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The case of 'unwanted flexibility' : a study of temporary agency workers in the U.K

By Sarah Elizabeth Mollitt


Temporary agency work in Britain has increased dramatically in recent years. Theoretical justification for this growth is centred upon an organisational need for greater efficiency as a result of increased competition in the marketplace. Cost advantages are often associated with the temporary nature of the agency contract and recent discussion suggests that recruitment of agency workers is a strategic practice, used to create competitive advantage. (Williamson 1985; Atkinson and Meager 1986; Matuski and Hill\ud 1998; Lepak and Snell 1999; Houseman et al 2003). Organisationally sound manpower strategies are thus reasoned to be those that deliberately incorporate agency workers in a thoughtful, strategic and continually advantageous way. From this perspective, it is\ud assumed that management control over the contractual nature of the workforce is essential, and failure to retain this autonomy would result in organisational inefficiency.\ud \ud This thesis critically examines this conjecture, by investigating a situation where management cannot actively select the contracts on which they employee their staff. In\ud the case of two Social Services departments in London, management have lost the ability to strategically determine the contractual nature of their workforce, stating a strong\ud preference for open ended contracts, but forced to deploy agency workers when permanent staff cannot be recruited. Previous suggestions would indicate detrimental\ud implications, but in this instance it is argued that these blanket assumptions may facilitate premature conclusions, as the associated consequences of this situation of `unwanted flexibility' are unexplored

Publisher: Leeds University Business School
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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