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Question: Analyze the factors that have led to organizations adopting flexible working practices and family-friendly policies, and the different ways in which they have done so.
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The concept of flexibility in employment refers, in general, to the process by which the time and patterns of work are arranged in a way that meets employees’ and employers’ needs. It can be also concluded from the countries covered in this volume that the labour markets of most countries in the world are characterized by the use of flexible working practices and flexible management and organization practices. The rise in the use of flexible working practices is closely related to a number of economic, political and social changes (Nord et al., 2002; Felstead et al., 2002; de Ruyter and Burgess, 2003; De Cieri et al., 2005). Today, the main aim of much organizational change is flexibility, allowing organizations to survive and to be competitive in a complex and uncertain business environment. Organizations of different sectors, sizes and types have been forced by economic, social and political pressures to look for alternative ways of improving their employment relations and their responsiveness to fluctuations in their activities (Pettinger, 1998). The standard pattern of working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, under a permanent contract, is no more the norm in many industrialized countries. Non-standard ways of employment have been adopted extensively (Lewis and Lewis, 1996).
Organizations operate in a world of increasing globalization and as a result are faced with greater competition, changes in demographic trends, and growing concerns over shortages in skilled labour. The demand for more highly skilled workers and new technologies leads to a reorganization of work and the increasing need for flexible working hours (Pettinger, 1998). Therefore, most countries have experienced a significant increase in part-time work, job sharing, temporary work, flexitime, home-based working, teleworking, freelancing, etc. Such forms of employment have been associated with increased levels of outsourcing, subcontracting, networking, franchising, and niche marketing. Global trends in flexible labour can be seen as a manifestation of the dynamics of international labour markets. There is no doubt that ‘labour markets around the world are becoming more segmented, fragmented and fractured’ (Felstead and Jewson, 1999: 17). Moreover, the introduction of policies that offer employees the opportunity to balance home and work commitments has become an important part of many companies’ strategic commitment to their employees in different countries. For example, Ford’s Worklife Initiative provides for transitional work arrangements, flexitime, telecommuting, child care, parenting, care of the elderly, wellness and fitness. Many companies in the US and the EU offer attractive packages aimed at retaining and enticing back employees who cannot work full-time (Nord et al., 2002; Felstead et al., 2002; De Cieri et al., 2005).
In-text citation: (Branine, 2011, p. 572)
Flexible working practices
Flexible working practices such as part-time work, job sharing, temporary work, flexitime, home-based working, etc., are used by employers in order to retain their valued employees and to basically respond to their needs, because they might otherwise have to leave their jobs. However, countries differ in their use of flexible working practices according to their social structures, cultures, employment laws and regulations, and their levels of economic growth (Felstead and Jewson, 1999).
Social processes within labour markets and workplaces are shaped and influenced by relationships between economic institutions and the wider social system. According to Felstead and Jewson (1999), an understanding of the growth in flexible working practices cannot be complete without an analysis of broader societal contexts (welfare systems, family structures and gender relations). In many countries opportunities for working flexibly are still very limited, and when practised they were introduced by private sector and multinational companies because most of their workforce work full-time in public sector organizations. Among the countries of the EU, the Netherlands, which is characterized by a highly regulated market, has the highest proportion of part-time workers (Allan and Daniels, 1999). Similarly, the Scandinavian countries have high levels of part-time and temporary employment. The UK has a high proportion of part-time employees, but most of them are women who have chosen to be so voluntarily for family and domestic reasons, while in other European countries such as France, Germany and Italy it seems that unemployment and government policies have contributed to an increase in part-time employment among women and men of all ages.
Although there is no conclusive evidence of a direct relationship between deregulation of the labour market and flexible employment (Brewster and Scullion, 1997; Standing, 1997), there is some evidence of flexible working practices being introduced as a result of employment legislation aimed at reducing unemployment or creating equal opportunities in employment. ‘The governments of European countries such as Germany, France and Spain have been actively involved in the process of regulating and re-regulating their labour markets in order to reduce unemployment’ (Branine, 1999: 424). In many Western countries employment legislation concerning the minimum wage, the number of hours worked in a week, redundancy rights and benefits, maternity and paternity provisions, has contributed to the use of flexible working. Such regulations are not new in many developing countries, but their implementation seems to be geared towards full-time employment. We have seen from the preceding chapters of this volume that full-timeness, or working full time, is still the norm in many countries, although part-time work is on the increase.
In-text citation: (Branine, 2011, p. 572)
The main factors that have sparked a growing interest in implementing family-friendly policies include demographic changes, changes in family values and expectations, changes in business needs and objectives, the overlapping roles of work and family, and government legislation. Increasing competition is forcing organizations to consider all methods of improving quality and reducing operating costs. Considerable savings on recruitment and training can be made if employees are encouraged to stay by providing family-friendly policies and flexible working practices. Many national and international organizations have realized that it would be more cost-effective to employ people flexibly by offering them the opportunity to balance work and family commitments, than to lose them and have to recruit and train new ones. What is important for good business is the retention of skilful and experienced employees regardless of their age, gender, ethnic origin or disability. Therefore the implementation of family friendly policies has become a commonplace activity in many industrialized countries over the world.
The term ‘family-friendly policies’ is used to describe employment policies that may help employees to combine their work and family commitments. These include a wide range of provisions that can be classified into five schemes:
- Leave for family reasons such as maternity and paternity leave, school holiday leave, wedding and funeral attendance, and breaks as a result of a problem or illness in the family. Maternity leave for a certain time after the birth is a principal right for all women in the world. Some organizations, especially in Western, industrialized countries offer their female employees enhanced conditions in the form of extended leave or additional maternity pay to improve the retention of skilled and experienced employees.
- Flexible working practices such as job sharing, part-time work, annual hours, home-based working, flexitime, and flexiplace.
- Career break schemes allow employees to take a break for a specific period and then return to work (Wooding, 1995). They are normally considered for those who have child-care responsibilities, those caring for dependants, those who would like to study, and those who may be involved in voluntary work. This policy may appeal to women who want take a break in order to have a family or those people who may want to update their skills and qualifications.
- Childcare facilities such as: crèche facilities, vouchers, allowances and holiday provisions; elderly care facilities such as home care visits, club services and medical attendance; and disabled care facilities such as the provision of transport, accessibility, medical help, etc.
- Special leave arrangements that are granted when employees need to be absent from work in circumstances not covered by sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, family leave or flexible working arrangements. Instances where such arrangements may be used include bereavement, adoption or domestic problems.
There are many examples of successful implementation of family friendly policies by private and public sector organizations in different countries (Stredwick and Ellis, 1998; Felstead and Jewson, 1999; Dastmalchian and Blyton, 1998; Felstead et al., 2002; De Cieri et al., 2005), but the credibility of the flexibility thesis is widely discussed and heavily criticized (Pollert, 1988a,b; Blossfeld and Hakim, 1997; Nord et al., 2002). There is no doubt that the number of flexible working practices has increased, but, as Payne and Payne (1993) argue, such an increase may be partly in response to the growth in service sector jobs which tend to be non-standard and the growth in demand for flexible working from employees who prefer to work flexibly for various reasons. Flexible working meets the demands of many sections of the population, such as young people studying, older people before and after retirement, people suffering from a partial incapacity to work full time, and those employees with caring responsibilities.
In-text citation: (Branine, 2011, p. 573)
Reference: Branine, M. (2011). Managing across cultures: Concepts, policies and practices. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. ISBN: 9781849207294
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