Labour flexibility practices in Dutch SMEs

Jan De Leede*, Linda Drupsteen, Esther Schrijver, Anneke Goudswaard, Nihat Dağ, Joost Van der Weide, Sarike Verbiest

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)
    27 Downloads (Pure)


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to understand how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) cope with the need for labour flexibility. Most previous studies ignore the labour flexibility practices of SMEs, especially in times of economic growth and tight labour markets. Design/methodology/approach: A multiple case study approach is applied, with ten Dutch SMEs located in one small province with a similar labour market. A survey was executed as an intake, followed by 48 interviews with the entrepreneurs, HR and other managers and employees, and two focus groups in each company. The findings are based on an analysis of the approved case descriptions. Findings: SMEs, like big companies, do not rely on one flexibility practice. Volume fluctuations are countered with all flexibility strategies, the mix fluctuations and the product innovations are mostly countered with flexible functions and flexible production technology. In general, the data suggest that flexibility strategies of SMEs can be characterised as ad hoc, reactive and with a short-term orientation. Research limitations/implications: Future research should include other sectors and regions enabling to generalise the findings. Future research should have a longitudinal design to include the pathway dependencies of flexibility practices. Practical implications: This study identifies the need to analyse flexibility demands; reduce flexibility demands before investments in flexibility practices; create production process flexibility; invest in labour flexibility practices only after the first three steps are taken; and develop basic and more advanced levels of flexible contracts, flexible functions and flexible working times. Originality/value: This study contributes to the authors’ knowledge on the use of labour flexibility practices in SMEs. In addition, it brings empirical data on how these labour flexibility practices relate to the needs for flexibility and how they relate to other sources of organisational flexibility, such as a flexible market approach and flexible production technologies. Dynamic capabilities should include the suggested operationalisation of the flexibility practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages17
    JournalPersonnel review
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2019


    • Case studies
    • Dynamic capabilities
    • Labour flexibility
    • Qualitative
    • SMEs


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