CIM Lecturer and HR specialist Dr Fotis Pavlou shares his insights and research on flexible work in Cyprus
It is true that more and more organizations all over the word realize the importance of flexible working, since the implementation of related schemes, allowing flexibility regarding where, when and how employees work, yield benefits both for the employers (in terms of low employees turnover, enriched performance, productivity, efficiency, economies of scales etc.) and the employees (in terms of satisfaction, engagement, fulfillment, work-life balance, low stress levels, improved psychological contract etc.).
Types of flexible work include part-time and compressed hours, mobile working, home working, career breaks / sabbaticals, flextime, job sharing and many more. Yet, for these schemes to have positive impact, certain prerequisites need to be present. Mutual trust, respect, fairness, openness to innovation, diversity, transparent communication and democratic climate are just some basic ingredients for success.
Nonetheless, the existence of these fundamentals differ from country to country and if we want to make a sense regarding the actual applicability and real value of flexible work, there is a necessity to analyze this concept from a ‘contingency’ perspective. This perspective highlights the importance of the context which can reinforce or inhibit reaching to a reciprocally beneficial outcome.
So, what is the case in Cyprus? Relevant Facts & Challenges
Below, important facts are presented that help the reader to understand the context of Cyprus and how key variables affect the existence and the level of implementation of flexible working schemes by the local enterprises.
First of all, it has to be stated that Cypriot economy is dominated by small local enterprises (in majority employing less than 10 employees). Looking into the Registration of Establishments, these ‘micro-enterprises’ constitute more than 90% of the total number of Cypriot organizations (Press and Information Office of the Republic of Cyprus). It could be suggested that the small-size organizations and their limited workforce hold back the utilization of economies of scale and inhibit the introduction of advanced technologies and other HR-related innovations which in turn could facilitate the implementation of some types of flexible work (i.e. teleworking, flextime, study leaves etc.).
Of great importance are also some key features of the Cypriot culture. Among others, traditionalism is a dominant characteristic of the Cyprus culture. As a natural extension of this, we indeed observe traditional employment regimes. Using Geert Hofstede’s classifications, we can say that Cyprus belongs in the ‘uncertainty avoidance’ category (that is does not favor uncertainty) – the Cypriot culture is characterized by its extreme efforts to avoid by any means the ‘uncertain’ factor. What this implies is that organizations, to deal and correspond to unknown and ambiguous situations, they proceed with building rigid management approaches through highly formalized systems and hierarchies. Seeking to minimize this uncertainty, organizations establish clear policies, practices and procedures. In turn, employees prefer to hold on and refer to this system in cases that they face ambiguous situations. In simple terms, Cypriot employees do not show particular preference towards flexible and ad-hoc arrangements, which promote improvisation and innovativeness.
Related to the above, Cypriots, on majority, when confronted with innovations and change, they show resistance. This may happen for a variety of reasons, i.e. because they do not realize the benefits, they do not want to get out of their comfort zone, they are afraid of the unknown and anxious of not being able to cope with the new era or because they may not have the skills and competencies required for adopting with new technologies, schemes, expectations etc. All these in turn pose barriers for the implementation of flexible working arrangements, who are still considered as ‘extra-ordinary’ / innovative practices in Cyprus.
Broadly speaking, in Cypriot organizations we observe high levels of centralization of management power at the higher layers and with limited employees’ participation in decision making process. A characteristic of the majority of the Cypriot organizations is that practices of transparent information sharing, actual communication and genuine employees’ participation are limited. The challenge is to allow more involvement of the employees and recognize, accept and act upon their interests / wellbeing, as a means to ensure their work-life balance through flexible schemes that would be appealing and suitable according to their status, demographics etc.
Finally, there is no doubt that suggestions and innovations regarding flexible work arrangements originate from organizations’ Human Resources departments. Yet, Cypriot organizations give marginal importance to the function of HRM. Even in the case that an HRM department is present, most likely it will be oriented towards the secretariat / administrative nature, not performing its strategic role. HRM discipline in Cyprus is still far behind its strategic role since it is not effectively integrated into the organizational strategy and business planning.
It is a fact that more and more young educated employees full of international experiences aspire to be employed in the Cypriot market. These individuals, namely Gen Z or iGeneration, challenge the ‘status quo’ as they have high expectations related to flexibility, autonomy and mastery of their own work and among their top considerations is to safeguard the balance between their personal and professional life. Consequently, the demands for flexible working arrangements are increasing more than ever, exercising pressure to employers to consider, or reconsider, their openness to these kind of schemes, if they wat to attract and retain these potential employees.
Similarly, the scenery in terms of the business world in Cyprus is changing, as the economic crisis brought new realizations and shifted the way that newly introduced enterprises are established and operated. Young entrepreneurs forming start-ups show that they deviate from the ‘traditional’ business regimes, and indeed they make use of flexible working arrangement, for their own benefit and the benefit of their employees / associates.
Financial crisis also brought to the surface the importance of human capital for organizational competitiveness and growth. This in turn, highlighted, the past few years, the importance of a strategic HRM function, one that should focus, among other matters, on employees’ pragmatic concerns, needs, interests and aspirations. Although in isolation, we see a slow trend where the HR is given the appropriate value, partnering with the business / strategy and occupying an equal role in the round table of decisions making. This sets the foundations for HRM to re-shape the degree to which flexible work arrangements apply in contemporary Cypriot organizations.
Moreover, although there is still resistance from the more ‘traditional’ (‘elder’) employees in Cyprus (who most of the times occupy key senior positions) regarding HR-related innovations, eventually we can say that their conservative attitude towards flexible work practices soothes. This happens partly because if they do not change, they will become obsolete and partly because technological advancements (which facilitate some of the flexible work schemes) are now becoming a part of our everyday professional life (so they become more and more familiar with terms / notions like teleworking, mobile working etc.)
Finally, the significance of the service sector in Cyprus should be highlighted. The recent history of the economy of Cyprus indicates that it is steadily restructuring from an exporter of mineral/agricultural products and manufactured goods into an international tourist, business and services center. By nature, and because of the particular characteristics of this sector (service providers like universities, legal firms, accounting firms, consulting firms etc.) and the general demographics of the individuals that are occupied in this sector (educated, flexible, experienced, demanding etc.), it seems that the implementation and development of flexible work practices is becoming more widely spread and common.
Summing up, in general, in the context of Cyprus, there is still way ahead for fully utilizing the actual benefits provided by the flexible working schemes. Even in the cases that related schemes are applied, these are still basic and informal (not part of the legally bound contract) in nature. Yet, we expect that the implementation of related schemes will follow the same trend as in the rest of European Countries, in a slower pace of course.
Even so, as mentioned above, because of the particularity of the context of Cyprus, the road is full of obstacles and a poor design and implementation entails many dangers. All in all, let us not forget, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ (Peter Drucker). If we seek for a successful ultimate outcome, we first need to get Cypriots’ ‘mindset’ programmed towards the desired direction before any strategic attempt for implementing flexible working schemes.
1. The above articulates the personal views of the writer and is not binding in any possible way.
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