Illustration of flexible building

Flexibility is the norm, but in sustainable form

On the way to a ‘Smart High Performing Organization’.

There are more and more signals that the future labor organization without far-reaching forms of flexibility will not last long. The discussion on flexibilization focuses mainly on the distinction between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ flexibility. This blog contains a number of topics on what will now be called ‘sustainable flexibilization’.


The importance of a ‘Smart High Performing Organization’

Organizations have to deal with more and more dynamics, complexity and unpredictability. The cause of which lies in six necessary transitions in the fields of:

  • Globalization
  • Technologization
  • Computerization
  • Informalizing
  • Individualizing
  • Preservation


The transitions have a huge impact on the future labour organization. In order to remain viable this will have to be ‘Smart High Performing’. In summary it can be said that a ‘Smart High Performing Organization’, in addition to a number of other characteristics, has a strong focus on time, planning and flexibility. What do we already see of this in practice?


Flexibilization of labour: what is the practice?

When it comes to the extent to which organizations apply flexibilization strategies, it must be stated that systematic research, and thus substantiated figures, are generally lacking. But there are, of course, indications. Looking at these and other studies in which the flexibility theme is dealt with, it can be established that there is an upswing. In research, operational flexibility in particular gets attention.

The developments of flexibility on the more strategic levelis far more unclear. So we still see the examples of organizations in practice that are not adaptable enough to respond to new strategies and goals in a timely manner. There is still a lot to gain in this area, especially when it comes to the older and larger organizations.


Flexibilization of labor: what are the effects?

The discussion on flexibilization of labor, since the beginning of the eighties, has not kept pace with scientific research. In fact, there is still far too little known about the effects of flexible work and thus about the conditions that a certain flexibility strategy must comply with in order to prevent or minimize adverse effects.

In this light, it is perhaps not surprising that the theme has a high ’emotional value’. With a dominant negative connotation when it comes to the impact on employees. Because flexibility is good for employers and bad for employees. This allows the appreciation of this phenomenon to be summarized short and sweet in many discussions.

That this image exists, is unfortunate. It means that in negotiations between employees and employers, emotion prevails and statements are involved that do no good to the organizations concerned and ultimately the employees. It would be better if the parties would seek to find sustainable solutions for the need for adaptability in a mature dialogue.


More flexible labour: in a balanced way

The above shows that flexibility of labor mainly have positive effects for employers in current practice. It should be noted that this concerns the short and medium term in particular. Little is known about the effects when the long(er) term is considered.

It is very likely that the earlier conclusion should then be amplified. That is all the more relevant in the situation of a tight labor market. If employees are now taken into consideration, the picture is somewhat different. It then turns out that the exact details of the strategy in particular is decisive for the final result. This calls for flexibility in a sustainable form in the future.

Sustainable flexibility

It can be concluded from practice and theory of flexibility that a number of conditions must be met to ensure sustainable flexibility. Conditions to the emergence, in the design, the implementation and the results of flexibility of labor. These three conditions are displayed as a model in the figure below:

Source: Déhora Consultancy Group 2014


In conclusion

The future belongs to the ‘Smart High Performing Organization’. Flexibility is the norm in that organization. That is sustainable design. It is clear that the necessary efforts, in particular from the social partners, will be needed to reach that situation.


A photo of Cees SplinterCees Splinter

Cees is the Manager of Déhora Interim Planners. Déhora supports organizations where Workforce Planning is characterized by a certain degree of complexity, dynamism and unpredictability.


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