Distancing flexibility in the hotel industry: the role of employment agencies as labour suppliers

P.C. Lai, E. Soltani, T.G. Baum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Two interrelated aspects of the debate on the nature of labour supply chain in the hotel industry form the focus of this research article. First, the notion of a shift to some forms of human resources recruitment strategies which seeks to use agency staff as a means of generating economical benefits - as opposed to conventional permanent staffing; and, second, the paramount importance of using distancing flexibility through effective agency utilization with the consequence of controlling labour costs, satisfying firm's demand for labour, and to respond to possible fluctuations in manpower needs. To this end, the research advocates the use of qualitative methodology in the form of semi-structured and in-depth interviews with hotel housekeeping managers, their partner agency managers and their flexible workers. Based upon the interviewees' responses and other documentary sources, we find, among others, that pursuing labour flexibility appears to be inevitable in the hotel industry; that the three-tier flexible firm model (Atkinson 1984) does not provide a full account of the supply chain relationship between hotels and employment agencies; and that employees are being relatively treated as a 'cost' - as opposed to a 'resource' (see Slack, Chambers and Johnston 2004). To conclude, the research evidence is used, combined with previous literature, to discuss the implications of these results for broader debates on the utilization of flexible workers in the supply chain relationship between the client hotels and their partner agencies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-152
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2008


  • employment agencies
  • labour flexibility
  • hotel sector
  • labour supply chain management


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