Assessing Flexible Working in NHS Mental Health Trusts: Impact of Flexible Working on Employee Engagement and Performance

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In the present economic situation

Many employees tend to prefer flexible work arrangements. As a result, various organisations are presently offering a wide range of flexible work arrangements to their employees. With the increase in the phenomenon, the current study was designed to provide empirical evidence on how flexible work arrangement affects both employee engagement and organizational commitment within the context of NHS mental health trusts in the United Kingdom. The literature review showed a positive relationship but not within the context of NHS mental health trusts. The study was completed using primary data collected from sample employees of four NHS mental health trusts. The collected data were analysed using descriptive, and regression techniques and the results confirmed a positive connection between flexible work arrangement, employee engagement and organisational commitment. In particular, it increases the level of employee engagement and organisational commitment by 10% and 14.4% respectively. In addition, the adjusted work hours (flextime) was identified as commonly used by flexible work arrangement in the NHS mental health trusts in the United Kingdom. It was followed by job sharing and part-time work in that order. The study's results also indicated that continuance commitment is high amongst the employees of NHS mental health trusts in the United Kingdom.

Keywords: flexible work arrangement, organizational commitment, employee engagement, flextime, NHS mental health trusts

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Background Information

Over the past few decades, as explained by researchers Bal and De Lange (2014) and Hartner-Tiefenthaler, Clarke, and Holdsworth (2018), flexible work arrangements have gradually become a leading agenda in many businesses across the globe and industries. The need to create flexible work arrangements is gradually becoming a reality in many organisations and businesses across the globe (Eldridge and Nisar 2011; Crawford et al. 2013). Many multinational organisations such As Price Warehouse Coopers (PwC) have launched schemes that allow some recruits or employees to choose the hours they want to work, which is the essence of flexible work arrangements (Charalampous et al. 2018; Lee 2016; Eldridge and Nisar 2011).

As explained by Crawford et al. (2013), some analysists strongly believe that the adoption of flexible work arrangements would enable many firms to have access to diverse talents as well as increase their productivity level. Researcher Bal and De Lange (2014) defined a flexible work arrangement as any spectrum of the modern work structure that enables the employee or employer to alter regularly the time or place where work should be done. In essence, the arrangements break away from the traditional fixed work time and place (Oore and Dolan 2017). According to Lee (2016), Eldridge and Nisar (2011), and Charalampous et al. (2018), it may feature various aspects work flexibility such as (1) scheduling of work hours, (2) the amount of work hours required, (3) the place of work for the employee, and (4) the shifts and breaks arrangements.

As explained by Al-Emadi, Schwabenland, and Wei (2015), such an arrangement also gives employees substantial flexibility in their work choices, which essentially include location and pattern of their work shifts. Some researchers such Anitha (2014), Oore and Dolan (2017), and Crawford et al. (2013) have indicated that the modern workplace tends to offer a wide range of flexibility regarding work arrangements. In essence, the type of work arrangements and how they are defined tend to vary significantly in the modern workplaces (Lee 2016). In addition, the number of employees who are interested in flexible work arrangements in the workplaces today has been increasing over the past decades (Timms et al. 2015; Eldridge and Nisar 2011)

With the above background, the researcher was interested in investigating how flexible work arrangements affect both employee engagement and organisational commitment with a focus on the United Kingdom (UK) using data from the National Health Service (NHS) Mental Health Trusts. The UK was chosen because the Employment Rights Act 1996 enabled various aspects of the flexible work arrangement to be implemented by giving employees rights to ask their employers to change their contractual terms (Charalampous et al. 2018; Crawford et al. 2013). The regulation has created a condition that enables employees to work flexibly as long as they work for the minimum 26 weeks continually (Al-Emadi, Schwabenland, and Wei 2015). In addition, a good proportion of organisations in the UK have adopted flexible work arrangements.

Some researchers including Anitha (2014), Bal and De Lange (2014), and Al-Emadi, Schwabenland, and Wei (2015) have pointed out both the positive and negative effects of flexible work arrangements. In addition, due to its perceived benefits, there is increased number of employees requesting for flexibility in work arrangements (Timms et al. 2015; Eldridge and Nisar 2011; Oore and Dolan 2017). On the other hand, the number of an organisation interested in adopting flexible work arrangements is increasing steadily (Charalampous et al. 2018; Lee 2016). However, the problem is that little empirical evidence has been provided to indicate how flexible work arrangements affect both employee engagement and organisation commitment. In order to provide a deeper understanding of the background of the current study, the concept of employee engagement as well as organisational commitment is discussed in the sub-section below.

1.1.1 Employee Engagement and Organizational Engagement

Researcher Saks and Gruman (2014) and Alagaraja and Shuck (2015) considered it to be a popular concept in the modern business environment. As explained by Oore and Dolan (2017), its popularity in the business world has been increasing since the early 1990s stemming from the conviction that it increases organisational performance. Researcher Rana, Ardichvili, and Tkachenko (2014) defined employee engagement simply as the ability to harness employees or members of the organisation to meet their work roles. According to Rathi and Lee (2015), and Saks and Gruman (2014), it enables members of the organisation to employ as well as express themselves cognitively, physically, and emotionally in order to achieve greater role performances in the organisation.

According to Anitha (2014), employee engagement requires members of the organisation to be psychologically present when performing their respective organisational roles. Researchers Caillier (2013) and Alagaraja and Shuck (2015) also added that in addition to being psychologically present, two components namely attention and absorption must be present to fulfil employee engagement. The two components relate to cognitive availability as well as the amount of time an employee spends thinking about his or her organisational role (Saks and Gruman 2014; Timms et al. 2015; Al-Emadi, Schwabenland, and Wei 2015). As explained by Rana, Ardichvili, and Tkachenko (2014), it also involves employees having positive and fulfilling state of mind about their work at the organisation.

On the other hand, researcher Hartner-Tiefenthaler, Clarke, and Holdsworth (2018) defined organisational commitment simply as the emotional as well as the functional attachment of employees to the organisation they are working for – their employers. It provides the relative strength of the involvement and identification with the company (Anitha 2014; Wood 2016). Researchers Caillier (2013) and Rathi and Lee (2015) identified three ways through which organisational commitment is achieved namely (1) continuance commitment, (2) normative commitment and (3) affective commitment.

A survey by Alagaraja and Shuck (2015) indicated that interest in organisational commitment is increasing in momentum due to its potential benefits to the businesses. First, it increases productivity as well as the loyalty of employees to the organisation (Timms et al. 2015; Al-Emadi et al 2015). As explained by MacCormick, Dery and Kolb (2012) and Wood (2016), other positive outcomes of organisational commitment include the low rates of employee turnover as well as increased employee interest in the organisation’s work. Because of its positive outcomes in the business, organisational commitment has been attracting research interests from different quarters over the past 40 years (Anitha 2014; Rathi and Lee 2015).

1.2 Research Problem

In addition the modern business environment, many employees are seeking flexible work arrangements. Even though the concept is increasing in popularity, little has been researched about its effects on two important elements namely employee engagement and organisation commitment. Even though, as will be seen in the literature review presented in the next chapter, many have researched about various aspects of flexible work arrangement, none has attempted to establish the link between the three variables. In essence, there is little evidence indicating specifically how flexible work arrangements affect employee engagement as well as organisation commitment, which the current investigation is seeking to address.

In addition, surprisingly, lack of research sufficient work on work flexibility in the United Kingdom’s population, especially in the mental health trusts is a big concern. Research has not been conducted to determine the extent of flexible arrangements in the NHS Mental Health Trusts as well as identify how it affects employee engagement and organisation commitment. In essence, a proper understanding of the extent, as well as effects of flexible work arrangement in the context of NHS Mental Health Trusts, have not been established by previous researchers and the information is missing in the available pieces of literature. This is a huge problem, which limits the ability of policy planners and developers to implements appropriate models for enhancing flexible work arrangements in the NHS Mental Health Trusts.

Notably, flexible work arrangements are offered to staffs working at the NHS however due to lack of research it is difficult to know the current practices as well as how they affect employee and organisation commitments. In addition, past researchers have not attempted to establish its impacts on the staffs employed within Mental Health NHS organisations. Furthermore, little is presently known about the perception of NHS employees concerning the effects of flexible work arrangements on their engagement as well as that of the organisation. Whether flexible work arrangement leads to a new form of organisational commitment as well as employee behaviour needs to be established using empirical evidence.

Another problem is that though some past researchers such as Rana, Ardichvili, and Tkachenko (2014), Wood (2016), and Caillier (2013) have hypothesised a connection between employee engagement and some aspects of work flexibility, the nature of the effects is still unclear; in essence, past researchers have not established the nature of the interaction between the two. On the other hand, past researchers have not attempted to establish a connection between work flexibility and organisation commitment. With such information missing in the empirical literature, it is hard to predict whether flexible work arrangements would increase or decrease organisation commitment, which is another huge problem in this field of research.

As noted by researchers Anitha (2014), Eldridge and Nisar (2011), the existing several types of work flexibility may have varying effects on employee engagement. Similarly, it may have varying effects on organisational commitment, which may depend on the type of the flexible arrangement of work. Proper understanding has not been established as to which types of flexible work arrangements increase employee engagement as well as the ones that decrease it. The same applies to the organisation commitment. In addition, it has not been established empirically as to whether increases in employee engagement and organisational commitment results from direct, tangible benefits of flexible work arrangements.

1.3 Research Question

1. Do flexible working arrangements affect employee engagement and organisational commitment in an NHS Mental Health Trust context?

1.4 Research Objectives

This research study aims to meet the following specific objectives:

1. To determine the preference of flexible work arrangement by employees of NHS mental health trusts in the United Kingdom.

2. To determine the type of flexible work arrangement commonly used in the NHS mental health trusts in the United Kingdom.

3. To determine the effects of flexible working arrangements on the employee engagement in an NHS mental health trust context.

4. To determine the effects of flexible working arrangements organisational commitment in an NHS mental health trust context.

1.5 Research Hypothesis

To answer the above research question, the following hypotheses will be tested.

§ H1a: Flexible working arrangements positively influence employee engagement.

§ H1b: Flexible working arrangements negatively influence employee engagement.

§ H2a. Flexible working arrangements positively influence organisational engagement.

§ H2b. Flexible working arrangements negatively influence organisational engagement.

1.6 The significance of the Study

Many benefits will arise from completing this study. First, it will fill the gaps currently existing in the literature by clearly indicating how flexible work arrangements affect both employee engagement and organisation commitment. Such information is essential though apparently missing in the available literature. In essence, the result of the study will contribute to the academic literature by not only filling the existing gaps in literature but also providing new evidence as to how flexible work arrangements affects employee and organisation commitment.

Secondly, the results will help improve the field of human resource by enabling experts to develop new models, putting into account the effects of flexible work arrangement that can improve the human resource practices in many organisations. It will enable the human resource officers to implement new flexible work arrangements that ensure the organisation gains from the maximum productivity of employees while at the same time giving them the freedom to do other things.

1.7 The scope of the Study

The scope of the current investigations was limited in three main aspects namely the objectives, methodology and research population. Even though the researcher took cognisance of the fact that the research topic is wide and many aspects can be considered, the investigations were limited to fulfilling only the pre-specified objectives. This narrowed the scope of the study to enable the researcher to focus only on specified aspects of flexible work arrangement.

Secondly, the scope was limited to the extent of the methodology used; several methodologies could be used to investigate the effects of flexible work arrangements on employee engagement and organisation commitment. However, the researcher could not implement all the possible methodology in this study. Therefore, the methodology of investigating the research problem was limited regarding the chosen research design, data, population, sampling strategy, instrument, as well as methods of analysis data.

Lastly, the scope of the current study was limited in terms of the research population. The focus of the investigation was on the United Kingdom thus information from other countries was not considered except for the literature review. Furthermore, the researcher did not investigate the entire United Kingdom population but only the NHS Mental Health Trusts, which provided the data to be analysed. Thus, the scope was limited to investigating the effects of flexible work arrangement as evidence in the NHS Mental Health Trusts.

1.8 Limitations of the Study

In research studies, limitations are basic characteristics of the study’s design and methodology that affects the findings yet the researcher could not control.  In essence, they limit the generalizability as well as practical applicability of the research findings (MacCormick, Dery and Kolb 2012). The researcher took cognisance of several limitations that directly affected the interpretation of the study’s findings. First, all the variables included in the current research study were assessed using self-reported data presented on Likert scales. Because the data were self-reported, the researcher had not had a means of verifying their authenticity.

Another limitation is that the current study used small sample data of the UK workers, which prevents wider generalisability of the findings especially to other markets outside the United Kingdom. Another limitation of the current study relates to the measure that was used to collect data namely the questionnaire. Because the questionnaire was fixed in nature, some important information could have been left out; the respondents only provided the information requested.

Since it was a primary research study, the respondents could choose to give inaccurate and biased information, which will affect the results of the study. A number of factors could influence the respondents while giving out the information leading to biases. In addition, while filling the questionnaire, the respondents could voluntarily choose to give biased information. The researcher had no control of these factors, and they could greatly affect the outcome of the analysis and conclusion of the dissertation.

1.9 The organisation of the Study

The current dissertation was organised into six chapters namely (1) the introduction, (2) review of literature, (3) methodological approach, (4) key findings, (5) discussion and analysis, and lastly (6) conclusion and recommendations. The first chapter introduced readers to the research study by discussing background as well as the research problem, questions, and objectives to be met. The second chapter reviewed the existing pieces of literature to establish the theoretical background of flexible work arrangements, employee engagement and organisational commitment as well as what past researchers have established. The third chapter presented the methods, procedures and techniques that were used to complete the empirical investigations while the fourth one presented the results of the analysis. In the fifth chapter, the researcher discussed the main findings while the last one included conclusion and recommendations of the entire dissertation. Finally, lists of references and appendices were added in the last section.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

Herein, the researcher presents the results of what the available pieces of academic literature has on the research topic. Various pieces of literature were reviewed to establish the correct theoretical background and the available empirical evidence provided by past researchers. Only genuine and authoritative academic sources such as books, journals and peer-review articles were considered in the review. In addition, only most recently published articles and books were considered to ensure that outdated information is not included in the literature review. The literature review looked at three aspects such as the concept of flexible work arrangement, work engagement, and organisational engagement. The review also presented gaps in the literature and developed a conceptual framework for the study.

2.2 Flexible Work Arrangements

As explained by Hartner-Tiefenthaler, Clarke, and Holdsworth (2018), under flexible work arrangement, employees have greater scheduling freedom to fulfil their job obligations. It refers to policies and practices in an organisation that enables employees to have some level of control over their work scheduling. Such types of arrangement essentially give employees greater leeway regarding where and when to work, the choice of which depends on them (Sok, Blomme, and Tromp 2014; James 2014). Proponents of flexible work arrangement strongly argue that it recognises the difficulties employees are facing in balancing their work duties and family obligations (Berg, Bosch, and Charest 2014; James 2014; Masselot 2015). Some researchers such as Idris (2014) and Allen et al. (2013) also noted that flexible work arrangements make the organisation more attractive and increase productivity level.

In organisations, flexibility in work arrangement is viewed as an essential resource that allows the employees to independently fit their work schedule and environments in order to meet their demands and responsibilities effectively (Sok, Blomme, and Tromp 2014). Researchers Sweet et al. (2014) and Timms et al. (2015) added that flexibility in work arrangement is essential for it provides employees with a form of control and gives them some level of discretion on when and where to work. As explained by Allen et al. (2013), flexibility can be viewed as a resource that is essential for enabling employees to schedule themselves in best ways to handle their demands thereby increasing engagement and alleviating work-related strains.

When considering its importance, researcher Bal and De Lange (2014) found that flexibility in work has been rated with high priority amongst employees in the modern work environment. A survey by Sweet et al. (2014) indicated that approximately 79% of workers who are granted flexible work arrangement consider it essential and beneficial. It is then not surprising that the demand for flexible work arrangement in organisations has been increasing over the past decades (Masselot 2015; Berg, Bosch, and Charest 2014). In the United States, only 15.1% of full-time workers were under work flexibility in 1991; however, that figure has increased to 28.8% in 2001 and 32.3% in 2017 (Mas and Pallais 2017)

A research study by Idris (2014) showed that flexibility in work arrangement had been tied to multiple positive outcomes, most of which are related to employee engagement and organisation commitment. Most positive outcomes of flexibility in work arrangements come in the form of decreased work-family conflict as well as increased work-family balance (Mas and Pallais 2017; Masselot 2015; James 2014). For instance, the researcher found that telecommuting decreases the possibility of work-family conflict. Researchers Timms et al. (2015) established that flexibility greatly enables employees to become better workers by increasing their level of engagement and decreasing interruptions when working. By allowing employees to work when they are most effective, flexibility essentially increases their productivity and performance levels (Allen et al. 2013). It also leads to improved attitudes associated with organisational commitment, employee engagement, increased satisfaction, as well as decreased turnover intentions (Cooper and Baird 2015; Sok, Blomme, and Tromp 2014; Perlow and Kelly 2014).

The results of an empirical study by researcher Galea, Houkes, and De Rijk (2014) indicated that the more time-flexibility an employee have in work arrangement, the more likely he or she will report higher commitment or engagement to the organisation. Other researchers have also shown that more time-flexibility is associated with less absenteeism, lower symptoms of stress, as well as fewer, missed deadlines (Mas and Pallais 2017; Berg, Bosch, and Charest 2014; Crawford et al. 2013).

Despite the positive outcomes documented in the above paragraphs, some authors have also highlighted some concerns and drawbacks associated with flexible work arrangements. For instance, researcher Cooper and Baird (2015) argued that the arrangement has led to an increase in the supplemental work in various organisations. As explained by Idris (2014), the increased need to complete additional work tasks has led to the inability of the employees to detach from work and engage in recovery.

According to Galea, Houkes, and De Rijk (2014), under certain conditions such as compressed workweeks, flexible work arrangements may become inflexible because workers have little control of their situations once it has been determined. Researcher Perlow and Kelly (2014) explained that such situations have negative effects on the performance and motivation of the employees to pursue flexible work arrangements. In addition, empirical evidence provided by researchers Sweet et al. (2014) and Mas and Pallais (2017) indicates that employees working under compressed workweeks arrangements are associated with more health complaints, lower psychological well-being as well as more sleep problems as compared to other types.

In addition, despite its growing significance and use, the reality of flexible work arrangement is still misunderstood with some people thinking of it as a simply certain form of privileges to employees (Cooper and Baird 2015). Researchers Cooper and Baird (2015) argued that some people view a flexible work arrangement as a concept that encourages laziness in the organisation. This perception is surprising given the bountiful benefits of using flexible work arrangements.

2.2.1 Types of Flexible Work Arrangements

The pieces of literature accessed identified a number of types of arrangements supporting flexible work conditions that are currently being practised – the major ones include telecommuting, remote working, condensed workweeks, customized working hours, part-time positions, job sharing, and flexible vacation time (Sweet et al. 2014; Galea, Houkes, and De Rijk 2014; Perlow and Kelly 2014). Telecommuting, which is one of the common type, as explained by Perlow and Kelly (2014), refers to an arrangement whereby the job is done remotely and only parts of the time. In such an arrangement, the employees report to the office semi-regularly and live locally (Galea, Houkes, and De Rijk 2014). For instance, the employee can come into the office only for two or three days in a week.

As explained by Galea et al (2014), under the remote working arrangement, the employ can perform the task away from the office and has freedom to live and work from anywhere he or she prefers. To be successful, it requires consistent communication and video conferencing (Cooper and Baird 2015). Under the condensed workweeks arrangement, the employer allows flexibility on where and when the employee should spend his or her working hours (Perlow and Kelly 2014). However, the total number of work hours required per week is usually fixed. Even though most employees like the arrangement, it is difficult to implement for the entire organisation (Timms et al. 2015; Idris 2014).

In customised working hour arrangement, the employer allows the employees to choose their work hours with reasons (MacCormick, Dery and Kolb 2012). Some workers can choose morning hours while other prefers evening working hours. Some may also want to avoid rush hour or set aside certain hours to pick up their children from school; all enabled under customised working hours (Wood 2016; Timms et al. 2015). However, under a job-sharing arrangement, the employer allows some individuals working on part-time arrangements to share a fulltime job. Notably, it is not a very common type of flexible working arrangement although preferred in some business conditions (Idris 2014).

Flexible vacation time is another common one whereby the business offers unlimited paid time off (Caillier 2013; Allen et al. 2013). However, as explained by Cooper and Baird (2015), it requires the business to adopt a culture that rewards performance quality instead of the number of hours worked. In essence, this type of flexible work arrangement insists on the performance of employees first. Another flexible working arrangement is for the organisation to offer part-time positions, which is essential because not every position warrants fulltime work (Rathi and Lee 2015; Lee 2016). Some researchers such as Masselot (2015), Berg, Bosch, and Charest (2014), and Mas and Pallais (2017) have shown that offering part-time positions help increase productivity level of the organisation. Because it is less attractive, if the employers want to keep top employees, they must offer some benefits under a part-time work arrangement. In summary, regardless of the type of flexible work arrangement offered, flexibility in work is needed, and it requires practice and patience.

2.3 Employee Engagement

Similar to flexibility in work, employee engagement is a popular concept in the business world. As explained by Anitha (2014), its popularity started in the early 1990s stemming from the conviction that it improves the performance of the organization and business outcome. The concept has also become popular among researchers as well. Researcher Shuck and Reio (2014) defined employee engagement as the process of harnessing members of the organisation to undertake their job roles by employing and expressing themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally. According to Alagaraja and Shuck (2015), it is a means of making employees being psychologically present when performing their organisational roles.

January 19, 2024
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