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The Idiosyncratic Deal: Flexibility Versus Fairness?

D. Rousseau
Published 2001 · Economics

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This discovery led Vicky to begin collecting other exceptions, which she referred to as “coral reefs.” She turned up a worker who cleared his calendar from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. to do real estate deals. (He didn’t ask his boss, who knew, but didn’t complain because of the volume of work accomplished during the remainder of the day.) As the list of exceptions grew, Vicky positioned herself to begin negotiating more flexibility in the work schedules she and other Amerco staff adhered to. This incident reveals two important aspects of the dynamics of typical employment arrangements. Different “deals” exist for different people, even though they do comparable work. Moreover, workers themselves are seeking out (and often getting) greater flexibility, negotiating arrangements that better meet their personal needs while contributing effectively to the firm. This article deals with an increasingly significant organizational practice, “the idiosyncratic deal.” This individualized arrangement between valued workers and their employers is the product of a negotiation. It results from three intersecting trends. The demand for knowledge workers with distinctive competencies in a hypercompetitive market place means workers have greater power to negotiate employment conditions suited to their tastes and preferences. The weakening, if not demise, of the job security-based model of organizational careers, once supported by unionism and/or legal requirements, leads to less standardized conditions of employment. Lastly, expanded choices that people have in the market place have led to ever-greater diversified products and services, creating rising expectations for customization that extend to the workplace. This article describes how idiosyncratic deals arise, their potential benefits and the challenges they pose to trust and fairness in employment. It addresses the question of how an organization can have both flexibility and fairness in relations with its workforce.
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