Flexible and Individual Deals: Fair or not Fair?

March 14, 2018 Richard Justenhoven
fair deal

The perceived fairness of individuals cutting their own deal

With flexible working very much the norm in some industries, employees are increasingly more comfortable with negotiating their own working arrangements which suit their own personal needs. Areas such as working hours, location, one-off bonus payments are often cited. But, when an individual in a team has negotiated their own arrangements, how is that fair to the others?

Research by Marescaux looked at how employees react when one of their team members negotiates an individual work arrangement to which other team members have no access.

The research
Nearly 2,000 Belgian participants were asked to respond to a hypothetical situation in which they found that a team member had negotiated such an individualised package. The scenarios differed in both content of the deal and the interdependence between team members.

The results shows that:

  • Some deals were seen to be fairer than others. In particular, any deal struck relating to financial bonuses proved to be difficult for employees to accept, whereas deals struck to address a personal need were more easily accepted, especially when a person doesn’t have this same need.
  • Individual deals are more likely to be accepted when individuals in a team work independently of each other. Marescaux suggests this is because the team needs to be work as a single unit, thereby if one person gets individual flexibility, the other team members need to compensate and also a sense equality is removed.
  • If the deal is fair and acceptable, employees do not react negatively – and in some cases positively as they see the organisation as caring, and flexible.
  • If the deal is perceived as not fair, employees react negatively or demand the deal for themselves too.

Marescaux goes on to explore the importance of ‘legitimate reason’. That is, if someone else’s ‘deal’ is to be accepted by the team, the other employees need to perceive the legitimacy or fairness of this. The two legitimate areas are for exceptional performance or in exceptional need. She also suggests that with regard to procedural fairness, team members should be able to be involved in a decision regarding a deal if it impacts them.

Marescaux sums up by saying that being able to accommodate individual needs “can be a powerful way of attracting, motivating and retaining” employees.

One of the interesting aspects that this study highlights is that if team members work closely together, giving one team member individual benefits is likely to be problematic – because of the closeness of how team members work, others will demand the same benefit. This then leaves no other option but to link the individual benefit not to the exceptional needs, but to the exceptional performance of this one employee.

But which manager wants to start a team discussion by stating the fact that even though the team effort is what the manager can measure and relate to, the one person that is on an equal footing with the rest of the team gets extra incentives?


Marescaux, E., De Winne, S. & Sels, L. J Bus Ethics (2017).

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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