Contracts, complexity and contradictions. The changing employment relationship

Published date01 December 1995
Date01 December 1995
AuthorEnid Mumford
Subject MatterHR & organizational behaviour
Contracts, complexity and
The changing employment relationship
Enid Mumford
Manchester University, Manchester, UK
The notion of contract
One of the earliest articles in Personnel Review was called “Job satisfaction: a
method of analysis”[1]. It appeared in the third issue of Volume 1, was based on
the author’s PhD research and tried to integrate the ideas of the different
schools of thought on job satisfaction into a simple analytical tool. The research
data were derived from studies of the the values and expectations of systems
designers, managers and clerks when new computer systems were introduced.
The theoretical basis to this work was the pattern variables of Parsons and
Shils[2]. These were interpreted as a series of contracts between employers and
employees relating to different aspects of the work situation. This definition
allowed the fit between the expectation of each group and the situational reality
to be measured on a number of variables.
The notion of contract has always been an important concept. Roman law
treats a contract as an accord of two wills. It distinguishes four kinds of
(1) contractus re, involving an actual performance such as handing
something over or doing something;
(2) contractus litteris, in which an agreement is written down;
(3) contractus verbus, which is an explicit oral agreement;
(4) contractus consensu, involving a tacit agreement such as the acceptance
of some benefit.
Hegel[3] as a political philosopher, has also written much on the subject. He has
separated contracts into contracts of gift and contracts of exchange, with the
employment contract as a contract of exchange. In Hegel’s view the existence of
a contract, whether formal or informal, presupposes that the contracting
parties recognize one another as persons and owners of something of value to
both, something which each is willing to give to the other so that an activity of
acquiring and relinquishing takes place[4].
Hegel makes a distinction between agreement to a contract and its
actualization through performance. He also distinguishes between promises
and contracts. The difference is that a promise lies in the future whereas a
Personnel Review, Vol. 24 No. 8,
1995, pp. 54-70. © MCB
University Press, 0048-3486
complexity and
contract stipulates that something is already in existence. “What I own” has
now been passed over to the other party.
Parson and Shils’[2] pattern variables, in their original form, are choices
rather than contracts. Parsons and Shils believed that we evaluate all situations
in terms of two things: what we expect to happen and what we can influence in
the situation so as to give ourselves a choice of outcome. Pattern variables are a
tendency to choose one thing rather than another in a particular situation. They
classify these situations between:
seeking immediate gratification or deferring this until a futu re date;
seeking to further interests private to oneself or interests shared with
deciding to accept generalized standards in the interests of conformity
and control or to seek for an acceptance of individual differences and a
unique approach which may be a response to emotion rather then
evaluating people and things because of what they are (their attributes)
or because of what they do (their achievements);
choosing to react to a person or a situation in a widely differing manner
according to the perceived requirements of the situation or reacting to a
situation in a limited and specific way.
Parsons names his pattern variables:
affectivity – affective neutrality;
self-orientation – collectivity orientation;
universalism – particularism;
ascription – achievement;
specificity – diffuseness;
He uses them at three levels – personality, social system and cultural system.
In order to measure the “fit” between expectation and reality and provide a
measure of job satisfaction, the author transformed these choices into the
expectations an employee has of his or her employer and vice versa. Her first
attempt led to the following:
Company job requirements vs personal job requirements: what the
company wants from the employee and what the employee wants from
the company in terms of attitudes, knowledge and behaviour on the job
– some of these needs will be more urgent and immediate than others.
Company interest vs self interest: the extent to which the firm expects its
employees to identify with its interests and to forgo their own; the extent
to which an employee wishes to pursue his or her own interest in the
work situation.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT