People who need structure do not benefit from flexible working, known as ‘het nieuwe werken’, or new-style working, in Dutch. More responsibility, working from home and flexible working hours does not motivate people more, and neither does it make them more creative. These are the results of research for which psychologist Marjette Slijkhuis will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 29 March 2012. ‘Flexible working saves less than employers think it will.’
Working life is changing. In more and more organizations it is no longer the manager who determines when and where the employees work but the employees themselves. This change is often termed ‘flexible working’. The use of new communication technology enables people to do part of their work at home, and at times that they have themselves chosen. Many employees are welcoming flexible working. They think they can cut costs while at the same time meeting the demands of their staff. But Slijkhuis shows that it is not as simple as that.
Slijkhuis surveyed hundreds of employees from the public, education, consultancy and technical sectors. Her research shows that only some employees benefit from flexible working. People with little need for structure say the freedom and flexibility of this new way of working makes them extra motivated. But people with a greater need for structure do not become more motivated, and they do not become more creative either. Slijkhuis says, ‘Many employers think that everyone wants freedom and autonomy. My research shows that this is not true.’
Flexible working is changing the way in which managers give feedback. They spend a lot less time monitoring how people work, and focus instead on results. A field study shows that this different managing style does not work equally well for all employees. People with little need for structure become demotivated if their manager tends to micro-manage. But people who do require structure do actually appreciate it if the way they work is monitored step by step.
What is striking is that these results do not just apply for older people but also for young people. Slijkhuis says, ‘In our study of motivation and feedback style we looked at students. People often claim that young people have a greater need for freedom and autonomy than older people, but there proved to be a clear group among the students that needed a monitoring form of feedback.’
With her research Slijkhuis shows that flexible working is not a boon for everyone. Employees will therefore save less than they think because some of their employees will not perform better. But employees will also have to change their ideas. Slijkhuis says, ‘You often hear it said that everyone wants to work as independently as possible. But this is not the case. Some people do actually need a manager who tells them clearly what they must do. But it is not easy to admit this.’
Marjette Slijkhuis (Hattem, 1979) was awarded a Master’s degree in Human Behaviour in Social Contexts by the University of Groningen in 2007. Her PhD research was at the Department of Psychology of the University of Groningen and at the Kurt Lewin Institute. Her PhD is in Behavioural and Social Sciences and her supervisor was Prof. Nico van Yperen. Slijkhuis now works as a psychology lecturer at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen. The title of her thesis is: ‘A structured approach to need for structure at work’.
Contact: Marjette Slijkhuis, e-mail: j.m.slijkhuis rug.nl
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