MO24PY- RESEARCH METHODS IN THE WORKPLACE
A study on the attitudes and
motivations of employees in zero-hour contracts and their exploitative media
Workplace flexibility is a
lucrative aspect to any employee and has been the focus of a considerable
number of investigations and scrutiny. They are offered by employers to cope
with the ever-changing service demand and are attractive to those who would
like to strike a balance between lifes other elements other than generating income.
The aim of this paper will be to look at the experience and perceptions of
zero-hour employees on the exploitative tag placed on the zero-hour work
‘contract’, especially by the media.
The paper looks at themes of
practicality of the zero-hour contract to the employee, the predominant absence
of a link between their zero-hour employment and future career paths, the use
of the zero-hour work framework however, in gaining other soft skills and buoyancies
and the zero-hour contract as a tool in achieving a personalized and ideal
These will be explored via a
thematic analysis in identifying, analyzing and reporting patterns within
provided secondary data. Findings support differences in zero-hour dynamic and
experience, in terms of offered and received flexibility as opposed to
arbitrary frameworks to contradict exploitation. However, evidence shows that
zero-hour contracts are predominantly sought out by younger individuals at
entry level capacity who perceive it as an extra benefit seeing as they have
limited financial or familial responsibilities.
Findings are important for managers,
employees and even HR professionals and policy makers to create better systems
that would prove advantageous for involved parties, in terms of behavioral and
administrative application and implementation. It is concluded that when
zero-hour employees are considered and supported by management, even in term of
their professional development, it generates better organizational citizenship
behavior and labor force as a whole.
A zero-hour contract refers to work
being offered to an employee as and when an employer needs them. The
predominant element to the zero-hour contract is the lack of a guaranteed
minimum number of hours an employee will work. According to participants, the
request to work may not need to be accepted by an employee, but refusal will
place an employer under no obligation to offer future employment.
Atkinson (1984) and McIllroy et
al., (2004) conceptualized External Flexibility to meaning a change in the
workforce where people are outsourced depending on demand but with zero-hour
contracts there is also the element of internal labor flexibility where the
workforce can be allocated different tasks including the possibility to adapt
to working hours within an organization (Blyton 1992).
The current study will be looking
at the zero-hour contract in light of whether or not it is in fact exploitative
of the employee, on the basis of it inherent dynamic. Therefor it will seek to
investigate what do individuals under the zero-hour contract think of the media
representation of zero-hour contract as exploitative, based on the responses of
the subject participants.
The zero-hour contract offers a
flexibility for the individual to balance the act of generating income and
engaging in other personal commitments (Russell, O’Connell & McGinnity
2009). More and more has this work arrangement become attractive to both
employer and employee to the point this arrangement is being included into
countries legislation (Joyce, Pabayo, Critchley and Bambre 2010).
Dawis & Lofquist (1984) used a
work adjustment model to explain how alternative work frameworks such as the
zero-hour contract influences employee attitudes and behavior. It predicts a
high correspondence between an employee needs and the reinforcement system of
the work environment would lead to a more positive job attitude putting into
consideration moderating relationships such as employee personality.
The Hackman and Oldham job characteristic
theory (1976) state a relationship between the core characteristics of a job
role such as self-direction and a clear notion of the dynamics of the tasks to
be carried out, comprise of factors that impact an employees attitude towards
their job and ideally their performance and satisfaction.
In order to address the gaps in current
literature, the current research will focus on identifying themes within
participants experience and understanding of the zero-hour contract. This would
provide a scope for further investigation of zero-hour contracts. A qualitative
research was performed by identifying analyzing and reporting patterns within
secondary data comprising of semi-structured interviews applying a thematic
analysis according to Braun and Clarke (2006).
Participants comprised of 15
opportunity sampled individuals currently employed in a zero-hour contract, all
being under the age of 25, with dynamics including parenthood.
Semi-structured interviews were
used to gather information from participants concerning their zero-hour
employment dynamic. The questions range from the stating work environment or
industry, length of employment, whether or not the participant enjoyed their
work at present, whether or not there has been an explicit contractual
agreement between them and their employer, how the participant came to be
working in a zero-hour contract position, whether or not it was their decision
to work in this capacity, what were some influences behind their decision, how
their current work arrangement is related to their future career plan if at
all, if the participants has any other commitments outside their employment,
how their job allows them to meet these commitments, how they prioritize,
whether their employers acknowledge or cater to their outside work needs, the
benefits of working a zero-hour contract, disadvantages, the impact of the
zero-hour contract on home life, lifestyle, impact of income, their perception
of their job based on their contract type including motivation and work ethic,
interaction with employees and managers in terms of integration based on
permanency and vice versa, whether they would opt for a permanent contract type
and their opinion on the exploitative and flexibility claims to the zero hour
contract to whether or not they would support its complete ban.
Participants were guaranteed
anonymity as interviews were conducted, recorded and transcribed without the
exposure of their identity with exception to the initial interviewer. These
were carried out in a mutually agreed location involving participant responding
to a series of questions highlighting their individual dynamics, positives and
negatives of the zero-hour contract and consequently a response to common media
claims of exploitation.
The use of a thematic analysis was
influenced by the need to understand the experience of the participants in a
field where little has been researched and subsequent interpretation was done
in accordance to the methodology.
The data collected from all 15
participants were transcribed. A qualitative approach using data-driven
thematic analysis is applied based on Braun and Clarke (2006). The transcribed
data was then read and re-read to immersion which was followed by a coding
phase which identified the features of the data which are considered pertinent
to the research question (Boeije 2005). Repeated patterns considered, themes
were therefore sought to explain larger sections of data by combining different
codes within it. Themes are used to explain large sections of the data by
combining different codes that were similar, to develop a thematic map to aid
their generation by considering their relationships.
Refinement of these themes is
conducted primarily with the coded data ensuring a coherent sequence, then
these were considered in relation to the data set in its entirety. Once
relationships and coherence between codes have been established, we then define
and name the themes followed by a detailed discussion. Analysis concerned not
only the highlighted themes, but ideally how these related to the overall
message inherent in the data. Thus, themes have been stated in phrases and
excerpts from the data chosen to illustrate elements of the themes and clarify
the point being made.
The research, through a thematic
analysis, investigates the attitudes of zero-hour employees as to whether or
not the zero-hour contract is in fact exploitative, as proposed by the media. A
qualitative study is performed among 15 participants all under the age of 25
who had different characteristics regarding motive, work and private life.
Mutual flexibility arrangements
occur when employers demand and also offer higher levels of flexibility to its
employees with no explicit contract (Tsui et al., 1997). This is evident in the
data that it infers a long-term commitment even when there are no working hours
allocated, constituting a wide range of expectations from either party.
According to Blau (1946) on the basis of trust, employers use these to attract
a young and skilled workforce.
Zero-hour contracts represent the employment ideal
The main finding is that a
zero-hour contract can be seen to be initiated and maintained by the employee,
and has been maintained in its entirety by potential employees looking for a
work arrangement that worked around their other commitments offering
flexibility in relation to work schedules, as interviewee 5 NADIA:
“…after a couple of years of being
a stay at home mum…I explored my options of working and…they offered me a
0-hour contract which meant I could flexible around my son…”
Additionally, it has been found that the fact
that this type of work contract is preferred by college going students, working
over their summer or winter holidays to earn extra money for other recreational
needs, has caused a shift of the aspect of exploitation from the employer to
the employee, as stated by interviewee 7 KAT:
“I was in college at the time…and I
thought ‘why not’, they said it was easy money because they mostly chilled so I
thought I would have fun with my friends whilst making money…”
This is because employers don’t
have a permanent workforce as once schools re-open after breaks, they find themselves
shorthanded and basically loose their investments so to speak in the youth they
employ who spend countless of hours working with them only to not return or
display poor work ethic creating a continuous gap in the workforce between
entry level employees and senior managers.
It has been found that employees
working in zero-hour contracts experience more autonomy (Roberts and Foti,
1998) which highlights another benefit that zero-hour employees enjoy that is
ideally contrary to the notion of exploitation, in that with self-governance,
employees stipulate their own work terms and ideally perform better at their
job. Especially with the introduction of a technology based communication and
Practicality in terms of flexibility
The flexible work schedule can also
be seen to be a contributor to a lowered stress level when it comes to work
related stress (Pierce et al., 1989). As seen in the data, work schedules are
predominantly communicated in advance, this sort of arrangement allows for a
lowered absenteeism rate due to sufficient communication and in the event an
employee cannot work, there is sufficient time to seek a replacement.
In the same way, employees who work
in zero-hour conflicts are better equipped to deal with work related conflict
as they do not have to be in an aggressive work environment or within the
proximity of an incompatible co-worker as they are usually rotated and have
extended periods of time away from the workplace to allow for a diffusion of
In the same vein, commitment and
satisfaction can be linked to flexible working arrangements (Ronen 1981) in
that there is a less likelihood of lethargy or feigning illness so as not to
report to work due to an employees’ commitment to other activities rather than
just work, meaning an employee would be willing to work hard to strike that
As seen in the data, even in the
instance that the zero-hour contract may have little to no relation to their
future career paths, the experience and networking opportunity serves to help
the employee learn and refine soft skills that essentially work towards their
ultimate professional self-actualization (Ronen, 1981).
It should be understood that
employees working in a zero-hour contract do not share a uniform experience. It
is evident that an employee attitude towards the zero-hour contract, or even
the dynamics of the zero-hour contract itself are subject to an array of
variables resulting in a positive or negative experience. As stated by
interviewee 6 MONA when asked if 0-hour contracts are exploitative:
“Not really no! unless you’re
allowing yourself to be exploited, then in that case it’s your own fault…”
Participants experience with
zero-hour contracts were predominantly positive, in that the benefits or what
was considered ‘good’ outweighed the cons. This is because the zero-hour
contract employment catered for an unwilling worker to commit 100% of their
time i.e. essentially a control of this time (Macan 1994); to employment to due
to other commitments such as family or school. As stated by interviewee 9 DOT:
“…with my employer we kind of have
a system…what they will do is put the jobs that they have on there and if you
were available to work, you just basically tick your name…”
The zero-hour contract is
predominantly attractive and cannot be strictly deemed as exploitative as per
the participants responses in which four themes emerged. The first theme
addresses the practicality of the zero-hour framework, ideally its flexible
dynamic in relation to the rigidity of the traditional work schedule. Secondly its
workings as a buffer to inexperience as an intermediary or as a mid-career endeavor.
The third and fourth refer to the financial and professional ideals.
It is evident from the data that
the flexibility that comes with the zero-hour contract type, highlights a
highly competitive job market and an even more competitive business industry
and can therefore be deduced that the pressure placed on employees can be seen
as an attempt to maintain this competitive edge (Blyton 1992) by an employer
Zero-hour contracts as a buffer to inexperience
In light of zero hours being
predominantly outside the career path of those who opt for its flexible allure,
the data has shown in several circumstances the experience acquired whilst one
works in a zero-hour contract, in that these individuals however young or
inexperienced, are not existing in a vacuum and thus have ample opportunity to
pick up on an array of professional skills. As stated by interviewee 4 SUZ:
“…also 0-hour contracts give youth
of today who haven’t got the experience yet get a – a permanent job to gain the
experience…it gives the youth something to do…”
Use of zero-hour to gain soft skills
Zero-hour employees use these
contracts to gain and sharpen their soft skills in that they are predominantly
the first employment capacity of individuals under the age 20, especially
international student who despite having a set number of hours they’re allowed
to work, English would not be their first language but they would require
employment to pay for their livelihood. It thus acts a mode of socialization
for one to be aware of the underlying norms in a new setting. As illustrated by
interviewee 2 PAUL:
“(the job) …not valuable to my
career goals but it did contribute to personal development, I developed a lot
of confidence, I learned how to talk to people, I learned how to solve
According to a The Guardian article
(9/3/2016) despite the increase in zero-hour contracts over the past decade,
there is an inherent imbalance of power in favor of the employers. This is
because although it offers flexibility, especially with the younger age group
who look for an extra income generating activity that coordinates well with
their college schedules, employees of zero-hour contracts have been found to
earn significantly less than their permanent staff counterparts even more so
disqualify them from sick pay.
However, according to Resolution
Foundation (3/3/2017) zero-hour contracts should not be dismissed as
exploitative, as over the year 2016, two-thirds of the net increase in
zero-hour workers has been among workers aged 50-64. This is because they offer
these mature workers a transitional platform from full time work into
retirement whilst still maintaining an income. Furthermore, zero-hour contracts
are not limited to low income jobs as one in six zero-hour workers are
managers, professionals and associate professionals.
In conclusion, the aspect of
exploitation stems from the financial instability and job insecurity that are
inherent to zero-hour contracts. But this is redundant as the framework itself
and the fact that individuals are aware of the type of employment they are
seeking isn’t inherently permanent and they themselves are looking for a
situation where their work isn’t defined by the conventions of ‘normal’
Companies on the other hand may use
these types of contracts to attract an influx of labor, but other than pay,
employees stand to gain a lot more in terms of experience and networking
opportunities which in eventuality may not be reciprocated or brought back to
the company as an asset, a lot can be said on the prevalence of zero-hour
employment being just a way to make money or convenience employment.
It is however recommended that the
employment act be amended to require employers to provide a written statement
on the terms and conditions of employment for the protection of the employee in
light of pay and duration of work relationship and the employer so as to
mediate pay and work output.
Also, employers should include
within said statement working hours which are a true reflection of the hours
required of the employee, and have a set and reasonable time period in advance
in contacting employees to solicit labor.
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