Updated: Aug 22
Author(s): Zareen Tasnim Mallik
Whenever the term flexible work arrangements (FWA) hit us, we usually think of the relaxing work environment of our dreams, and to complement it, there are certain benefits for both the organization and the employees, mostly. The term flexible work arrangement, by definition, means how much autonomy an employee gets in terms of choosing where the work is required to be executed from, which is the location, has the autonomy to choose the work time, which is scheduling, and the ability to choose the number of hours to work. For example, working from home is autonomy for location, choosing a different time other than the regular 9 to 5 job is an example of rescheduling, and maintaining the weekly 40 hours of work by working at any desired time for as many hours is an example of flexible working hours. There have been many types of research showing different factors that directly influence the performance, satisfaction, and work-life balance of employees. Many argue that the effect can only come as a result of external influences such as cultural values, which can have a direct impact on accepting and using the FWAs even though adequate FWAs are present. The research in this op-ed is taken from five different journals with varying data sets cumulating to around 8,000 organizations, 23 countries, and 19,000 employees.
FWAs are always seen as a positive element by researchers since they provided positive results to their studies. FWAs don’t necessarily have to be published company policies in cases where managers or supervisors play a strong role in managing their employees through sometimes offering or negotiating for such arrangements. The term i-deals is prevalent in these mentioned cases, which means idiosyncratic deals between an employee and a supervisor (Erden Bayazit & Bayazit, 2017). These are basically an understanding between the two where the supervisor allows either work from home or flexible hours based on the needs of an employee. These can be applicable to employees who are mothers, as such i-deals are very effective in helping manage their families and their work. However, research suggested that there are some cons in few cases where these employees are not evaluated properly, not provided with organizational training, are overloaded with work, have low pay, and also have barriers in terms of career progression (Xiang et al., 2021). Supervisors play a very critical and crucial role in terms of implementing and practicing FWAs in workplaces. It is the belief system that either makes them advocates or influencers of such practices or makes them the biggest critics. To further dig inside the supervisor’s role, it has been identified that the ideologies of senior leaders, company policies, company viewpoints, and public statements greatly influence or encourage them to adhere to and believe in these FWAs (Williams et al., 2018), which greatly impacts the employees. Similarly, supervisors who are not exposed to or influenced by such external cues are less likely to advocate such arrangements for their subordinates, and in research, it was evident that some supervisors and managers also lacked the information on whether their organization has such policies or not and what it constitutes. It is also to be highlighted that FWAs are not applicable for all types of jobs; for example, a car assembly line worker may not have that facility, or a willing supervisor also cannot arrange such options. However, some related elements could be used; for example, the assembly line worker can have the flexibility to work more hours per day to meet the 40 hours per week goal and not work for the rest of the days. But this has other implications for the organization in terms of managing such a huge workforce. On the contrary, it can be argued that all the factors that influence FWAs toward a positive effect may not actually happen if the national culture does not allow or complement the use of FWAs (Peretz et al., 2017). The research that was conducted among 21 countries with around 4790 organizations proved that even though organizations have adequate FWAs in place for the employees, they will not be influenced to use them. Different countries have different cultures and different needs for FWAs and organizations who considered taking country or regional culture in context while designing and offering the FWAs are more likely to succeed in terms of employee adoption to them, which has a direct impact on productivity, reduced absenteeism, and lower turnover rate (Peretz et al., 2017).
FWAs influence positivity among employees and has a direct correlation to employee well-being, productivity, reduced absenteeism, job satisfaction, and reduced turnover. The overall objective of FWAs is to benefit both the organization and the employees at the same time. However, organizations sometimes fail to either understand or fail to take into consideration some notable factors that could help them in designing and promoting FWAs. Some factors that organizations could follow is that they firstly should analyze the context of the need for FWAs considering the country’s cultural context, which hugely influences employees to take decisions in order to avail FWAs that are available to them. Secondly, designing the FWAs with the cultural context will enable the employees to avail them and recommend them to colleagues so that it becomes socially acceptable to them. Thirdly, organizations should promote and believe FWAs have a positive impact on the organization and the employees in a very transparent manner so that the belief occurs in the organization. Fourthly, the supervisors should be made aware and be influenced to promote such arrangements in the organization since they are a very crucial part for implementing and maintaining FWAs. Fifth, supervisors should also get autonomy from the organization where policies are not established for exercising i-deals to implement temporarily to address the burning issues that the employees may have been facing, which could be a woman who has to manage the family or mothers who have a young child to take care of. In addition, supervisors and senior leaders should have the mindset to evaluate these employees fairly so that they are not mistreated in terms of career progression, are not overloaded with work, and are not to be deprived of standard wages and training. Finally, organizations should have policies for FWAs with the positive tendency to modify them as required. In addition, organizations should also have the right policies instead of many policies, with the mindset of promoting and influencing employees to use them for the benefits that these employees will bring to the company.
Chen, Y., & Fulmer, I. S. (2017). Fine-tuning what we know about employees' experience with flexible work arrangements and their job attitudes. Human Resource Management, 57(1), 381–395. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21849
Erden Bayazit, Z., & Bayazit, M. (2017). How do flexible work arrangements alleviate work-family-conflict? the roles of flexibility I-deals and family-supportive cultures. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 30(3), 405–435. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2017.1278615
Peretz, H., Fried, Y., & Levi, A. (2017). Flexible work arrangements, national culture, organisational characteristics, and organisational outcomes: A study across 21 countries. Human Resource Management Journal, 28(1), 182–200. https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12172
Williams, P., Cathcart, A., & McDonald, P. (2018). Signals of support: Flexible work for mutual gain. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 32(3), 738–762. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2018.1499669
Xiang, N., Whitehouse, G., Tomaszewski, W., & Martin, B. (2021). The benefits and penalties of formal and informal flexible working-time arrangements: Evidence from a cohort study of Australian mothers. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 33(14), 2939–2960. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2021.1897642