Human Resource Management: Flexible Working Practices

Introduction

Labor relations are important for all organizations. Labor relations are the relationship between a company’s upper management and the rest of its employees. Any dealings between the management and workers about the employment conditions in the organization can be broadly referred to as labor relations. There is a difference in labor relations of different countries in terms of the flexible working practices “Flexible work practices are non-traditional work arrangements that allow staff to remain productive employees and still meet the employers’ work needs.” What Are Flexible Work Practices? (Flexible Work Practices).

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Now the employers are allowing flexible working practices in organizations because it offers a number of benefits to them such as reduction of unnecessary recruitment costs, lead higher staff morale, diversity, and fairness throughout the workplace, etc. The employees also have some benefit from flexible working practice because they have to balance their family and work life. It gives them a feeling of value at work and control through flexibility, helps them to balance work-life, and keep a good relationship with the management, etc.

Flexible working practices in the UK

In the UK the employers are offering a wide range of flexible working patterns to the employees. The increased flexibility in working is allowed not just because the employers are required to do so by legislation. This is because the employers identified that the flexibility in working benefits both the staff and their business. Today the employees are also demanding flexible working facilities because they expect to have more control over their working lives and it allows them to balance their family and work life and also helps them to meet financial circumstances.

The UK government is encouraging employers to provide flexible working conditions for the employees and conducted surveys to identify the participation of employers and employees in the flexible working practice. Trade unions are also playing an important role in regulating work time and workload allocation through collective bargaining. “There were wide variations in terms of the availability of different flexible working options. The most widely available option was the flexible start and finish times. The least likely option available was term-time working. Other arrangements available to the majority of those in the survey were the option to work from home at times and job share or part-time working. Only around a third of employees had the option of contracted or annualized hours or flexible shift patterns.” (Daniels and French 2006).

The types of flexible working practice used in the UK are as follows:

Part-time working

In the UK the employers are giving the option for part-time working to their employees. The work is considered part-time when the employees are contracted to work for anything less than full-time hours. “A part-time worker is someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker. There’s no specific number of hours that makes someone full or part-time, but a full-time worker will usually work 35 hours or more a week.” (Employees: Part-Time Work).

Term-time working

In term-working, the worker remains in a permanent contract but they can take paid or unpaid leave during school holidays.

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Job sharing

Job sharing allows employees to share the responsibility of a job between two or more people. Job sharing is a form of part-time work.

Compressed hours

“Compressed hours allow individuals to work their total number of agreed hours over a shorter period. For example, employees might work their full weekly hours over four rather than five days. They would be paid for a full-time job but would not receive overtime payments for the agreed extra hours they work in any one day.” (Flexible Working: The Right to Request and Duty to Consider).

Annual hours

Annual hours are the period within which a full-time employee should work over a whole year.

Flexi-time

In flexi-time, option employees can choose their actual working hours and they are paid for the hours they work.

Working from home on a regular basis

This allows employees to work from their homes regularly.

Mobile working or teleworking

This facility permits employees to work all or all parts of their working week at any location remote from the employer’s workplace. Thus the employees do not have to spend all the time in their workplace.

Career breaks

Career breaks are extended periods of leave for up to five years or more. These are normally unpaid leaves.

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These are some of the flexible practices in the UK. The employees who had used some of the options showing a high degree of satisfaction. These schemes have a positive effect on both the employees and employers. There is a good relationship between the management and the employees. These practices have some disadvantages also. There is a wide difference between contractual and actual weekly working hours. The employees have to work for a long time. Some of the workers were not able to take holiday entitlements, and they have to come for work due to their heavy workload. They are facing work-related stress and this creates serious health problems. The work had an impact on their family life and friends. “Even when flexible working options exist, many employees fear that working flexibility will undermine their career prospects. Some organizations are working hard to develop career tracks, and changing meetings and other organizational arrangements to enable flexible working.” (The High-Performance Organization: Creating).

Flexible working practices in the US

The concept of flexible working practice in the US evolved in 1960 but it gained popularity only in the 1990s. “During the 1960s, many companies in the US implemented flexible work schedules, and at the same time, other types of work options apart from flexible work hours were evolved. FWOs were generally classified as flexible location, time and contracts.” (A Flexible Work Place Contd… 2002)

With the advancement of technology developments and communication systems within the workplace flexible working practices increasingly gained importance.

Flexible location

A flexible location means working at a location that is more favorable for a particular work. The flexible location includes working on the move, working from the home, and working from telecentres or satellite offices, location- independent working, remote working anywhere any time working, etc. “Remote working enables employees to be productive when away from the usual work location.” (Marks 2000).

Part-time

A part-time option is allowed to the employees by their employers.

Job sharing

Here two part-time employees voluntarily share the duties and responsibilities of a job.

Compressed Work Weeks

In this option, the full-time employees complete their 80-hour weekly work requirements in fewer than ten 8 hour days.

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Flexitime

“A flexible work schedule that splits the 8-hour workday into 2 distinct kinds of time – core hours and flexible hours. An employee must be at work during core hours and must account for the total number of hours he/she is scheduled to work.” (US Department for Justice Work-life Program: Flexible Work Options – Terms and Definitions. 2005).

Flexi tour

In this option, if an employee once selected starting and stopping times within the flexible hours have to continue in that time.

Credit Hours

A credit hour is an hour in excess of employees’ basic work requirements and there is no limit on the time of credit hours an employee may earn in a pay period. But a full-time employee may get a maximum of 24 credit hours to a subsequent pay period.

The US employers are giving more flexible working options to the employees. Thus there exists a good relationship between the employers and the employees. By providing flexible working options both the employees and the employers get benefits. These options are available for both the workers and the managerial staff. The flexible work options improve the communication between the employers and employees this will improve the efficiency and productivity of employees.

Flexible working practices in Singapore

In Singapore the extend of flexible working practices is low in Singapore as compared to UK and US. “Despite its benefits, flexible working has been slow in catching on in Singapore. Only 3.1% of employed persons here worked part-time in 1998 compared with 23% in Japan, 17% in the US and 24% in the UK in 1997, while temporary full-time workers made up only 1.5% of the employed in Singapore in 1998.” (Occasional Paper on ‘Flexible Work Arrangements. 1999).

Flexible working options available in Singapore are:

Flexible working arrangements are though not common in Singapore have increased recently. In the private sector, about 4.1 % of employees are involved in some sort of flexible work arrangements which include part-time working, flexitime, and teleworking. In Singapore hotels and retails seem to have more flexible work.

Part-time working

The extend of part-time working is very low in Singapore. There are only 3.1% of employed persons working part-time. But compared to other options part-time facility is mostly used by the employees. Females are mostly using the part-time.

Temporary working

The employees are permitted to work on a temporary basis. This option is used mostly by the students who work on vacations. Young persons of the age below 20 and old workers above 60 years are more involved in temporary working. The low-skilled workers are more interested in temporary working.

Job sharing

Job sharing is comparatively less in Singapore. A survey conducted shows that only a few employees shared their jobs. This may be due to the lack of highly skilled personnel in job share arrangements which make it difficult to find out a suitable partner to share the job.

Flexitime

The employee is not utilizing the flexitime arrangements. These arrangements were applied mostly to the highly skilled employees.

Teleworking and home working

Due to the vast advancement in information technology in Singapore, teleworking is gaining popularity in Singapore. “Despite teleworking being a relatively new concept in Singapore, there is increasing interest in this type of Flexi place work arrangements. 95% or 2,625 of the Flexi place workers were teleworkers.” (FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS: Teleworking and Homeworking. 1999).

Many of the teleworkers are engaged in project works and many of them were professionals.

The employers are giving some flexible working arrangements to the employees. But these arrangements are motivated to increase the operational efficiency rather than improving the employee’s welfare. In Singapore, industrial relations and human resources are aimed towards improving the competitiveness of the enterprise. The increased competition has changed the personnel department into an HR department that is proactive to the needs of the enterprise. In Singapore, the need for developing a good flexible working arrangement is very important because the employees are looking for a supportive and flexible employer who will be sensitive to their needs. This will help them to improve their performance. The government is trying to increase the number and variety of opportunities available to the workers. The Ministry of Manpower has encouraged the organizations to start part-time work programs to attract women as well as retired employees back into the workforce. “Singapore is promoting flexible work arrangements in order to retain married female workers and attract economically inactive women into the labor market.” (Verma 1995).

In 1993 the government promoted a worker retention program known as “Flexi-benefit”. In this option the employees have the freedom to choose from a range of benefits those which most suited for them.

Comparison of Flexible working practice in three countries

The three countries that UK, US, and Singapore are practicing flexible work options in their organizations. They are now becoming aware of the increasing importance of flexible work options. In the UK the flexible work options are part-time working, term-time working, job sharing, compressed hours, annual hours, flexitime, working from home regularly, mobile working or teleworking, career breaks, etc. This shows that in the UK more flexible working options are available. The employers are providing more flexibility in working hours and the employees can choose any options which suit them. The flexible working practices in the UK had both good and bad effects on employees. The employees are satisfied with the working options but some employers are exploiting the employees. The employees have to work more than the contracted hours and they can’t balance their family and work life. However, the employees in the UK are showing a good approach towards these practices.

In the US also several flexible working options are available to the employees like flexible location, part-time, job sharing, compressed workweeks, flexitime, Flexi-tour, credit hours, etc. These are almost similar to the flexible work practice available in the UK. Here employees are satisfied with these options. The various surveys conducted in the US show that the employees who are using the flexible work options are more satisfied and productive than those who are not using these options. These have a positive effect on both the employees and the employers. There is a good relationship exists in the organizations.

In Singapore, the flexible working practices are very less when comparing with the UK, and the US. The employers are not providing more flexible options and the employees are also not showing a positive approach towards these practices. “A face-time culture, excessive workload, manager skepticism, customer demands, and fear of negative career consequences are among the barriers that prevent employees from taking advantage of policies they might otherwise use- and that prevent companies from realizing the full benefit that flexibility must bestow.” Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives by Wayne F, http://books.google.co.in/books?id=95sSVO5pPUkC&pg=PA162&dq=comparison+of+flexible+working+practice+in+US+and+Singapore&sig=dAf_HqoauuBZNm1W9Srbg25n2uU#PPA161,M1. Some of the options available are part-time working teleworking and home working job sharing, and flexitime. But the employees are not using all these properly. Employers also not giving much importance to these options. The surveys show that compared to other options more employees used the part-time working and temporary working. Employers are giving more importance to operational efficiency than employee welfare. Only teleworking is gaining popularity because of the advancing technology in Singapore. Today the employees are demanding more flexible work options since they have to adjust to the changing conditions of life. Thus the employers also should recognize the need for flexible working options and should try to practice it in their organizations in order to improve the morale and efficiency of employees.

Bibliography

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FLEXIBLE WORKARRANGEMENTS: Teleworking and Home working. (1999). [online]. Ministry of Man Power. Web.

Flexible Working: The Right to Request and Duty to Consider. [online]. dti. Web.

MARKS, David (2000). Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. [online]. Sage. Web.

Occasional Paper on ‘Flexible Work Arrangements’. (1999). [online]. MINISTRY OF MANPOWER. Web.

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VERMA, Anil et al (1995). Employment Relations in the Growing Asian Economies. [online]. Routledge. Web.

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