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Guidance for case study

  • 07 Pages
  • Published On: 17-11-2023
Guidance for case study (choose a topic between weeks 2 and 6)

What is a case study?

A case study can be regarded as an a) illustration of some core issues discussed in the literature on a particular topic and b) a reflection on whether the case in question confirms or refutes some of the claims made in that literature. You can draw your case from any of the following platforms: newspapers, magazines, blogs, films, songs or documentaries. For example, you could find a news item on the experiences of Uber workers in London, discuss how some of the literature covered in the module relates to this news item and, based on the content of this news item, argue (for example) that it confirms the claim that Uber workers tend to value their job for the freedom it gives them and despite the economic insecurity they experience.

Why do a case study?

The aim of this exercise is to encourage you to apply some of the academic literature to a concrete phenomenon of your choice. This is aimed at developing your analytical skills and encouraging you to think independently about a particular topic and a range of issues covered in that topic.

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How to choose my case?

To choose your case, think of a topic you are interested in (from topics and do some research online to select a relevant case study. You could enter keywords, e.g. precarity + workers, on Google or a search engine within a newspaper site, magazine etc.. Please note you cannot choose the same topic as the one chosen for the essay. I would make sure you think carefully about how much can be drawn from the selected source. Some short articles, blog posts etc. might include a sufficient amount of material for you to be able to write your assignment, but please read it carefully to make sure this is the case before you select it.

How to structure my case study?

You are required to both demonstrate how the chosen case relates to some of the literature AND critically assess some of the core claims made in that literature in the light of your case. Your work is expected to include an introduction, main body and conclusion. The main body could, for example, be structured as follows: - Start by discussing the content of the newspaper article by breaking it down into themes - Explain how each of those themes have been discussed in the literature - Critically assess the claims made in the literature in the light of your chosen case

Word count: 2000 words (+/- 10%)

What Does Flexibility Really Mean? Post-Fordism – empowering workers and embracing job flexibility

Introduction

The transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism was characterised by job flexibility and precariousness (Standing, 2011). The concept of precarious work has attracted many sociologists, who have placed the concept in the long history of industrial capitalism. The conceptualisation of precarious work provided form 1970 in western labour market, was mainly related to prevalence of so-called ‘flexible labour arrangement’. Flexible labour arrangement was conceived as one of the major changes occurring through the transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism (Betti, 2018). This transition also influenced movement from personnel management to strategic human resource management in a dynamic working environment, which significantly induced organisations to introduce workplace flexibility (Betti, 2016, p. 64). Flexibility has different meaning in different contexts, and organisations can use it to give quick responses to uncertain environment ( (Marić & Klindzic, 2019). Bourdieu (1963/1979) describe the conditions of precarity as ‘unstable ‘associated by capitalism transformation to more dualistic labour market where a certain group of employees experience insecure working condition. Precarity does not only affect a minority but whole professions. Kiran and Khurram (2018) define workplace flexibility as the ability to reconfigure resources to respond to environmental dynamics effectively and quickly. Due to the increasing number of women at work, desire for some employees to pursue higher education, dual career families, along with social and economic changes and increasing workforce diversity, this creates need for companies to introduce changes in their employment strategies to be successful and competitive. Further, today, the flexibility of workplace provides employees the choice and control over where, when, and how to work, as well as how much time to spend performing duties at other places (Colomby, et al., 2017).There are various dimensions of workplace flexibility including in income, in working hour, in workplace, and in headcount (Betti, 2016). An organisation chooses the type of workplace flexibility that matches its need of the hour. Other types of workplace flexibility are flexitime, functional flexibility, and contractual flexibility. This paper significantly focuses on contractual flexibility and in particular flexibility in working hours. The paper evaluates a news story published by The Economist on the ‘zero hours’ contracts in relation to existing literature on workplace flexibility.

Case study

The reference case of this paper is a news item published by The Economist on ‘zero hours’ contracts (ZHC) (https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2015/04/09/why-zero-hours-contracts-are-not-as-bad-as-britains-labour-party-thinks). In the article, argues that the ZHC are not as bad as Britain’s Labour Party thinks.’ The main themes in this news article are first, ZHC enable employers to quickly respond to economic shock through putting employees on short time. The second theme is the flexibility that the ZHC provide both employers and employees. The third theme is that the ZHC reduce organisations’ cost, which could be reflected in lower prices of the offered products. The article also raises the issue of workers’ precariousness and the extent to which the ZHC are accepted by employees. Generally, the article argues that the ZHC have made the labour market more flexible, but points to the precariousness that the ZHC have exposed for workers.

Contractual flexibility and adaptability to dynamic environments

In support of the ZHC, The Economist argues that these flexible contracts enable firms to adapt to sluggish growth. For example, an organisation could cut down the staff work hours when a shock hits to cut costs. A significant number of researchers have investigated the role of flexible work hours and contractual flexibility in organisational cost management, and there seems to be consensus that contractual flexibility helps firms to cut operational costs when growth slows. For example, Gittleman, et., al (1998) asserts organisations strategy of becoming highly flexible enables them to respond quickly uncertain environments, thus resulting in improved quality of products and services, high profits, and productive employees. The article gives an example of how the tsunami (2011) caused financial shock to Toyota manufacturers leading to a reduction of contracted hours.Therefore, composes that loss in profit margins or recover the loss in profit margin in the wake of the experienced crisis. On the other hand, Wright et al. (2019) argue that the ZHC provide organisations the flexibility they require to sustain the performance of an organisation and help to reduce production and labour costs, thus avoiding the impact of dynamic environments. Like the article, Railly, (2001) point out that the seasonal nature of some industries such as tourism, requires flexibility, especially in and out of summertime. For sectors predominantly female workforce for example schools and health care, flexibility is significant to accommodate with other workers caring responsibilities at home such as childcare and domestic responsibilities. Other groups in labour market such as students and older generation may prefer flexible work arrangements because it give them work-life balance. Focusing on the ZHC, Ryan et al. (2019) favour the article, by asserting that ZHC benefit both employers and workers. The contractual flexibility helps organisations to remain competitive through offering employees’ jobs when demand is high and in a globally competitive market, flexibility is fundamental for businesses especially in-service sectors such as bars, retail shops, restaurants etc. From these perspectives, flexibility means that an organisation is quickly and easily able to reconfigure its workforce to adapt to changes in the business environment. In light of these empirical findings, The Economist is justified to argue that flexibility enables firms to adapt to sluggish growth and adapt to the dynamic environments.

Two-way flexibility in the ‘zero hours’ contracts

In the news article, The Economist argues that the ZCH provide flexibility to both employees and employers. With ZHC a company is under no obligation to provide work to an employee at any time and the employee is under no obligation to accept any work offered by the company at any time. In the Conservative government viewed flexible labour market provided employment opportunities to those excluded from work. Atkinson at el (1996) found evidence temporary employment is a gateway to permanent employment for unemployed people. They argue that trying to find work from being unemployed is difficult, but being able to demonstrate the capability of working when still in a flexible employment is easier. Unlike in traditional employment contracts, contractual flexibility gives employees the choice of how and when to work: the employee chooses the type of contract that best suits his/her other needs ( (Byrne & J Pecchenino, 2018).The Economist argues that the ZCH allow women with young children and retired workers seeking a pension top up to work, which cannot be attained in the traditional employment contracts. Analogously, Ryan et al. (2019) write that flexible employment contracts such as the ZHC make it easier for employees to find work-life balance as employees only accept work when they are free to complete it. In the same vein, Adams, et al., (2015) state that the flexibility of the ‘ZCH allows employees to work only when they find it beneficial. Another study conducted by Rubery (2015) shows that employees on flexible work arrangements such as ZCH are very satisfied or satisfied with these types of contracts as they allow them the choice over when to work and the number of hours to work. From these perspectives, flexibility means that an employee has choice and control over how to work, when to work, and under what type of contract based on personal needs and other responsibilities. The empirical findings support The Economist’s argument that the ZCH provide flexibility to both employees and employers for mutual benefits.

Flexibility, cost of production and labour, and the price of the output

In the news article, The Economist argues that by running on zero-hour contracts, organisations are able cut down the cost of production, which leads to a reduction in the price of the final product, for example, organisations such as Toyota manufacturers. The Economist writes that Burger King runs of ZHC and therefore spends less on burger flippers and the end result is the ability to sell burgers at low prices. There is very scarce literature on how flexibility affects the cost of production and the price of the output. Kiran and Khurram (2018) argue that organisations use non-standard work contracts such as the ZHC if they allow them to increase efficiency, maximise gains or limit losses, which is aligned to the wealth maximisation goal. The value maximisation goal puts in question the willingness of organisations to sell their products at low prices after introducing cheaper employment contracts such as the ZHC Value maximisation holds that organisations seek to have minimal expenses in order to maximise the value of shareholders: this implies that although an organisation could have minimal labour expenses, it could offer its products at the market price in order to maximise gains. From this perspective, this paper questions the accuracy of The Economist’s statement that flexibility allows firms to offer their products are cheaper prices.

Precariousness associated with ‘zero hours’ contracts

The news article hints that employers adopt the ZHC with an aim of terminating workers contract through reducing their working hours to zero. In addition, the article highlights that organisations use ZHC to avoid providing benefits required by labour laws such as paid holidays and sick pay, among others. Further, the article holds that the employer is under no obligation to provide an employee work at any given time. These issues point to the high level of precarity that employees under these contracts are exposed to. Work precariousness in this paper is characterised by lack of stability and protection as well as insecurity and social and economic vulnerability. According to Klindžić and Marić (2019), Post-Fordism is characterised by work precariousness, which is evident in the article as employees under the ‘zero hours’ contracts lack job security. The flexible work contracts and the ZHC in particular are not fully regulated by labour laws as the employer is under no obligation to provide an employee any work at any time (Byrne and Pecchenino 2019). This subjects employees under ‘zero hours’ contracts and other flexible contracts to low job security, unfavourable working conditions, and minimal or no employment benefits and there is no one to protect their rights (Betti 2016). In the same vein, Ilsøe et al. (2019) write that some flexible contracts such as the ‘zero hours’ contracts deprive employees any form of security and protection since the employee can lose the job at any moment. Flexibility and most of the flexible employment contracts exclude employees from social security provisions and job security (Klindžić and Marić 2019). While empirical studies tend to agree that workplace flexibility and in particular the flexible employment contracts are characterised by job insecurity, instability, economic and social vulnerability, and lack of protection, The Economist argues that employers do not introduce flexibility to capitalise on the negatives but to adapt to the dynamic environment. Therefore, this paper argues that flexibility is characterised by some degree of precariousness, but its pros outweigh its cons thus should be supported in the dynamic work environment.

Acceptability of contractual flexibility

The news article points out that the number of employees on ZHC continue to rise despite the precariousness this flexibility exposes employees to. However, the article maintains that the ZHC are not as precarious as the Labour Party thinks they are as some employees are happy with them. In fact, the news article maintains that a majority of employees on ZHC do not want more work hours, like the flexibility the contract offers them, and are satisfied with the deal as it offers them choice of the hours they work. Other employees like informality thus support the ZHC. In the existing literature, workplace flexibility is surrounded by a lot of controversy with some authors supporting it and others opposing it. Klindžić and Marić (2018) argue that precarious work has emerged the norm of capitalism and the so-called standard employment contracts characterised by full-time, long-term employment with a single employer should be considered a historical concept. Analogously, Matthews (2017) writes that flexibility is necessary to succeed in the dynamic working environment: the working environment is no longer stable; thus, workplace stability should not be a priority. In the same vein, Betti (2016) holds that workplace flexibility is the only way to respond to the unpredictable environment. From a contrasting view, Colomby et al. (2018) write that workplace flexibility has exposed employees to heightened precariousness thus should be avoided. This paper agrees with the news article that flexibility should be upheld given the unpredictability in the working environment.

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Conclusion

Post-Fordism is characterised by flexibility and precariousness which have emerged keyways of responding to changes in the working environment. Contractual flexibility has allowed organisations to hire based on their needs, thus enhancing the effectiveness of labour deployment. Flexibility in working hours has allowed employees to choose contracts that suit their needs resulting in better work-life balance. However, workplace flexibility is associated with a degree of precariousness such as lack of job security, unfavourable work conditions, and lack of social security benefits, but despite these limitations of workplace flexibility, employees support them due to the perceived control they allow them. Employers on the other hand have introduced flexibility to better adapt to changes in the working environment. Therefore, workplace flexibility is a necessary evil in the dynamic working environment.

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