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Flexible arrangements with the highly qualified workforce: antecedents and effects of different contract policies in knowledge-intensive firms

Abstract

It is the aim of this paper to emphasize the antecedents leading to flexible contract arrangements in comparison to standard employment, and the effects of different contract policies especially for flexible contracting with the highly qualified workforce in knowledge-intensive firms. So far, there are contradictory findings as to what contract arrangement can be considered as advantageous in this field. Our analysis is based on qualitative fieldwork in Germany, including ten company cases. We reveal three organizational types of contract policy: One type relies on permanent employment, another on independent contracting with freelancers and a third pursues a combination of both. We identified the way of generating and protecting knowledge as an antecedent of different contract policies of organizations in knowledge-intensive fields. Another finding is that the question of gaining positive or negative effects—for both standard and flexible contracting—especially depends on the embeddedness of the contract policy in a broader set of HR practices. Our analysis adds to former studies, as it specifies that flexible contracting with an independent workforce in knowledge-intensive work environments can be pursued if there is an efficient substitution for internal control mechanisms in terms of controlling knowledge channels.

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Correspondence to Uta Wilkens.

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Wilkens, U., Ruiner, C. & Küpper, M. Flexible arrangements with the highly qualified workforce: antecedents and effects of different contract policies in knowledge-intensive firms. J Bus Econ 83, 837–861 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11573-013-0673-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11573-013-0673-5

Keywords

  • Flexible employment
  • Highly qualified workforce
  • Knowledge work
  • Contract policy

JEL classification

  • D23
  • M51
  • M55