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2006) ‘I-deals: Idiosyncratic Terms in Employment Relationships



Idiosyncratic employment arrangements (i-deals) stand to benefit the individual employee as well as his or her employer. However, unless certain conditions apply, coworkers may respond negatively to these arrangements. We distinguish functional i-deals from their dysfunctional counterparts and highlight evidence of i-deals in previous organizational research. We develop propositions specifying both how i-deals are formed and how they impact workers and coworkers. Finally, we outline the implications i-deals have for research and for managing contemporary employment relationships.
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Idiosyncratic employment arrangements (i-deals) stand to benefit the individual em-
ployee as well as his or her employer. However, unless certain conditions apply,
coworkers may respond negatively to these arrangements. We distinguish functional
i-deals from their dysfunctional counterparts and highlight evidence of i-deals in
previous organizational research. We develop propositions specifying both how i-
deals are formed and how they impact workers and coworkers. Finally, we outline the
implications i-deals have for research and for managing contemporary employment
Idiosyncratic employment arrangements are
special terms of employment negotiated be-
tween individual workers and their employers
(present or prospective) that satisfy both parties’
needs. From the valued engineer whose em-
ployer gives him educational leave to spend a
year doing underwater photography, instead of
letting him quit (Hochschild, 1997), to the Amer-
ican professor who talks Fujitsu into hiring him
and moving him to Japan so he can learn how to
manage a plant Japanese-style while sharing
his managerial knowledge with his new col-
leagues (Rousseau, 2005), these idiosyncratic
deals or, simply, i-deals—are more wide-
spread than commonly acknowledged. More
than wordplay, this term highlights that such
deals are not only idiosyncratic but also in-
tended to be ideal in some way for each party.
Accounts of a few exceptional individuals—
“superstars” or “winners” capable of negotiat-
ing distinctive employment conditions—are not
new. Over the years, some such individuals,
considered “exceptions to the rule,” have capi-
talized on their uniqueness by differentiating
themselves in subtle and not-so-subtle ways
from their more ordinary colleagues (Frank &
Cook, 1995; Rosen, 1981). Famous movie stars
demanding lavish working conditions to match
their lavish salaries immediately come to mind.
In contrast to the employment contracts of stars,
traditional models of employment assume ho-
mogeneity in employment contracts among
workers in the same organizational positions
(e.g., Kleinman, 1997; Mitchell, 1989; Muchinsky,
2003). Yet this is not how many contemporary
organizations operate (Glaser & Hornung, 2004;
Rousseau, 2000, 2001; Rousseau, Ho, & Kim, 2003).
Instead, i-deals are likely to be widespread as
firms and the people who work in them face a
need to innovate in response to change and
complexity (Weick, 1996).
Although i-deals challenge traditional orga-
nizational paradigms for recruiting, motivating,
and retaining valuable workers (Lee, MacDer-
mid, & Buck, 2000), these paradigms often have
been at odds with the reality that individualized
work arrangements have long existed for star
performers, veteran employees, and other val-
ued workers (Ford & Newstrom, 1999; Frank,
1985; Rousseau, 2005). The current salience of
i-deals arises from the increased labor market
pressures firms face (Cappelli, 2000) and from
workers’ heightened expectations for a voice on
matters affecting them at work (Freeman & Rog-
We acknowledge the support of the H. J. Heinz II and
Irving Abramowitz Memorial Professorships. Paul Goodman
and Loic Cadin provided helpful comments on an earlier
draft of this article, and Tai Gyu Kim participated in re-
search leading to its development.
Academy of Management Review
2006, Vol. 31, No. 4, 977–994.
ers, 1999). Together, these forces make customi-
zation of various aspects of employment more
acceptable—and more widespread—than ever
before (Lawler & Finegold, 2000). Yet because
i-deals are at odds with the traditional assump-
tion that workers in the same positions have the
same employment contract, there is little sys-
tematic knowledge regarding the processes of
their creation (i.e., the who, how, and when of
their negotiation) or the outcomes they yield for
workers and employers (e.g., quality of employ-
ment relationship, retention, and performance).
Moreover, because i-deals create differences
among coworkers in conditions of employment,
failure to recognize and attend to i-deals can
exacerbate the injustice their existence might
engender, eroding trust and cooperation in the
organization (Rousseau, 2005).
Expanding our understanding of i-deals
stands to help both employers and employees
improvise more effectively in the face of dy-
namic individual and organizational needs. By
offering a conceptual analysis of i-deals, this
article promises to be useful in this regard. Spe-
cifically, we address three fundamental issues:
(1) the context of i-deals—that is, when and how
they occur; (2) the content and consequences of
i-deals, both positive and negative, for employ-
ers and workers; and (3) the impact of workers’
i-deals on their coworkers. In so doing, we high-
light the implications of idiosyncratic work ar-
rangements for research on the employment re-
lationship and for managerial practice.
What I-Deals Are
Formally defined, i-deals refer to voluntary,
personalized agreements of a nonstandard na-
ture negotiated between individual employees
and their employers regarding terms that bene-
fit each party. These individualized employment
arrangements differ, to some extent, from those
of the employees’ coworkers. Several distinct
features characterize i-deals and differentiate
them from other forms of person-specific em-
ployment arrangements (e.g., cronyism or favor-
itism), as described below. The principal char-
acteristics of i-deals are as follows:
Individually negotiated: An i-deal results
when an individual worker negotiates ar-
rangements with an employer or prospec-
tive employer that differ from the corre-
sponding arrangements of the individual’s
coworkers. The market power of certain
workers and the value their employers
place on them position these workers to de-
mand compensation and perquisites signif-
icantly greater than their less favored co-
workers (Bartol & Martin, 1989). Either an
employer or a worker can initiate an i-deal,
and both may shape its actual terms. How-
ever, because employers rather than em-
ployees traditionally set the terms of em-
ployment, we focus on the less well-
understood but important matter of i-deals
initiated by workers.
Heterogeneous: At least some of the terms of
an i-deal are specially provided to that in-
dividual, differing from conditions created
for other employees in similar positions or
in the same workgroup. This results in within-
group heterogeneity (Klein, Dansereau, &
Hall, 1994) regarding some aspects of the re-
wards and benefits received by workers. This
heterogeneity has many potential meanings.
It can reflect the operation of formal and in-
formal incentives, such as the distribution of
rewards contingent on individual perfor-
mance (e.g., Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford,
1995). It also is a potential source of perceived
inequity and injustice on the part of work-
group members, depending on what they un-
derstand to be the reasons for such differ-
ences (Greenberg, Roberge, Ho, & Rousseau,
Benefiting both employer and employee: I-
deals are intended to serve the interests of
both employers and employees. I-deals dif-
fer from other forms of person-specific em-
ployment arrangements, in that they are
predicated on an individual worker’s value
to his or her employer (Rousseau, 2004, 2005).
The successful result of an i-deal is that an
organization attracts, motivates, or retains
the services of a valued employee, who, in
turn, receives desired resources from that
organization. As such, coworkers can view
i-deals as appropriate to the extent that they
endorse the legitimacy of the values on
which these arrangements are based (e.g.,
compensation based on market value, flex-
ibility contingent on strategic advantage for
the firm). In contrast, other person-specific
arrangements, such as the favoritism a boss
displays toward one worker but not others,
cannot be legitimized as having any basis
in shared values.
Varied in scope: The i-deals individuals en-
joy vary in scope, from a single idiosyncratic
element in a larger standardized employ-
ment package to a completely idiosyncratic
employment arrangement. For example, one
worker with an i-deal might have more flex-
ible hours than his or her peers but other-
978 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
wise share their same pay structure, job du-
ties, and other conditions of employment. In
contrast, another worker might have a
highly customized arrangement in which al-
most all employment terms are specially ne-
gotiated, from pay and hours to duties and
title. Although both employment arrange-
ments have idiosyncratic features, the rela-
tive proportion of idiosyncratic-to-standard-
ized conditions is greater in the case of the
second worker.
A central feature of i-deals is that employees
have a hand in creating or negotiating some
aspect of their employment. I-deals can be ne-
gotiated either prior to employment, which we
refer to as ex ante i-deals, or once on the job,
which we refer to as ex post i-deals. An example
of an ex ante i-deal can be seen in the case of an
attorney who is being recruited by a law firm
while having ailing parents requiring her atten-
tion in another part of the country. To benefit
from her exceptional litigation skills, the firm’s
partners agree in advance to deviate from stan-
dard practice for distributing case loads if she
joins the firm—to assign her cases only in her
preferred location while she cares for her par-
ents. An example of an ex post i-deal can be
seen in the case of the international banker who
is reluctant to take an overseas assignment for
fear it will interfere with her musical training.
Needing her talents elsewhere, the bank agrees
to pay for the special packaging and shipping of
her custom-made grand piano (at several times
the normal allotment to move an expatriate’s
household effects). The negotiations behind
such arrangements may be considered a form of
participation, given that individual workers in-
fluence their personal employment conditions
(Freeman & Rogers, 1999). With this in mind,
i-deals are likely to arise under conditions of
symmetric power, as opposed to the more tradi-
tional asymmetry favoring the employer.
I-deals occur in the context of a broader set of
arrangements characterizing an individual’s
employment. Often, i-deals occur in employ-
ment relationships that provide some employ-
ment terms that are standard to all workers (e.g.,
company-wide benefits) but others that are spe-
cific to occupants of particular positions (e.g.,
professionals, as opposed to unskilled workers).
Being able to negotiate idiosyncratic conditions
is a sign of one’s potential or acceptance as a
valued contributor—someone worthy of special
treatment, akin to the phenomenon of idiosyn-
crasy credits accorded high-status group mem-
bers (Hollander, 1958). Although standardizing
employment conditions (e.g., through wage
structures, bonuses, or benefit plans) is a means
of promoting cooperation and trust (Lazear,
1981), employers also face pressure to attract
highly valued workers by offering special em-
ployment conditions. The result is that some in-
dividuals have more idiosyncratic elements in
their employment arrangements than others, po-
tentially undermining cooperation and trust.
I-deals have the potential to impact how co-
workers assess the fairness of their own treat-
ment relative to the recipient of the i-deal, an
impact that can be positive, neutral, or negative,
depending on the nature of the i-deal and the
process through which it is obtained. For in-
stance, a coworker who bargains for a raise may
be viewed more negatively by colleagues than
one who seeks out a preferred assignment, since
pay differences are generally more salient than
differences in tasks or duties. Moreover, sa-
lience of differential arrangements is amplified,
depending on whether the negotiations are sur-
reptitious or broadly acknowledged (Greenberg
et al., 2004; Rousseau, 2005).
With respect to the array of rewards and ben-
efits individual workers receive, i-deals repre-
sent a form of within-unit heterogeneity (Klein et
al., 1994). This heterogeneity can mean different
things to the employer, to the individual worker,
and to his or her coworkers. From the frame of
reference of an employer who differentiates
among a set of workers, this heterogeneity can
reflect management practices rewarding high
performers (thereby promoting instrumentality
beliefs; Vroom, 1964). To a worker, an i-deal can
signal the value an employer places on him or
her. To coworkers, within-unit heterogeneity re-
garding the nature of rewards and benefits re-
ceived can signal their standing in the eyes of
authority figures and/or the flexibility and sup-
portiveness with which that employer treats its
Importantly, an i-deal conveys potentially di-
vergent messages to workers, depending on
whether they are its principals or third parties.
For example, a consultant who has negotiated to
be assigned to projects that develop desired
skills may believe his employer to be support-
ive. His coworkers, unaware of why special
projects have been allocated to only one of them,
however, may see the employer as favoring one
2006 979Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
employee and disadvantaging others. I-deals,
nonetheless, have the potential to be seen as
fair by third parties to the extent that they are
appropriately differentiated from other person-
specific arrangements that are patently unjust
and self-serving (Greenberg et al., 2004; Rous-
seau, 2004).
What I-Deals Are Not: Dysfunctional
Person-Specific Arrangements
I-deals negotiated by workers differ from
other person-specific employment practices in
several ways (see Table 1). One widely recog-
nized form of preferential arrangement is favor-
itism or cronyism, where a firm’s agents (e.g.,
supervisors) favor certain workers over others
based on relational factors (e.g., personal rela-
tions or political ties). Such arrangements are
self-serving from the individual agent’s per-
spective and are not necessarily beneficial to
the firm (Pearce, Branyiczki, & Bigley, 2000;
Rousseau, 2004). In fact, such arrangements may
undermine the legitimacy of the formal organi-
zation by allowing rule-bending and workarounds
to dominate formal rules and agreed-upon proce-
dures. It is doubtful that the organization benefits
from playing favorites, even if the result is having
a lackey willing to do a manager’s bidding. More-
over, these arrangements are predicated on con-
nections rather than individual capabilities that
add value to a company (Clarke, 1999). In contrast,
an i-deal grants a worker some preferred employ-
ment condition(s) while at the same time helping
the employer attract, motivate, and/or retain a
highly valued contributor. Thus, both parties
Clearly, however, there is a gray area be-
tween i-deals and favoritism (Rousseau, 2004)
whenever a manager with a special relation-
ship to a worker holds overly positive beliefs
regarding that person’s contribution to the firm,
leading the manager to grant the worker’s re-
quest for an i-deal. Such situations suggest that
firms in which workers’ contributions are more
objectively determined may be better positioned
to grant i-deals while avoiding the appear-
ance— or reality— of favoritism.
Another person-specific employment practice
is an unauthorized arrangement, such as that in
which a worker is permitted, albeit unofficially,
to take resources from his or her employer for
personal use, without permission (Greenberg,
1998; Rousseau, 2004). Such unauthorized ar-
rangements involve unilateral confiscation of
employers’ resources by workers in a manner
that harms employers. Although most acts of
employee theft occur without management’s
knowledge, some managers have been known to
turn a blind eye to petty theft, publicly decrying
it but privately acknowledging (or sometimes
even promoting) its occurrence (Greenberg &
Tomlinson, 2004). That is, an unspoken norm
sometimes develops that theft is tolerated, at
least as long as it is kept within certain param-
eters (Dalton, 1959; Ditton, 1997). Importantly,
such unauthorized arrangements are not i-deals
insofar as they serve the interests of individuals
I-Deals Compared to Other Person-Specific Employment Arrangements
Employment Arrangement
I-Deals Favoritism or Cronyism
Allocation Negotiated by employee Endowment to employee Usurped by employee
Basis Worker’s value to firm
and personal need
Particular relationship Rule breaking
Beneficiary Employee and employer Employee and powerful others
(e.g., managers)
Employee only
Coworker consequences Effects on perceptions
depend on content,
timing, and process
for creating i-deal
Reduces trust and perception
of procedural and outcome
Reduces legitimacy of
980 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
but not the firm, undermining the legitimacy of
its formal practices and eroding the trust work-
ers place in it (Pearce, 2001; Rousseau, 2004).
As an organizational phenomenon, the cre-
ation of i-deals largely has gone unrecognized,
despite signs of worker-negotiated idiosyncratic
arrangements in organizational research. Sev-
eral research areas address heterogeneity in
conditions of employment and, in doing so, pro-
vide evidence that i-deals may have long been a
part of organizational life. These include inves-
tigations of idiosyncratic jobs, leader-member
exchange (LMX), workplace flexibility, and psy-
chological contracts.
Idiosyncratic Jobs
According to Miner (1987), “idiosyncratic jobs”
are those positions in an organization created
for and around specific individuals. For exam-
ple, an employee with an excellent speaking
voice may be given the job of recording person-
alized messages on the company’s telephone
answering equipment. This job capitalizes on
the worker’s unique talent. Research on idiosyn-
cratic jobs informs our discussion by calling at-
tention to organizational factors impacting an
idiosyncratic job’s creation, growth, and de-
mise—forces that may operate on i-deals as
well. First, start-ups and new organizational set-
tings are replete with idiosyncratic jobs, since
initial job incumbents generally have broad op-
portunities to shape their roles and employment
conditions (Levesque, 2001). Second, idiosyn-
cratic jobs tend to die over time as their occu-
pants leave or as pressure for standardization
mounts (Miner, 1987). Third, even highly formal-
ized settings have idiosyncratic jobs whose ini-
tial incumbents possess the set of distinctive
capabilities their firm values (Miner, 1987).
Research on idiosyncratic jobs has interesting
implications for i-deals. The initial occupants of
newly created jobs are better positioned than
later occupants to propose i-deals. By customiz-
ing at least some of a job’s duties and ways
work is performed, original occupants of jobs
tend to have more opportunities to suggest and
bargain for idiosyncratic employment terms
than occupants of jobs with longer histories.
Thus, i-deals that workers propose to their em-
ployers are more likely to be accepted in start-
ups and in newer settings than in more estab-
lished organizational settings, where norms
have developed and where rules and standard
procedures restrict or preclude ad hoc options.
Nonetheless, even highly bureaucratic firms
still can create i-deals for highly valued work-
ers. Over time, however, pressure for standard-
ization and consistency is likely to emerge that
impacts i-deals in two ways. First, it can make
certain i-deals unnecessary, broadly permitting
arrangements to many workers that were once
available only to a few workers who had i-deals.
Second, it can make i-deals more difficult to
create in all but the most exceptional cases by
limiting organizational flexibility and manage-
rial discretion.
LMX focuses on the relationships between
managers and individual subordinates and the
development of these relationships over time
(Cashman, Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1976;
Graen & Cashman, 1975). This conceptualization
purports that differences in a manager’s treat-
ment of individual workers are due to differing
levels of trust. Some workers form part of a
highly trusted ingroup that has greater latitude
over duties and responsibilities, finding their
manager highly responsive to their needs and
interests. In contrast, other workers, considered
part of the outgroup, are denied this special
treatment. High-LMX workers enjoy more oppor-
tunities for idiosyncratic behavior—and, pre-
sumably, the creation of i-deals—than their low-
LMX counterparts.
Importantly, whether the LMX relationship is
based on an employer’s regard for a particularly
competent worker or merely on a friendship with
a less impressive performer determines whether
these individually distinct arrangements consti-
tute legitimate i-deals or merely preferential
treatment. Nonetheless, having a good relation-
ship with one’s manager or other representative
of one’s employer is likely to make proposing an
i-deal easier. As such, a manager who may have
been reluctant to negotiate an i-deal early in a
relationship with a worker may become open to
the possibility of such an arrangement over
time, to the extent that he or she comes to value
that worker.
2006 981Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
Workplace Flexibility
Ethnographic studies of workplace flexibility
and work-family balance have described indi-
vidualized arrangements that essentially are
i-deals, without identifying them as such. Hoch-
schild (1997), for example, has demonstrated
that high-status professionals and otherwise
highly valued workers are more successful at
negotiating accommodations addressing their
needs for work-family balance than their less
esteemed counterparts. Interestingly, evidence
also suggests that there may be a drawback to
such arrangements. Workers who negotiate flex-
ible work arrangements often receive substan-
dard evaluations of their performance because
of their nonconforming work practices, particu-
larly when performance is measured subjec-
tively (Perlow, 1997).
Taken together, the Hochschild (1997) and Per-
low (1997) studies pose a dilemma. Although
fast-trackers successfully may negotiate idio-
syncratic arrangements that help balance the
demands of their work and family lives, such
deals subsequently may reduce their perfor-
mance ratings, ultimately diminishing their ca-
reer opportunities. Research on work-family bal-
ance has several implications for i-deals. Over
time, an i-deal can have negative consequences
for the worker who negotiates it, particularly to
the degree that such an arrangement is discrep-
ant from widely held work norms (e.g., negotiat-
ing shorter work days in a firm where advance-
ment requires putting in long hours). In the case
of i-deals negotiated to help juggle the demands
of work and family, for example, a worker who
approaches the work role differently from his or
her peers— be it in terms of hours worked, avail-
ability to clients or colleagues, or other factors—
unintentionally may signal a lack of commit-
ment (cf. Landers, Rebitzer, & Taylor, 1996).
Psychological Contracts
A psychological contract is the specific man-
ner in which each party in an exchange relation-
ship interprets his or her obligations and agree-
ments with the others (Rousseau, 1995).
Psychological contracts may differ among co-
workers doing similar jobs in the same work
unit (e.g., Dabos & Rousseau, 2004a). Although
there may be several possible explanations for
this (e.g., workers were hired at different times
by different managers), the existence of i-deals
may be a factor in within-unit differences in
psychological contracts.
Idiosyncratic terms can form part of an indi-
vidual’s psychological contract, along with fea-
tures that are shared with coworkers (Rousseau,
1995). Some differences in on-the-job behavior
observed among coworkers can arise from idio-
syncratic components in their psychological
contracts, as in the case of workers whose spe-
cial contributions bring them greater status
within a workgroup (Dabos & Rousseau, 2004b).
Furthermore, some particular types of psycho-
logical contracts, known as “balanced con-
tracts,” incorporate beliefs in their ongoing ne-
gotiability as necessitated by changing
organizational environments and individual
needs (Rousseau, 1995). Workers with such con-
tracts have been found to pursue i-deals involv-
ing career development that also enhance their
employability (Rousseau et al., 2003).
Having considered the nature of i-deals and
their connections to various organizational phe-
nomena, the stage is set for us to address the
contexts within which i-deals arise and their
impact on employees. Some circumstances that
both workers and organizations face can impact
the nature of the bargaining process between
them, as well as the outcomes that follow from
any resultant i-deal. Here we examine three
such circumstances: the strategic value of work-
ers to their organizations, the timing of i-deals,
and the implications of repeated bargaining.
Strategic Value
An i-deal is a form of customization granting
employees conditions that satisfy their personal
needs, values, and preferences. Traditional em-
ployment in the developed world downplays
customization in favor of consistency and stan-
dardization (Pearce, 2001). In recent years, how-
ever, the liberalization of labor laws and the
reduced popularity of unionism (Farber & West-
ern, 2000; Halpern, 2003), coupled with the grow-
ing recognition of human capital’s contribution
to a firm’s competitive advantage (Leana &
Rousseau, 2000), have opened more doors to ne-
gotiating i-deals in lieu of accepting standard-
ized offers. Against the backdrop of fewer preset
982 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
terms of employment, workers who recognize
the value that employers place on them are
well-positioned to assert their preferences ei-
ther overtly, through bargaining, or more coyly,
by hinting at alternative opportunities else-
where (Rousseau, 2005). Greater mobility among
talented people, especially those recognized as
critical to their firm’s competitive position, adds
to their power when bargaining for i-deals
(Frank & Cook, 1995).
A firm’s receptiveness to i-deals reflects its
strategic needs, as when particular segments of
the labor market are targeted that its existing
practices are not geared toward (e.g., young pro-
fessionals, senior citizens, or parents of small
children; Ingram & Simon, 1994; Lee et al., 2000).
Illustrating this, law firms more readily have
been granting requests for exceptional arrange-
ments to female attorneys attempting to balance
their work and family lives than to male attor-
neys who make similar requests (Klein, Berman,
& Dickson, 2000).
Proposition 1: Firms seeking to recruit
or retain valued workers from labor
market segments where their existing
practices make recruitment or reten-
tion difficult are more likely to grant
i-deals that offset those practices than
firms not targeting those workers. Ac-
cordingly, such targeted individuals
are more likely than nontargeted indi-
viduals to be granted i-deals.
Ultimately, repeated use of similar arrange-
ments to recruit and retain workers from these
desirable segments of the labor market may re-
sult in a revision of standard employment terms
in response to demands for equity (Greenberg,
1996), eventually making these new arrange-
ments standard rather than idiosyncratic
(Greenberg et al., 2004). In other words, once-
unique policies are likely to become institution-
alized, if the factors that gave rise to them
continue. This is what occurred in the case of
flextime, which originally was introduced to
meet the needs of women workers but which
subsequently became a standard employment
practice (Ingram & Simon, 1994).
Proposition 2: Over time, firms that
successfully meet their human re-
source needs by offering a particular
type of i-deal to workers from specific
labor market segments eventually
will make such arrangements rou-
tinely available to all workers.
I-deals that are successful from a firm’s perspec-
tive become a source of new work structures and
human resource practices that promote both ad-
aptation to changing environments and legiti-
mation of a firm’s employment practices.
The Timing of I-Deals
As noted earlier, workers negotiate i-deals
with their employers at either of two times—
during the recruitment process (i.e., ex ante)
and/or on the job, after a relationship has been
established (i.e., ex post). (Other idiosyncratic
negotiations, such as those occurring at the end
of employment via termination or retirement,
may be governed by different processes and are
not treated here.) Importantly, however, not all
workers who prefer something nonstandard
seek i-deals. The extent to which someone does
so is likely to depend on that person’s beliefs
regarding the likelihood of a successful negoti-
ation. Belief in one’s ability to negotiate an
i-deal is predicated on perceptions of what is
negotiable, as well as on one’s unique leverage
or bargaining power. Taken together, these re-
flect the strength of one’s own position and the
alternatives available both to oneself and one’s
employer (Thompson, 2001). Beliefs regarding
negotiability also are enhanced whenever work-
ers believe their employers are highly depen-
dent on them. The nature of that dependence can
vary for new recruits and current employees.
To a great extent, labor markets dictate the
dynamics and normative appropriateness of ex
ante i-deals. For example, workers in a “hot”
labor market, where certain skills are in high
demand but short supply, might be expected to
seek and attain more i-deals than those whose
skills are in less demand (Cappelli, 2000). Under
such conditions, information about others’ suc-
cesses in negotiating i-deals is likely to be com-
municated informally and very rapidly, thereby
promoting interest in such arrangements (Belli-
veau, 2000). As qualified applicants clamor to
get in on the good deals, a “gold rush effect” can
occur. This accounts for why i-deals were so
common among employees of firms in
the late 1990s (Buckman, 2000). Under such cir-
cumstances, workers are unlikely to attribute
2006 983Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
their firm’s willingness to provide them special
accommodations as an indication of its quality
as an employer or its positive regard for them as
individuals. Rather, workers bargaining ex ante
are likely to attribute receipt of an i-deal as an
indication of their market value.
Although market-based attributions are likely
to predominate among workers with ex ante
i-deals, workers are more likely to attribute their
ex post i-deals to the quality of their relation-
ship with their employer. Ex post arrangements
are more likely to arise in the context of a rela-
tionship between worker and employer wherein
information is exchanged that is not available
among the parties ex ante. Special arrange-
ments that arise then are based on credible in-
formation regarding the value of the person to
the organization (e.g., actual past contributions)
and on particular conditions that the individual
finds valuable (e.g., specific assignments). Ex-
changes made in the context of current employ-
ment are more likely to evoke a relational
schema (Baldwin, 1992) and to involve the par-
ties in commitments that play out over longer
periods of time. As such, ex post i-deals can
enhance each party’s beliefs in the quality of the
employment relationship. In contrast, as argued
above, ex ante i-deals are more likely to be
interpreted as arising from market-based fac-
tors and are less likely to impact beliefs regard-
ing relationship quality.
Proposition 3: Ex post i-deals are more
likely than ex ante i-deals to be per-
ceived as an indication of the quality
of one’s employment relationship.
Insofar as employers may be sensitive to the
threat to collaboration and commitment from in-
creased disparities in visible conditions of em-
ployment (e.g., pay; Cowherd & Levine, 1992), we
expect that they generally will be reluctant to
grant ex ante i-deals to all but those workers
deemed most critical or most in demand. Ex ante
i-deals may be limited severely in settings
where labor practices are highly regulated (e.g.,
government employment) or where societal or
cultural norms make them taboo (e.g., in China
and Singapore ex ante negotiation can be con-
sidered too assertive; Rousseau & Schalk, 2000).
In contrast, once a relationship exists between
workers and managers within a firm, even set-
tings that discourage ex ante bargaining may
promote informal negotiations and accommoda-
tions between individual workers and their em-
ployers. These informal negotiations also serve
to clarify the inevitably incomplete contracts of
long-standing employment (Williamson, 1975).
Workers are inclined to negotiate employment
terms ex post rather than ex ante for several
reasons. First, in contrast to preemployment ne-
gotiations, workers and employers who negoti-
ate terms post hire may share a great deal of
knowledge about one another’s interests and
may already exchange a broad array of re-
sources. Ex post i-deals, thus, can occur more
readily because of the more credible signals an
employer possesses regarding a worker’s value
than existed prior to employment (Lazear, 1981).
Second, the greater comfort level workers enjoy
in making special requests of an employer with
whom they now have a relationship also makes
i-deals more likely to occur ex post than ex ante
(Rousseau, 2005). Third, insofar as granting an
i-deal may be considered a way of rewarding a
worker who proposes it, employers in long-
standing relationships may consent to i-deals
as a means of acknowledging loyalty and of
rewarding contributions based on an extended
track record (Lazear, 1981; Ritter & Taylor, 2000).
Fourth, workers who have formed a relationship
with their employers can use their insider
knowledge to capitalize on opportunities to pro-
pose i-deals. Current employees can propose
i-deals in response to employer-initiated cir-
cumstances that give them leverage (Rousseau,
2005). Incumbent workers who otherwise are re-
luctant to propose i-deals may use the opening
of a new position or a tough-to-fill vacancy to
negotiate an i-deal. These ex post i-deals result
from workers’ use of insider knowledge to sug-
gest conditions that employers otherwise may
be reluctant to grant.
Proposition 4: Other things being
equal, workers are more likely to ne-
gotiate ex post i-deals than ex ante
Repeated Bargaining
Thus far, our discussion of i-deals has focused
on discrete arrangements made on single occa-
sions. However, during lengthy employment
with a firm, a particular worker may repeatedly
negotiate a variety of idiosyncratic features as
his or her personal needs and organizational
984 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
contributions change over time. Although many
of these successive i-deals may reflect ongoing
adjustments in cycles of inducement and contri-
bution, in some cases attempts to create i-deals
may reflect a worker’s efforts to up the ante—to
get more from his or her employer. Repeated
bargaining differs from the cycles of reciprocity
workers and employers engage in over time,
because repeated bargaining focuses on in-
creasing levels of the same resources—particu-
larly pay—without a reciprocal increase in the
worker’s contributions to the firm.
Such repeated bargaining potentially can
change the meaning of the i-deal over time. Al-
though initial i-deals are likely to be offered and
interpreted as special, parties may come to in-
terpret subsequent i-deals differently, espe-
cially when they are habitual. Diminishing mar-
ginal returns can result for both principals as
each subsequent deal becomes less special.
Moreover, individuals who repeatedly propose
i-deals risk damaging their personal reputa-
tions (Ferris, Blass, Douglas, Kolodinsky, &
Treadway, 2003), threatening to create the im-
pression that they are “players” motivated pri-
marily by the thrill of “gaming the system.” Or-
ganizations also may be unwilling to make
i-deals based on the same resources with the
same individuals repeatedly, for fear of being
manipulated, being seen as practicing favorit-
ism or acting capriciously, or creating dissatis-
faction among other employees.
Proposition 5: Concerns about creat-
ing negative impressions will discour-
age workers from proposing ex post
i-deals regarding the same resources
repeatedly over time. Moreover, con-
cerns about negative impressions will
discourage employers from accepting
ex post i-deals regarding the same re-
sources for the same workers repeat-
edly over time.
The potential for negative impressions is
likely to be lower in employment relationships
infused with market ideologies (e.g., among
computer programmers with unique skills) but
higher in those in which professional or commu-
nal ideologies prevail (e.g., among doctors work-
ing in a teaching hospital; Thompson & Bunder-
son, 2003). The very process of negotiation can
make salient the economic and transactional
aspects of the employer-employee exchange,
which, although highlighted in market ideolo-
gies, typically are downplayed in communal re-
lationships. Thus, we might expect a physician
in a health care setting to be reluctant to nego-
tiate ex post i-deals regarding pay repeatedly,
insofar as attention to economic issues may run
counter to the ideologies of caregiving and com-
munal relations that are supposed to take pre-
cedence in his or her employment relationship.
The specific terms or the content of i-deals
provides insight into the exchange relations be-
tween the employees and employers involved.
I-deals may contain many diverse resources
that workers value—from pay and travel ex-
penses to mentoring, development, and per-
sonal support—and the nature of these re-
sources may influence how workers experience
i-deals (Rousseau et al., 2003; Rousseau & Kim,
2003). To understand the content of i-deals, Foa
and Foa’s (1975) classification of resource cate-
gories is useful. Specifically, they propose that
six types of resources—money, goods, services,
information, status, and love—may be classified
along two dimensions—the degree to which the
resources are concrete (tangible) versus abstract
(conveyed through verbal and paralinguistic be-
haviors), and the degree to which they are par-
ticularistic (their meaning and value depending
on their source and context) versus universal
(having common meaning and value across
sources and contexts).
Typically, exchanging particularistic re-
sources requires a personal relationship be-
tween giver and receiver. Particularistic re-
sources include bestowing special status (e.g.,
recognition), services that benefit another’s
well-being (e.g., development, mentoring), and
love expressed via concern and socioemotional
support (e.g., support and flexibility in response
to a family crisis). Although goods or money can
be exchanged between parties who do not know
one another, typically, personal relationships
are the basis for particularistic resource ex-
changes. Parties generally are familiar with or
have information about one another in the case
of status or services, and they trust one another
in the case of love and related forms of socio-
emotional support. In contrast, concrete re-
sources (particularly ones with clear monetary
value, such as pay and material goods) are
2006 985Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
readily exchanged with limited interaction and
virtually no relationship between the parties.
This conceptualization of resources sheds light
on the dynamics underlying i-deals.
Firms seeking to attract, motivate, and retain
valued workers find it difficult to compete if
wages are the only dimension they use to bar-
gain with and motivate employees. Broadening
the employment package—what Bloom and
Milkovich (1996) have termed the compensation
bundle—to include nonmonetary and particu-
laristic resources, as well as concrete, monetary
resources, enhances an employer’s ability to re-
cruit, motivate, and retain talent. Particularistic
resources constitute part of an invisible wage
structure, providing informal ways organiza-
tions can compensate workers. This can range
from higher-quality employee-supervisor rela-
tions and greater job scope (Graen & Scandura,
1987) to the overlooking of odd or deviant behav-
ior on the part of otherwise high performers
(Frank, 1985; Greenberg & Scott, 1996). Particu-
laristic resources lack fixed metrics, making
their exchange difficult to standardize or to gov-
ern by rules. As such, employers and managers
may find it easier to offer particularistic i-deals
than concrete ones, especially those involving
pay and benefits.
The timing of an idiosyncratic negotiation
may affect the perspective from which each
party views the exchange. Different relational
schemas may be primed by the point in the
employment relationship at which negotiation
occurs (Baldwin, 1992). An ex ante i-deal occur-
ring while the worker is a job applicant is likely
to evoke the schema of a market transaction,
particularly in view of the types of resources
commonly bargained for in the job market (e.g.,
pay, promotion opportunities, or stock options).
In contrast, an ex post i-deal is likely to evoke
the schema of socioemotional exchange, partic-
ularly if the resources bargained for include
forms of personal or emotional support.
Relational schemas themselves are inter-
twined with the types of resources for which
bargaining occurs. Those resources that would
signal a high-quality employment relationship,
such as development and mentoring, might be
more difficult to bargain for prior to joining a
firm than after one already is onboard. There are
two reasons for this. First, the employee does not
have the type of contextual knowledge regard-
ing the firm that eases negotiating over partic-
ularistic conditions. Second, ex ante bargaining
is likely to be shaped by information accessible
in the external market. Thus, whereas informa-
tion about salary and benefits may be shared
readily among job seekers and employers, more
particularistic resources are difficult for them to
identify, let alone to compare.
Proposition 6: Ex ante i-deals are more
likely to be based on concrete and uni-
versal resources than on particularis-
tic and abstract resources.
In contrast, there is more opportunity to obtain
particularistic and abstract resources via ex
post negotiations than ex ante negotiations.
This is particularly likely when particularistic
and abstract resources are used to recognize
high-performing workers without creating more
overt differences in the outcomes coworkers re-
ceive. Such i-deals may account for a common
finding in compensation research: relative to
their marginal productivity, firms tend to under-
pay high performers and overpay low perform-
ers (Frank, 1985; Gerhart & Milkovich, 1992).
Proposition 7: Ex post i-deals are more
likely to be based on particularistic
and abstract resources than on con-
crete and universal resources.
Receipt of special accommodations regarding
preferred assignments and development activi-
ties is positively related to recipients’ beliefs in
a mutual commitment regarding development
and support between themselves and their em-
ployers (Rousseau et al., 2003). Exchanging such
resources necessitates an investment of time
and effort on the part of both parties, which can
enhance each one’s beliefs regarding the qual-
ity of the relationship. Resource exchanges that
promote interaction over time can deepen both
the investments and obligations each party re-
ciprocates with the other.
In contrast, accommodations regarding pay
and equipment, which can be provided with
minimal interaction, have no consistent effect
on the perceived employment relationship
(Rousseau et al., 2003). As indicated in Proposi-
tion 6, monetary (i.e., concrete and universal)
arrangements are likely to be made prior to em-
ployment in an organization—that is, when suc-
cessful negotiation of one’s preferences is likely
to be attributed to market value rather than to a
special quality of the employer. Basing i-deals
986 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
on market factors is likely not only at the time of
hire but also post hire, when workers bargain for
salary increases. A salary increase is more
likely to be justified by market-related reasons
than are accommodations supporting an indi-
vidual’s personal growth.
Whereas market-based attributions predomi-
nate among workers with ex ante i-deals and
among workers with monetary-based i-deals re-
gardless of timing, we expect that workers will
attribute their ex post nonmonetary (i.e., partic-
ularistic and abstract) i-deals to the quality of
their employment relationships.
Proposition 8: Ex post nonmonetary i-
deals are more strongly and positively
related to workers’ beliefs regarding
the quality of their employment rela-
tionship than are ex post monetary i-
Although some workers who successfully bar-
gain for a pay increase might believe their em-
ployers value them highly, we expect workers to
be less consistent in their interpretation of mon-
etary i-deals than particularistic i-deals. Mone-
tary i-deals can arise in arm’s length employ-
ment arrangements, as well as in highly
relational ones, whereas particularistic i-deals
require a relationship (e.g., McLean Parks &
smith, 1998). How workers respond to monetary
i-deals, therefore, will depend on the nature of
their broader arrangements with their employ-
Employers may enter into i-deals as a means
of courting subsequent reciprocity. A reverber-
ating network of obligations can arise as i-deals
cultivate mutual support. Workers may interpret
i-deals variously, as signals of a good relation-
ship with an employer or as indicators of how
much individual power they wield. Interpreta-
tions are likely to depend on the i-deal’s content,
which reflects workers’ and employers’ motives
for creating the i-deal in the first place.
Thus far, we have focused on arrangements
between an employee and his or her employer.
However, this ignores another key stakeholder—
the worker’s coworkers. Because coworkers are
likely to observe and form judgments about
i-deals, it is important to consider their assess-
ment of and reaction to those i-deals they learn
about. Comparisons between oneself and one’s
coworkers are likely to be made especially sa-
lient by i-deals, given that, by definition, the
terms of their employment differ. (Should co-
workers attempt to match the terms of another’s
i-deal, that arrangement is no longer idiosyn-
cratic. Subsequent matching arrangements are
motivated by different factors, such as perceived
equity, and we address these elsewhere [Green-
berg et al., 2004].)
Insofar as a worker and an employer have
agreed to an i-deal, these parties are inclined to
perceive it as fair. However, an i-deal’s non-
standard nature can lead other involved parties,
such as coworkers, to question its fairness
(Greenberg et al., 2004). In other words, cowork-
ers are likely to have different reactions to i-
deals than the principals themselves. As in any
social exchange, observers are likely to have
different perspectives than actors because they
are not likely to be privy to the same information
(Jones & Nisbett, 1972). When an employee with
an i-deal and his or her employer are the only
parties to know the exact terms of employment,
others are likely to learn about these in an in-
complete and inaccurate manner, such as
through rumor and innuendo. Moreover, others
are inclined to judge these arrangements as un-
fair if the arrangements were made in secret,
raising suspicion that there is something to
hide. Also, because they often are unfamiliar
with the exact nature of the agreement, cowork-
ers are not in a good position to judge its ulti-
mate fairness.
Nonetheless, it is not inevitable that cowork-
ers will judge others’ i-deals as unfair. We out-
line some key considerations in assessing the
fairness of i-deals. These are important in that
repeated complaints about the unfairness of i-
deals ultimately may lead to their prohibition,
thereby denying employers and employees a
potential benefit and source of flexibility.
Opportunity for Choice: Do Others Have the
Same Options?
I-deals are likely to be perceived as fair by
third parties to the extent that these individuals
believe they have opportunities to make similar
arrangements themselves. This is the case, for
example, when using cafeteria-style pay plans
(Barringer & Milkovich, 1998), a mechanism for
creating customized employment terms. How-
2006 987Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
ever, because of their standard nature, cafeteria-
style pay plans cannot be considered
The fairness of i-deals may be difficult to es-
tablish in the eyes of interested third parties. For
example, if John learns that his colleague, Mary,
negotiated an i-deal that provides greater flex-
ibility in work assignments, he may feel unfairly
treated to the extent that he values such flexi-
bility and believes he too deserves it. Such feel-
ings may be reduced if John believes he also
could receive identical treatment by asking for
it. This would be the case, for example, if John
perceived that his employer held him in high
regard and was willing to offer him an equally
desirable arrangement if he asked for it. Oppor-
tunities for comparable treatment, however,
need not imply that the coworker believes he or
she currently deserves an i-deal. For example,
ex post i-deals may be given to veteran employ-
ees who have paid their dues (Ford & Newstrom,
1999). Knowing that the same advantages will
accrue when an individual achieves veteran
status promotes the belief that he or she too can
enjoy comparable opportunities.
Proposition 9: A coworker’s perceived
fairness of another’s i-deal will be pos-
itively related to the degree to which
he or she believes it is possible to at-
tain equally desirable outcomes.
Legitimate conditions for ex ante i-deals may
differ from those for ex post i-deals. Market fac-
tors tend to be legitimate considerations in ex
ante negotiations, and coworkers may accept
differences in employment conditions generated
by labor market factors at the time a higher-paid
colleague was hired (as in the case of salary
compression; Brown & Woodbury, 1998). How-
ever, reliance on market factors to negotiate an
ex post i-deal is more likely to generate adverse
reactions on the part of coworkers, particularly
those inclined to see themselves as making
comparable contributions. Employers, however,
tend to treat mobile workers more generously
than their equally competent but nonmobile
peers (Rusbelt, Campbell, & Price, 1990; Rusbelt,
Lowery, Hubbarb, & Maravankin, 1988)—a prac-
tice that may generate outrage. We expect that
coworkers will react more positively when mar-
ket factors motivate an i-deal their employer
grants to a new hire than when used to justify
special accommodations to a current employee.
Proposition 10: Coworkers are likely to
believe that market factors are a more
legitimate basis for creating ex ante
i-deals than for creating ex post
Does Anyone Gain or Lose?
One person’s special treatment can create
costs for others, particularly when the parties
are interdependent. In zero-sum situations,
where resources are constrained, coworkers are
more likely to experience a loss whenever a
peer receives an i-deal. Time off for one person,
for example, may result in more work for others.
A worker who gets a raise because she received
an outside offer reduces the pool of money avail-
able to grant raises to her peers. Negative con-
sequences from i-deals in resource-constrained
situations are amplified by the well-established
tendency for people to be more sensitive to
losses than to gains (Kahneman & Tversky,
A person receiving an i-deal can engender a
more positive response from colleagues by tak-
ing steps to minimize any adverse impact. Such
an individual may need to manage relations
with colleagues so as to enhance their percep-
tions of fairness. This likely will involve offering
an acceptable explanation to peers as to why
this arrangement was warranted. Ostensible
steps may be taken to help coworkers who have
been harmed in some way because of extra
work or other demands necessitated by one’s
i-deal, perhaps by helping and doing favors for
coworkers or making oneself available by
phone if needed—that is, engaging in acts of
OCB-I (Williams & Anderson, 1991). These efforts
reflect enlightened self-interest, particularly
where workers with i-deals are interdependent
with others.
Recipients of i-deals who effectively manage
relations with coworkers tend to downplay dif-
ferences in their treatment so as to avoid rein-
forcing an impression of nonconformity (Clark,
1998). For example, if their arrangements allow
them to not work on Thursdays, they may say
that they are “out of the office on Thursday,”
instead of stating that they “don’t work that
day.” The symbolic benefits associated with
such a gesture may be considerable.
It is important to note that, on some occasions,
coworkers may gain from a peer’s i-deal. For
988 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
example, faculty members who plead with a
dean to match the outside offer received by a
high-status colleague may do so to protect the
status of their department. In local hierarchies,
status may be a thing of considerable value
(Frank, 1985). Although being at the bottom of a
hierarchy has negative consequences, even
lower-status members of a prestigious unit may
benefit from its standing, making them support-
ive of i-deals that protect it.
Proposition 11: I-deals resulting in
benefits for coworkers are more likely
to be accepted as fair than those that
result in no such benefits. Coworkers
will perceive another’s i-deal as less
fair when it results in costs to them-
selves than when the i-deal is cost
Viewing employment relations through the
lens of i-deals reveals both essential dynamics
and subtle nuances in relations among their
parties: the worker and employer (the deal’s
principals) and coworkers. These have impor-
tant implications for both research and practice.
Research Implications
The i-deal framework described here indi-
cates that considerable insight into the dynam-
ics of the employment relationship can be
gained by framing it as an exchange wherein
individual workers can shape its terms. More-
over, it is an exchange among three parties,
where a primary exchange between a worker
and his or her employer has implications for the
relations that worker’s coworkers have with the
employer and the worker. Our conceptualization
of i-deals points the way toward balancing the
interests of worker, employer, and coworkers to
provide both flexibility and fairness.
Organizations display less standardization in
the employment exchange than is widely pre-
sumed. Individual workers introduce more vari-
ation in the resources they exchange with their
employers than scholars and practitioners have
appreciated to date. In so doing, these employ-
ees are not only impacting the classic cycle of
inducements and contributions to enhance their
own gratification but are also serving as a
source of innovation in personnel policy. I-deals
and the conditions under which they arise can
inform how personnel policies originate in orga-
nizations and the conditions promoting their re-
vision. Even ostensibly standard practices can
constitute a growth medium for i-deals. I-deals
can provide insight into organizational routines
used to execute such personnel actions as trans-
fers and promotions.
Far from being rigid, many organizational
routines are influenced by the managers and
workers who participate in them (Feldman &
Pentland, 2003). Current employees can negoti-
ate i-deals under various conditions, as a re-
ward for completing a major project or as an
incentive to accept a transfer or new responsi-
bilities (Rousseau, 2005). The impact of organi-
zational policies and the routines that support
them can vary from firm to firm and from man-
ager to manager, to the extent that i-deals are
involved in their execution. Whether workers
are able to shape the execution of a routine via
i-deals can yield strikingly distinct conse-
quences from seemingly comparable personnel
An employer’s role in i-deals is complicated,
since, with the exception of all but the simplest
cases (e.g., start-up firms with one founder/
manager), employers are not unitary entities.
Potentially, employers are represented by mul-
tiple agents, managers, HR staff, and by formal
organizational procedures for personnel deci-
sions. Research is needed into why employers
and their agents agree to i-deals in the first
place, as well as why they don’t. The employer’s
HR infrastructure, including compensation, and
development practices are likely to play a large
role in shaping the forms i-deals take, how co-
workers respond to them, and whether such ar-
rangements are negotiated at all. In particular,
the co-occurrence of other personnel practices,
such as credible performance indicators or
openness regarding compensation, is likely to
be pertinent to how i-deals are viewed by all
We also need to understand how the scope
and variation of an organization’s i-deals are
determined by the degree to which workers al-
ready obtain resources through their firm’s stan-
dard reward practices. In the case of a generous
employer who offers a full plate of benefits and
developmental opportunities, we might expect
i-deals to be somewhat unusual or limited in
2006 989Rousseau, Ho, and Greenberg
scope— but perhaps greeted with more accep-
tance. In contrast to the vigilance and suspicion
of employees who expect to get little unless they
strike a deal, the generous employer is likely
create a climate of trust and fairness (Colquitt,
Noe, & Jackson, 2002; Ehrhart, 2004). Research is
needed on how such organizational factors im-
pact workers’ responses to their own i-deals and
those of others.
Coworkers play multiple roles in i-deals. They
can influence a peer’s i-deal negotiation when
either the peer or employer attempts to antici-
pate the coworkers’ reactions. In effect, i-deals
can be bargained for in the shadow of cowork-
ers, who are more likely to judge as fair those
negotiations that attend to their interests than
those that don’t. Coworkers are also, in some
cases, key enablers of i-deals. One person’s spe-
cial employment conditions can lead another to
adjust his or her performance to pick up slack or
to provide coordination made necessary by non-
standard arrangements. The assistance cowork-
ers provide might be construed as citizenship
behavior where the target is the organization
(i.e., OCB-O), but, as noted earlier, it often is
provided to assist a fellow worker (i.e., OCB-I;
Williams & Anderson, 1991). Along with any sac-
rifices i-deals might exact from coworkers, from
more work to lower raises, coworkers may antic-
ipate reciprocity for their support for (or toler-
ance of) another’s i-deal. In this regard, cowork-
ers are themselves prospective i-dealers whose
beliefs about their likelihood of success can in-
fluence perceptions of fairness as well as their
relationships with employer and i-dealing col-
league(s) alike (Greenberg et al., 2004).
The conceptualization of i-deals developed
here suggests that within-group heterogeneity
in work experiences and reward allocations is
neither merely noise from individual differences
in perception nor the effect of workers’ pet rela-
tionships with their bosses. Systematic pro-
cesses are at work whereby heterogeneity
arises through ways in which individual work-
ers and employers craft their relationship. Yet
scholars largely have overlooked the matter of
differences among coworkers with respect to the
terms of their employment. For example, LMX
researchers have neglected to investigate the
impact of high-LMX relations between a man-
ager and one subordinate on that person’s peers
(for a review, see Schriescheim, Castro, &
Cogliser, 1999). Likewise, research on organiza-
tional justice (for a review, see Colquitt & Green-
berg, 2003) largely focuses on forces of consis-
tency, equity, and equality while downplaying
heterogeneity in the value and meanings indi-
viduals within a group associate with the differ-
ent resources they receive. Research that ad-
dresses this balance of interests must consider
the three parties simultaneously.
Toward this end, we advocate more contextu-
alized research designs that assess the employ-
ment exchange from the perspective of each in-
dividual worker in a work unit with respect to
his or her relationship with both employer and
coworkers. Individual-level assessments should
measure an individual’s beliefs regarding his or
her own exchange relationship and related
judgments regarding each coworker in a given
setting. The format used in network research is
useful in this regard, wherein individuals report
their judgments regarding relationships with all
unit members listed in a questionnaire (e.g., Da-
bos & Rousseau, 2004b). Designs that assess the
perspectives of workgroup members and their
employers with respect to the resources ex-
changed, capturing the exchange from the van-
tage point of each dyad (i.e., worker-employer,
worker-coworker), can be used to examine the
main effects from employer- and employee-level
factors, as well as the interaction effects from
each employee’s position relative to others in
the workgroup. Analytic tools such as the WABA
approach (e.g., Schriescheim, 1995) provide one
means for evaluating effects of within-group
heterogeneity, while network analytic tech-
niques can be used to test effects at the dyadic
level (Krackhardt, 1988).
Temporal factors play a role in the impact of
i-deals not only in terms of whether the arrange-
ments made are ex ante or ex post but also in
terms of the period of time over which their
effects are evaluated. For example, as we noted
earlier, i-deals that initially meet an individual
worker’s needs can have negative conse-
quences over time if the worker’s nonconformity
leads to subsequently reduced performance
evaluations. In contrast, an i-deal that promotes
a worker’s opportunities for career development
might enhance his or her subsequent perfor-
mance and promotability. Not only are the con-
sequences of i-deals likely to vary over time, but
their implications for employer, worker, and co-
workers can vary, depending on the point in the
990 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
cycle of inducements and contributions at which
an assessment is made.
I-deals also have their dark sides, such as
when the balance among the interests of these
three parties is neglected. Yet scholars have
much to learn from investigating circumstances
where within-group heterogeneity in resource
exchanges and employment conditions is seen
as legitimate and in which workers, employers,
and coworkers experience positive outcomes. In
any case, however, these practices cannot be
fully understood until we examine their impli-
cations for the three focal parties to an individ-
ual’s employment relationship.
Practical Implications
A wise personnel manager once advised,
“Make no compensation decisions you wouldn’t
post on the employee bulletin board.” I-deals
are most likely to result in a sense of fairness to
the extent that they are communicated openly
(Greenberg et al., 2004). It is likely that manag-
ers will be more willing to publicly acknowl-
edge i-deals that are based on values widely
shared in the organization (e.g., contribution, se-
rious personal need, opportunity for innovation;
Rousseau, 2005). Employers should be wary of
granting i-deals for which the underlying values
are not clear or credible, such as may occur
when i-deals concerned with pay are created
with the same workers repeatedly. When i-deals
are prompted by circumstances raising privacy
concerns (e.g., illness), employers need to de-
velop repertoires for communicating appropri-
ately to avoid misinterpretation.
In closing, we caution that i-deals do not sub-
stitute for well-thought-out HR management
systems where standardized practices address
the concerns workers share. Nonetheless, the
flexibility that i-deals provide is a necessary
response to individual differences and chang-
ing circumstances. New firms, of course, often
lack such infrastructures, making i-deals useful
mechanisms for attracting, motivating, and re-
taining workers—at least to the extent that em-
ployers focus attention on learning how to man-
age i-deals effectively. Even for firms with
elaborate personnel systems, the needs of all
workers and employers cannot be determined a
priori, making the opportunity to create i-deals
advantageous. I-deals provide a basis from
which employers can identify potentially useful
innovations in HR practice— but, of course, only
to the degree that they allow organizational
learning to occur by freely sharing information
about past i-deals. Employees and employers
stand to benefit by looking at i-deals as experi-
ments, which, if successful, can be more broadly
applied. Scholarly research can aid this effort by
examining i-deals as a three-party process, bal-
ancing several sets of interests simultaneously.
We hope this article inspires such efforts.
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Denise M. Rousseau ( is H. J. Heinz II Professor of Orga-
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addresses psychological contracts and worker roles in shaping the employment
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Achievement Award from the Human Resources Division of the AOM and SIOP’s
Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award.
994 OctoberAcademy of Management Review
... In order to attract employees, organizations have to meet the special requirements of employees in certain aspects. Therefore, idiosyncratic deals have become an important motivational strategy for organizations to attract and retain core employees [12]. Idiosyncratic deals are personalized work arrangements negotiated between enterprises and employees based on employees' abilities and needs. ...
... The study focuses on the development of a reciprocal relationship between the supervisor and subordinate with a mutual sense of contribution, respect, and loyalty to each other. Supervisors with a strong LMX relationship allow their subordinates to sign the idiosyncratic deals (I-deals), which fall under the FSSBs' dimension of creative work-family management and are mutually beneficial special employment terms between a supervisor and subordinate (Rousseau et al., 2006). ...
This study examines the effect of work-life programs on employment continuity with a mediating role of work-family enrichment in a single organization using a work-family enrichment model. Consistent with the leader–member exchange theory, this study also examines the moderating role of family-supportive supervisor behavior between work-life programs and work-family enrichment. Data was collected from 218 employees working in the financial sector of Pakistan. Using partial least square structural equation modeling, the study findings suggest that work-life programs have no direct effect on employment continuity; however, the results show an indirect effect of work-life programs on employment continuity through the mediating role of work-family enrichment. Although family-supportive supervisor behavior has a significant impact on work-family enrichment, the findings show that it does not moderate the relationship between work-life programs and work-family enrichment. This study indicates to organizations the various work and nonwork factors that an employee considers while making career decisions, thus encouraging organizations to engage in whole-life approach to career development to retain valuable employees.
Despite the prevalence of idiosyncratic deals (i-deals) as an adaptive strategy for the effective management of an increasingly diverse workforce, the drivers of these customized work arrangements and why they enhance mutuality in the employment relationship are not well understood. Drawing on an integration of social cognitive theory and resource-based perspective, we address these interrelated questions by proposing and examining a moderated mediation model of antecedents and outcomes of task and career i-deals. Multi-source and multi-wave data obtained from supervisors and employees in service and manufacturing organizations were used to test our hypothesized relationships. Results of multilevel path analysis reveal that both employee approach motive and supervisor political skill relate to i-deals. Furthermore, high-commitment HR system moderates the relationship between supervisor political skill (but not employee approach motive) and i-deals such that this relationship is stronger when high-commitment HR system is high but not low. Additionally, i-deals relate to service creativity but indirectly through personal skill development suggesting a potential human capital (relative to the predominantly motivational) explanation of the performance implications of i-deals. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding and enhancing the effectiveness of negotiating and implementing i-deals.
Full-text available
The concept of idiosyncratic deals (i-deals) as personalized work arrangements that are different in nature from the usual employment contracts, negotiated to meet the specific needs of employees individually, has created a new trend in the area of employer-employee relationships. The current study was an attempt to investigate the impact of idiosyncratic deals, as flexibility and development deals, on the mutual relationship of work-family enrichment. Additionally, the moderating effect of employees' self-efficacy in this relationship was examined. The present applied study employed a descriptive survey design. The statistical population of the study included the employees of three companies engaged in information technology in banking sector, located in Pardis Technology Park, who were randomly recruited. Standard questionnaires were used for the data collection and the data analyses were done by structural equation modeling using Smart PLS software. The results indicated that flexibility and development ideals have a significant positive effect on the work to family enrichment and that self-efficacy, as a moderating variable, enhances this relationship. However, the impact of flexibility and development ideals on the family to work enrichment was not significant, and only through adding the self-efficacy moderator variable, a significant positive relationship was established between these variables.
Full-text available
As the human resource management processes and methods shifts to customization, the concept of idiosyncratic deals as non-standardized personalized contracts between employees and employers has been the subject of interest in recent years. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of idiosyncratic deals on the dimensions of perceived organizational justice as well as examining the moderating role of leader-member exchange in these relationships. This quantitative research is an applied one in terms of purpose, and a descriptive survey in terms of data collection. The statistical population of this study was branch staff of one of the big chain stores in Tehran and random cluster sampling method was applied. Standard questionnaires were used for data collection and structural equation modeling was performed using Smart PLS3.2.6 software. According to the results of the study, however, idiosyncratic deals did not have a significant effect on perceived distributive justice, it had a significant positive effect on perceived procedural and interactive justice. Also in the context of moderating relationships, the results showed that the leader-member exchange is a significant moderator in the relationship of idiosyncratic deals to perceived procedural and interactive justice, in a way that reinforces these relationships.
Using dynamic theory and methods, we investigate the phenomenon of older workers who withdraw from paid work while still healthy. We focus on intention to retire as the penultimate stage in the retirement process. We extend socio‐emotional selectivity theory to explain the growth of intention to retire. Older workers have a rising perception of time running out but good health allows for an ongoing choice between remaining in work or active retirement. While, in general, older people in poor health have a greater intention to retire than those in good health, we hypothesize that the passage of time motivates the healthy to increase their intention to retire, especially when manager support is low. We examine longitudinal data consisting of three waves of survey responses (2011, 2012, 2013) from 495 workers in their fiftieth year and older. We employ growth curve analysis (random coefficient modeling). The findings show that over a two‐year period, in contrast to other older workers whose retirement intention remains stable, individuals in consistently good health but with low manager support demonstrate a growth in intention to retire. That is, we identify the “queue jumpers”: those workers who speeded up their retirement process relative to other older workers.
Understanding the full implications of i-deals for employees and organizations requires explicit consideration of the country-level context in which they are granted and implemented. In this chapter, we critically reviewed the empirical literature on i-deals to assess the extent of contextualization and to summarize the insights gleaned from studies that discussed influences such as the societal culture, labor market characteristics, labor laws, and economic prosperity on i-deals. Our review revealed that about half of the articles in fact did not incorporate national or societal variables at all. About one-third were generalizability studies, which did not propose explicit hypotheses regarding contextual variables but often incorporated them to interpret the findings. Only a minority of studies developed a priori hypotheses or explicitly problematized the country-level characteristics of their study setting for a better understanding of i-deals. Nonetheless, the evidence points to fruitful future research directions such as the meaning, content, prevalence, targets, and implications of i-deals in different contexts.
We explore the interface of idiosyncratic work arrangements (i-deals) and economic theory on private information. To that end, we model i-deals as informal supervisor-employee agreements and use the principal-agent framework from economics to form linkages between the two literatures. We first highlight that supervisor-employee interactions tend to be rife with information asymmetries, where one party may possess some information that the other party does not. Next, we link the economic concepts of adverse selection and moral hazard to i-deals, pointing out the potential negative effects of information asymmetries on supervisor-employee interactions. Lastly, we introduce two market mechanisms from economics, namely signaling and screening, that can be useful in overcoming the issues surrounding information asymmetries and emphasize their applicability to i-deals. The discussion illustrates informational reasons that may drive managers to reject i-deal arrangements, as well as potential solutions.
Idiosyncratic deals (i.e., i-deals) have considerable group- and meso-level implications related to social comparisons and organizational justice perceptions. In this chapter, we review the theoretical underpinnings (i.e., social comparison theory and organizational justice theory) and the extant research of i-deals in workgroups. We derive an i-deals lifecycle framework with four distinct but highly related stages: recognition of potential i-deals, negotiation of i-deals, execution of agreed-upon i-deals, and renegotiation of i-deals. We simultaneously consider the relationships of employees who pursue an i-deal with managers and coworkers within the workgroup. Finally, we identify theoretical and practical implications and avenues for future research.
Recognizing societal and organizational trends toward individualization of work ( Rousseau, D. M. (2005). I-deals: Idiosyncratic deals employees bargain for themselves. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.) coined the term idiosyncratic deals (i-deals) to describe personalized work arrangements negotiated by employees to fulfill their unique needs unmet by their employer’s standard offerings. Since then, this area has received considerable attention from research and practice alike. We believe i-deals are “ideal” for addressing the changing needs and preferences of employees, employers, and the wider society in the post-pandemic era. Core aspects of i-deals are expounded by leading scholars in the preceding 12 chapters of this book. The book provides a comprehensive review and critique of i-deals literature from multiple perspectives. The discussion begins with an examination of motivations and outcomes of i-deal seekers and grantors. Particular attention is given to issues of fairness during negotiation and implementation of i-deals in workgroups wherein the recipients’ co-workers observe and react to the differentiated work arrangements. Recommendations are made for best practices for institutionalizing i-deals as a global strategic human resource management device. In this concluding chapter, we reflect on these insights, identify gaps in i-deals research, and suggest avenues for future research.
We advanced and tested a multiple-motive model of resource allocation. In this model we identified importance instrumental, social-emotional, and group maintenance goals, and asserted that rational managers will sometimes allocate reduced rewards to employees with constrained mobility. Consistent with predictions, managers allocated greater salary funds to more deserving employees: those with high competence and dedication. However, allocations also differed as a function of employee mobility. This effect was strongest among competent employees, whose membership was most desirable. Furthermore, the tendency to allocate lesser rewards to low-mobility employees was particularly pronounced under conditions of low reward availability and low labor availability. These effects were not mediated by changes in perceptions of the competence of low-mobility employees. These findings are discussed as a form of rational selective exploitation: The rational manager's need to attend to employee mobility, particularly under conditions of reward or labor constraint, may erode equity.
In response to demands and opportunities of the labor market, contemporary employers and employees voluntarily are entering into highly customized agreements regarding nonstandard employment terms. We refer to such idiosyncratic deals as "i-deals," acknowledging that these arrangements are intended to benefit all parties. Examples of i-deals include an employee with highly coveted skills who is compensated more generously than other employees doing comparable work, and an employee who is granted atypically flexible working hours to accommodate certain personal life demands. The nonstandard nature of i-deals is likely to prompt questions about the fairness of the arrangement among three principal stakeholders - employees who receive the i-deal, managers with whom the i-deal is negotiated, and the co-workers of these employees and managers. We analyze issues of fairness that arise in the relationships among all three pairings of these stakeholders through the lenses of four established forms of organizational justice - distributive justice, procedural justice, interpersonal justice, and informational justice. Our discussion sheds light on previously unexplored nuances of i-deals and identifies several neglected theoretical issues of organizational justice. In addition to highlighting these conceptual advances, we also discuss methods by which the fairness of i-deals can be promoted.