Vol. 7 No. 5 (2019): Business & Management Studies: An International Journal


Priv.-Doz. Dr., University of Innsbruck
Thomas HÖGE
Priv.-Doz. Dr., University of Innsbruck

Published 2019-12-25


  • Workplace Flexibility, Idiosyncratic Deals, Humanistic Management, Neoliberal Ideology, Subjectification, Governmentality
  • İşyeri Esnekliği, İdiyosinkratik Anlaşmalar, İnsancıl Yönetim, Neoliberal İdeoloji, Öznelleştirme, Yönetimsellik

How to Cite

HORNUNG, S., & HÖGE, T. (2019). HUMANIZATION, RATIONALIZATION OR SUBJECTIFICATION OF WORK? EMPLOYEE-ORIENTED FLEXIBILITY BETWEEN I-DEALS AND IDEOLOGY IN THE NEOLIBERAL ERA. Business & Management Studies: An International Journal, 7(5), 3090–3119. https://doi.org/10.15295/bmij.v7i5.1384


This article discusses promises and pitfalls of employee-oriented workplace flexibility. The concept of employee-oriented flexibility applies to broad-based programs and individualized approaches. Here, the focus is on idiosyncratic deals (i-deals), individually negotiated work arrangements. Reviewing the literature, theory on characteristics, prerequisites, and limits of mutually beneficial flexibility is developed in the context of the neoliberal reconfiguration of work, employment, and societies. The dialectic construction of antagonistic types is used to differentiate employee-oriented i-deals from ideological counter-applications of economic rationalization. The latter reflect neoliberal ideologies of individualism, competition, and instrumentality, the former humanistic ideals of individuation, solidarity, and emancipation. Symptomatic for psychological governance through “subjectification”, self-enacted forms of rationalization threaten to undermine humanization prospects. Divisive management practices, politically motivated rhetoric, and inherently distorted theorizing are based on confounding “hidden modes” of workplace flexibility, the deconstruction of which advances scholarship.


Download data is not yet available.


  1. Adler, P. S., & Borys, B. (1996). Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, 61-89.
  2. Adler, P. S., Forbes, L. C., & Willmott, H. (2007). Critical management studies. The Academy of Management Annals, 1, 119-179.
  3. Allan, C., O’Donell, M., & Peetz, D. (1999). Three dimensions of labor utilization: Job broadening, employment insecurity and work intensification. Current Research in Industrial Relations, 1, 13-24.
  4. Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2004). Interfaces of control. Technocratic and socio-ideological control in
  5. a global management consultancy firm. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 29, 423-444.
  6. Alvesson, M., & Willmott, H. (1992). On the idea of emancipation in management and organization studies. Academy of Management Review, 17, 432-464.
  7. Archibald, W. P. (2009). Globalization, downsizing and insecurity: Do we need to upgrade Marx's theory of alienation? Critical Sociology, 35, 319-342.
  8. Bal, P. M., & Dóci, E. (2018). Neoliberal ideology in work and organizational psychology. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27, 536-548.
  9. Bal, P. M., Dóci, E., Lub, X., Van Rossenberg, Y. G., Nijs, S., Achnak, S., ... & De Gieter, S. (2019). Manifesto for the future of work and organizational psychology. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28(3), 289-299.
  10. Bal, P. M., & Hornung, S. (2019). Individualization of work: From psychological contracts to ideological deals. In Y. Griep & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Handbook of research on the psychological contract at work (pp. 143-163). Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK
  11. Bal, P. M., & Rousseau, D. M. (Eds.) (2016). Idiosyncratic deals between employees and organizations: Conceptual issues, applications and the role of co-workers. Routledge, London and New York.
  12. Becke, G. (2017). The subjectivation of work and established-outsider figurations. Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, 42, 93-113.
  13. Box, R. C. (2011). Marcuse was right: One-dimensional society in the twenty-first century. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 33, 169-191.
  14. Boxall, P., & Macky, K. (2014). High-involvement work processes, work intensification and employee well-being. Work, Employment and Society, 28, 963-984.
  15. Bromley, D. W. (1990). The ideology of efficiency: Searching for a theory of policy analysis. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 19, 86-107.
  16. Brozovic, D. (2018). Strategic flexibility: A review of the literature. International Journal of Management Reviews, 20, 3-31.
  17. Burchell, B., Ladipo, D., & Wilkinson, F. (Eds.). (2002). Job insecurity and work intensification. London: Routledge.
  18. Caliskan, E., & Torun, A. (2019). Individualized HR practices and idiosyncratic deals (i-deals) and the expected positive individual and organizational outcomes. Istanbul Business Research, 48, 36-63
  19. Cañibano, A. (2019). Workplace flexibility as a paradoxical phenomenon: Exploring employee experiences. Human Relations, 72, 444-470.
  20. Cappelli, P., & Neumark, D. (2004). External churning and internal flexibility: Evidence on the functional flexibility and core-periphery hypotheses. Industrial Relations, 43, 148-182.
  21. Chiva, R. (2014). The common welfare human resource management system: A new proposal based on high consciousness. Personnel Review, 43, 937-956.
  22. Costas, J., & Fleming, P. (2009). Beyond dis-identification: A discursive approach to self-alienation in contemporary organizations. Human Relations, 62, 353-378.
  23. Davies, B. (2005). The (im)possibility of intellectual work in neoliberal regimes. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26, 1-14.
  24. Daniels, K., Gedikli, C., Watson, D., Semkina, A., & Vaughn, O. (2017). Job design, employment practices and well-being: A systematic review of intervention studies. Ergonomics, 60, 1177-1196.
  25. Deci, N., Dettmers, J., Krause, A., & Berset, M. (2016). Coping in flexible working conditions—Engagement, disengagement and self-endangering strategies. Psychology of Everyday Activity, 9, 49-65.
  26. Dettmers, J., Deci, N., Baeriswyl, S., Berset, M., & Krause, A. (2016). Self-endangering work behavior. In M. Wiencke, S. Fischer & M. Cacace (Eds.), Healthy at work—Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 37-51). Springer, Cham.
  27. Dóci, E., & Bal, P. M. (2018). Ideology in work and organizational psychology: The responsibility of the researcher. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27, 558-560.
  28. Dunn, B. (2016). Against neoliberalism as a concept. Capital & Class, 41, 435-454.
  29. Durkin, K. (2014). The radical humanism of Erich Fromm. Critical political theory and radical practice. New York, NY: Palgrave
  30. Edwards, P. (2006). Power and ideology in the workplace: going beyond even the second version of the three-dimensional view. Work, Employment and Society, 20, 571-581.
  31. Edwards, J. C., Rust, K. G., McKinley, W., & Moon, G. (2003). Business ideologies and perceived breach of contract during downsizing: The role of the ideology of employee self-reliance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24, 1-23.
  32. Fischer, C. T. (2003). Infusing humanistic perspectives into psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 43, 93-105.
  33. Foster, R. (2017). Social character: Erich Fromm and the ideological glue of neoliberalism. Critical Horizons, 18, 1-18.
  34. Fournier, V., & Grey. C. (2000). At the critical moment: Conditions and prospects for critical management studies. Human Relations, 53, 7-32.
  35. Glaser, J., Hornung, S., Höge, T., & Seubert, C. (2018). Self-actualization in modern workplaces—time-lagged effects of new job demands and job resources on motivation, meaning and self-efficacy at work. In R.H.M. Goossens (Ed.), Advances in Social & Occupational Ergonomics. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (pp. 253-263). Cham: Springer.
  36. Glynos, J. (2011). On the ideological and political significance of fantasy in the organization of work. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 16, 373-393
  37. Gouliquer, L. (2000). Pandora’s Box: The paradox of flexibility in today's workplace. Current Sociology, 48, 29-38.
  38. Grant, A. M., & Ashford, S. J. (2008). The dynamics of proactivity at work. Research in Organizational Behavior, 28, 3-34.
  39. Greene, T. W. (2008). Three ideologies of individualism: Toward assimilating a theory of individualisms and their consequences. Critical Sociology, 34, 117-137.
  40. Guillemin, M., & Gillam, L. (2004). Ethics, reflexivity, and “ethically important moments” in research. Qualitative Inquiry, 10, 261-280.
  41. Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  42. Höge, T. (2011). Perceived flexibility requirements at work and the entreployee-work-orientation: Concept and measurement. Journal Psychologie des Alltagshandelns / Psychology of Everyday Activity, 4 (1), 3-21.
  43. Höge, T., & Hornung, S. (2015). Perceived flexibility requirements: Exploring mediating mechanisms in positive and negative effects on worker well-being. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 36, 407-430.
  44. Hornung, S. (2010). Alienation matters: Validity and utility of Etzioni's theory of commitment in explaining prosocial organizational behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 38, 1081-1095.
  45. Hornung, S. (2018). Idiosyncratic deals at work: A conceptual and empirical review. In M. Bilgin, H. Danis, E. Demir & U. Can (Eds.), Eurasian Business Perspectives. Proceedings of the 20th Eurasia Business and Economics Society Conference Vol. 1. Cham: Springer.
  46. Hornung, S., Doenz, R., & Glaser, J. (2016). Exploring employee attitudes on fairness of idiosyncratic deals. Organisational Studies and Innovation Review, 2 (4), 9-15.
  47. Hornung, S., Glaser, J., & Rousseau, D. M. (2018). Idiosyncratic deals at work: A research summary. Journal Psychologie des Alltagshandelns / Psychology of Everyday Activity, 11 (1), 36-46.
  48. Hornung, S., Glaser, J., & Weigl, M. (2016). Hierarchical status and job idiosyncrasy in formalized organizations: A field study on hospital physicians. Proceedings 2016 IEEE International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management (pp. 316-320). IEEE.
  49. Hornung, S., & Höge T. (2019). Dialectics of workplace flexibility between humanistic ideal and neoliberal ideology—Preliminary considerations. Journal Psychologie des Alltagshandelns / Psychology of Everyday Activity, 12 (2), 73-83.
  50. Hornung, S., Höge, T., Glaser, J., & Weigl, M. (2016). Dialectics of high-performance work systems: Disentangling effects of human resource investments and utilization on occupational health. In M. Przygoda, M. Mikic, & P. Kureci (Eds.), Proceedings 17th International Conference on Economic and Social Development (pp. 300-309). Varazdin, Croatia: VADEA.
  51. Huault, I., Perret, V., & Spicer, A. (2014). Beyond macro-and micro-emancipation: Rethinking emancipation in organization studies. Organization, 21(1), 22-49.
  52. Kalleberg, A. L. (2003). Flexible firms and labor market segmentation: Effects of workplace restructuring on jobs and workers. Work and Occupations, 39, 154-175.
  53. Kalleberg, A. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment systems in the United States, 1970s-2000s. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
  54. Kang, S. C., Morris, S. S., & Snell, S. A. (2007). Relational archetypes, organizational learning, and value creation: Extending the human resource architecture. Academy of Management Review, 32, 236-256.
  55. Kashefi, M. (2009). Job satisfaction and/or job stress: The psychological consequences of working in 'high performance work organizations'. Current Sociology, 57, 809-828.
  56. Kattenbach, R., Demerouti, E., & Nachreiner, F. (2010). Flexible working times: Effects on employees' exhaustion, work-nonwork conflict and job performance. Career Development International, 15, 279-295.
  57. Kauhanen, M., & Nätti, J. (2015). Involuntary temporary and part-time work, job quality and well-being at work. Social Indicators Research, 120, 783-799.
  58. Kissler, L., & Sattel, U. (1982). Humanization of work and social interests: Description and critical assessment of the state-sponsored program of humanization in the Federal Republic of Germany. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 3, 221-261.
  59. Knijn, T., & Smit, A. (2009). Investing, facilitating, or individualizing the reconciliation of work and family life: Three paradigms and ambivalent policies. Social Politics, 16, 484-518.
  60. Kubicek, B., & Korunka, C. (2017). Job demands in a changing world of work. Springer, Cham.
  61. LaMothe, R. (2016). The colonizing realities of neoliberal capitalism. Pastoral Psychology, 65, 23-40.
  62. Larner, W. (2000). Neo-liberalism: Policy, ideology, governmentality. Studies in Political Economy, 63, 5-25.
  63. Laurence, G. A., Fried, Y., & Raub, S. (2016). Evidence for the need to distinguish between self-initiated and organizationally imposed overload in studies of work stress. Work & Stress, 30, 337-355.
  64. Lemke, T. (2002). Foucault, governmentality, and critique. Rethinking Marxism, 14, 49-64.
  65. Liao, C., Wayne, S. J., & Rousseau, D. M. (2016). Idiosyncratic deals in contemporary organizations: A qualitative and meta-analytical review. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 37, 9-29.
  66. Lott, Y. (2018). Does flexibility help employees switch off from work? Flexible working-time arrangements and cognitive work-to-home spillover for women and men in Germany. Social Indicators Research, online first publication.
  67. Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1978). Critique of the Gotha programme. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  68. McKinnon, A. M. (2013). Ideology and the market metaphor in rational choice theory of religion: A rhetorical critique of ‘religious economies’. Critical Sociology, 39, 529-543.
  69. Melé, D. (2003). The challenge of humanistic management. Journal of Business Ethics, 44, 77-88.
  70. Moscone, F., Tosetti, E., & Vittadini, G. (2016). The impact of precarious employment on mental health: The case of Italy. Social Science & Medicine, 158, 86-95.
  71. Munsch, C. L. (2016). Flexible work, flexible penalties: The effect of gender, childcare, and type of request on the flexibility bias. Social Forces, 94, 1567-1591.
  72. Munro, I. (2012). The management of circulations: Biopolitical variations after Foucault. International Journal of Management Reviews, 14, 345-362.
  73. Ng, T. W. (2017). Can idiosyncratic deals promote perceptions of competitive climate, felt ostracism, and turnover? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 99, 118-131.
  74. Osterman, P. (2018). In search of the high road: Meaning and evidence. ILR Review, 71, 3-34.
  75. Parker S. K, Van den Broeck, A., & Holman, D. (2017). Work design influences: A synthesis of multilevel factors that affect the design of jobs. Academy of Management Annals, 11, 267-308.
  76. Pedaci, M. (2010). The flexibility trap: Temporary jobs and precarity as a disciplinary mechanism. WorkingUSA, 13, 245-262.
  77. Perc, M. (2014). The Matthew effect in empirical data. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 11, 20140378.
  78. Plehwe, D., Walpen, B. J., & Neunhöffer, G. (Eds.). (2007). Neoliberal hegemony: A global critique. London: Routledge.
  79. Pircher Verdorfer, A., & Weber, W. G. (2016). Examining the link between organizational democracy and employees’ moral development. Journal of Moral Education, 45, 59-73.
  80. Pongratz, H. J., & Voß, G. G. (2003). From employee to ‘entreployee’: Towards a ‘self-entrepreneurial’ work force? Concepts and Transformation, 8, 239-254.
  81. Putnam, L. L., Myers, K. K., & Gailliard, B. M. (2014). Examining the tensions in workplace flexibility and exploring options for new directions. Human Relations, 67, 413-440.
  82. Pyysiäinen, J., Halpin, D., & Guilfoyle, A. (2017). Neoliberal governance and ‘responsibilization’ of agents: reassessing the mechanisms of responsibility-shift in neoliberal discursive environments. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 18, 215-235.
  83. Reedy, P., King, D., & Coupland, C. (2016). Organizing for individuation: Alternative organizing, politics and new identities. Organization Studies, 37, 1553-1573.
  84. Rigney, D. (2010). The Matthew effect: How advantage begets further advantage. New York: Columbia University Press.
  85. Rinehart, J. (1986). Improving the quality of working life through job redesign: work humanization or work rationalization? Canadian Review of Sociology / Revue Canadienne de Sociologie, 23, 507-530.
  86. Ropponen, A., Känsälä, M., Rantanen, J., & Toppinen-Tanner, S. (2016). Organizational initiatives for promoting employee work-life reconciliation over the life course. A systematic review of intervention studies. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 6, 79-100.
  87. Rousseau, D. M. (2006). The shift in risk from employers to workers in the new employment relationship. In E. E. Lawler III, & J. O’Toole (Eds.), America at work: Choices and challenges (pp. 153-172). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  88. Rousseau, D. (2005). I-deals: Idiosyncratic deals employees bargain for themselves. New York: Routledge.
  89. Rousseau, D. M., Ho, V. T., & Greenberg, J. (2006). I-deals: Idiosyncratic terms in employment relationships. Academy of Management Review, 31, 977-994.
  90. Rudolph, C. W., Katz, I. M., Lavigne, K. N., & Zacher, H. (2017). Job crafting: A meta-analysis of relationships with individual differences, job characteristics, and work outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 102, 112-138.
  91. Schnell, T., Höge, T., & Weber, W. G. (2019). “Belonging” and its relationship to the experience of meaningful work. In R. Yeoman, K. Bailey, A. Madden, & M. Thompson (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of meaningful work (p. 165-185). Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK).
  92. Smith, W. K., & Besharov, M. L. (2019). Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity. Administrative Science Quarterly, 64, 1-44.
  93. Volberda, H. W. (1996). Toward the flexible form: How to remain vital in hypercompetitive environments.
  94. Organization Science, 7, 359-374.
  95. Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Duke University Press.
  96. Weber, W. G., Unterrainer, C., & Höge, T. (2019). Psychological research on organisational democracy: A meta‐analysis of individual, organisational, and societal outcomes. Applied Psychology, online-first.
  97. Weber, W. G., Unterrainer, C., & Schmid, B. E. (2009). The influence of organizational democracy on employees' socio‐moral climate and prosocial behavioral orientations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 1127-1149.
  98. Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179-201.