Flexible Working Hours - Does it work?Flexible working hours have been a long-standing debate and being an HR professional, we are used to seeing both sides of the coin! Well, it definitely does not mean ‘leaving early on Fridays or coming late on Mondays?  Let’s debate whether flexibility is still linked as an option of increasing organisational performance in accordance with Atkinson’s model of a flexible firm (1984) or is it or has it been another HR fad which every organisation wants to have its hand on?It has been emphasised on and again that complexity and desirability of flexibility in organisations can be extremely challenging considering the changing economic situations across the globe. Flexibility comes across as being implemented in a pragmatic and opportunistic way rather than strategically which can have direct impacts on organisational effectiveness. Nevertheless, flexibility seems to be an important element of managing human capital to successfully adapt to changing the environment and achieve a competitive edge by overcoming organisational rigidity. Moreover, for continued economic success and competitiveness, HRM is expected to acclimatize rapidly to technological advancement, change management and workforce diversity (Yes, HR is a bunch of superheroes and that’s not debatable).

The research conducted by Atkinson in the early 1980s highlighted various forms of flexibility that can help develop a flexible firm model and suggested organisations are progressing towards moulding policies and practices alongside business strategy. The flexible firm model suggested a framework based on numerical, financial, temporal and functional flexibility which could help overcome rigidities prevalent in organisations as well as cost reduction in terms of linking employee performance separated from definite rules and procedures. But has it been implemented that easily and smoothly? That’s a question every organisation seems to be asking in terms of its qualitative benefits.

Atkinson’s model of flexible firm explains ‘functional flexibility’ as multi-skilled employees, ‘numerical flexibility’ as using different forms of contracts and subcontracts, hence dividing the workforce in core and periphery, ‘temporal’ as revising work hours and ‘financial’ as linking pay with performance.

Atkinson illustrates ‘numerical flexibility’ as various alternatives such as part-time contracts, temporary roles and zero hour contracts (globally used now especially in Europe & US) which further provides an edge to a firm globally, to respond to changing economic demands and be able to move employees in and out proactively. Functional flexibility, however, focuses on teamwork and enlarging job responsibilities and required skill sets for a particular job whereas ‘temporal flexibility’ shifts away from customised work patterns and highlights the development of shift systems.  Financial flexibility, on the other hand, emphasises on linking pay with performance leading to the emergence of individual pay regimes. As for instance, working overtime for core workers may reflect against the core principles of Atkinson’s model of a flexible firm, hence implying the ambiguity linked with the division of the workforce becomes quite evident here?

Armstrong further defines flexibility in terms of two facets i.e. employee perspective and employer perspective that can be challenging in measuring or evaluating its success. However, flexible employees with a capability to move outside specific roles and flexible organisations to create opportunities to enable them can build a strong cultural environment as claimed by Torrington et.al. 2008. Many authors argue flexibility as a ‘feel-good’ factor which is considered better than rigidity by default without understanding its prospective challenges. Additionally, absolute flexibility becomes questionable as proposed phenomenology should facilitate prevalent structural regularities of an organisation. Flexibility might reflect management control over committed employees to achieve financial profits, although it may implement different strategies and procedures to achieve desired results as an outcome (HR are you listening?)

Agreed, flexibility may benefit organisations in loosening its general policies and procedures, encouraging multi-skilled capabilities, building a healthy work culture and improving the performance of an organisation as a whole, however, its acceptance, implementation and success might differ across industries, sectors and ever-changing economic climate.

Coming back to the popular Atkinson’s model of the flexible firm which distinguishes workforce into ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ that can further determine internal hierarchical structures and identify highly skilled and non-skilled workers imperative in developing organisational effectiveness. Atkinson non apologetically distinguishes ‘core workforce’ as highly skilled employees directly recruited by an organisation with an authority to participate in decision making, however, employees with low wages, decreased job security and minimal authority can be distinguished as ‘periphery’ workforce. However, it is quite a contradiction in assessing flexibility as a strategic move for organisations as competitiveness seems to increase adoption of bureaucratic systems, although it is also evident that part-time roles, outsourcing and subcontracting are gaining momentum in the current economic environment all over the globe (India buckle up).

Focusing on various viewpoints here, dividing the workforce into ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ might hinder employee morale of the latter (My opinion clearly!!!)and lead to job enlargements rather than job enrichment. As for example, core workforce delegating too much work to a peripheral group or lack of investment in training by organisations may result in biased privileges and slower economic growth??? It has been stressed that flexibility can be advantageous in utilising employees for multiple roles specifically in economic downturns, which further enables an organisation to stay within their financial constraints. Although the adaption to flexibility might be favourable for smaller enterprises than larger firms with their systematic and bureaucratic systems already in place. On a similar note, flexibility might be favourable in smaller organisations as it might add to their competitive advantage over larger setups in the market???

My colleagues in various organisations have however stressed that the major cause of concern for organisations in adapting flexibility is the unpredictability and uncertainty of provisions provided to the customers due to flexible working hours.(Guess what we all agreed on the absolute concerns). Moreover, the apprehension of losing control over employees, inability to meet targets and drifting from focused schedules might restrict flexibility to only a potential strategy (Again we all agreed especially terming it as a debatable strategic move)!Moreover, progression and acceptance of change may rely on the extended role of line managers which are often targeted as being insufficiently trained and unfamiliar? (Already an issue) However, flexibility can also very easily fit into HR strategy of retaining committed and talented workforce making ‘work-life balance’ a part of their reward programmes?Now an eternally optimistic HR professional, may not give up and suggest – An investment in line management training can benefit in coordinating and influencing the bottom line profits related to flexibility which could enable an organisation to stay ahead of its competitors.

Nevertheless, it is indeed crucial for organisations to empower line managers with decision making as for example a team of employees can be successfully managed with flexibility by placing them on jobs that match their skill sets. However, limited knowledge of personnel issues and lack of training in people management can prove to be contradictory in achieving desired results from the line managers as well. Moreover, technical competence plays an important role in sustaining flexibility as it is likely to get challenged where organisations lack appropriate training initiatives and updated technological advancement.

Linking performance and flexibility might be a questionable debate as ‘flexible’ could reflect as ‘temporary’ making it strategically incorrect for organisations to retain the best talent. Flexibility is not solely based on building a multi-skilled workforce, it is also imperative to implement HR systems that can be easily adapted in accordance with changing economic demands.  The stigma attached with flexibility and security making it highly questionable for organisations to continuously make efforts to overcome the challenge of losing employee commitment. Unfortunately, flexibility still suffers from a distinction of soft sides such as ‘work-life balance’ and hard side such as ‘cost cutting’ and ‘job insecurity’ hence making it appear more opportunistic rather than an earned privilege. Evidently, contradicting Atkinson’s model of a flexible firm and its principles of workforce division, the new form of ‘flexibility’ is quite contingent on several factors such as government legislation, change and innovation, economic differences, employee perceptions, employer expectations and various financial impacts associated with organisational performance.

It is still speculative (after so many years of debatable opinions)whether flexibility is beneficiary in terms of financial gains or a utopia. Flexibility has often been questioned and considered as a feel-good factor although it is clear that irrespective of its challenges, organisations are embracing it with open arms(at least in some countries). Moreover, Atkinson’s model although criticised by several authors is still prevalent after two decades, hence implying that flexibility is continuously gaining recognition even though it still lacks effective implementation. However, concerns related to flexibility such as job losses and cost-cutting seem to overshadow the positive elements such as work-life balance and multi-skilled workforce.

On a similar note, flexibility debate of being a long term accomplishment or a solution to a specific problem is still gaining its momentum as several authors are contradicting their own research in terms of its adaptability and acceptance in the current economy. However, it cannot be ignored that Atkinson’s model of a flexible firm still exists, although it’s often modified and referred to as ‘strategic flexibility’ or ‘resource flexibility’. Atkinson’s model is far from being a win-win situation for both employees and employers as strategic HRM is still struggling to gain recognition further implying that flexibility is not a prerequisite, it is an optional strategy especially when the economic downturn is witnessed. Flexibility being a core strategy seems to share a similar platform as HRM being strategically inclined, making both progressing concepts in its nurturing stage rather than a sure shot accomplishment. Last but not the least, next ten years are likely to be less speculative in ‘where does HR stand’ which would further decipher the rationale of choosing flexibility as a core strategy and a mandatory element in attaining success.

http://www.indianhrassociates.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Flexible-working-hours.jpghttp://www.indianhrassociates.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Flexible-working-hours-150x130.jpgNitika BhandariProductivityFlexi hours,Flexible working,HR culture,individual,individual leadership,productivity,Work life BalanceFlexible working hours have been a long-standing debate and being an HR professional, we are used to seeing both sides of the coin! Well, it definitely does not mean ‘leaving early on Fridays or coming late on Mondays?  Let’s debate whether flexibility is still linked as an option of...Connecting HR - The only big thing