Managing the zero hours ‘epidemic’

Jon Rhymes, co-founder of WorkGaps, believes that technology can make flexible contracts work better for both employers and workers.

2746117951_22e14fa32d_oIn the run up to the General Election, a lot of noise was made about zero-hours contracts, with Ed Miliband labelling them an “epidemic”.

Iain Duncan Smith dismissed Labour’s claims that zero-hours contracts were damaging, instead proposing that they should be renamed ‘flexible-hour contracts’, in an attempt to better define what the contracts mean to so many workers who live by them.

As the Conservatives have secured a majority government, and Duncan Smith keeps his job as work and pensions secretary, it’s more likely that his plans to rebrand zero-hours contracts will come to fruition and Labour’s aims to introduce legislation to regulate them will be forgotten.

Benefits to business and workers?

Research suggests that casual contracts are important to both workers and businesses. For instance, a 2013 study conducted by the CIPD found that 47% of workers on zero-hours contracts were “very satisfied” or at least “satisfied” with their deal, with 72% valuing choice over the hours they worked. In fact, people on zero-hours contracts reportedly have a level of satisfaction with their jobs that is higher than for those on fixed contracts.

For businesses, the hiring of additional zero-hours staff increases staffing numbers without the cost and commitment associated with other contracts. As a result of this, zero-hours workers can be used to cover busier service periods or anticipated peaks in trade without creating a fixed overhead or overcapacity in resourcing plans.

Employing people on zero-hours contracts creates an agile workforce, and one that presents a great deal of flexibility for both a business and its workers. In an uncertain economy, businesses are more likely to create a job if they can guarantee that costs will be covered through customer demand. And economists acknowledge that Britain’s flexible labour market has been a key factor in its economic recovery.

However, zero-hours work can create a lot of administration for both workers and employers. Managing work rotas and contacting staff to establish their availability is costly and inconvenient when managed via text messages, email and phone.

With 8.6 million people involved in zero-hours, temporary, or contract work – almost a third of the UK’s workforce – the question is: can these types of contracts be made to work better for both employers and workers?

Increase flexibility with technology

Innovative technology, accessible through a smart phone app or desktop software, can help workers manage their employment more effectively and take control over their work-life balance. For example, sharing a simple online calendar showing a worker’s availability for shifts, would dramatically reduce the need for ad hoc communication between employers and workers, and make it far easier for workers to manage multiple part-time jobs.

Most part-time workers are not provided with corporate technology devices, and so communication and the paperwork can be challenging for all parties. However, with almost two thirds of the UK population now carrying around more computer power than it first took NASA to land on the moon, why are we not using that modern technology to make life easier both for the workers and those hiring them?

Effective use of technology will also help employers significantly reduce the cost of recruiting and managing zero-hours workers. In 2014, UK businesses spent an almost unbelievable £28 billion on recruitment, of which over 90% was spent on part-time and contract-based workers. Technology that can match skills, experience, location and availability for work will make the recruitment process faster, better and cheaper for both employers and workers.

Workforce management is finally maturing beyond its legacy of time clocks and scheduling, incorporating mobile access and communications to better support flexible working. The pocket computer power many of us now take for granted, coupled with the advances in mobile network data transfer capabilities, are the keys to enabling smarter, flexible working. Technology must therefore be embraced, as it can help transform those involved in the part-time and temporary job market for good.

Jon Rhymes WorkGaps - table 2

WorkGaps is an online platform designed to simplify recruitment and work management.

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