Academic journal article Management Revue

The Implications of Flexible Work: Membership in Organizations Revisited

Academic journal article Management Revue

The Implications of Flexible Work: Membership in Organizations Revisited

Article excerpt

The erosion of standard forms of employment is creating new needs and management requirements in organizations. This article examines the polarization within the workforce. The classical approach of the core and marginal workforce based on the work of Doeringer and Piore (1971) will be reshaped by looking at conceptions of organizational boundaries. Moreover, the impact of shifting employment relations on coupling and membership in organizations will be discussed to conclude that the loosening of coupling has implications for the willingness of members to integrate in organizations.

Key words: flexibility, organizational boundaries, structural coupling, membership (JEL: M12, M51, M54)

Introduction and overview

Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman, two doyens in the field of organizational behaviour, ended their recent article about the accuracy of their 1980s findings on work redesign with the words: 'We presently are in the midst of what we believe are fundamental changes in relationship among people, the work they do and the organization for which they do it.' (Oldham & Hackman, 2010, p. 466)

Sweeping economic, technological and social changes during the last two decades have transformed the organization of work. In the past few years, the proportion of atypical employees has grown immensely. In the European Union, 42 million people (27 per cent of the total working population) have so-called atypical employment relationships (CIETT, 2000): non-permanent or temporary contracts, freelance contracts and temporary employment relationships. At the same time, the gap between various groups of employees has broadened. The structures of economy have been yielding to new forms of work organization where jobs disappear and projects are on the rise, and design and production become simultaneous processes than ordinary sequential steps (Powell, 2001), indicating that the boundaries of organizational entities become porous. Within these entities, processes and forms of innovations depend on deeper engagement from core employees (Lewis, 2007). The focus on topics like enhancing the employees' engagement, with onboarding and retention on new hiring having a renaissance as the results of a new survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group shows. In their ranking list, strategic workforce planning on the one hand and enhancing employee engagement, onboarding and the retention of new hires on the other are the newcomers in the top-five-topics for great current and future importance (Strack et al., 2011).

This paper deals with the issue of attachment and will discuss types of ties between organizations and individuals based on the concept of structural coupling and membership. The core assumption is that coupling has changed dramatically during the last decades. On the one hand, it has tightened for core staff members. On the other hand, it has loosened for marginal staff members. This leads to a polarization within the workforce and new management requirements. In this paper we give support to this view, point out major problems in the field which contribute to this state of affairs, and offer a new understanding of membership and coupling in organizations as key concepts in this field.

The erosion of standard forms of employment and reasons for workforce flexibility in organizations will be discussed, and the consequences of flexibility regarding the boundaries of and in organizations will be addressed. In this section, the classical approach of core and marginal workforce, based on the work of Doeringer and Piore (1971), will be reshaped according to the conceptions of organizational boundaries introduced by Santos and Eisenhardt (2005).

These marked changes call for a re-examination of classic arguments about coupling and a richer conceptual understanding of how, when and why coupling occurs, as well as its consequences (Bromley & Powell, 2012). Coupling affects how decisions are made in organizations, and thereby influences selectivity and the outcomes, such as performance improvement in organizations. …

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