Q1. "What are the benefits of flexibility for employers? What are the disadvantages? How might these be overcome?"
In the context of employer interest, ‘flexibility’ refers to practices that provisionally adjust a workforce to achieve strategic objectives (Grimshaw et al., 2016). Three recognisable ‘flexibility’ frameworks include ‘functional’, the frequent reassignment of staff between activities/tasks/operations to meet altering priorities, ‘structural’, a tripartite workforce containing a permanent core of valuable skills, a peripheral group consisting of generalised skill, an external workforce outsourcing skill, and ‘numerical’, wherein headcount fluctuates according to demand (Armstrong & Taylor, 2023). Examples of each in practice range from on-call work (‘functional’), job sharing (‘structural’), and seasonal workers (‘numerical’).
There are several associated benefits for employers to utilise ‘flexibility’ practices from practical, efficiency, and cost benefits (Grimshaw et al., 2016). With the example of seasonal workers, employers in the retail sector typically experience increased demand during peak seasons. Utilising seasonal workers benefits this employer because it can access more staff without permanently expanding the workforce. Another example could include zero-hour contracts. That is, agreements made without employer obligation to sustain a given number of weekly working hours. Such an arrangement may benefit employers because, in the absence of a consistent salary, zero-hour workers only work when the employer requires particular tasks completed, thereby lowering cost.
Despite the apparent benefit to employers, such practices do raise some concerns. Particularly to job security, work-life balance, and reduced rights through assorted employment statuses (i.e., worker or self-employed). HRM practitioners can alleviate some of these issues by strategically managing fair and supportive practices. In particular, HRM can ensure employer compliance with employment legal/regulatory frameworks or by adopting a collaborative approach between the employer and workers (Armstrong & Taylor, 2023).
- Armstrong, M., & Taylor, S. (2023). Managing flexibility. In Armstrong’s Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of People Management (16th ed., pp. 303-308). Kogan Page.
- Grimshaw, D., Keizer, A., & Rubery, J. (2016). Flexibility bites back: the multiple and hidden costs of flexible employment policies. Human Resource Management Journal, 26(3), 235-251. https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12092
Q2. "What do you think the role of individual HR practitioners should be in achieving 'better work'?"
In 2017, the UK government commissioned an independent review entitled “Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices”. Its purpose was to consider the impact of emergent work types (i.e., gig workers/economy) on workers’ rights in the UK labour market. The review introduces the concept of ‘better work’. It encourages greater fairness, esteem, and legal protection for working people regardless of employment status (i.e., employee, worker, or self-employed) (Broadbent et al., 2017). Areas of significant interest to those managing personnel and personnel-related resources within organisations, such as HR practitioners.
The Taylor Review broadly defined ‘better work’ as work offering job security, fair treatment, and development opportunities (Broadbent et al., 2017). These ideals are already familiar to HR practitioners who support the success of organisations through attracting, recruiting, and training employees. However, there are specific actions HR practitioners can champion to achieve Taylor Review’s definition of ‘better work’. Namely, developing and implementing workplace policies/procedures expressly promoting security, fairness, and development (CIPD, 2017). HR could do this by materially supporting employee career progression through job design, advocating stronger legal protections for workers, and accommodating the changing needs of personnel through flexible work arrangements (i.e., remote working) (CIPD, 2017).
Associated barriers to achieving these measures come from many avenues. The management or employees of organisations could resist change and not support the proposals (Armstrong & Taylor, 2023). Another barrier would be the constrained resources and budget, alongside inadequate influence/power of HR practitioners to drive change alone. HR may also lack specific data/information necessary to make informed decisions on meaningfully improving employee well-being and workplace conditions. Despite these barriers, individual HR practitioners can still strategically promote ‘better work’ by working closely with other functions, leveraging evidence, and nurturing employee/stakeholder partnerships (Armstrong & Taylor, 2023).
- Armstrong, M., & Taylor, S. (2023). Influencing skills. Political skills. In Armstrong’s Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of People Management (16th ed., pp. 659-661, pp. 683-685). Kogan Page.
- Broadbent, P., Marsh, G., Nicol, D., & Taylor, M. (2017). Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Retrieved 30 January 2023, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices
- CIPD. (2017). Taylor Review: Response to Matthew Taylor’s Review of Modern Employment Practices. Retrieved 30 January 2023, from https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/policy-engagement/consultations/modern-working-practices