Edited by Chris Brewster and Wolfgang Mayrhofer
Maria C. Gonzalez and Phil Almond In all reference books the term ‘flexibility’ has been defined more or less as follows: ‘a relatively ambiguous term which did not begin to have an impact until after the second half of the 1970s. It nearly always refers to labour, but may also have various shades of meaning (for example, flexibility of the labour force, flexibility of the wage earners, flexibility of wage structures, flexibility of labour markets). The one common element is that there is never enough flexibility. (Bruno, 1989: 33, quoted in Prieto, 1993: 615) The search for ‘flexibility’ is perhaps the most perennial of leitmotifs within HRM. As the 23-year-old quotation above reflects, its vagueness of meaning allows it to be interpreted with radically different meanings by people with different interests. It can also refer to policy and practice at the workplace/firm level, or to the regulation of national labour markets. Although authors have approached the flexibility debate from a huge variety of perspectives, the overarching narrative behind the need of employers to attain more flexible working practices – at least in developed countries where the majority of jobs are of a certain quality and are embedded in the wider framework of a welfare state – is relatively uncontested. It starts, whether explicitly or otherwise, with the crisis of the Fordist production regime, with its narrowly defined, Taylorist jobs and inflexible labour markets. Increased international competitive pressures from the 1970s onwards, along with technological progress, led to interest in new work organisation...
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