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Improving working lives: flexible working and the role of employee control

Hall, Laura and Atkinson, Carol (2006) Improving working lives: flexible working and the role of employee control. Employee relations, 28 (4). pp. 374-386. ISSN 0142-5455

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate employee perceptions of the flexibility they utilize or have available to them in an NHS Trust and relate these perceptions to the concept of control. Design/methodology/approach – The paper adopts a constructivist approach and uses semi-structured interviews, allowing employees, in their own way, to explain what flexibility policies, and practice mean to them. The paper conducted 43 interviews and one focus group across five directorates, to include a range of staff levels and job types. Findings – The findings in this paper show that informal rather than formal flexibility was more widely used and valued; and that, although staff needed to be proactive to access formal flexibility, some staff did not see formal flexibility as relevant to themselves; and informal flexibility generated an increased sense of employee responsibility. Uses the perspective of employee control over their working lives, in order to interpret the impact of flexible working. Research limitations/implications – The paper shows that these findings may be context-specific, and further investigation of informal flexible working is needed in different settings. Practical implications – This paper shows that organizations need to communicate flexibility well, and train their managers' adequately but, critically, they need to understand what different forms of flexibility mean to employees, and how they are valued. Originality/value – The paper shows the prevalence and value of informal flexible working, and its potential. Uses the concept of control to explain why different individuals value different forms of flexible working differentially.

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