Britain, far more than any other country in the EU, has embraced part-time working. Companies have certainly found that it has given them the ability to respond quickly to fluctuating demand for their products or services. Part-time work, when wrapped up in the rhetoric of 'flexible' working arrangements, is undeniably appealing, but can it contain any hidden dangers?
A lack of continuity in customer service standards, especially in the service sector, is a common problem. You may have suffered the problem of trying to schedule a meeting with Tim, who's in Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Kim, who's in Tuesdays and Thursdays, and your client, who's in most days - and getting a little impatient. In these situations, says Philip Festa, director of Ascot-based customer service consultancy MSB, employers should judge the efficacy of flexible working on the quality of the product or service provided, rather than being too accommodating to the lifestyle pattern of each employee.
Even so, many potential problems are avoidable if handover procedures at the end of a shift are thorough. In one hotel chain, according to Festa, a regular customer paid a sizeable bill after running a two-day conference with 200 people - then returned to reception and asked to make a local call. The poorly informed part-timer on the desk tried to charge him 10p, explaining it was hotel policy. The customer went berserk. Overcoming problems like this requires a dedication to training in continuity issues.