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Flexibilitetens gränser

Förändring och friktion i arbetsliv och familj

Anne Grönlund

Umeå Universitet 2004, 259 s. ISBN 91-89140-33-8
Bogomtale fra forlaget.

THE TERM FLEXIBILITY has come to be a symbol for a number of grand hopes. An increased flexibility is seen as a key issue for modern organisations and is assumed to pave the way for a more gender equal and family friendly working life. The aim of the thesis has been to confront a number of assumptions about the “flexibilization” of working life with quantitative data from the Swedish labour market. An important goal has been to discuss the effects of flexibility on gender segregation in work and family life. The study focuses on three branches with different gender composition of the work force: manufacturing, health care and finance. The main data consists of a questionnaire that was sent to a representative sample of employees in the three branches (n=1.836) and another that was sent to their workplaces (n=625). Addional data comes from interviews with representatives of labour unions and employer organisations, and reviews of collective agreements and of- ficial statistics.

The results provide a picture of flexibility in working life that differs from the one depicted in the ongoing debate, both regarding the strategies of organisations and the significance of flexibility to employees. The debate has focused on expanding employers’ room to manoeuvre, especially the possibilities to hire and fire personnel according to shifts in demand. The thesis shows, however, that efforts to create flexibility within the existing work force, through for instance overtime and work rotation, are equally important as the numerical flexibility obtained through termination of personnel, temporary jobs and sub-contracting. The results also challenge the idea that labour market regulation constitutes a decisive obstacle for flexibility. Workplaces that regard regulation as a problem do not adapt staffing to demand any less than others do and in all three branches competence issues pose a greater problem.

The analyses point to a somewhat ambiguous relationship between gender and flexibility. Women have less employeroriented flexible work hours than men, which could be a result of their greater responsibility for home and children, but despite this responsibility they have less of a possibility to set their own working hours. This is explained by the fact that influence over work hours is an organisational perk associated with a high position and an adaptation to employer needs, rather than a right for the employee. Demands on time from the family in the form of children or a greater responsibility for housework do not affect the possibilities for flexible work schedules.

The thesis also gives cause to question the idea that flexible work hours make it easier to combine paid work and family. Flexibility does not seem to lessen the conflict between these two spheres, nor does it lead to a more egalitarian division of housework.

Functional flexibility in the form of work rotation and other forms of varying work tasks leads to job enrichment, but also to an intensification of work This kind of flexibility is not more common among men than women and there is no gender difference regarding its effects on work.