Round Table "Flexible working time and employee needs"

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Are working time flexibility and taking employee needs into account mutually exclusive?

The Workforce Management Round Table aroused great interest during the INFORM Aviation User Conference between 31.8.-2.9.2016, in which experts, managers and planners from all over the world discussed a highly topical issue: working time flexibility and its compatibility with employee needs.

Working time flexibility as an economic necessity

In an environment like no other, which is shaped by extreme fluctuations in demand, high demand forecast uncertainty and short-term requirement changes, the flexibility of working time is an unavoidable necessity for achieving sufficient working time productivity in the face of rising cost pressures. Thus, experts consider workforce management for ground handling services at airports to be the most challenging and its degree of achieved working time flexibility as the most advanced.

As confirmed in the user conference, companies use a wide range of different strategies to improve the flexibility of staff scheduling. Shift lengths between 4 and 12 hours, numerous different agreements for flexible deployment, in particular short-term notice, as well as the use of various part-time and temporary employees determine much of the scheduling.

Impact on workforce management and employee motivation

Compared to the past, working time flexibility has increased the requirements, which the planning process and the planner need to address. The mastery of the increased planning complexity has long been a critical success factor for the companies concerned.

As the debate confirmed, in many companies, a further development is currently looming that is giving rise to concern:

An unusually high level of employee fluctuation has been observed, especially in parts of Europe and Oceania. There are also increasing problems in the recruitment of suitable staff, in particular for low-skilled activities and in the area of part-time work, although local factors play a role. Employees complain about the strains of shift work, companies complain about the sickness rate.

For an industry that is traditionally accustomed to having many employees commit to the company for decades, if not for life, this is a worrying development. The question arises as to the reasons why employment in ground transport service appears to have lost its appeal, from the point of view of the labor market and the staff.

Consideration of employees’ needs as a critical success factor

It was agreed that while wage and salary levels play an important role, these are not the only reasons. Rather, the discussion centered on to what degree of responsibility can be attributed to poor planning ability and difficulties in reconciling family life and leisure time with the working conditions of shift work. In particular, the companies’ expectation regarding their staff flexibility seems to have a deterrent effect on applicants, especially on younger candidates of the so-called Generation Y.

The requirements of flexible shift models are not only a challenge for the planner; they also increase the employees’ strain, both physically and mentally. According to experts, the importance of work-life balance will continue to grow in the future. Society’s attitude towards work-life balance plays a major role here. Thus, the employees’ expectations for a flexible consideration of their needs in their shift schedule will grow.

Employee participation as an appropriate planning element

The affected participants agreed that there is already a need to compensate for the high flexibility requirements through greater employee participation. By flexibly taking into account the individual needs of the employees, their motivation will significantly increase and thus, the fluctuation and the health burden will decrease. As the participants’ experiences confirmed, there is already a positive impact if the employees feel valued and that their needs are taken seriously.

The mere introduction of an ESS, employee portal, is not enough. Rather, it must be decided in advance which of the numerous possibilities will be used for employee participation. The introduction of employee participation must be specifically tailored to the needs of the company and the employees. It should also be clear that the workforce management complexity continues to increase. Without demand-driven, powerful workforce management software, this goal cannot be achieved.


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