HR Research Insights: Flexibility & Resilience = Productivity & Health

June 8, 20141:24 pm413 views

Flexible work is prevalent and growing in modern economies. Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) has given rise to changes in work norms. Where professionals, artists and freelancers had continuously been able to set their own work comitments, employees working in larger organizations are now able to experience similar work flexibility.

Growing research has complimented the work flexibility for it’s role in accommodating staff needs, and criticized for promoting job insecurity. Despite being a major research area, the relationship between workplace flexibility and occupational health. Not much is known about flexible work conditions, how an organisations’ economical and organisational structures may favour different management practices, and how workplace health is managed.

30 different interviews conducted with managers in the Canadian software industry discussed workplace flexibility and how they approached worker health issues. The insights gained were highly beneficial and pertinent to future management decisions.

Manager’s take on flexibility

Managers were generally positive and optimistic about flexibility. They saw workplace flexibility as contributing to staff privileges & accommodation, enhanced creativity and professional maturity (or a “grown-up approach”). It also incorporated elements of satisfaction, in terms work satisfaction, but with a cost of longer work hours outside of the office.

Flexibility in practice

Although flexible work arrangements such as autonomy and choice positively correlate with workplace satisfaction, it is noted that practising flexibility has costs to workers. Less attractive elements for flexwork depended on the conditions of and circumstances of such work. How managers valued and communicated their thoughts about flexible work on certain staff appointments also played a part

Workers often had to modify their personal lives to fit around their work. This was for the needs of the business, but often came without earning tangible overtime compensation.

Production of resilient staff

The expansion of private life interests into the work sphere has drawn attention to the interests of employees with regards to their health at work. Managers now have to be concerned about weight, exercise, healthy living and sleep. Some managers have made sleep a work-related productivity issue.

Where before managers were previously providing employees with cheap, effective furniture, they now provide ergonomic furniture that helps optimise work processes. The term “strategies of resilience” suggests that discussing flexibility helps re-create and focus attention on occupational health management.

It refers to more than individual worker resilience, or the capability of staying healthy and continuing to be productive during high intensity work. For instance, the way flexibility is discussed and communicated within an organisation may impact the way in which employees view illness and react to various situations. One interview subject who was a senior manager, Kerry, noted: “I haven’t had a sick day in years. We get awards for not having a sick day”.

By building on such strategies, workers can have more pliant schedules, remain productive and stay healthy for longer periods of time. The research concluded by suggesting the discourse of flexibility and the practices they promoted increased intensified work and productivity.

As work processes, information technology and global economy change, organisations need to apply themselves to the needs of the workers. By aiming towards more “strategies of resilience”, the capacities of workers to withstand intensive and unclear working conditions increases.

Any questions or comments? Contact Bronwen.

Resources & Further Reading

MacEachen, Ellen, Jessica Polzer, and Judy Clarke. ““You Are Free to Set Your Own Hours”: Governing Worker Productivity and Health through Flexibility and Resilience.” Social Science & Medicine 66.5 (2008): 1019-33.

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