Research: How to negotiate and agree on new ways of working

Changes in how, when and where we work, such as flexible and remote working, mean that the deal-making process between managers and employees is becoming even more important.

Referred to as ‘idiosyncratic deals’, these are working arrangements agreed between an employee and manager, aimed at meeting the individual’s specific work-related needs, whilst taking in to account the needs of the wider team.

The research

Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology explored:

  • The impact of a manager’s emotions on the deal-making process, both during (negotiation phase) and after (implementation phase);
  • What influence the employee’s behaviour, both during and after the deal-making process, had on a manager’s emotions; and
  • The impact of socially connecting and disconnecting behaviour by employees i.e. the extent to which their request supported or undermined the wider team’s performance.

The British and French researchers surveyed full-time working executive MBA students in Istanbul. Two lots of surveys were sent out – one to students and one to their managers. Surveys were sent at two separate intervals. In the first interval, 208 students and 103 managers responded; and in the second interval, 130 students 46 managers responded.

The findings

  1. When managers felt more positive about the deal-making process, they were more likely to implement the request; conversely, if they felt negatively then the implementation (or obtainment) was unlikely to happen.
  2. Idiosyncratic deals are meant to benefit the whole team. The researchers found that when an employee’s behaviour was more self-serving, as opposed to thinking about the wider team, that the manager was less likely to support the deal. With the reverse being true i.e. that if an employee demonstrated behaviours congruent with thinking about the wider team, then the manager was more likely to be positive about the deal and support its implementation.

This second finding is particularly important, as other research also indicates managers are willing to support and implement deals about homeworking and flexible working so long as they can be assured of good performance and contribution to team efficiency.

In summary, it’s one thing to negotiate an agreement; and quite another to implement it and make it happen. Implementation is reliant on how positive a manager feels during and after; and this, in turn, is reliant on the level of team supportive behaviours the employee displays.

The research is underpinned by Barbara Fredrickson’s  ‘broaden-and-build’ theory of emotions, where:

  • Positive emotions tend to be associated with approach behaviours and adaptive decisions; and
  • Negative emotions tend to be associated with avoidance behaviours and avoidance decisions

What it means for organisations

For idiosyncratic deals to work, organisations need to ensure the following things are in place:

Clarity on the process: Employees requesting (negotiating) a deal, such as for flexible working, need to understand how best to make the request, with particular thought to the impact on their wider team. This means any policies, processes and forms need to be set-up to support this thinking.

Team development: There are two aspects to this. First, ensuring that the right team-working behaviours are developed so that, if a team member negotiates idiosyncratic deal then they demonstrate they have thought about the wider team. Second, in the event that the deal is implemented, that the team discusses, works through and manages any changes – e.g. if a team member goes from working five days a week, to three days a week.

Management development: Giving managers the tools and skills to handle their reactions and emotions during and after any deal negotiation. In the event the decision is made to not implement a request, then the manager needs to be skilled enough to clearly and objectively feed back the reasons why and handle any upset from the employee. Failure to do this well could lead to a complaint being filed by the employee to HR, citing something like discrimination.

Whilst the research sample was fairly small, the findings still offer some use for organisations and in particular, HR teams.

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