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The Improving Conditions of Flexible Work Are Blurring the World of Work, but It Is a Useful Form of Flexible Contract for Employers. Critically Examine This Contention?

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The improving conditions of flexible work are blurring the world of work, but it is a useful form of flexible contract for employers. Critically examine this Contention?

Flexibility with in the work place really took off in the early 1980's. Research by John Atkinson discovered that organisations were beginning to see the importance of flexibility within the workforce. From this he developed the model of the flexible firm (Atkinson 1984), which claimed two types of flexibility; numerical and functional. The first deals with employing extra workers (part-time, temporary or contract) to meet fluctuations in demand and the second deals with the ease in which employees can switch between tasks and jobs within the organisation. Although Atkinson's model still remains a valued tool in today's society, flexibility within a workplace has now become much broader. Johnson (2004) explains, 'flexible arrangements tend to include part time or reduced hours, additional career breaks, assistance with child care and eldercare, extensions to statutory maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, emergency leave working, job sharing, compressed work weeks, voluntary reduced time, flexible work schedules and working from home programmes'. All these arrangements have there advantages as well as disadvantages, but collectively show how work practices have changed and developed.

Over the last twenty years there has been a huge growth in the number of flexible workers within all employment sectors (Beatson 1995). Nearly ten years on, in spring 2003, according to Government National Statistics, 17.9% of men and 26.7% of women of all employed were involved in flexible working practices. Studies by Kerslake and Goulding (1996) show that within the UK Library and Information Services, flexible workers account for 40% of the entire workforce. These statistics really emphasis the importance flexibility plays for all organisations.

Flexibility has to be looked at from two perspectives; the employer and the employee. For the employer, it allows him to ask staff to cover when demand is high and for the employee to arrange work around other commitments such as children, caring responsibilities and leisure activities. In a perfect world these two views work in harmony with each other. The harsh reality is that generally the format will favour one side more than the other so several issues occur. The introduction of flexible working patterns has blurred the world of work. The way organisations now work is much different from the way they used too a couple of decades ago, where it would have been unthought-of to allow workers to work from home.

One practice of flexible working, as mentioned above, is employers allowing some employees to work from home. This has only been made possible through the increase in technology now available allowing employees to be networked through internet links and contacted through mobile phone. On first glance it seems to be a good idea for both parties. For the employee it can be seen as a high responsible position and also bringing a sense of empowerment. Not having to travel into work everyday cuts out costs of travelling as well as creating huge time savings. For the employer, it frees up expensive office space or they can employ more people to meet business demands. On top of this he benefits from the increased motivation and productivity of staff.

Looking at more depth into such a flexible pattern of work throws up many more pressing issues. Firstly, there is issue of control or lack of it. Even with all the increased technologies, it is still hugely based upon trust, as workers can not be monitored as they are within the business environment. It is open to huge abuse that might not be able to be picked up by employers. Employees could work to the least expected to satisfy instead of pushing to increase their potential. The questions arise whether there should be restrictions on use of company equipment out of hours. This point leads nicely into a second issue of cost. Should the employer face the full cost of the PC, telephone and internet links? Other big grey areas appear when it comes to who should pay for the insurance of the equipment. Is it the responsibility of the employer or the owner of the house? The same is also true for any damage to the equipment, should the employer pay for the repairs if it has been done by another family member, say a young child. In several cases people would assume that it should be the responsibility of the employer. However surely it is important to take into account the huge savings that employees are making from petrol and travel costs. Also due to the lack of possible control is the employer ever going to have enough information, owing to the huge trust element, to ever make an informed and fair decision?

On the Employee's side there are just as pending issues. When employees work from home then they are at risk of never being away from the office, being at work twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. In Britain this is a particular risk due to the 'long hour culture' which occurs in so many businesses. Lewis and Cooper (1988) claim this 'long hour culture' results in family conflict and stress. If employees are working from home then this is a huge risk. Other employees can always escape the stress of the workplace when they get home, although if work is at home then the threat of affecting family members is that much greater. There is the huge danger that the boundaries between home and work severely blur and become one. Employees can also feel excluded from the organisation, spending the whole day alone and it has been claimed that flexible workers are treated differently than normal workers.

Syrett and Lammiman (1994) have argued that in a lot of cases flexible workers have no formal career appraisal and generally have no opportunity for training or promotion. Due to the flexible nature of their jobs, workers are often unable to build up friendships within an organisation. This can lead them to becoming less motivated, developed and feeling less valued in the workforce. Maslow's (1954) 'Hierarchy of Needs' offers an explanation for this, as the employee is failing to receive the third level of social need. Without this level being fulfilled, then according to this theory, employees will not be able to further develop and not be motivated. All in all employees in flexible work practices can feel left out and as a result will not be very committed to the organisation ( MacDonald and Makin, 2000).

Research by Goulding and Kerslake (1997) in to the UK Library and Information workforce, a sector with high numbers of flexible workers, found a training gap for many flexible workers. This is generally

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