Growing Number of Employees Seek Special Deal With Bosses

By Staff Report

Jun. 19, 2008

Denise Rousseau
10 a.m.

More and more employees are working with their managers to design jobs that fit their aspirations or better conform to their life circumstances, according to a researcher and award-winning author slated to address the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition.

    Denise Rousseau, H.J. Heinz II Professor of Organizational Behavior and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, calls these arrangements idiosyncratic deals. Rousseau will discuss the implications of this trend at her Masters Series presentation on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

    The agreements employees strike with their supervisors typically involve development, stress reduction and flexibility, Rousseau says.

    For instance, an employee might negotiate to work from home, exercise greater latitude in choosing assignments, maintain an odd-hours schedule, increase or decrease travel or participate in training programs.

    What they’re not doing is negotiating for more money.

    “Most I-deals have nothing to do with salary,” says Rousseau, author of I-Deals: Idiosyncratic Deals Workers Bargain for Themselves.

    But the nuance involved requires greater understanding between an employee and manager than a typical workplace relationship.

    “You’ve often had a higher-quality conversation with your boss about what’s going to go down than the regular employee,” Rousseau says. “It heightens the quality of the agreement.”

    As these pacts proliferate, they put new demands on the HR department. They force HR to deal with many different work rules but they also provide an opportunity for innovative people management.

    Corporate efforts to keep women in the workforce, for instance, are now routine but were once carve-outs for a special group of employees, Rousseau says.

    HR must “take the learning you get from I-deals and turn it into broader policy that can benefit the company,” she says. “A lot of HR policies start out as I-deals.”

    Another challenge posed by the arrangements involves evaluating employees who are working to their own beat.

    What tends to happen, Rousseau says, is that people who bargain for development opportunities are seen as more valuable to the organization and receive higher ratings. Those who negotiate flexible schedules or reduced work loads are less valued over time.

    But the person working a nontraditional schedule may be as productive as someone who comes into the office every day from 9 to 5.

    “We haven’t built our HR systems for the non-conforming person who’s a high performer,” Rousseau says.

    Those employees will respond to a boss who they see as their ally. Their immediate supervisor is the person who will want to invest the most in their future and help them understand and cope with sometimes stifling corporate policies.

    “Local managers oftentimes try to make up for the inconsistencies from top management,” Rousseau says. “They do a lot to patch up the gaps. They’re the buffer and protection.”

    They’re also, in large part, the reason that the vast majority of employees believe that they’re being treated well by their companies. Rousseau says that 75 percent to 85 percent of the workforce believes that the “psychological contract” has been most fulfilled by their employer.

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