• Work Life Journal

Workplace Flexibility and the Dangerous Class


When I started my PhD (Titled: Work, Life and Sustainability: Examining Workplace Flexibility in the Public Sector), keen to meet my University supervisor for the first time, I rolled up wide-eyed and eager to give voice to the positive impact that flexible working has brought to my life. After hearing my spiel about my research proposal - with all its rosy reasonings - like a slap in the face, she hands me 'The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class" by academic Guy Standing.

It's a warning to people like me who succumb to the trappings of flexible work. It's dark and devastating; painting a picture of exploitation and extreme insecurity for those who fall into the traps of casual, part-time and flexible work. Standing points out that flexible work is largely in favour of employers who use this to exploit their workforce, in return they benefit from reduced costs, a flexible workforce which they can utilise (or not) according to the demands of their business. It warns against loss of economic security, benefits lost including superannuation, social security entitlements, maternity leave, sick leave, annual leave, irregular income, etc. It also warns of loss of security in terms of social standing; loss of identity, career progression, skills development and becoming deskilled. Standing does admit that his perspective is grim. There are instances where some flexible or casual labour (for instance working whilst studying for your degree) might be instrumental in developing a strategic pathway - but he feels this is more or less rare.

Whilst I enjoyed Standing's book, I am taking it merely as a warning to balance the flexibility, to monitor it, to keep it under scrutiny. A periodic review allows you to re-assess your situation, your requirements and your progress towards your career or life goals. Taking on flexible work, casual and part-time work can work for you now, but you need to ensure it doesn't take over your life and lead you down an unsuspecting path of the precariat.

Resource: 'The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class" by academic Guy Standing. Published 2014, Bloomsbury Publishing, PLC, New York, USA.


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