A Christmas gift for all flexible workers? A search for new employment relationships in HR perspective; Observations at the workplace.

2016 – This report discusses the results of a study with the following two questions:

1. How do employers and workers  practice flexible working relations  in the workplace, in HR policies, collective agreements and legislation?

2. How to use these four levels in the search for a new balance between flexibility  and security?

The ‘Christmas gift’ is a metaphor for the question about the borders  of the organization.

Research method

The researchers have had extensive discussions with experts and made a brief literature review. They have examined collective agreements for agreements on flexible working. And in twenty one companies and institutions they did  interviews with employers, HR staff and flex workers. The stories of these companies serve as case studies – some of them being best practices – to illustrate what has been stated. 

The flexible workers

Around one  third of the employed labor force work on a flexible basis or as  an self-employed worker.

When it comes to the wishes, needs and interests of flexible workers is good to distinguish between three groups of flexible workers.

• temporary employees without employer, which are easily replaceable (self-employed and temporary workers)

• temporary employees without employer, which are difficult to replace, (self-employed)

• temporary employees with a formal employer (seconded workers, pay rollers).

The workplace

The employment relationship between hirer and flexible  workers in the first place develops in the workplace and much less in HR policies, collective agreements and legislation.

Just like permanent employees flexible workers seem mainly looking for challenging work, personal growth, appreciation of the leadership and good relations with other workers. Flexible workers are however less positive about these aspects  than permanent employees.

And flexible workers mostly  worry about job security, especially the first group.

Flexible work requires specific skills that they have not granted, such as acquiring skills and taking care of their own development. Hirers often expect flexible workers to show commitment and loyalty just like permanent staff do, while there is much less job security and benefits in return. 

HR management

In none of the cases studied, there is a specific HR management aimed at temps. But HR managers find it an important subject. Directed at  the ‘top’ (difficult replaceable self-employed), the emphasis would be on binding and fascinating, whereas to the ‘bottom’  (replaceable self-employed) also the ‘duty of care’ should play a role. They point to barriers. Because the flex worker is employed, there is no relationship of authority, duty or willingness to invest. The employer has no incentive to ensure the health and well-being of flexible workers. Training facilities are rarely available for flexible workers.

On the other hand the flex workers in this study often don’t regret these traditional HR policies with procedures and meetings, which they perceive as bureaucratic and a waste of time. 

Collective agreements (cao)

Among the employers in this study, there is little incentive to bring self-employed within the scope of the collective agreement. Often the reason to start working with more flexible workers is that employers want or need to reduce personnel costs and often  the collective agreement is an obstacle. Social partners however are in favor of it. Examples of agreements on flexible working can be found mainly in sectors where competition is high, where a wide range of interchangeable workers is available and where rates therefore are under pressure.

If no standard have come ‘bottom-up’, the cao can play a role to create a level playing field for all workers in this circumstance. The collective agreements in the orchestral sector and the architecture sector are examples.

The researchers propose  as an opportunities for innovation to bring all flexible workers under the existing  collective agreement for temporary workers and create agreements for professions  instead of for companies or branches.

Laws and regulations

The added value at the national level lies mainly in the creation of basic preconditions. In case of flexible work it concerns everything with long-term commitment: disability, pension, housing, et cetera. The debate over there issues is still going on in the Netherlands.

An interesting question is whether life-long learning is considered as such a long-term investment. Because respondents find that currently the workplace, HR policies and collective agreements are not well able to stimulate the lagging training of temporary employees. Fiscal rules are a possible solution, but options are also to extend by law the scope of provisions in collective agreements or the creation of a national training fund. 


The following cases are used as examples in this report:

  1. Companies, Institutions and Sectors: a producer of plastic pipes, an institution for art education, a consultancy in business services, consultancy ICT, a consultancy engineering, a waste processor, municipal environment agency, a group of schools, manufacturer of relation gifts, a county, a library, the Dutch centre for social innovation (NCSI).

  2. Collective agreements: cao Public Libraries, cao for  remplaçanten in Dutch Orchestras, cao for Architects, cao for  Bus drivers, cao for Temporary employees, cao Metalektro, cao for Taxi-drivers, cao Construction and cao Construction B’ter.


Kemper, Riemer; De Korte, Ton; De Graaff, Huub; Westhoek, Jonas; Heuves, Sophie. (2016) ‘Een kerstpakket voor alle flexwerkers? Een onderzoek naar nieuwe arbeidsrelaties in HR-perspectief; Observaties op de werkvloer’. Den Haag: CAOP.

The pdf. of the Dutch report is attached.