Flexible working and performance: summary of the evidence for a business case

Interest in the outcomes of flexible working arrangements dates from the mid 1970s, when researchers attempted to assess the impact of the introduction of flexitime on worker performance. This paper reviews the literature on the link between flexible working arrangements, where employees may exercise choice, and performance-related outcomes. From an initial sample of 256 pieces of literature, 148 were selected on grounds of relevance to the research objective, theoretical and methodological rigour: 112 were empirically-based (survey, case or experimental studies), 17 were theoretical, 11 were literature reviews, seven were meta-analyses and one was an annotated bibliography. Overall findings are mixed, as illustrated in Table A (see PDF attachment), and there is very little support for a link with economic performance.

De Menezes and Kelliher attempt to explain these mixed findings. They analyse the theoretical and methodological perspectives adopted as well as the measurements and designs used. In doing so, gaps in this vast and disparate literature are identified and a research agenda is developed. Taken together, this literature does not demonstrate a business case for offering employees choice over working arrangements. Given the diversity in approaches that were identified, it is perhaps not surprising that a clear picture has not emerged. The authors conclude that there is need for greater clarity in this field of research in order to enable greater scope for comparability between studies. In particular, it is important for distinct perspectives (changes to working arrangements, managerial orientations), and differences in the nature of what is being examined (policy, perception, take up, nature of choice) to be recognised. They advocate that future research should adopt multi-level approaches to examine relationships between practices; explore different mediators and moderators at both individual and organisational levels; develop longitudinal studies so that not only causality can be addressed but also the time lag between adoption and outcome can be examined.

Full article: de Menezes, L.M. & Kelliher C. (2011) - Flexible Working and Performance: a systematic review of the evidence for a business case, International Journal of Management Reviews (forthcoming).

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