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Management Flexibility and Staff Flexibility: Two Sides of the Same Mirror?

International Journal of Applied HRM (ISSN: 1742-2604) Volume 2 Issue 1

Miss. Lauri Harwood

Few subjects can prove as contradictory as flexibility in the workplace. The respondents to this study, 134 professional staff employed in local government, were mostly found to believe that flexibility was a one-way street. The views of 30 directors or heads of human resources in local government were also sought to see if their views agreed with those of staff and/or managers.

While managers sought to encourage or oblige staff to be flexible in the interests of the council, they were not perceived by their staff to be open to requests for flexible working from their staff. The directors and heads of HR agreed with this view and offered their opinion on why this was the case. They believed that flexible working requests from staff were thought by managers to be disruptive to existing working patterns.

Introduction

The reform of local government has led to at least a potential fragmentation of local government organisational structures (Colling, 1999). The result of these reforms has been the breaking up of the local council as the monolithic monopoly provider of services ( Boyne, 2002). Much of this fragmentation has been caused by the success of private contractors in securing contracts to provide council services (Colling, 1999) and from other extemally-imposed pressures like the drive for e-government (Newman, 2001).

However, fragmentation is internal as well as external, he stated that the internal effects of change can be seen in the financial and management independence of direct service organisations (DS0s) (Cutler and Waine, 1997).

This situation in the 1990s (Kirkpatrick and Martinez, 1995) is equally valid today with council departments having relationships with each other which are more contractual than collegial, more competitive than co-operative, with professionally-based departments encouraged to work as internal consultancies (Steele, 1999).

Many of these internal concerns for the overall cohesion of local councils have been further heightened by the introduction of local initiatives to share services, blur organisational boundaries and even share staff between different organizations ( Boyne, 2002). The co-operation between voluntary, private and public organizations has produced a workforce filled with uncertainties for both its members and those seeking to manage it (Mori, 2001).

One commentator from the late 1980s, Ascher (1987), welcomed the fragmentation and argued that it would leave councils with more time to concentrate on wider issues such as strategic management and local and corporate governance (DETR, 2001).

To some extent this vision of the future sees a range of single-service agencies built around a strong and coherent political/professional/managerial leadership, including a central core of strategic planners and regulators (Colling, 1999). While some of this vision has come true, the vision did not envisage the development of the workforce beyond the boundaries of this single service agency into other organizations with a comparable mission (Newman, 2001). New initiatives in local government, especially in care work where multiple agencies work together at the strategic level, influence the development of the workforce and encourage the planning of the future workforce. This approach receives the support of those seeking cost efficiencies through closer control of staffing numbers and deployment (Poole and Jenkins, 1997). It should be a side benefit of this approach that flexible working patterns are encouraged both to widen the pool of available workers to create numeric flexibility in the labour market and to ensure that no part-time requirement can only be met by workers seeking full-time roles. This has not happened, almost certainly through the resistance, to-date, of line managers who, despite the numerous family friendly initiatives of local and central government remain fixed to their limited and traditional view of how services should be delivered (Diamond, 2001). While this drive towards flexible working in the labour market both in local government and the wider population has been supported at the strategic level, almost without resistance, the operational management in local councils has found it difficult to translate the flexibility needs of workers into workable schemes. Indeed, while HR policies and statutory flexible working procedures appear to support flexibility for the employee, the ease of resisting these means of supporting flexible working on the grounds of business need, suggest that perhaps there is less than whole-hearted enthusiasm for effective measures for workers seeking more family friendly working arrangements (Edwards, 2000b).

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