Power dynamics in the long-term development of employee-friendly flexible working
This study focuses on the possibilities for the long-term development of employee friendly flexible working, through understanding power dynamics between the individual and the organisation. It is argued that changes in the demographic composition of the workforce are altering the needs, attitudes and expectations of employees. At the same time, organisations are increasing the use of flexibility due to direct business benefits, and also because of increasing internal and external pressures to enable employees to balance their work and personal lives. The study discusses whether the resulting increase in the use of employee-friendly flexible working is a long-term change. The focus of discussion is the negotiating power of the employee versus the employer, the dynamics of which identify possibilities for a permanent change. Empirical research relies on employee survey and management interviews in two casestudy organisations that are users of flexible working. Findings support the long-term development of employee-friendly flexible working. Individuals from newer demographic groups and those with scarce resources (are perceived to) have greater negotiating power. However, the power of all employees is increasing because of a strong and unilateral desire for flexibility, and because a majority is willing to make sacrifices to accomplish their will to work flexibly. The groups with stronger negotiating power have initiated the work-life debate, but in doing so, they have increased the power of all employees through developing new models, creating the atmosphere of a social movement, lowering ideological barriers, and generating knowledge of new possibilities and aspirations. Favourable external pressures improve the position of employees. The original research framework presents a summary of employee-employer power dynamics that are likely to lead towards the long-term development of policies, and is the basis of the empirical research. A second framework based on the research findings explains how and why organisations differ in providing flexible working, and why this difference may continue to exist in the future. Triggering forces that have altered attitudes and policies in the UK are then chronologically charted to summarise past changes and develop arguments for the future. Together these three key features - the two models and the summary diagram - enable a stimulating debate on the past, present and future of work-life policies in the UK.