deciding how the work will be done and how they will coordinate their schedules and manage their time. The employer sets certain limits such as the core time during which time employees must be present and the number of hours of work every day.

Flexible working is a key element to business success but is often categorised by the human resource (HR) function as a ''family friendly'' benefit. This is often one of the reasons that flexible working is not viewed strategically by employers and is often seen as an employee benefit. However, flexible working is growing rapidly in many organisations, thanks partly to legislation such as that in the UK, which gives the right to parents of young children as well as carers of the elderly or disabled to request flexible working. This right is not automatically extended to other employees. There are also new forms of contractual arrangement that are sometimes included in the flexible working definition. Shift work and part-time working have been around for a long time but newer arrangements, including family contracts and job sharing, are starting to appear. The ultimate flexible worker could perhaps be the self-employed individual who has total control over when and where they get the work done.

Flexible working arrangements in an organisation can produce such benefits as increased commitment and loyalty, increased performance, retention of staff, recruitment and reduced absenteeism. The place of work has also become more flexible, encouraged by mobile and laptop technologies that allow people to work from their virtual office wherever they are.

At a time when productivity and increased competition are a priority, making a link between flexible working and organisational requirements is a key factor as it is important to recognise and profit from the benefits that flexible working can add, especially during these uncertain times of economic recession.

Some of the common concerns and issues where economic pressure affects the business are: pressure to reduce the headcount, pressure to cut costs and extracting maximum value from all business assets.

Cutting the headcount is a common response for struggling organisations; however, it may carry with it hidden costs which damage the organisation in the longer term. For example, getting rid of the business's most valuable assets, its staff, is dangerous for the long term success of the business as competitors can pick them up and add value to their businesses. Flexible working here, in the form of reduced hours working in its many different forms (part-time hours, job share, term- time working etc.), can be used to redistribute work across more reduced-hours posts. According to a survey of 1,200 business leaders (Leaders in London), most bosses intend to offer flexible working hours rather than pay rises to help retain their staff during the current economic downturn (Channel 4 News 11 August)

Avoiding the costs of both redundancy and recruiting new staff when business performance improves are achievable goals. The retention of skills and knowledge along with the commitment that employees will feel for an organisation which has actively sought to keep them on will be of benefit in eliciting high performance, which is crucial for the success of the organisation. As Linda Holbeche, CIPD director of Research and Policy points out, "People are usually prepared to go the extra mile if they believe in what they're doing, if they feel it's worthwhile, if they feel fairly treated and have the opportunity for personal growth".

It is also worth considering the employees that stay and how the reduction in demand for the number of employees affects them in terms of morale, increased workload and insecurity. Where an organisation gains its competitive edge from its people, the problem when it is cutting into the workforce is likely to be how to manage the same or increased workloads with fewer people and who are probably feeling unhappy with the organisation. Once more, flexible working can be used as a tool to keep employees balanced and focussed and feeling valued in the business as well as helping the organisation to handle more work.

For small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), flexible working can be a process which will probably be more direct and successful to the mutual benefit of business and employees, especially when times are tough.

Each employee is a key part for SME's everyday success as their competitive edge most of the times lies in their people. For example, when one person leaves, it has a much larger effect in an SME than in a bigger company. Therefore, using working methods which increase loyalty and motivation, like flexible working, should have a positive effect on performance.

Another way that flexible working can really make a difference is the ability to cut down business costs for premises, energy and travel, using the technology that is available today. For example, BT, as a way of reducing their estate costs and cutting their property portfolio, developed a home-based working programme which based people at their homes instead of in their offices, linking team members through software and hardware tools. They estimate that their saving from this approach were £450m per year. Moreover, absenteeism is reduced and retention has increased dramatically. Also, they cut down the cost of travel as much as possible by introducing techniques like phone and video conferencing and meetings with colleagues in different or even globally-located offices.

Most schemes of flexible working are extremely successful. However, there are some issues that need to be considered such us problems of fairness. For example, some departments require routine meetings timing in order to ensure that if the clients' requirements are met. In this instance, flexible working times can be seen as detrimental to efficiency. Lack of access to the right technology is can also be a block to home working for workers. Company culture and image also play a crucial part in the attitudes towards flexible working practices.

In conclusion, challenging economic times can be used as an opportunity to consider adopting a different strategic approach to working practices and improving the performance of the organisation. The rate of return on well-founded and planned flexible working projects can be very high leading to improved business performance on service delivery and customer satisfaction and reduced recruitment and retention costs.

Evaluate the recruitment methods used in an organisation with which you are familiar and recommend improvements.

In today's increasingly competitive environment, the biggest challenge is to identify and retain highly qualified and reliable employees. Organizations need to recruit quality people and to do so must implement and support a finely-tuned recruitment process which consists of three fundamental factors: to be effective in producing suitable candidates, to be efficient and cost-effective and be fair as well as legally sound to ensure decisions are made on merit. Rynes (1991) defined recruitment as encompassing "all organizational practices and decisions that affect either the number, or types, of individuals who are willing to apply for, or accept, a given vacancy" This is particularly relevant for Marcus Evans, one of the world's leading business information and event companies. One of its main concerns is to recruit the right people in order to achieve good growth and excellent customer service for its customers.

Marcus Evans is a tall, hierarchical structure organisation which has many levels of management and supervision. The organisation is functionally organised with separate departments for marketing, finance, operations, design, production, sales and it has a lot of employees from different cultures and backgrounds which create the need for the organisation to constantly recruit people.

When recruiting new employees, Marcus Evans sets out its skills requirements in two key documents. Together the "person specification" and the "job analysis" act as a checking device for both candidates to be able to match their own skills and qualifications to what is specified and for the business, enabling recruiters to make sure that applicants with the right skills are chosen for interview.

Since Marcus Evans is an International organisation, it recruits its people by two central types methods: the internal recruitment method by which the organisation fills its vacancies from within their existing workforce and the external recruitment method by which the organisation tries to find their suitable applicant from outside the business.

A number of recruitment methods can be used in order for organisations to create a pool of external applicants for a vacancy.

The primary method of external recruitment process used by Marcus Evans is to use their own resources which include their website and their own employees. Marcus Evans's website provides a wealth of details about the company and a list of vacancies and contact details. It makes it possible for applicants to download details about job and person specification and application forms. The advantages to advertising on their website include the potential to reduce recruitment costs and speed up the recruitment cycle, to reach a wide pool of potential applicants and make applying easier as audiences can access the website 24 hours a day.

In terms of current staff, an additional method of recruitment used by Marcus Evans is employee referrals: they encourage employees to nominate "potential recruits through their personal contacts" (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005 seated in Bloisi 2007) Recruiting candidates using employee referral is widely acknowledged as being the most cost- effective and efficient recruitment method to recruit candidates. However, it is a very norrow search technique since an organisation can only reach a very limited audience.In both cases, applicants must meet minimum skills requirements of qualifications or experience.

Another popular method of external recruitment used by Marcus Evans is the use of newsprint and other media sources. They advertise their vacancies through national or local press, professional journals and local commercial radio. Advertising is expensive and it is important to be selective in the choice of media, design, layout and contents. In addition, discounting cost, the most effective way to attract the right applicants in terms of qualification and experience is the professional journals. However, the downside of this source is that usually there is a delay between placing the advertisement and the publication date, leading to costly delays.

Moreover, before recruiting new external employees, Marcus Evans creates a pool of applicants to fill a vacancy from its internal employees. They do so by first sending internal applications using such methods of communications as email, team meetings, and the staff newsletter. According to Taylor (Taylor 2002 seated in Bloisi 2007), internal recruitment has several advantages for the organisation. Firstly, it is a relatively cheap way of recruiting; secondly, it gives employees more chances for career development and progression and, finally, internal applicants know what to expect in the job as well as how the organisation operates. This reduces the risk for the organisation has in knowing whether the new candidate is the right for the job.

Barber (1998) suggests that there are three recruitment phases that generate applicants and maintain their position. Firstly, the organization needs to reach out to potential applicants and persuade them to become applicants; secondly, it needs to persuade applicants to remain interested in the organisation and to continue to pursue the job opportunity until the organization determines whether to offer them a position, and, thirdly, it must attempt to persuade individuals to accept job offers. Furthermore, positive recruiting occurs with the review and analysis of company's recruiting staff, hiring goals and their overall recruiting budget. In this competitive employment marketplace, in order for organisations to increase their ability to attract more candidates, they must use multiple recruitment methods, have well- written position descriptions and manage to successfully market the organization to the potential candidates. "Organizations that know where they have been, where they are, and where they are going are on the way to achieving recruiting success." (G. Kameswari (2005))

In conclusion, Marcus Evans has proved that over the years that it has developed a successful recruitment approach since it has become one of the world's leading business event companies. However, in organisations with high levels of staff turnover such us Marcus Evans, it may not be necessary to undertake a job analysis for every vacancy that occurs. It can be more useful to engage in checking whether the existing job description and job specification are appropriate for future needs. (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005 seated in Bloisi 2007). Also, recruiting internal employees before considering looking for people outside the organisation means that the organisation doesn't benefit from fresh ideas brought by new recruits from outside. Last but not least, in the case of employee referral, unsuccessful referrals may lead to demotivated staff.

It is becoming clear that effective recruitment is critical to organizational success (Rynes, 1990). It is the heart of the whole HR systems in the organization. However, to best measure the effectiveness of different recruitment methods, organizations need to take note of feedback from internal customers, from employees and from external customers. Finally, the most accurate assessment of an organization's successful recruitment methods and processes is the true ability of the candidate as displayed on-the-job.

Critically review how an organisation with which you are familiar links its training strategy to its business strategy

Training and development not only has a positive impact for the individual but is also very important for the strategy and development of the organisation. "Training can be a powerful building-block for a foundation of understanding and skills that will help the organisation to reach business goals." (Frahm, M.L, Kathawala, Y, Motwani, J.G. 1994) Rapid changes in technology and in the business environment require every organization to invest in training for employees to create and maintain advantages for the organisation.

Marcus Evans is an international company and one of the world's leading business information and event companies. It creates major sector-focused events for business learning and networking opportunities across a variety of industries and professions. Marcus Evans's goals and objectives are to achieve good growth through time by diversifying its business base and increasing its presence in markets and segments that are growing rapidly. Their mission and vision is to provide their clients with the information and insights they need in order to sustain a valuable competitive advantage and enable their people to produce innovative, inspirational and indispensable products and services that will be actively sought by their clients. Also, they want to be respected and admired for the way they work and be seen by everyone (clients and staff) to have made a tangible and positive contribution to their success in business.

According to Cocheu (1992), "the vision, the direction, and the strategy of the company need to be combined and integrated into the training. If an organisation combines these elements into the training programme, a "training strategy" will result that will guide management to achieve organisational goals." Marcus Evans staff know that the organisation has tasks as well as important goals to achieve and that their contribution is important for the organisation to succeed. In this context, individualised behaviours do not count any more: teamwork has become one of the organisation's main values and all members of the organisation share full responsibility for what happens in the processes developed by the company as a whole, as well as in their specific field of activity.

The method of training strategy that Marcus Evans uses is the "in-house strategy" in which the training programme is run by the organisation and is designed to specifically meet organisational needs and goals.

The first stage of Marcus Evans's training programme is to give everyone the big picture and the overall strategy of the company in both the short and long term. Each employee receives the company's mission statement as a part of his or her general orientation. By making them realize where the company is going, the employees will get a better understanding of the difference that their contributions will make to the achieving of the company's long-term goals and objectives.

In order for Marcus Evans to cover performance- related problems in their training and for their employees to have the necessary knowledge and skills they need to achieve the company's vision and strategy, they have to follow a programme which consists of three fundamental components:

* Instructional Media, which are considered to supply trainees with basic knowledge of Marcus Evans techniques through workshops.

* Systematic coaching approach, consisting of task checklists and time- phased performance targets.

* Behavioural attitude and awareness improvement, towards facilitating the training programme objectives

Taking a performance management approach to training means that the training effort must make sense in terms of what the company wants each of its employees to contribute to the company goals. (Dessler G 2005)

In order that all Marcus Evans employees can manage successfully to solve organisational problems and improve processes and activities, they need to be given the right skills. Marcus Evans has included a training system in to their employees' work schedule in order to teach them the skills to meet customer expectation as well as the company's aims and objectives. Those skills are:

* Team work skills: team work plays a relevant and important role for the smooth running of the organisation

* Work process skills: help the employees to increase the usage of their individual expertise and become actively committed to the needs and satisfaction of their customers

* Customer partnership skills: help the employees to learn how to create partnership with both internal and external customers.

Armstrong (2003) pointed out: "Organization with a positive training philosophy understand that they live in world where competitive advantage is achieved by having higher quality people than other firms employ, and that this need will not be satisfied unless they invest in developing the skill and competence of people."

It is important that skills-training be well timed. According to Ferketish and Hayden (1992), trainees will be more interested and ready to learn if they can apply the skills they have learned immediately instead of waiting months. Marcus Evans manages to accomplish that since the organisation follows an in-house training strategy which gives the employees the opportunity to practise their new skills immediately and identify any areas that need improvement.

The last step of Marcus Evans's training programme is the evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme. Marcus Evans, through customer satisfaction and employee evaluation, determine whether the organisation's training programme has been successful. In addition, another important element of their training evaluation is to measure the cost of the training that they provide and to be sure that they are putting the funds to good use.

Marcus Evans provides quality training for new employees, which integrate the direction, the strategy and the vision of the company as well as the skills that employees need in order to achieve those organisational goals. In addition, as a way to measure their achievements in meeting organisational goals and objectives, each department of the company is responsible for monthly operating system goals which include a monthly goal, a yearly goal, year-to-date actual and action plans. The operating system plans are reviewed by top management in each department. Training goes hand-in-hand with establishing excellence in the organisation's work culture.

Personal Reflective Account

The HR function is part of the generality of management and part of the responsibility of all managers and supervisors. The HR manager, as a separate entity, operates in terms of a functional relationship that is as a specialist advisor on employment matters and on the implementation of policies through all departments of the organisation. It is the job of the HR manager to provide specialist knowledge and services for line managers and to support them in the performance of their jobs. The range and scope of HRM activities are very wide and may be considered within the framework of the following broad headings:

* Human resource planning

* Recruitment, selection and induction

* Salary and wage administration including related reward systems

* Organisational design and patterns of work

* Education, training and development

* Employee relations, discrimination and

* Employee services, welfare, health and safety

In any organisation, staff form the major resource. It is also the most expensive one. For these reasons, successful recruitment and retention of the right staff is crucial to the success of the organisation. This is why HRM plays a pivotal role in the running of a modern business: they play a key role in the recruitment and selection of staff and so their specialist skills are used to ensure that the right applicant is placed in the right position. HRM then ensures that the worker's conditions are favourable and conducive to productivity. Allied to this, HRM also ensures that all current legislation is observed and so no difficulties are created either for the employee or the organisation.

I also believe that good relations between employer and employee are crucial to the success of any organisation. Good working relationships contribute to customer satisfaction and thus customer loyalty. This is because the employee will want the company to succeed and so will work hard and use their skills and knowledge to ensure that success. This, in turn, means that they will have more assured employment.

HRM plays a vital role here, too. Staff feel more secure when they know that they are valued and when their rights are respected. For example, good HRM ensures that there is no discrimination within the organisation. It also demonstrates to employees that the pay structure is fair and evenly-handled so there is no feeling of resentment amongst staff.

Training, both for new recruits as well as for established employees, needs to be carefully considered and effectively planned so that its benefits are evident both in terms of increased skills and knowledge amongst the staff but also in increased productivity and profit for the company. Closely linked to the notion of training is performance management. Focus groups can effectively inform the company of the success of its training. Evaluation forms also serve to inform management of the value and effectiveness of training activities and help them to plan for future training. All of this is the responsibility of the HRM team.

To sum up, I believe that no forward-thinking organisation can afford to ignore the significant role played by HRM in its success both as a producer of profit and as an employer of people. I plan to work in my father's small but growing company which does not have a designated HRM team. Therefore, it will be vital for me to understand the principles of good staff recruitment and management in order to assure the ongoing success of the business. I shall be directly concerned with the recruitment and retention of staff as the business grows and so I shall be able to use the knowledge and skills I have gained during this module to help my father expand and continue to succeed in his publishing business.

Bibliography

Platronics Sound Innovation Plc, 2009. Attitudes Toward Flexible Working Practices Triumph Despite Recession [Online] Available at: www.PlantronicsPressRoom.com[Accessed 10 Dec 2010].

Working Families Briefing, Nov 2008. "Flexible working in a challenging economic climate" [Online] Available at: www.workingfamilies.org.uk [Accessed

10 Dec 2010].

Now Let's Get Started, 2009. "Supporting your staff: work life balance policies" [Online] Available at: www.nowletsgetstarted.com[Accessed 10 Dec 2010].

Mercer, M., 2009. "Flexible working benefits must be realised" [Online] Available at: www.personneltoday.com (Personnel today magazine)[Accessed 10 Dec 2010].

Belkin, L., 2009. "Flexible Work in a Recession" [Online] Available at: www.thenewyorktimes.com (New York Time Magazine)[Accessed 10 Dec 2010].

Inman, P., 2009. "Slump spells the end for our traditional nine to five"[Online] Available at: www.theguardian.co.uk (The Observer Magazine)[Accessed 10 Dec 2010].

Thomson, P., "The business benefits of flexible working, Strategic" HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 2, 2008, pp. 17-22

Ruiz, Y. and Walling, A. (2005), ''Home-based working using communication technologies'', Labour Force Survey, Labour Market Division, Office for National Statistics, London, October.

Barber AE. (1998). Recruiting employees: individual and organizational perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rynes SL, Barber AE. (1990). Applicant attraction strategies: An organizational perspective. Academy of Management Review, 15,286-310.

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