Media Releases

Increased worker flexibility not always a good thing, says new Rotman paper

August 13, 2010

TORONTO, ON — Com­pa­nies try­ing to improve effi­cien­cy by build­ing more flex­i­bil­i­ty into their work­force could end up too lean and dri­ve costs up, says a new paper co-pub­lished by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment.

“Flex­i­bil­i­ty is good, but too much of it is dan­ger­ous,” says Oded Berman, who holds the Syd­ney C. Coop­er Chair in Busi­ness and Tech­nol­o­gy and is a pro­fes­sor of oper­a­tions man­age­ment at the Rot­man School. Prof. Berman co-authored the study with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester’s Edieal Pinker and Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester grad­u­ate stu­dent, Hsiao-Hui Lee.

Work­force flex­i­bil­i­ty is sup­posed to improve the match between an organization’s labour resources and the work required. Using a the­o­ret­i­cal staffing mod­el under dif­fer­ent demand con­di­tions, the study exam­ined the impact of sev­er­al forms of work­er flex­i­bil­i­ty, includ­ing work­ers with a mul­ti­ple skill-set, vari­able start times, part-timers and work­ers switch­ing from one job to anoth­er with­in a shift.

While most forms of flex­i­bil­i­ty helped reduced costs under nor­mal demand, the study found high­er lev­els of flex­i­bil­i­ty meant insuf­fi­cient staff to respond to unex­pect­ed demand shocks, lead­ing to high­er inven­to­ry costs. Vari­able start times cre­at­ed the most robust flex­i­bil­i­ty, while part-time work­ers and job-switch­ing with­in a shift were not as robust.

“The rule of thumb we’ve sug­gest­ed is, have flex­i­bil­i­ty — and use it — but set your work­force size assum­ing you don’t have it,” says Prof. Pinker.

The com­plete study is avail­able at:

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it

The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions. The School is cur­rent­ly rais­ing $200 mil­lion to ensure Cana­da has the world-class busi­ness school it deserves. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it


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Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Voice 416.946.3818