What Seals the Ideal i-Deal?

An old-fashioned sit-down with the boss does not necessarily secure that marvellous pay package you just negotiated. Prof. Karoline Strauss of ESSEC Business School and her co-authors Yasin Rofcanin and Tina Kiefer, explore the grey area between negotiating the i-deal – and actually securing it.

By CoBS editorialist Kunal Ganorkar based on the paper What seals the I-deal? Exploring the role of employees’ behaviors and managers’ emotions by Yasin Rofcanin, Tina Kiefer and Karoline Strauss.

The ‘i-deal’ job

Labour market dynamics, rising competition and change in employee work preferences have all rendered organisations’ one-size-fits-all approach to Human Resource Management less effective. This has led to a decline in standardised agreements for employees and paved the way for them to take charge of their own careers. One way of doing so is through the negotiation of idiosyncratic deals, or i-deals.

I-deals are defined as individually negotiated agreements between a subordinate and a manager. These deals extend benefits such as skill and capability development opportunities, flexible location, flexible schedule, and financial package deals to their recipients. For organisations, i-deals are useful mechanisms to improve employee performance and used as individualised HRM practices to enhance employee proficiency and maintain motivation.

Even if negotiated between a manager and a team member, i-deals are beneficial for the entire team. Indeed, studies have shown that employees who successfully negotiate an i-deal experience greater emotional attachment to the organisation and job satisfaction, and are more willing to go the extra mile, such as by helping out their colleagues. However, research so far has predominantly ignored the possibility that these negotiated i-deals may not always be obtained. This brings us to the question: what seals the i-deal?

The Boss has the final word – and emotion

The researchers identified that managers’ emotions are an important factor that determines whether employees were able to obtain the i-deal they had negotiated. If, for instance, a manager experiences positive emotions (e.g., joy, enthusiasm) towards the entire ‘process’, chances for fulfilment of the i-deal increase. At the same time, if a manager harbours negative sentiments (e.g. anger, disappointment) towards it, the employee would probably have to relinquish his or her perks. What’s more, in some cases the manager might avoid revising the deal just to save time and energy.

So what seals the i-deal?

Prof. Strauss and the research team observed that a manager’s emotions towards the i-deal negotiation process are influenced by the employee’s behaviour When employees showed concern for their co-workers, socializing with them and helping them, managers’ experienced more positive emotions about the employees’ ideal negotiation process. In contrast, when employees withdrew from their co-workers, managers were more likely to experience negative emotions about the i-deal process. In a nutshell, a smile and positive attitude tip the balance. As such, in the aftermath of the negotiation managers will be keen to observe how the employee makes use of the i-deal, ultimately influencing the manager’s outlook towards the whole process and deciding the fate of the i-deal there on.

For the employee, it is clear: to get what you want, listen to your manager’s needs – be nice, be enthusiastic, and negotiate with your team and co-workers’ benefit in mind as well as your own.

Today, i-deals are used as HRM tools to attract and retain talented employees. For Prof. Strauss and her research colleagues, if organisations and managers aim to use i-deals as a strategic tool, they need to be transparent about its use. This means coaching, mentoring and informing employees that the deals are intended to benefit not only the individual but also the wider team.

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