Magazine article Management Today

Flexible Working Gives EC Legislators a Bad Headache

Magazine article Management Today

Flexible Working Gives EC Legislators a Bad Headache

Article excerpt

A typical work patterns are, typically, different throughout EC countries. Peter Wilsher

Whatever happened to the standard working day and the still deeply entrenched notion that a living is something people earn from Monday to Friday between 7am, and 5pm? The latest research from the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) shows that this idea is almost as defunct as the Michaelmas hiring fair. In Britain, say the Cranfield-based authors, and to a large extent in the rest of the EC, such rigid and permanent employment contracts are already a thing of the past. Flexibility is now the name of the game, and a majority of those still lucky enough to have jobs are now working part-time, or from home, or on some variety of temporary, casual or at best short-term renegotiable arrangement.

In many ways, of course, the development of these |atypical' work patterns can be painted as highly desirable. For employers it offers effective strategies for cutting costs and eliminating the inefficiencies that inevitably arise from the fact that demand for both goods and services these days rarely comes in neat, seven-and-a-half-hour, weekday packages. It can also provide the opportunity to recruit staff with specific, and possibly scarce skills, who would either not be available full-time or whom it would not be economic to employ on a full-time basis. For the employee, too, flexible working can offer substantial advantages. Work can more easily be tailored to fit in with other commitments, whether these involve looking after children and sick relatives, or merely improving one's golf. And in many specialist areas, freelancing is better remunerated - and possibly more satisfying - than commuting to some distant office desk.

There are, however, as the IPM study shows, quite a lot of disadvantages. Fragmented work patterns are usually difficult to manage, and it is hard to ensure the highest level of commitment from people who, by definition, are in only a semi-detached relationship with the organisation that pays them. And the employees, in turn, can easily find themselves deprived in a number of ways. Even if they manage to achieve a reasonable level of financial reward they are likely to miss out on pensions, paid holidays, access to National Insurance benefits, trade union representation, or opportunities for training and promotion.

Brussels finds itself in two minds about the social and economic implications of all this. …

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