MO24PY- RESEARCH METHODS IN THE WORKPLACE TITLEA study on the attitudes andmotivations of employees in zero-hour contracts and their exploitative mediarepresentation.
ABSTRACTWorkplace flexibility is alucrative aspect to any employee and has been the focus of a considerablenumber of investigations and scrutiny. They are offered by employers to copewith the ever-changing service demand and are attractive to those who wouldlike to strike a balance between lifes other elements other than generating income.The aim of this paper will be to look at the experience and perceptions ofzero-hour employees on the exploitative tag placed on the zero-hour work’contract’, especially by the media.
The paper looks at themes ofpracticality of the zero-hour contract to the employee, the predominant absenceof a link between their zero-hour employment and future career paths, the useof the zero-hour work framework however, in gaining other soft skills and buoyanciesand the zero-hour contract as a tool in achieving a personalized and idealemployment system.These will be explored via athematic analysis in identifying, analyzing and reporting patterns withinprovided secondary data. Findings support differences in zero-hour dynamic andexperience, in terms of offered and received flexibility as opposed toarbitrary frameworks to contradict exploitation. However, evidence shows thatzero-hour contracts are predominantly sought out by younger individuals atentry level capacity who perceive it as an extra benefit seeing as they havelimited financial or familial responsibilities.Findings are important for managers,employees and even HR professionals and policy makers to create better systemsthat would prove advantageous for involved parties, in terms of behavioral andadministrative application and implementation. It is concluded that whenzero-hour employees are considered and supported by management, even in term oftheir professional development, it generates better organizational citizenshipbehavior and labor force as a whole.
INTRODUCTIONA zero-hour contract refers to workbeing offered to an employee as and when an employer needs them. Thepredominant element to the zero-hour contract is the lack of a guaranteedminimum number of hours an employee will work. According to participants, therequest to work may not need to be accepted by an employee, but refusal willplace an employer under no obligation to offer future employment.Atkinson (1984) and McIllroy etal., (2004) conceptualized External Flexibility to meaning a change in theworkforce where people are outsourced depending on demand but with zero-hourcontracts there is also the element of internal labor flexibility where theworkforce can be allocated different tasks including the possibility to adaptto working hours within an organization (Blyton 1992).The current study will be lookingat the zero-hour contract in light of whether or not it is in fact exploitativeof the employee, on the basis of it inherent dynamic. Therefor it will seek toinvestigate what do individuals under the zero-hour contract think of the mediarepresentation of zero-hour contract as exploitative, based on the responses ofthe subject participants.
The zero-hour contract offers aflexibility for the individual to balance the act of generating income andengaging in other personal commitments (Russell, O’Connell & McGinnity2009). More and more has this work arrangement become attractive to bothemployer and employee to the point this arrangement is being included intocountries legislation (Joyce, Pabayo, Critchley and Bambre 2010).Dawis & Lofquist (1984) used awork adjustment model to explain how alternative work frameworks such as thezero-hour contract influences employee attitudes and behavior.
It predicts ahigh correspondence between an employee needs and the reinforcement system ofthe work environment would lead to a more positive job attitude putting intoconsideration moderating relationships such as employee personality.The Hackman and Oldham job characteristictheory (1976) state a relationship between the core characteristics of a jobrole such as self-direction and a clear notion of the dynamics of the tasks tobe carried out, comprise of factors that impact an employees attitude towardstheir job and ideally their performance and satisfaction. METHOD Approach In order to address the gaps in currentliterature, the current research will focus on identifying themes withinparticipants experience and understanding of the zero-hour contract.
This wouldprovide a scope for further investigation of zero-hour contracts. A qualitativeresearch was performed by identifying analyzing and reporting patterns withinsecondary data comprising of semi-structured interviews applying a thematicanalysis according to Braun and Clarke (2006).Participants Participants comprised of 15opportunity sampled individuals currently employed in a zero-hour contract, allbeing under the age of 25, with dynamics including parenthood.MaterialsSemi-structured interviews wereused to gather information from participants concerning their zero-houremployment dynamic.
The questions range from the stating work environment orindustry, length of employment, whether or not the participant enjoyed theirwork at present, whether or not there has been an explicit contractualagreement between them and their employer, how the participant came to beworking in a zero-hour contract position, whether or not it was their decisionto work in this capacity, what were some influences behind their decision, howtheir current work arrangement is related to their future career plan if atall, if the participants has any other commitments outside their employment,how their job allows them to meet these commitments, how they prioritize,whether their employers acknowledge or cater to their outside work needs, thebenefits of working a zero-hour contract, disadvantages, the impact of thezero-hour contract on home life, lifestyle, impact of income, their perceptionof their job based on their contract type including motivation and work ethic,interaction with employees and managers in terms of integration based onpermanency and vice versa, whether they would opt for a permanent contract typeand their opinion on the exploitative and flexibility claims to the zero hourcontract to whether or not they would support its complete ban.ProcedureParticipants were guaranteedanonymity as interviews were conducted, recorded and transcribed without theexposure of their identity with exception to the initial interviewer. Thesewere carried out in a mutually agreed location involving participant respondingto a series of questions highlighting their individual dynamics, positives andnegatives of the zero-hour contract and consequently a response to common mediaclaims of exploitation.ReflexivityThe use of a thematic analysis wasinfluenced by the need to understand the experience of the participants in afield where little has been researched and subsequent interpretation was donein accordance to the methodology.ANALYSISThe data collected from all 15participants were transcribed.
A qualitative approach using data-driventhematic analysis is applied based on Braun and Clarke (2006). The transcribeddata was then read and re-read to immersion which was followed by a codingphase which identified the features of the data which are considered pertinentto the research question (Boeije 2005). Repeated patterns considered, themeswere therefore sought to explain larger sections of data by combining differentcodes within it. Themes are used to explain large sections of the data bycombining different codes that were similar, to develop a thematic map to aidtheir generation by considering their relationships.
Refinement of these themes isconducted primarily with the coded data ensuring a coherent sequence, thenthese were considered in relation to the data set in its entirety. Oncerelationships and coherence between codes have been established, we then defineand name the themes followed by a detailed discussion. Analysis concerned notonly the highlighted themes, but ideally how these related to the overallmessage inherent in the data. Thus, themes have been stated in phrases andexcerpts from the data chosen to illustrate elements of the themes and clarifythe point being made.
DISCUSSIONThe research, through a thematicanalysis, investigates the attitudes of zero-hour employees as to whether ornot the zero-hour contract is in fact exploitative, as proposed by the media. Aqualitative study is performed among 15 participants all under the age of 25who had different characteristics regarding motive, work and private life. Mutual flexibility arrangementsoccur when employers demand and also offer higher levels of flexibility to itsemployees with no explicit contract (Tsui et al., 1997).
This is evident in thedata that it infers a long-term commitment even when there are no working hoursallocated, constituting a wide range of expectations from either party.According to Blau (1946) on the basis of trust, employers use these to attracta young and skilled workforce. Zero-hour contracts represent the employment idealThe main finding is that azero-hour contract can be seen to be initiated and maintained by the employee,and has been maintained in its entirety by potential employees looking for awork arrangement that worked around their other commitments offeringflexibility in relation to work schedules, as interviewee 5 NADIA:”…after a couple of years of beinga stay at home mum…I explored my options of working and…they offered me a0-hour contract which meant I could flexible around my son…” Additionally, it has been found that the factthat this type of work contract is preferred by college going students, workingover their summer or winter holidays to earn extra money for other recreationalneeds, has caused a shift of the aspect of exploitation from the employer tothe employee, as stated by interviewee 7 KAT:”I was in college at the time…and Ithought ‘why not’, they said it was easy money because they mostly chilled so Ithought I would have fun with my friends whilst making money…”This is because employers don’thave a permanent workforce as once schools re-open after breaks, they find themselvesshorthanded and basically loose their investments so to speak in the youth theyemploy who spend countless of hours working with them only to not return ordisplay poor work ethic creating a continuous gap in the workforce betweenentry level employees and senior managers.It has been found that employeesworking in zero-hour contracts experience more autonomy (Roberts and Foti,1998) which highlights another benefit that zero-hour employees enjoy that isideally contrary to the notion of exploitation, in that with self-governance,employees stipulate their own work terms and ideally perform better at theirjob. Especially with the introduction of a technology based communication andfeedback.Practicality in terms of flexibilityThe flexible work schedule can alsobe seen to be a contributor to a lowered stress level when it comes to workrelated stress (Pierce et al., 1989). As seen in the data, work schedules arepredominantly communicated in advance, this sort of arrangement allows for alowered absenteeism rate due to sufficient communication and in the event anemployee cannot work, there is sufficient time to seek a replacement.
In the same way, employees who workin zero-hour conflicts are better equipped to deal with work related conflictas they do not have to be in an aggressive work environment or within theproximity of an incompatible co-worker as they are usually rotated and haveextended periods of time away from the workplace to allow for a diffusion ofthe situation.In the same vein, commitment andsatisfaction can be linked to flexible working arrangements (Ronen 1981) inthat there is a less likelihood of lethargy or feigning illness so as not toreport to work due to an employees’ commitment to other activities rather thanjust work, meaning an employee would be willing to work hard to strike thatbalance.As seen in the data, even in theinstance that the zero-hour contract may have little to no relation to theirfuture career paths, the experience and networking opportunity serves to helpthe employee learn and refine soft skills that essentially work towards theirultimate professional self-actualization (Ronen, 1981).It should be understood thatemployees working in a zero-hour contract do not share a uniform experience.
Itis evident that an employee attitude towards the zero-hour contract, or eventhe dynamics of the zero-hour contract itself are subject to an array ofvariables resulting in a positive or negative experience. As stated byinterviewee 6 MONA when asked if 0-hour contracts are exploitative:”Not really no! unless you’reallowing yourself to be exploited, then in that case it’s your own fault…”Participants experience withzero-hour contracts were predominantly positive, in that the benefits or whatwas considered ‘good’ outweighed the cons. This is because the zero-hourcontract employment catered for an unwilling worker to commit 100% of theirtime i.
e. essentially a control of this time (Macan 1994); to employment to dueto other commitments such as family or school. As stated by interviewee 9 DOT:”…with my employer we kind of havea system…what they will do is put the jobs that they have on there and if youwere available to work, you just basically tick your name…”The zero-hour contract ispredominantly attractive and cannot be strictly deemed as exploitative as perthe participants responses in which four themes emerged. The first themeaddresses the practicality of the zero-hour framework, ideally its flexibledynamic in relation to the rigidity of the traditional work schedule.
Secondly itsworkings as a buffer to inexperience as an intermediary or as a mid-career endeavor.The third and fourth refer to the financial and professional ideals. It is evident from the data thatthe flexibility that comes with the zero-hour contract type, highlights ahighly competitive job market and an even more competitive business industryand can therefore be deduced that the pressure placed on employees can be seenas an attempt to maintain this competitive edge (Blyton 1992) by an employercompany.Zero-hour contracts as a buffer to inexperienceIn light of zero hours beingpredominantly outside the career path of those who opt for its flexible allure,the data has shown in several circumstances the experience acquired whilst oneworks in a zero-hour contract, in that these individuals however young orinexperienced, are not existing in a vacuum and thus have ample opportunity topick up on an array of professional skills. As stated by interviewee 4 SUZ:”…also 0-hour contracts give youthof today who haven’t got the experience yet get a – a permanent job to gain theexperience…it gives the youth something to do…”Use of zero-hour to gain soft skillsZero-hour employees use thesecontracts to gain and sharpen their soft skills in that they are predominantlythe first employment capacity of individuals under the age 20, especiallyinternational student who despite having a set number of hours they’re allowedto work, English would not be their first language but they would requireemployment to pay for their livelihood.
It thus acts a mode of socializationfor one to be aware of the underlying norms in a new setting. As illustrated byinterviewee 2 PAUL:”(the job) …not valuable to mycareer goals but it did contribute to personal development, I developed a lotof confidence, I learned how to talk to people, I learned how to solveproblems…” According to a The Guardian article(9/3/2016) despite the increase in zero-hour contracts over the past decade,there is an inherent imbalance of power in favor of the employers. This isbecause although it offers flexibility, especially with the younger age groupwho look for an extra income generating activity that coordinates well withtheir college schedules, employees of zero-hour contracts have been found toearn significantly less than their permanent staff counterparts even more sodisqualify them from sick pay.However, according to ResolutionFoundation (3/3/2017) zero-hour contracts should not be dismissed asexploitative, as over the year 2016, two-thirds of the net increase inzero-hour workers has been among workers aged 50-64. This is because they offerthese mature workers a transitional platform from full time work intoretirement whilst still maintaining an income. Furthermore, zero-hour contractsare not limited to low income jobs as one in six zero-hour workers aremanagers, professionals and associate professionals.In conclusion, the aspect ofexploitation stems from the financial instability and job insecurity that areinherent to zero-hour contracts.
But this is redundant as the framework itselfand the fact that individuals are aware of the type of employment they areseeking isn’t inherently permanent and they themselves are looking for asituation where their work isn’t defined by the conventions of ‘normal’employment.Companies on the other hand may usethese types of contracts to attract an influx of labor, but other than pay,employees stand to gain a lot more in terms of experience and networkingopportunities which in eventuality may not be reciprocated or brought back tothe company as an asset, a lot can be said on the prevalence of zero-houremployment being just a way to make money or convenience employment.It is however recommended that theemployment act be amended to require employers to provide a written statementon the terms and conditions of employment for the protection of the employee inlight of pay and duration of work relationship and the employer so as tomediate pay and work output.Also, employers should includewithin said statement working hours which are a true reflection of the hoursrequired of the employee, and have a set and reasonable time period in advancein contacting employees to solicit labor. REFERENCESBlau, P. M.
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