Across Europe downsizing has stimulated the use of contingency workers in all sectors and at all levels of business, from clerical staff to board directors. At the same time improvements in communication technologies have dramatically facilitated the reach and speed of information across traditional geographical boundaries. This in its turn has reduced the need for all employees to be physically situated in the same place and has increased the opportunities for enterprises to deploy permanent, temporary and part time staff in new flexible management structures that can increase service levels for employers and customers alike.
The changing nature of European business, which is being accelerated by the single market and ERM, offers new opportunities. Flexible staff structures are one of the most effective methods for enterprises, who want to operate at a European level, to expand without having to put in place a traditional staffing structure in their new markets.
Matrix management involves two chains of command, one vertical (the permanent, formal company structure) and the other horizontal (the flexible, team working structure). The latter can, for instance, be ad hoc design teams, temporary task forces or sales and customer service teams.
This case history shows how the traditional concept of territory-based salespeople needing constant direction has been changed. They have evolved away from dependency on the manager and have moved from the independence of territory ‘islands’ into ‘interdependency’ through teamwork.
The matrix management format demonstrates that it may not be necessary to employ a traditional sales manager who controls and directs. Instead this person is likely to be a business process improver, facilitating the networking of the sales team with other departments and assisting their relationships with external business partners.
Matrix management will frequently require the use of temporary and part time staff, often recruited through employment agencies. Employers should be aware that there are some special differences between the UK and other EU member states. The UK 1973 Employment Agencies Act, which required agencies to hold licences, was voided 5 years ago. This removal of statutory controls has resulted in an increase in entrepreneurial activity and more competition. No UK employment bureau has more than a 5 per cent market share. This absence of regulations is in contrast to other EU member states where tighter social regulations have restricted innovative practices amongst suppliers of labour.
Consequently, UK service provision has become more diverse and has led to formal partnership arrangements including tailored guides for users in different circumstances, helping both employer and supplier, manage the flexible worker.
The implications for European businesses are that UK employment practices can demonstrate the benefits of more flexible contracting. Additionally, more continental firms could consider adopting the interim management processes described in this case study.
Every week in the UK, more than 500,000 people find temporary work through recruitment agencies (source: Eurostat). This pool of labour creates great scope for employers and employees alike in redefining their opportunities, and lowering the costs and risks of employment.
The Importance Of Students
It is essential for any employer who implements a Matrix Management system to exploit all potential sources of labour. Students can play an important role in this process.
There is an increasing number of gap years between school or college and graduation. That has meant many more students now travelling across European boundaries, looking for short-term work in their “gap year”. And it makes this particular marketplace much more useful for employers to tap into.
The UK graduate population has exploded in the last few years, providing employers elsewhere in Europe with a big opportunity, which they are not yet taking advantage of. That is perhaps understandable because there has not been the same graduate explosion there, as there has been in the UK, where such things as the granting of university status to polytechnics has meant more students gaining university degrees.
Again this case history demonstrates the benefits of using students, who can be a flexible, low cost resource that is available for later full time recruitment. It really is worth European human resources managers exploring the possibilities of graduates.