Increased flexibility is expected to have a positive impact on labour productivity, service quality and, ultimately, the profitability of firms in the hospitality industry. Due to the fact that numerical flexibility approaches (i.e. adapting the labor force to fluctuations in demand by relying more heavily on part-time and temporary workers) may cause a substantial negative impact on employee attitudes and behaviors it appears desirable to reorient research efforts towards the functional flexibility approach (i.e. promoting a multiskilled workforce capable of rotating between different functions). Existing research clearly indicates that the hospitality industry has not yet mastered the use of functional flexibility. When trying to achieve functional flexibility, hospitality companies are likely to run into major barriers related to structural, cultural and procedural issues. Therefore, the main challenge of this research project is to understand potential barriers that obstruct the successful implementation of functional flexibility and to analyze tools that may help overcome these barriers. Specifically, this means that research should not only focus on employees' ability to behave in flexible ways but also on their attitude towards flexibility. In addition, research must identify the organizational variables that influence employee attitudes and behaviors with regard to flexibility. Only on the basis of a thorough understanding of these relationships will it be possible to provide meaningful recommendations for managerial practice in the hospitality industry.
The main focus of this project is on flexibility at the employee level. This requires a conceptualization of what constitutes employee flexibility. We suggest that employee flexibility is required at three levels: flexibility towards guests, towards colleagues and towards the employer. Flexibility towards the employer: This encompasses doing what 'a good employee ought to do', i.e. general compliance with internalized norms or informal rules and disciplined behavior such as following rules and respecting authority. Flexibility towards colleagues: This means giving assistance to colleagues in need of support and includes orienting new employees and helping others with work problems or in stressful situations. Flexibility towards guests: Guest perceptions of service quality will be determined by employees' willingness to help guests, know their needs and give them individualized attention.
Once employee flexibility has been defined and appropriate measures have been identified, the appropriate next step will be to identify antecedents of employee flexibility, i.e. organizational variables which have an impact on employee attitudes towards flexibility and on the degree to which they exhibit flexible behaviors. Relevant variables include organizational structure, organizational culture, leadership and human resource management system.

September 2006 - February 2008
Academic partner: Haute école de gestion de Fribourg
Economic partners: Hewlett Packard, Hyatt International & Kempinski
Financial partner: HES-SO

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