8.2 Flexible Employment in 21st Century Workplaces: The Co-Evolution of Inter-Organizational Employment Networks, Flexible Employment Practices, and Workplace Cooperative Performance

Aim of the project
To study why organizations adapt flexible employment practices across different national and industrial contexts, and how the use of flexible employment impacts workplace cooperation and performance

Theoretical background
Sustainable levels of cooperation in workplaces, which incorporates collaboration and compliance but also constructive conflict, is essential for the flourishing of individuals and organizations. Life-long employment contracts, typical in the post-WWII period, created favorable condition for sustaining long-term employee-employer (´vertical´ ) cooperation, as well as employee-employee (´horizontal´) cooperation at workplaces (Capelli, 1999). In recent decades, economic downturns and globalization prompted organizations to utilize flexible employment practices (temporary and externalized forms of employment), leading to a decline in the stable (long-term and internal) organizational workforce since the 1980s.

Management narratives emphasize economic (in particular, labor costs) and productivity benefits of flexible employment (Lepak & Snell 2002). However, the extant literature fails to present compelling evidence that economic considerations and productivity benefits are the reasons why organizations adapt flexible employment (Lippényi, 2018). While this literature predominantly focuses on how markets and employment legislation govern organizational human resource strategies, there is growing knowledge that inter-organizational networks are key factors in organizational adaptation processes (Easterby-Smith et al. 2008). Existing work in flexible employment practices treats organizations as isolated, solitary entities, and therefore we know little on how ties to organizations in the environment influence choice of employment practices. In addition, research on flexible employment is very scarce outside the US, leaving it open whether similar processes of adaptation, with similar outcomes, play out across national contexts that differ in work culture and legal institutions. This project aims to address these important omissions.

Inter-organizational networks (strategic partnerships, board interlocks, and inter-firm mobility of workers) are key to understand firm behavior as they transmit information not only about organizational practices, but also on success and failures across organizational boundaries (Ahuja et al. 2012). The present project will specifically focus on the intriguing link between employment flexibility and social ties between organizations, emerging through the mobility of workers: flexible employment increases employee mobility across organizational boundaries, creating the possibility to study the dynamic process between the formation of inter-organizational employment networks, organizational choices of adapting employment flexibility practices, and the evolution of cooperation and organizational performance (cf. Contractor et al. 2006). Regarding the latter, we contrast two scenarios with the aim to analyze the organizational-institutional conditions under which they occur. The pessimistic scenario argues that flexible employment alienates workers, generates conflict, and antagonize employee groups, diminishing workplace horizontal and vertical cooperation and organizational performance (Vough et al 2005). The optimistic scenario perspective argues that flexible employment broadens employee’s career orientations and extends identities and social capital beyond narrow organizational boundaries, creating fertile grounds for sustainable horizontal and vertical cooperation (Marchington et al . 2005).

Research design
The project will use two linked-employer employee datasets. The CBS Social-statistics Database in the Netherlands is a longitudinal register database of firms and employees that enables us to construct inter-organizational networks and study employment flexibility practices in all Dutch organizations, as well as organizational-level cooperation and performance outcomes (voluntary turnover, firm economic performance). The European Sustainable Workforce Survey (ESWS) is a recent, large-scale survey among 11,011 employees (wave 1/2016 and wave 2/2018) nested in 869 teams in 259 organisations in 9 European countries (UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria). This dataset complements the register data in that it 1) measures how workers’ and managers’ perceive the cooperation and conflict between flexible and stable workers, making it possible to study the mechanism linking flexibility and cooperation 2) includes extensive information on organization’s flexibility (and broader HR) strategy missing from the register source, and 3) it allows for cross-country comparisons to assess institutional variation in the prevalence and outcomes of employment flexibility practices.

PhD student
Sofie Wiersma

Project initiators
Rafael Wittek, Marco van LeeuwenZoltán Lippényi

September 1, 2019 - August 31, 2023

University of Groningen, Department of Sociology

Ahuja, G., Soda, G., & Zaheer, A. (2012). The genesis and dynamics of organizational networks. Organization science, 23(2), 434-448.

Davis-Blake, A., Broschak, J. P., & George, E. (2003). Happy together? How using nonstandard workers affects exit, voice, and loyalty among standard employees. Academy of Management Journal, 46(4), 475-485.

Contractor, N. S., Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (2006). Testing multitheoretical, multilevel hypotheses about organizational networks: An analytic framework and empirical example. Academy of Management Review, 31(3), 681-703.

Easterby‐Smith, M., Lyles, M. A., & Tsang, E. W. (2008). Inter‐organizational knowledge transfer: Current themes and future prospects. Journal of management studies, 45(4), 677-690.

Lepak, D. P., & Snell, S. A. (2002). Examining the human resource architecture: The relationships among human capital, employment, and human resource configurations. Journal of Management, 28(4), 517-543.

Lippényi, Z. (2018). Contingent Work. In Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology. Ed. Lynette Spillman. New York: Oxford University Press

Marchington, M., Grimshaw, D., Rubery, J., & Willmott, H. (Eds.). (2005). Fragmenting work: Blurring organizational boundaries and disordering hierarchies. Oxford University Press

Vough, H. C., Broschak, J. P. & Northcraft, G. B. 2005. Here today, gone tomorrow? Effects of nonstandard work status on workgroup processes and outcomes. Research on Managing Groups and Teams: Status, 7: 229-257.

Sociology & History

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