Recommendations on employment problems further explained

The recommended interventions in the guideline are developed according to the Guideline Method. More information and further elaboration on the selected interventions can be found on this page.

Interactional Justice

Interventions and evidence

Disputes that emerge at the workplace can result from vague top-down guidelines from managers, uncooperative colleagues, diverging interests of team members, lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, misunderstanding or communication gap among colleagues and so on. As persons responsible for leading teams and meeting goals of the organization, supervisors or line managers are responsible for preventing and resolving such disputes. To do that, supervisors or leaders have to understand the emotions, needs and interests of both disputing parties. Therefore, in this recommendation, we will discuss two leadership styles namely transactional leadership and transformational leadership, that are most helpful in understanding needs, emotions and interests of disputing parties in an employment dispute. Leaders can deploy these leadership styles proactively i.e prior to the occurrence of the dispute as well as while resolving the dispute. 

“Bass and Avolio developed a general leadership theory called the Full Range Leadership Model in which they described 3 leadership styles, namely: laissez-faire, transactional and transformational. Laissez-faire leaders avoid making decisions or taking positions, hesitate to take action, abdicate their authority, and are typically absent when they are needed” (as cited in Harms and Crede 2010, p.6). Given the passive nature of this leadership style, scholars and practitioners recommend the other two leadership styles to manage employees. Therefore, in this recommendation, we will examine how transactional and transformational leadership styles affect the well-being of employers and employees. 

Transactional Leadership

“Transactional leadership focuses on the exchanges that occur between leaders and followers [or in this context, employees] (Bass 1985; 1990; 2000; 2008; Burns, 1978). These exchanges allow leaders to accomplish their performance objectives, complete required tasks, maintain the current organizational situation, motivate followers through contractual agreement, direct behavior of followers toward achievement of established goals, emphasize extrinsic rewards, avoid unnecessary risks, and focus on improve organizational efficiency” (McClesky 2014, p.122).

“Transactional leaders award rewards and punishments to subordinates based on their performance. They identify goals, assign roles and responsibilities and delegate tasks. They monitor the performance of employees, check for mistakes or errors and conduct two-way discussions on tasks at hand. “They focus on operational efficiency and time management” (Afsar et al. 2017, p.312). “This leadership style aims to maximise operational and individual gains” (McClesky 2014, p.122). 

Transformational Leadership

“Bass and Avolio (1997) defined transformational leadership as a leadership style that motivates followers by appealing to their higher order needs and inducing them to transcend self-interest for the sake of the group or the organization. This form of leadership involves creating an emotional attachment between leaders and followers. Jin (2010) noted that transformational leadership integrates “empathy, compassion, sensitivity, relationship building, and innovation” (p. 174)” (Men 2014, p. 267). 

“Transformational leaders take a genuine interest in the well-being of employees, foster a climate of trust, nurture confidence in their followers, and encourage individual development. To these ends, transformational leaders often engage in close interactions with their followers to understand and address their needs better. In terms of decision making, transformational leaders seek to empower followers. They are willing to share power and delegate significant authority to followers to make them less dependent on the leader (Aldoory & Toth, 2004; Men & Stacks, 2013). Therefore, transformational leaders are characterized by interactive, visionary, passionate, caring, and empowering communication behaviors” (Hackman & Johnson, 2004)” (as cited in Men 2014, p.267).

For parties looking to prevent or resolve an employment dispute, where the employer and employee want to recognise emotions, needs and interests (understanding), is transactional leadership or transformational leadership more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: Rouletledge, Sage

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: transactional leadership, transformational leadership

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:
  • Men, L. R. (2014). Strategic internal communication: Transformational leadership, communication channels, and employee satisfaction. Management communication quarterly, 28(2), 264-284.
  • McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, transformational, and transactional leadership and leadership development. Journal of business studies quarterly, 5(4), 117.
  • Lee, M. (2014). Transformational leadership: is it time for a recall?. International journal of management and applied research, 1(1), 17-29.
  • Clarke, S. (2013). Safety leadership: A meta‐analytic review of transformational and transactional leadership styles as antecedents of safety behaviours. Journal of occupational and organizational psychology, 86(1), 22-49.
  • Odumeru, J. A., & Ogbonna, I. G. (2013). Transformational vs. transactional leadership theories: Evidence in literature. International review of management and business research, 2(2), 355.
  • Hay, I. (2006). Transformational leadership: Characteristics and criticisms. E-journal of Organizational Learning and Leadership, 5(2).
  • Sandilands, T. (n.d). What type of organisations employ transactional leadership? Chron. 
‘Safety leadership: A meta‐analytic review of transformational and transactional leadership styles as antecedents of safety behaviours’ is an academic article by Sharon Clarke who is a professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester. She has co-authored several articles on leadership and organisation safety. This paper is a meta-analytic review that tests whether transformational or transactional leadership is instrumental in creating a safe working climate at the workplace. The authors included 103 studies in the meta analysis. According to the GRADE methodology, we assess the quality of this paper to be high given that the study is a meta-analysis.  ‘Strategic internal communication: Transformational leadership, communication channels, and employee satisfaction’ is a paper by Men, who is an associate professor at University of Florida. She has authored several articles on leadership at the workplace. In this paper, she investigates how leadership influences relationships with employees by building the linkage between transformational leadership, the use of communication channels, symmetrical communication, and employee satisfaction. An online survey was conducted with 400 employees who worked in medium and large-sized corporations in the USA. The authors used a stratified and quota random sample to make sure that the sample was representative and comparable across, age, gender, income and education levels. According to the Grade methodology, we assess the quality of the study to be moderate.  The study by McCleskey (2014) describes 3 leadership theories: situational leadership, transactional leadership and transformational leadership. McClesky is associated with the Western Governors University in Utah. He has written several papers on the topic of leadership at the workplace. The paper is solely based on literature review, so the quality of the paper is assessed to be very low. But because the paper has received a high number of citations (952), we upgrade the quality of the paper to low, according to the GRADE methodology. ‘Transformational leadership: Characteristics and criticisms describes transformational leadership and its criticism’ is a paper by Iain Hay who is an emeritus professor at Flinders University, Australia. The paper is based on literature review. At 162, the paper has a moderate number of citations. All in all, according to the GRADE methodology we assess the quality of this paper to be very low. The paper by Lee (2014), who is a PhD student at University of Salford UK, examines transformational leadership and inspirational leadership using literature review that is based on observational studies and expert opinions. According to the GRADE approach, we assess the quality of the study to be very low.  The paper by Odumeru and Ogbonna (2013) compares transactional and transformational leadership drawing evidence from literature review that is mostly based on expert opinions. But because the paper has been widely cited (535 times), we upgrade the quality of the evidence to low, according to the GRADE methodology.  ‘What type of organisations employ transactional leadership?’ is blog article. Although blog articles are not recommended in the GRADE methodology, we use them for this recommendation due to lack of more substantive literature that points to the aptness of each leadership style in different contexts. We grade the quality of this article as very low.  Quality of evidence and research gap According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing transactional leadership style and transformational leadership style as very low.  There exists a lot of empirical as well as theoretical literature on the topic of transformational and transactional leadership. However, most of the empirical research has been conducted in Western countries. So knowledge on how leadership styles affect employees in different cultural contexts is lacking.  Literature on how transformational and transactional leadership styles affects the wellbeing of employees and the employer is abundant. But the literature does not directly address how the two leadership styles are useful in preventing and resolving disputes at the workplace.



Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Transactional leaders facilitate adherence to rules and regulations in the workplace. Rules and regulations are essential in establishing behaviour standards, achieving goals, minimising risks to health, safety as well as project and in managing tasks. Non-adherence to rules and regulations can cause conflicts in the team and can cause projects to go off-track. So adherence to rules and regulations prevents disputes from arising. “Active transactional leadership is important in ensuring compliance with rules and regulations” (Clarke 2013, p.22).


“Transactional leaders monitor subordinates’ behaviour, anticipate problems and take proactive steps to implement corrective actions” (Clarke 2013, p.25). Because the leader is proactively monitoring tasks, employees are less likely to make mistakes and are aware of actions to take in case if plans don’t work out. In other words, by being closely involved in day-to-day management of operations, transactional leaders prevent problems and the disputes that arise out of problems.


Active transactional leadership provides the opportunity for error recovery and learning from mistakes, which are key elements of a learning culture” (Reason, 1997) (as cited in Clarke 2013, p. 25). By giving employees room for error as well for improvement in performance, transactional leaders promote growth of employees, which is likely to increase their job satisfaction. 


Active transactional leaders are involved with proactive monitoring of employees’ behaviour and correcting errors before they lead to problems. Such leaders pay attention to safety rules and regulations by employees, leading to greater safety compliance. Furthermore, the emphasis on individual learning and proactive error management demonstrated by active transactional leaders should encourage employees themselves to engage in safety-related activities” (Clarke 2013, p.26). Since transactional leaders prevent problems from occurring and encourage safe behaviour among employees, they prevent disputes that arise out of problems or risky behaviour.


Transactional leadership allows followers to fulfill their own self-interest, minimize workplace anxiety, and concentrate on clear organizational objectives such as increased quality, customer service, reduced costs, and increased production (Sadeghi & Pihie, 2012)” (as cited in McCleskey 2014, p.122). Since transactional leaders give subordinates space to fulfill their own interests and work on minimising workplace anxiety, subordinates are likely to feel satisfied and comfortable at work, which helps in preventing disputes. 


Transactional leadership was also [found to be] negatively related to work-related bullying, perceived person-related bullying, and perceived physically intimidating bullying” (Dussault and Frenette 2015, p.724). 


Transformational leaders employ

intellectual stimulation (i.e., leader challenges assumptions, takes risks and encourages subordinates to be creative). This final aspect of transformational leadership is enacted through cognitive, rather than affective processes, whereby subordinates develop new ways of solving problems and are encouraged to question the status quo” (Clarke 2012, p.23).Because subordinates are given the opportunity to be creative, they can grow into their roles better, which is likely to bring them satisfaction at the workplace. 


‘…transformational leadership leadership evokes changes in subordinates’ value systems to align them with organizational goals (Clarke 2013, p.23). If the goals of the organisation and individual are aligned, then employees will work according to the expectations of the leader. Similarly, the organisation will also cooperate better with the employee, all of which together will prevent disputes from arising. 


“[A] transformational leadership style develops trust and enhances interpersonal relationships between managers and their subordinates” (Clarke 2013, p.26). Because interpersonal relationships between managers and employees are strong, in case a dispute arises, both are likely to co-operate with each other, understand each other’s needs and put more effort into resolving a dispute. 


Transformational leadership has been shown to lead to a better understanding of safety issues at the workplace and improved communication”  (Conchie, Taylor, & Donald, 2012) (as cited in Clarke 2013, p.26). Improved communication will facilitate resolution and prevention of disputes among employees as well as with the manager. 


“… it would be expected that transformational leadership would lead to compliance, but more particularly would encourage safety participation, as a form of safety citizenship behaviour” (Clarke 2013, p. 27). Because transformational leaders encourage safe behaviour, employees even during a heated dispute, are unlikely to engage in risky behaviour. 


“Transformational leaders adopt face to face communication methods with subordinates which is positively associated with employee satisfaction” (Men 2014, p.264)


“…transformational leadership strongly emphasizes listening, openness, feedback, participation, and relationship, which are key attributes of symmetrical communication” (Men 2014, p. 268). Symmetrical communication allows employees to air their grievances and provide feedback to managers which in turn improves the functioning of the organisation and helps employees in meeting their own needs. 


“Transformation leaders engage in discussions with their subordinates, they communicate well and address their higher order needs. By communicating a desirable, inspirational, and attainable vision, transformational leaders give followers a sense of meaning within the organization (Yukl, 2006) and thus improve their relational satisfaction (Men 2014, p. 268). Given that employees have relational satisfaction, they are less likely to engage in behaviour that can lead to a conflict. Similarly, they will try to resolve a dispute in a less adversarial way, which will reduce the negative emotions around the dispute.


Transformational leadership, charisma, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration were negatively correlated with work-related bullying, person-related bullying, and physically intimidating bullying (ranging from –.21 to –.60, p < .01)” (Dussault and Frenette 2015, p. 728) .



Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Transactional leaders form short-term relationships with employees. These relationships tend toward shallow, temporary exchanges of gratification and often create resentments between the participants” (McCleskey 2014, p.122).


“…highly empowered employees may view transactional leadership style as restrictive, less flexible, controlling, and risk aversive which demotivates them to display entrepreneurial behavior” (Afsar et al. 2016, p. 324). Employees who are driven and creative can feel restricted under a transactional leader who does not permit subordinates to be innovative. They may voice their discontent with the manager, which itself can lead to a dispute or pursue a direction that is different from what is suggested by the manager, which can also give rise to a dispute with the manager. 


Under transactional leadership, employees don’t push the envelope nor do they work over and above what is required of them. This limits the growth of the organisation. “…transactional leadership, in contrast, is found to have a negative effect on employees’ entrepreneurial behavior. Under transactional leadership, employees are extrinsically motivated (i.e. contingency rewards and active management-by-exception) and thus they are less willing to go beyond their job

responsibilities to try out innovative ideas for the benefit of the organization” (Afsar et al. 2016, p. 322).


By encouraging employees to take risks, transformational leaders  can decrease the safety quotient at the workplace. “…[S]ome aspects of transformational leadership could have deleterious effects on safety, such as the association of intellectual stimulation with risk-taking, given that this aspect of leadership encourages novel and creative ways of thinking” (Clarke 2013, p.26).


Under transformational leadership, where followers are emotionally attached to the leader, there is a risk where the leader manipulates the employees without giving due consideration to their well-being. Employees can also become dependent upon the leader. “Transformational leaders motivate followers by appealing to strong emotions regardless of the ultimate effects on followers and do not necessarily attend to positive moral values. As Stone, Russell and Patterson (2003, p. 4) observe, transformational leaders can exert a very powerful influence over followers, who offer them trust and respect. Some leaders may have narcissistic tendencies, thriving on power and manipulation. Moreover, some followers may have dependent characters and form strong and unfortunate bonds with their leaders (Stone, Russell and Patterson, 2003, p. 4)” (as cited in Hay 2006, p. 13). 

Because transformational leaders emphasise on the common good, it can lead to neglecting the needs of employees.. “…transformational leaders aim to get people’s thoughts off distributional questions and refocus them on common goals or communal interests” (Keeley, 2004: 167, emphasis in original). This implies that the leaders are putting themselves above followers’ needs, which is “antidemocratic” (Northouse, 2013: 203)” (Lee 2014, p. 20).


Under transformational leadership, employees are emotionally invested in work, which benefits the company but at the risk of employees feeling exhausted. “Stevens et al (1995) believes that transformational leadership is biased in favour of top management, owners and managers. Followers can be transformed to such a high level of emotional involvement in the work over time that they become stressed and burned out” (Odumeru and Ogbonna 2013, p. 357).

Taken together, the available research suggests that both transactional and transformational leadership are necessary in uncovering emotions, needs and interests of employees and preventing or resolving disputes. 

Transactional leadership is most effective in taking care of day-to-day operations of the organisation. The leaders are aware of everyday challenges that subordinates face. Because such leaders are interested in attaining operational efficiency, they are likely to address emotions that employees attach to each task. They help employees to complete tasks efficiently and give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. They ensure that employees adhere to rules and regulations which make the workplace a safe place to work. A few pitfalls of transactional leadership are that it doesn’t demand creativity from employees and that motivated and enterprising employees might find it a stifling environment to work in. 

All in all, transactional leadership is instrumental in preventing and resolving disputes at the workplace. For example, if two subordinates are assigned a task with a deadline. But one of them has not been able to make much contribution to it because he or she is inundated with more pressing activities, there might be delay in achieving the previous deadline. Because a transactional leader monitors subordinates, he or she will quickly grasp the problem and can reprioritise certain activities which will free up the time of the employee. Similarly, if the other teammate feels that the coworker is not pulling his weight and it leads to a quarrel among the two, because the transactional leader is involved in everyday operations and is interested in efficiency, he or she will try to resolve the dispute so that the subordinates continue to have a good working relationship and produce good results for the organisation. 

Transformational leadership stimulates employees intellectually, helps them align with the goals and objectives of the organisation, and emphasises employee well-being by keeping conversation channels between seniors and subordinates open. There is a risk that transformational leaders manipulate employees or misuse their trust. The bond between the senior and subordinate can cause the latter to work until they burn themselves out.

Altogether, transformational leadership is also instrumental in preventing and resolving disputes at the workplace. Because transformational leaders nurture a good interpersonal relationship with subordinates, if an employee feels that certain tasks are not going well or if there is misalignment of interests with coworkers, he or she is likely to bring it up with the leader, who can then take action to resolve the issue. Similarly, in an ongoing dispute, transactional leaders make an effort to understand the stand of disputing parties, communicate well and try to resolve the underlying needs of the disputing parties. 

Therefore, a mix of transactional and transformational approaches is preferred.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: A combination of the two leadership styles, transactional and transformational, is most conducive to the well-being of employees and the organisation. As explained in the technical remarks, the type of work environment can justify the usage of one style to a greater extent than the other, but one should not be used to the complete exclusion of the other.  choose a style depending upon the type of organisation they work for and the roles employees they are they work with.

There are certain situations or organisations where either one of two leadership stylesis better suited. Those are: 


  • A company with fixed operations such as a manufacturing company is well-suited for transactional leaders (Sandilands, n.d). 
  • A company that requires employees to be creative such as a PR agency or a marketing company (Sandilands, n.d). 
  • CEOs or directors and the like who are in charge of giving the company direction might find transformational leadership useful to inspire mid-level managers and others who he or she works with to think outside of the box. That said, they also need to use transactional leadership to accomplish day-to-day tasks (Sandilands, n.d).  

User-centred contracts

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: The most plausible interventions that emerged during literature review for documenting rights and responsibilities of the employer and employee are

  • User-centred contracts

  • Legalistic Employment Contracts


‘Contracts contain vital business and relationship information, not just legal provisions: they contain information about roles, responsibilities, and requirements that need to be translated into action. They also contain crucial information about price, payment, product or service characteristics, functionalities, and so on, along with procedures, timelines and milestones that need to be followed. When contracts are seen as business enablers and communication tools it becomes obvious that contracts need to be designed, not just drafted’ (Haapio, Plewe and de Rooy 2016). 


To make such documents enforceable and clear, lawyers use several legal expressions that the layperson is not familiar with. As a result, ordinary people often fail to understand legal documents. An interdisciplinary approach has been suggested to address this issue. Experts, especially those belonging to the school of Legal Design suggest the use of visual elements. Some propose to use visuals as contracts. For example, Robert de Rooy has experimented with using comic contracts for workers who have low literacy skills. Others propose using plain and simple language to make contracts more comprehensible to ordinary people. But some scholars believe that the simplification of contracts using plain language has its limitations and for legal documents to be valid, relevant and enforceable, the use of legal expressions is unavoidable. Similarly, using visual elements also has its own limitations. 


To examine which method of drafting contracts is most useful, in this recommendation we compare user-centred contracts with contracts containing legal expressions. 


User-centred contracts


For the purpose of this recommendation, we define user-centred contracts as contracts that contain visual elements as well as those that are drafted using plain, simple language. We do not include contracts that are exclusively visual (do not contain any text) because this intervention has not been tested on a large scale and research on it is scant. On the other hand, using visuals together with plain language (to create user-centred contracts) are interventions that have been the subject of a considerable amount of research. . 




Proponents of user-centred contracts encourage the use of visualisation to simplify contracts.Visualisation in contracts ‘refers to adding flowcharts, icons, timelines, images, matrices to highlight, clarify and explain the content’ (Haapio, Plewe and de Rooy 2016). ‘Visual language can be utilized to explain a variety of concepts, with different goals, both in contracts and in supporting and explanatory materials about the contracts’ (Passera, Haapio and Barton 2013, p.11). Visual in contracts are being used by businesses when procuring. For example, a Finnish company operating in the metals and engineering sector used visualisation for B2B procurement contracts. It used timelines and icons to summarise and clarify the written text to ensure that the documents communicate the message clearly (Passera, Haapio and Barton 2013, p.14). Another company in the UK, NEC, offers procuring works, services and supply. It uses flowcharts to help the reader in understanding (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p. 13).”


Plain language


The use of plain language in the legal sector emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. It was first used in government forms and consumer-related documents and eventually spilled to the broader legal sector. It entails breaking down long sentences into shorter sentences, replacing archaic and Latin words with words that are understood by the public and other such measures. Proponents of the plain English language movement argue that laws are primarily meant to address the needs of ordinary people, and not lawyers and judges. So they should be drafted in a way that they are ‘fully intelligible’ to their primary users, i.e the masses. The UK, USA, Australia, Canada and other English speaking countries have already begun using plain language to draft legislations and government forms (Assy 2011). 


Legalistic Employment Contract


‘Contracts outline roles and responsibilities, construct communication structures, provide for change management and contingency planning, and nominate dispute resolution methods in the event of trouble. In addition to legal and technical terms, contracts contain financial terms and project-related timelines and procedures’ (Passera, Haapio and Barton 2013, p.3).


They are meant to minimise risk and maximise rights of the contracting parties. ‘They contain legal rules, principles, and doctrines that help legal professionals in recognizing the relevant facts and classify them into the pertinent legal categories, and to engage in a particular type of interpretation and reasoning’ (Assy 2013, p.378). Given that legal expressions play an important role in enforcing the contract, completely doing away with legal expressions is not in the best interest of the contracting parties or the larger public. 


For employers and employees who want to document rights and agreements before entering into an employment relationship, is a user-centred contract or a legalistic contract more effective for well-being?

Key words: plain language drafting, legalese, contracts, legal enforcement, legal language, visual contracts


Database: A general Google search strategy was used without referring to any one database.

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Geerlings, M., & van Montfort, A. J. G. M. (2020). What exactly did the judge decide? Clear language and well-arranged structure lead to better comprehensible court judgments. Archives of Business Research, 8(1), 248-260

  • Haapio, H., Plewe, D. and deRooy, R. (2016). Next generation deal design: comics and visual platforms for contracting. In Networks. Proceedings of the 19th International Legal Informatics Symposium IRIS (pp. 373-380).

  • Stefania Passera, Helena Haapio, and Thomas D. Barton (2013). Innovating Contract Practices: Merging Contract Design with Information Design, in PROCEEDINGS OF THE 2013 ACADEMIC FORUM ON INTEGRATING LAW AND CONTRACT MANAGEMENT: PROACTIVE, PREVENTIVE AND STRATEGIC APPROACHES.

  • Siebörger, I., & Adendorff, R. D. (2011). Can contracts be both plain and precise?. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 29(4), 483-504.

  • Assy, R. (2011). Can the law speak directly to its subjects? The limitation of plain language. Journal of Law and Society, 38(3), 376-404.

  • Masson, M. E., & Waldron, M. A. (1994). Comprehension of legal contracts by non‐experts: Effectiveness of plain language redrafting. Applied cognitive psychology, 8(1), 67-85.


The paper by Geerlings and Montfort (2020) tests whether a judgement given in a District Court in the Netherlands is more comprehensible to readers after it is improved in terms of linguistic and textual clarity. Linguistic clarity refers to usage of simple and clear language instead of old-fashioned or formal language. Textual clarity refers to flow of the text and placement of important sections within a document. The sample size of the study is 106 respondents. Majority of the respondents (76%) did not have any legal experience but were highly educated (had a bachelor’s or master’s degree). The size of this study is comparable to a small observational study so we grade the quality of the paper to be low, according to the GRADE methodology. 


Haapio, Plewe and de Rooy (2016) outline contracting pitfalls and propose new approaches to the use of visualisation to overcome them. This paper is based on literature and expert opinion. Given that visualisation in contracts is a relatively new concept, its usage is very limited. Consequently, the concept’s validity has not been empirically tested which means that large empirical studies or systematic reviews of this topic are lacking. Nonetheless, due to the absence of empirical research on this topic, we grade the quality of this paper to be very low. 


The article by Passera, Haapio and Barton (2013) explores the application of user-centred design, contract visualisation and information design in the drafting of contracts. It gives examples of countries where contracts have been visualised. Given that the article is based on the opinion of experts, the quality of this paper is graded as very low. 


The article by Sieborger and Adendorff (2011) tests whether plain language contracts are easier to understand than text written in legal language by redrafting an extract

from a lease agreement into plain English in three stages, producing three versions of

the extract in progressively plainer English. This study is comparable to a small experimental or observational study. According to the GRADE method, we grade the quality of this paper to be low.


Assy (2011) examines the advantages and disadvantages of using plain English in place of legal texts. While doing so, she cites numerous empirical studies and also develops arguments using literature and original analysis. This evidence primarily falls in the category of opinion of international experts, we grade the quality of this paper as very low. 


Masson and Waldron (1994) produce empirical evidence on the effectiveness of three kinds of simplification of standard legal contracts to increase understanding of the layperson. They redrafted a set of legal contracts using simple language and tested if usage of simple language contracts improved the understanding of non-experts. This size of this study is comparable to an observational study so we grade the quality of this paper as low. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing user-centred contracts and contracts containing legal expressions as very low. 


Literature on the effectiveness of user-centred contracts in enhancing well-being of employers and employees is in its nascent stage. This can be explained by the fact that user-centred contracts are a relatively new development in the field of contracts. Consequently, the use of user-centred contracts to document employment relationships is scant. Therefore, this recommendation uses literature that highlights the advantages and disadvantages of all contracts falling under the umbrella of user-centred contracts and is not specific to employment contracts. 


Despite the lack of literature or research done on this issue, we chose to develop a recommendation because we believe user-centred contracts have the potential to positively affect the well-being of employer and employee. Their usage is being currently debated among practitioners, which also makes it an important and relevant intervention that ought to be covered in a guideline for practitioners such as this one.



Legalistic employment contract 

User-centred employment contracts 

The use of specialist language helps in condensing complex information. For instance, in the sentence : ‘The discovery of gold in Gauteng triggered the modernization of South Africa,’ one nominalized process, discovery, is made to act on another nominalized process, modernization. If these two processes were expressed as verbs…congruently, one would need a longer and more complex sentence to convey the same meaning: Someone discovered gold in Gauteng, and this triggered the process by which people modernized South Africa” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.11). 

Legal language represents theories and principles that help in understanding of the law and resolution of disputes. “The body of theories, doctrines, principles, and rules knowledge that is embedded in legal language is necessary to fully account for the meaning and scope of legal concepts and to use them effectively and efficiently in court” (Assy 2011, p.403).  

Legal expressions have meanings beyond their dictionary definitions. These meanings help legal professionals in defining cases in a way that it takes into account unique features of every case. ”Legal expressions contain more than their dictionary-based linguistic definitions. These concepts are employed to leave room for later interpretation that would take account of legal policy and normative considerations, allowing these expressions to evolve on a case-by-case basis, thus deviating from their `raw’ or `core’ ordinary meanings, so to speak” (Assy 2011, p. 402). 

Even in ordinary language, the meaning of words changes according to their context. Similarly, legal expressions encompass more meanings than the linguistic definition so as to capture the various facets of a concept or expression. Therefore, language in contracts needs to retain its legal character so as to convey the right message. E.g. “The expression `contract’ and its components `offer’ and `acceptance’ may mean different things to different people: for some, verbal agreements would qualify as a `contract’ whereas for others only written ones would deserve that name. Likewise, individuals may disagree as to the degree of particularity and specificity required to render their agreement a binding contract, or whether agreements can be inferred from certain actions or omissions. Thus, if the law is to provide a unified meaning of what constitutes a ‘contract,’ it must inevitably deviate from one ‘ordinary’ definition in favour of another” (Assy 2011, p. 401).  

Legal expressions allow for the inclusion of all possible circumstances that may occur in future. This renders the law applicable in unforeseen situations, thus ensuring that laws stay relevant and sustainable in the course of time. “The scope of legal rules is dynamic; they evolve by being adapted, adjusted, restricted, qualified, or otherwise, to meet the needs of future cases” (Assy 2011, p. 396).

Legal clarity ensures that terms and conditions, consequences are clearly mentioned, without any scope for ambiguity and contradiction. So foregoing linguistic clarity to ensure legal clarity is more important. “For one thing, a text may be clear but so general or so incomprehensive as to make its application to concrete cases open to dispute and argument. A person may comprehend what is written, but not be able to find in the text the answer to his concern because of vagueness, open texture, and borderline factors. Therefore, there seems to be a point up to which the more detailed the law is, the clearer it is likely to be in the legal sense, that is, the better equipped it is to resolve legal conflicts in advance or provide guidelines for resolving them” (Assy 2011, p. 392).  

Plain language cannot replace some legal concepts, which require a specialist’s knowledge to understand. “Some legal concepts do not deal directly with human behaviour and therefore cannot be said to have any ordinary meaning that the layperson can appeal to. Some expressions are created by the law and they require some specific legal knowledge to decode them and apply them successfully …” (Assy 2011, p.403).










Visuals in contracts: Information design and visualisation redistribute information to different parts of the cognitive structure so the mind is not inundated with information and can process the message more efficiently. [This helps in] “clarifying what written language does not manage to fully explain. When readers interact with visual content, their information processing is more efficient and effective, leading to greater speed and fewer errors (Kirsh, 2010). This is because different presentation codes—verbal and visual, in this case—distribute the cognitive load on different information processing systems, preventing information overload (Keller & Grimm, 2005)” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p. 9).

Visuals in contracts: Lists, diagrams, variations in headings help in presenting information in a coherent manner. “Making the logic and structure of the documents more visible. This is achieved through access structures, which are typographic features of texts such as lists, headings of various types, summaries, indexes and diagrams revealing the structure of the document (Waller, 1979)” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).

Visuals in contracts: “Visual elements assist readers in focusing on important items and processing the text selectively when necessary (Duchastel, 1982)” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).

Visuals in contracts: “Visualizations support analytical thinking and the generation of new insights, because they make patterns explicit and accessible to users (Chabris & Kosslyn, 2005)” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).

Visuals in contracts: “Visualization allows for an explicit encoding of information that makes concepts easier to understand (Kirsh 2010). Helping the parties articulate tacit assumptions and clarify and align expectations” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).

Visuals in contracts: People who don’t respond well to excessive text feel demotivated in reading contracts. So visual elements engage the attention of the reader. “Information design can engage stakeholders who have been alienated by the conventional look and feel of contracts. User engagement is seen as crucial by different authors, because the readers’ affective response to a document ultimately affects the motivation to read and the attention paid to it” (Gribbons, 1991; Carliner, 2000) (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).

Visuals in contracts: Studies indicate that visual elements communicate risk better. “In a case study conducted at University of Oslo, a group of lawyers, managers, and engineers were asked to analyze the risks related to a contract proposal using a method based on graphical language and diagrams. The case study showed that graphical language was helpful in communicating risk amongst the participants, but also suggested the need for a combination of graphical and natural language for improved decision-making. (Mahler, 2010) (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.10).”

Visuals in contracts: Visualisation can reinforce the message contained in the text and reduce ambiguity. “The use of visualizations in the context of B2B procurement contracts has been recently evaluated in a case study carried out by one of the Authors in a Finnish company operating in the metals and engineering sector (Passera, 2012; Passera & Haapio, 2012). Both types of visualization provide a summary and a clarification of what was already stated in textual form, reinforcing its message and reducing ambiguity” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.14).

Visuals in contracts: Visual elements improve speed of reading and comprehension. “A study conducted by Passera, 2012; Passera & Haapio, 2012 clearly indicate positive results in terms of speed of reading and enhanced comprehension, as well as a strong user preference for a visualized contract as opposed to a text-only version  (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.15).”A study tested understanding of law students of text from a bank guarantee form and its summary in plain English. Results reveal that the plain English text improves understanding of readers by 16% (Assy 2011, p. 386). 

Plain language: Studies indicate that judges and clients appreciate the use of plain language. “A number of studies confirm the preferred status of plain language among many groups of readers—clients (Adler, 1991), judges (Kimble, 2006, 2012) and the public (Plain Language Institute of British Columbia, 1993).  The use of plain language will make law more intelligible to lawyers as well” (Assy 2011, p. 383). 

Plain language: “Studies in which plain-language redrafts of texts are tested on likely readers show that the plain language text enabled faster and better understanding of the text. Two such studies are those by Kimble (2003) and Masson and Waldron (1994). Kimble’s study compared originals of a legal contract and a South African statute with versions that he had redrafted in plain language. In all cases, the redrafted versions were found to increase comprehension of the text, speed and ease of reading as rated by the readers who tested the documents” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p. 7). In a study conducted in Australia that tested understanding of law students and lawyers of legal texts, plain language texts reduced the  “the time needed by law students to read the text was reduced by a third, and the time needed by lawyers was reduced by almost half” (Assy 2011, p.385).

“An empirical study conducted by Masson and Waldron (1994) showed that replacing legal or uncommon  words with more commonly used words and using straightforward syntax resulted in greater comprehension for the reader” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.7).  

Plain language: The use of plain language will enable people to “adhere to legal documents’ and will reduce the incidence of litigation by enhancing conformity to law”. This is because use of plain language will “help people in better understanding their rights and obligations” Assy 2011, p.383). 

Plain language: The use of plain language can “enhance the capacity of laypeople to evaluate the service provided by their lawyers and by the legal system” (Assy 2011, p.404). 

Plain language: Most lawyers and experts believe that there are good opportunities to improve the linguistic and textual quality of court judgments without affecting their legal quality (Van der Bruggen as cited in Geerlings and Montfort 2020, p.249).

Plain language: Studies show that “respondents prefer the rewritten forms and letters from district courts in terms of readability and comprehensibility,compared to the original ones” (Jansen & Steehouder, 1989; Van der Pool &Van Wijk, 2010 as cited in Geerlings and Montfort 2020, p. 249).


Legalistic employment contract 

User-centred employment contracts

Contracts govern the relationship between parties to the contract. But contract drafters are focused on the contracts and not on how to build a conducive environment for the relationship to develop. When “contract drafters too often seem focused exclusively on the contract itself rather than on facilitating successful relationships. This produces contracts that are unnecessarily complex and difficult to use (Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.4)”. 

Excessive use of legal language in contracts is rooted in tradition and not on a strong logical rationale. “Common arguments focus on the difficulties of adopting plain language (Tiersma, 2006), rather than explaining why legalese is superior from a cognitive, communicational, or even “practical” (i.e. efficiency/effectiveness) perspective. Rather than a substantiated choice, legalese appears to be a professional convention, grounded in tradition and sustained by the difficulty of achieving change (Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.8)”. 

Legalese can alienate other professionals who are also engaged in the fulfilment of the contractual relationship. “Cumbersome, jargon-laden contracts can alienate the very executives and domain experts whose contributions would be crucial to the success of those particular contracts (Malhotra, 2012), and the broader contracting process” (as cited in Passera, Haapio, Barton 2013, p.4). 

The focus on legalese prevents drafters from integrating the needs of those who construct the deal, draft the contract and those who must carry it out. “The need to produce traditional legal language in contracts (i.e lawyers drafting contracts for other lawyers) diverts drafters attention away from the needed integration among those who construct the deal, draft the contract, and those who must carry it out” (Haapio, Plewe and de Rooy 2016).

Because the layperson is not trained in understanding legal language, those who specialise in it have power over the layperson. “Those trained in understanding legal discourse can have particular power over laypeople…Few are able to understand the contracts they sign, which places power in the hands of contract drafters, who are able to introduce clauses in contracts that signatories might object to if they could understand what they meant” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.5). 

Legal language borrows words from Latin which is a language that the layperson is not familiar with. This compounds the issue of specialist language. Given that the use of such vocabulary varies across disciplines, it cannot be taught in schools. “…specialist legal vocabulary can be encoded in Latin forms such as sui generis, meaning “unique ” (Dictionary Unit for South African English 2002). Specialist vocabulary, unlike specialist grammar, varies across disciplines, so that it would be impossible to teach school pupils the vocabulary of every specialized text with which they may have to engage in their lives (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.5).

Persons who are acquainted with the specialist language in capacity of it being a second language, find it all the more difficult to decode specialist text (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.5). 

Some critics say that non-experts are not interested in reading legislation so translation into plain language is not required. However, other scholars have argued that the content of contracts concerns the everyday lives of people. Since they are affected by the dealings made, they have the right to understand what’s written. “Certain critics, particularly in the legal fraternity, argue that it is unnecessary and impossible to rewrite official texts in plain language. Hunt (2003) argues that non-experts are not interested in reading legislation, and so there is no point in writing laws in plain language. 

Kimble (2003) disputes this, saying that every law directly affects certain members of the public, who should therefore have a chance to read it for themselves, even if they may choose not to. This is in keeping with the principles of open democracy, in which all individuals should be able to comment on and contribute to government policies and laws that affect them” (Sieborger and Adendorff 2011, p.6).

It is financially draining or not possible for people who don’t understand legal text to hire someone to interpret it for them. “…contracts such as lease agreements, which untrained people are obliged to sign in order to receive certain goods or services, as O’Donnell (1983) points out. If such people had to seek a legal opinion in order to understand each contract they signed, they would soon be bankrupt and business would proceed at a much slower pace” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p. 6). 


Visuals in contracts: To draft a user-centred employment contract, lawyers and managers who are usually responsible for drafting employment contracts will need assistance from designers. This requires additional efforts and costs to draw up the contract. “Companies may have to rely on professional designers to make a procurement contract” (Passera, Haapio and Barton 2103, p.19).

Plain language: According to Hunt (2003), plain language is not precise enough to be legally binding (as cited in Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.6).

Plain language: Plain language might simplify text, but it will not eliminate the need for lawyers because legal expertise is needed in interpreting laws, doctrines, principles. Plain language proponents argue that drafting in simple language will make the law intelligible to the larger public in a way that they would no longer require assistance of lawyers. However, there exist “complex aspects of the law that are not eliminated by mere simplification of language. Other skills such as the ability to identify the pertinent legal rules, principles, and doctrines, to recognize the relevant facts and classify them into the pertinent legal categories, and to engage in a particular type of interpretation and reasoning also play a role in making the law intelligible to the public” (Assy 2011, p. 378). 

Plain language: In a study conducted in Australia that tested the understanding of law students and lawyers of legal texts, plain language did not improve the accuracy of answers given by the participants. “…the empirical study conducted for the Victoria Commission, tested two excerpts from two Australian statutes against their plain English versions and found that the latter made no significant difference in the level of accuracy of the answers given by participants, who were law students and lawyers” (Assy 2011, p.385). 


Plain language: A study tested understanding of law students of text from a bank guarantee form and its summary in plain English. Results reveal that readers did not understand a third of the text which reveals that plain English is not a panacea to making documents such as a bank guarantee comprehensible (Assy 2011, p. 386). 

Plain language: Most empirical research has not tested understanding of the layperson of plain English, so we cannot conclude with full confidence that if legal professionals benefit from plain English text, then the layperson will. The “majority of the studies that tested the understanding of plain English texts were conducted with persons trained in law i.e judges, lawyers, and law students. These studies did not text the understanding of the layperson. We can only make a speculation that if law students benefited from plain English (albeit not immensely), laypeople might benefit even more” (Assy 2011, p. 386).

Plain language: There is no evidence indicating that the use of legal expressions has led to litigation or violation of the law due to lack of understanding by the parties involved. “No one has sufficiently demonstrated that the language used in the typical legal text (as opposed to what is anecdotally selected) gives rise to litigation, or to violations of the law, that could have been avoided had plain English been used”  (Assy 2011, p. 387).  

Plain language: The use of plain language will not help the user in understanding rules of procedure. This requires the help of a lawyer. In case an employment dispute escalates to litigation, the parties to the dispute will need a lawyer to navigate the rules of procedure set by the court. “Rules of procedure facilitate the process of investigating and determining a case, including rules on jurisdiction, joinder of parties, standing, pleadings, service, disclosure, expert evidence, cross-examination, appeal, and so on. Furthermore, the trial is governed by a set of evidence rules having to do with the kind of evidence that is admissible and for what purposes, types of evidence (documents, physical objects, oral testimony), the distinction between direct and opinion evidence, questions of weight, and so on. To be able to use this procedural and evidentiary apparatus, one needs to know which substantive legal rules are pertinent” (Assy 2011, p. 395).

Plain language: The use of plain language has limited benefits. To understand and navigate the complexity of a case, law users need knowledge of legal theory which non-experts are unlikely to possess. “For a law-user to develop a legal theory applicable to her circumstances, she must be able to identify which specific legal texts are relevant to her circumstances and which particular parts of these texts capture those circumstances. To do that, she needs to be aware of the different sources. These are important issues that have been so immensely cultivated in legal literature that they cannot be made straightforward or bypassed simply by breaking the law into short and elegant clauses, free of technical terms, or presented in a user-friendly style, as the Plain English Movement proposes” (Assy 2011, p. 394).

Plain language: An empirical study conducted by Masson and Waldron (1994) shows that “plain language redrafting could not completely demystify legal texts to lay readers. It led the authors to conclude that extra education in basic legal concepts and legal counselling may also be required” (Sieborger and Adendroff 2011, p.7).

From the section on desirable and undesirable outcomes, it is clear that including visual elements in contracts complements the text and helps the reader in understanding the contract better. As for using plain language in legal documents and contracts, that has its benefits to the extent that archaic vocabulary and long sentences are replaced with more clear and succinct ways of writing. However, as demonstrated above, it is clear that using plain language does not negate the need for lawyers unlike what some of the proponents of plain language would like to believe. Even if plain language is adopted in contracts, legal experts will be required to interpret various laws and doctrines. Having said that, we can conclude that visual elements and plain language both are beneficial to legal experts and the layperson alike, as they represent and communicate the message in a better manner.


Based on the above arguments, in the absence of empirical research, one can conclude that in the context of employment relationships, a user-centred employment contract that has plain language and visuals has clear benefits for the employee. He or she will be able to understand the role, rights and responsibilities and the terms and conditions of the employment relationship better. It is likely that the employer will incur additional costs and time in drafting an easily comprehensible employment contract. However, such investment on part of the employer is not a recurring event as a template of one employment contract can be used for other employees as well.


So, in the case of an employment contract, we suggest that current employment contracts should embrace plain language and visuals in contracts which will lead to development of contracts that are user-friendly and legally enforceable. Having said that, such a hybrid form of contract is unlikely to negate the need for a lawyer to interpret the contract or to deal with consequences arising out of an escalated employment dispute.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees and employers, who want to document rights and agreements before entering into an employment relationship, combining a user-centred contract along is most effective for well-being.

This recommendation is focused on requirements of an employment contract. Therefore, we have selectively chosen the desirable and undesirable outcomes of each intervention such that they are applicable to employment contracts. As a result, a few desirable and undesirable outcomes of the two interventions, that are not relevant to employment contracts, have not been included.

Single Employment Contract

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify two ways of documenting the rights of employers and employees 

  • Single employment contract

  • Dual contracts: permanent and fixed term contract 

Dual contracts

The European labour market is characterized by dualism or the simultaneous existence of fixed term contracts, also known as temporary contracts, and permanent contracts. As the name suggests, employees on temporary contracts or fixed term contracts  enter into an employment relationship for a relatively short period whereas permanent employees have open-ended contracts i.e there is no termination date specified in their contract. 

‘’This segmentation in the labour market can occur for a variety of reasons: related to technology (e.g. assuming that workers under different contracts are different factors in the production function); due to preferences – assuming that workers value being under a permanent contract differently than being under a temporary contract), or that they are subject to different market frictions’’ (Cao, Shao and Silos 2010, p.4).  Blanchard and Landier offer another explanation for the segmentation in the labour market. They posit that firms hire employees on a temporary contract for entry level positions. If the employer is satisfied with the performance of the employee, he or she is offered a permanent contract (as cited in Cao, Shao and Silos, p.4). 

Meanwhile, the  Eichhorst et al. (2018) posit that the absence of permanent employment motivates workers to take up temporary employment. Education does not emerge as a factor that pushes workers into temporary employment, except for countries such as Austria, Germany and Denmark where strong vocational programmes lead workers into fixed-term apprenticeships and contracts (ibid). 

The primary difference between fixed term contracts and permanent contracts is that they offer varying degrees of protection to the employee. Permanent contracts offer full protection to employees in terms of employment protection legislation as compared to temporary contracts. The fixed term contracts provide low quality benefits in terms of pay, opportunities for training, health benefits and access to social protection to employees. They are less likely eligible to receive skill enhancing training as employers will prefer to invest in skill enhancement of permanent employees. Fixed term contracts tend to offer none or a small severance payment. Young persons, migrants, low and medium-skilled workers make up the majority of the labour force in temporary/fixed-term employment (Eichhorst et al. 2018).

On the other hand, permanent employees enjoy the security of having a stable job, accompanied by opportunities to develop skill-sets and advance in their career, access to credit and housing in the market, health and other social security benefits (Dolado, Lale and Siassi 2015). 

Single employment contract

The single employment contract was introduced by the European Commission’s Green Paper on modernizing labour law in 2006. The idea was then further defined by the report Employment in Europe 2010 (Casale and Perulli 2014). 

Single open-ended contracts or single employment contracts is one of the solutions proposed by many to end dualism in the labour market in Europe. There are two types of single employment contracts:

  • Single employment contract that replaces all existing contracts by one single contract. This is called the pure single employment contract. 

  • Single employment contract that lies between permanent contract and temporary contract. It allows other types of contracts such as interim contract and agency contract to operate. It’s called the extended single employment contract. 

The latter one has a lot of supporters, especially among lawyers and economists. This contract would essentially replace fixed term contracts and permanent contracts allowing interim and agency contracts to operate. It calls for increasing the probation period, termed as contracts with long probationary periods (CLPP),  increasing the criteria based on which employees can be dismissed  and contracts offering more rights to the employees his/her tenure increases – termed as contracts with progressive seniority rights (CPSR). To offset the impact of these measures on the well-being of the employee, the single labour contract provides a severance pay to the employee so that incase of termination of the contract, the employee will be paid a certain amount. The size of this pay will depend on the seniority of the employee (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich, and Wasmer 2013). 

To reduce unemployment and tackle the duality of the market, several countries have introduced degrees of flexibility in their permanent contracts to give more leeway to employers. This initiative has achieved mixed results. For example:

1.       Example of long probation periods and severance pay: Contract Nouvelle Embauche (CNE)

CNE was implemented by French government in 2005. It allowed employers/employees to terminate a contract within two years of employment without justification. In case of termination of contract, employees had to be paid 8% of the salary earned since the beginning of the contract. This initiative did not work for legal reasons. Its successor, CPE (first employment contract) was also repealed due to protests and opposition from unions. 


2.      Italy in 2012 tackled the duality of the labour market replacing permanent contracts with open ended contracts. The open-ended contracts permitted employers to terminate the contract of an employee within 3 years of being employed. If an employee works for a firm for more than three years, then he or she has to be made permanent. However, this reform was eventually replaced with a reform that capped the duration for which a fixed term contract could be used, gives incentives to firms to convert apprentices into permanent workers and gives large and medium sized firms more leeway in firing workers. 

For employers and employees who want to document rights and agreements before entering into an employment relationship, is using dual contracts (permanent and fixed term) or the single employment contract more effective for wellbeing?

Key Words: fixed term contract, temporary work, single labour contract, single employment contract, dual contracts


Data Base: Since most  of the literature used on single-employment contracts has been published by think tanks and centres of labour economics, a simple Google search strategy was used to locate it.

The main sources of evidence for this particular subject are:

  • OECD (2019). OECD Input to the Netherlands Independent Commission on the regulation of work. 
  • Lepage-Saucier, N., Schleich, J., and Wasmer, E. (2013). Moving towards a single labour contract: pros, cons and mixed feelings. Sciences Po University.  
  • Eichhorst, W., Marx, P., Broughton, A., Linckh, C. (2018). Mitigating Labour Market Dualism: Single Open-Ended Contracts and Other Instruments. European Parliament: Brussels
  • Dolado, Juan José, Etienne Lalé, and Nawid Siassi. (2015) Moving towards a single labour contract: Transition vs. steady-state. Discussion Paper Series: Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).
  • Bentolila, S., Dolado, J.J.  and Jimena, J.F. (2019). Dual Labour Markets Revisited. cesifo Working Papers. 
  • Garcia Perez, J.I. and Osuna, V. (2014). Dual labour markets and the tenure distribution: Reducing severance pay a single contract. Labour Economics, 29, p.1-13.
  • Cao, S., Shao, E. and Silos, P. (2010). Fixed-term and permanent employment contracts: Theory and evidence. CESifo working paper, No.3150. (This paper was not used in assessment of evidence. It was used only as a source in the introduction. So it is not graded)


The OECD (2019) report provides a comprehensive review of empirical and conceptual research addressing the issue of non-standard forms of work. It describes and analyses a few recommendations that address the dichotomy between fixed term contracts and permanent contracts. It presents trends in employment in the Netherlands using empirical data combined with the opinion of international experts. The empirical data used in the report is comparable to an observational study, we grade the evidence as low. 


The paper by Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer (2013) analytically deconstructs single-employment contracts and demonstrates how the intervention will not eliminate dualism in the labour market. Examples of reforms undertaken in France and Italy are used as evidence to support this argument. The authors suggest undertaking partial reforms instead of the single employment contract. This paper contains literature review and empirical and policy research. In doing so, it develops a model that is comparable to a small observational study. So we grade the quality of this paper as low.


The article by Eichhorst et al. (2018) compares the single-employment contract with partial reforms. The analysis of single employment contract is not thorough, as compared to the research undertaken by Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer. On the other hand, the article provides a rather comprehensive review of employment reforms undertaken by several countries in Europe. It uses literature review, case studies, policy review and some empirical data to substantiate its claims. So we grade this paper as low.


Doldo, Lale, Siassi (2015) in their paper, develop a theoretical model calibrated to the Spanish labour market prior to the Great Recession to examine the effects of introducing a single labour contract in an economy where employment protection afforded to permanent workers is very high and employment benefits given to temporary workers is low. This study is comparable to a small observational study. So we grade this evidence as low. 


This paper by Bentolila, Dolado and Jimeno (2019) provides an overview of recent research on dual labour markets. It has a literature review on theoretical and empirical contributions on the labour-market effects of dual employment protection legislation. It analyses the impact of dual contracts on employment, productivity, growth, wages and labour market inflows and outflows. The analysis presented is backed by literature review, some empirical research and policy discussions. So we grade this paper graded as low.  


The paper by Garcia Perez and Osuna (2014) evaluates Spain’s 2012 labour market reform of reducing severance pay from 45 to 33 days of wages per year of seniority and the introduction of a new subsidised permanent contract. They compare this policy with the introduction of a single open-ended labour contract with increasing severance payments for all new hires. To do this, they develop a theoretical model. This study is comparable to a small observational study so we grade the quality of this paper as low. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


There have been reforms made to labour contracts in Spain, Italy and France that inch close to what a single-employment contract might look like but single-employment contract has not been implemented in its full form in any country. So empirical research on that subject is lacking. Scholars have examined the effect of implementing a single employment contract by developing theoretical models and simulations, which is a standard practice in the field of economics as many interventions are tested in this manner because implementing them requires national and political buy-in. In that sense, we are yet to understand the true effects of the single employment contract. Therefore, despite the evidence being of sound research design, keeping in line with our methodology of grading evidence, we grade the overall quality of evidence as low. 

Note: Both interventions, dualism in the labour market and single-employment contract, have macro-economic ramifications such as productivity and growth. It is beyond the scope of this recommendation to explore these ramifications because they are not directly related to the well-being of the employer and employee. By limiting the analysis to the perspective of the employer and employee, we also intend on clearly identifying and highlighting the immediate impact of both interventions on the well-being of the employer and employee.



Dual Contracts (Temporary Contract/ Fixed term contract and Permanent Contract)

Single Employment Contract

Dual contracts offer flexibility to firms to adjust the size of the labour force depending upon market conditions.  Allows firms to adjust the demand for labour according to market conditions (OECD 2019, p.3).

The use of temporary contracts gives firms more choice in hiring employees in the long term. Short-term contracts allow firms to screen employees and examine whether they would like to employ them in the long term (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.12).

A model developed by Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer (2013) shows that if temporary contracts are eliminated, employment levels will fall at a macro level. ‘The elimination of temporary contracts leads to a drop in total employment (by 7 percentage points in our quantitative exercise) and would require a very large reform of employment protection of permanent contracts in order to compensate for the loss of the temporary contracts as an instrument of flexibility (e.g. a decline by two third of the cost of laying off workers) (p.8).

Under dual contracts, permanent employees are well protected. Workers with permanent jobs develop stable working habits, their wages are relatively high, and they are highly protected (severance pay) in the case of a dismissal  (Lepage-Saucier, Scheich and Wasmer 2013, p.26).

‘Workers with a permanent contract, regardless of their individual characteristics or productivity levels, are much more likely to remain employed than temporary workers, as employers will choose not to renew temporary contracts when facing a bad shock’’ (Lepage-Saucier, Scheich and Wasmer 2013, p.26). 

As more employees transition from being into permanent employment, the cycle of employment to unemployment that employees experience when switching jobs will end for a large number of employees.“More employees will transition into permanent employment, there will be less churning (Eichhorst et al. 2018, p.45).” 

The introduction of the single labour market will reduce unemployment and job destruction. A model developed by Perez and Osuna by introducing a single employment contract for new/incoming employees in the Spanish labour market in the year 2012 shows that unemployment and job destruction will reduce by 31.5% and 35% (Perez and Osuna 2014, p.2). This brings down the duration of unemployment spells suffered by workers who swing back and forth between job and unemployment.

Employment related benefits will be distributed in a fair manner among all employees. Temporary workers are not entitled to a severance pay. Under the single employment contract, all employees will get a severance pay. The severance pay will increase with the seniority in the current job. (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.36).  

If all employees get a severance pay, the cost of dismissing all types of workers becomes the same for the firm. The firm cannot take advantage of a severance pay differential between permanent and temporary employees. This will in turn, smoothen the tenure of workers as ‘’22.5% more workers could have tenures of more than three years and there could be 38.5% fewer one-year contracts’’ (Perez and Osuna 2014, p.3).

Employees have varying degrees of skill sets. Under dual contracts, firms cannot retain high-performing employees on temporary contracts and terminate permanent employees as it affects the morale of other permanent employees. Under single employment contract, since all workers have the same contract, terminating contracts of under performing employees is easier for firms. It will increase the productivity of firms. (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.8).  

Firms can change the size of the labour force in response to upheavals in the market by terminating contracts of employees who are under probationary periods. This is especially true for Contracts with Large Probationary Periods (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.26).

The Continuous Progressive Seniority Rights will eliminate discontinuities in the degree of employment protection as all employees will have minimum protection at the time of entering the firm (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.26). 

Single employment contract decreases requirements for dismissal by expanding grounds on which the contract can be terminated. This is beneficial for employers as it gives them room to expand or reduce the labour force (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013)

A model developed by introducing single-employment contract in the Spanish labour market prior to the Great Recession shows that consumption levels (consumer spending on health, education, goods and so on) of new workers increases by 1.7% as they did not experience long unemployment spells, they will have high entry wages and lower unemployment insurance tax (Dolado, Lale and Siassi 2015, p.4). The current generation of workers will witness an increase of 0.9% in their lifetime consumption.  87% of these workers stand to win, however the wins are distributed equally across different age groups.  Prime age workers (18-54) gain by 1.3% whereas older workers (54-64), lose by the same magnitude. (Dolado, Lale and Siassi 2015, p.4 & 5).

‘’A single labour contract will reduce the complexity in the menu of contracts for employers. This is true only if it really replaces temporary contracts instead of creating a new one ‘’((Lepage-Saucier, Scheich and Wasmer 2013, p.33).


Dual contracts in the labour market

Single Employment Contract

Workers face employment volatility: Access to stable jobs is reduced and there is a recurrent spell of temporary jobs (Dolado, Lale and Siassi 2015, p.2). Empirical evidence shows that in some cases this is true and in some, not. Workers face volatility depending on where they are geographically situated. In countries with low firing costs on open ended contracts and a lower prevalence of fixed term contracts, fixed term contracts serve as stepping stones to permanent employment. Eg. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK or the US–, though even for these countries there are conflicting results. On the other hand, the evidence shows that the stepping stone hypothesis does not hold true in dual labor markets with high EPL gaps and a high FTC incidence –such as Italy and Spain (Bentolila, Dolado and Jimeno 2019, p.18).The transition rate (from temporary to permanent employment) in France is 10%, Spain is 12%, 12.3% in the Netherlands and 12.6% in Greece. The average rate of transition from temporary work to permanent work in European Union is 22.8%. Certain countries and sectors are marked by chains of fixed term contracts of the duration of 12 months (Eichhorst et al. 2018).Several countries such as Belgium, France, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania offer temporary contracts of one to three months only.  As a consequence, fixed term workers oscillate between temporary jobs and unemployment (Dolado, Lale and Siassi 2015). 

Unskilled people, youngsters, immigrants are more likely to work on temporary contracts.The dual contract system ‘allows employers to discriminate between workers based on demographics or skills’’ (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.26) . 

Workers in fixed term contracts have lower wages (Lepage-Saucier, Scheich and Wasmer 2013, p.26). 

Fixed term workers have low bargaining power: Workers on flexible contracts often lack voice. This is partly due to their weak labour market position, as a consequence of which many do not dare to raise their voice out of fear of losing their job. This may be due partly to the legal limitation of membership and/or voting rights for works councils to employees with a permanent contract and partly due to the fact that the interests of flexible workers are not (sufficiently) represented by trade unions (Eichhorst et al 2018, p.44). 

Temporary employees receive fewer opportunities for improving skills: Temporary employees are less likely eligible to receive skill enhancing training as employers will prefer to invest in skill enhancement of permanent employees (OECD 2019, p.41). For instance, a study based on the Survey of Adult Skills (collected by the OECD over 2008-2013 in 21 countries) reports that being on an FTC reduces the probability of receiving employer-sponsored training by 14%  (Bentolila, Dolado and Jimeno 2019p.19).

Firms face high turnover setting off gains from flexibility: Temporary employees receive a low severance pay, if any. This leads workers to quit, as show my research conducted in France and Spain. A high rate of employees quitting nullifies gains from improved flexibility for the employer (Lepage-Saucier, Scheich, p.26).

Banks are less willing to grant temporary workers a loan in order to buy a house and landlords favour workers with permanent contracts making it more difficult for a temporary worker to rent a house or an apartment (Cahuc and Kramarz as cited in Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013) . For instance, Cahuc and Kramarz  report that in France, young workers (between 20 and 35) are 4 to 8 percentage points more likely to live on their own and not with their family when they have a permanent contract as opposed to a temporary contract. At all ages above 30, there is a 10 to 15 percentage point difference in the home ownership rate between the two types of contracts, the rate being higher for permanent workers (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.30).

The usage of temporary contracts is increasing bringing down employment related benefits for a significant number of workers which can cause social unrest. Fixed Term Contracts are now not prevalent only among young workers, but they are also becoming more common among adult workers. When these workers reach pensionable age, it is unlikely that their labour history will meet the statutory requirements for a contributory pension, so that they will fall into much less generous assistance pensions. This development is bound to cause social unrest and a demand for higher non-contributory pension levels (Bentolila, Dolado and Jimeno 2019, p.30). 

Dual employment contracts reduce efficiency because permanent employees become complacent knowing that they cannot lose their job and because the contract of fixed term employees cannot be terminated in advance, firms hire them at a lower entry wage- ‘Cahuc et al.’s (2016) model shows that dual EPL reduces efficiency. The reason is that when firing cost increases, the average productivity of workers on open-ended contracts increases. This is because firms retain open-ended jobs with lower productivity, i.e. standard labour hoarding. A higher firing cost also raises the duration of fixed term contract jobs, since firms face lower incentives to convert them into open-ended contract jobs due to the smaller surplus of the latter. As a result, in countries where fixed term jobs cannot be destroyed before they expire, they are kept more often, leading firms to pay positive wages to unproductive fixed term contract workers. This reduces their entry wage (which is not renegotiated) (Bentolila, Dolado and Jimeno 2019, p.18). Similarly, firms might lay off “good” temporary workers and not be able to lay off workers in permanent contracts that have a low productivity (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.33).

A negative externality is that employers will increasingly use agency contracts/ training /apprenticeships contracts which are also precarious forms of employment, to avoid using single employment contracts (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.35). 

‘’The extended trial/probationary period reduces job security for employees  Incorporating new legal motives for dismissal into the single employment contract also has the same effect of reducing job security. This is equivalent to the job insecurity experience by employees under dual contracts’’ (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.32)

Given that fixed duration contracts are fairly well protected, unions are unlikely to support a single employment contract with a long probationary period as it reduces the protection offered to permanent employees. ( Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.36). This was observed in France (mentioned previously) . 

The provision of increasing severance pay depending on seniority of the employee discourages professional mobility (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.62). 

‘’To circumvent cost of lay-off, firms may induce quitting by bullying the employee.  Firms may increase monitoring of workers to ensure that employees make an adequate level of effort which puts employees under psychological pressure.’’ (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.35).

Workers who are under a long probationary period will have challenges in accessing credit for housing as banks are likely to discriminate between the workers who are past the probationary period and workers who are still under their probationary period (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.30) .

Abilities of employees under single-employment contracts will be questioned if their employment contract is terminated by the employer, as the expectation is for the employee to transition into permanent employment.If a worker under a Contract with Progressive Seniority Rights (CPSR) or with Long Probation Periods (CLPP), is laid-off, it is likely to send a negative signal in the absence of objective reasons: the termination of such a contract would be due to workers’ effects such as lack of skill or motivation with certainty, not to firms’ effects or the formal impossibility to go on with the contract. So workers will not receive the benefit of the doubt. Him/her being laid off will be considered to be a reflection of his motivation/skill set (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.33).

Employees under a single-employment contract may not receive skill-enhancement training. ‘’Workers under temporary contracts are typically not trained as employers perceive them to be temporary workers so they don’t invest resources in training them. Workers under long probationary periods in single employment contract will not benefit from more training under the current incentive system of training. Workers in a CPSR may have better access to training, but this remains to be demonstrated.’’ (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.32)

The single employment contracts provides a high employment protection which scholars have shown to have a negative effect on productivity of the firm or industry. ‘’Employment protection generally has distortive effects on capital accumulation and misallocation of productive units leading to lower productivity. Hopenhayn and Rogerson (1993) and Bertola (1994) find that productivity is lower because of a misallocation of employment in technologies, favouring less productive structures, leading to reduced incentives for capital accumulation. Bassanini et alii. empirically document the link between employment protection and productivity growth and find that EPL reduce productivity growth in industries where EPL are more likely to be binding’’ (as cited in Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.34).

The stress of losing a permanent job is high for employees under a single employment contract. ‘’Given that risk of layoff is lower but associated loss is higher, Postel-Vinay and Saint-Martin (2005), Clark and Postel-Vinay (2009), and Deloffre et Rioux (2004) showed that employees perceived their job to be less secure using the European Community Panel survey data’’. (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.35).

Because employees will transition into permanent employment, even if they are not satisfied with their job, they will continue working in that position instead of quitting. ‘Lower labour turnover leads to a mismatch effect leading to potential job dissatisfaction among employees’ (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013, p.35).

Dualism in the labour market has obvious and large disadvantages for employees. Employees on fixed term contracts or temporary contracts receive low wages and fewer employment related benefits such as pension and severance pay as compared to employees on permanent contracts.They are also subject to recurring spells of unemployment as they move from one employer to the other. They might face discrimination in the housing and loan market as financial institutions perceive them to have insecure and underpaid jobs. Given that the tenure of fixed term employees in the company is short, firms don’t provide them skill-enhancement training as a result, employees lose out on career advancement opportunities. 


The single employment contract gives employees the opportunity to become permanent employees of the firm, an advantage not given under dualism. So a single-employment contract provides employees job security. Given that it provides a baseline/minimum level of advantages to employees at the time of entry, there is continuity in job-related benefits. As the level of benefits that employees will receive will increase as their tenure increases, employees the level of protection provided increases. The theoretical model developed by Garcia Perez and Osuna (2014) by calibrating the 2012 Spanish labour market shows that job tenure of workers will increase, unemployment will fall and rate of job destruction will fall. 


However, this was a theoretical simulation where the authors controlled all parameters of the hypothetical reform of single employment contract. In practice, there is no clear indication of the level of baseline or floor of social protection benefits that single employment contracts offer. If the level of benefits provided is too low, then employees will face disadvantages similar to those that come with fixed-term contracts. In other words, the workers who are under a long probationary period and receive low protection while starting off will be stigmatised, just as workers who are under a temporary or fixed term contract. They will encounter challenges in accessing housing credit from banks as banks are likely to give preference to workers who are senior and are past the probationary period. 


To address this problem, the design of the single-employment contract should be such that employees under probationary period should be able to climb up the ladder of the payscale and become permanent employees at a relatively swift pace. Similarly, new employees should also have a basic floor of rights (receive a minimum salary and other financial benefits) so that they don’t start at the very bottom. Employees under low seniority should also have the right to receive skill-enhancing training. 


Tying the level of benefits to tenure also brings with it its own set of problems. It reduces mobility of the employee and encourages him or her to hold on to the job even when they are dissatisfied with it and would find it more beneficial to switch to a different company. On the other hand, it prevents employers from bringing in younger or more suitable persons. This issue can be resolved if the level of benefits is tied to the years of work experience that the employee has, instead of the completed tenure. Here, an employee can change jobs without the fear of losing out on the accrued benefits and the employer will also be able to maintain efficiency. 


Another aspect of dualism is the concentration of unskilled persons, youngsters and women in temporary jobs or fixed term contracts. It is not yet clear how the single-employment contract would address this problem.


There is very little literature on costs and benefits to firms of the single-employment contract. So we cannot fully assess the impact of the single-employment contract on firms. Below is what we know. 


For firms, the single-employment contract can act as a screening tool to retain high performing employees and let go of under-performing employees while they are on a probationary period. But for employees, that will lead to stigmatisation of workers who were laid off, as the common understanding in society would be that an employee on a single-employee contract should ideally progress to becoming a permanent employee. 


Temporary contracts allow firms to adjust the size of the labour force to economic conditions (p.25). Single-employment contracts do not address this need of firms. If employees with low seniority rights or under probationary period are terminated, it breaks the implicit contract of long-term employment affecting the morale of other employees in the firm and can also lead to litigation. This leads us to conclude that perhaps the single-employment contract is more suitable for firms who intend on offering employees long term employment and is not suitable for firms whose requirements fluctuate tremendously along with changes in market conditions.  


To conclude, dualism in the labour market is costly for both employers and employees. Having said that, scholars reason that the costs of dualism are still not well documented (Lepage-Saucier, Schleich and Wasmer 2013). The best way to tackle dualism in the labour market is an ongoing debate. The single-employment contract is a recent instrument suggested by economists and lawyers, the discussion of which is just taking off. It has not been implemented in its full form in any country. Researchers have arrived at advantages and disadvantages of the intervention by analysing them theoretically, by using simulations and by analysing reforms that come close to a single employment contract. So we don’t have a clear outline, design or conceptual and empirical understanding of this intervention either. Additionally, the literature on the single-employment contract has focused on evaluating its impact on employees. Very little is known about what costs and benefits it entails for employers. 


Furthermore, dualism in the labour market and single-employment contracts are inter-linked with labour laws, social security benefits and macro-economy of a country. To understand the full impact of both these interventions, it is necessary to understand how both these interventions interact with them. This leads us to conclude that the desirable and undesirable outcomes of both are not completely understood by scholars and policy-makers alike. This limits the strength of our analysis. 


Based on the evidence that we have, we conclude that the single-employment contract is preferable to dual contracts for employees. Given that little information exists of its impact on employers, we refrain from recommending it over dual contracts. However, to err on the side of caution, we believe that the effectiveness of the single-employment contract on the well-being of the employee is predicated on the design of the specific measure (level of protection in terms of notice period, severance pay and other employment related benefits provided to the employee) , interaction with labour markets, social security instruments and the socio-economic context.

The discussion in the balance of outcomes suggests that the single-employment contract has the potential to be more effective for the well-being of the employee as compared to having dual contracts. More research needs to be done on the costs and benefits for the employer of  the single employment contract. Until then, it cannot be ascertained if one is preferred over the other.

Dual contracts and the single employment contract are topical topics in the field of economics and labour market legislation. To bring about changes in the contractual relationships between employees and employers, rules, regulations and laws in those countries also need to change. Therefore, this recommendation needs support from policy makers for it to materialise. But in the absence of support from policy makers, employers and practitioners can work towards crafting contracts that give all employees the chance to benefit from employment related benefits.

Collaborative / integrative conflict-management style

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: most plausible interventions

  • Integrating/Collaborative Conflict Management Style
  • Compromising Conflict Management Style

Disputes that arise at the workplace are often related to tasks or activities that are related to projects. Team members have to work together to find solutions to the disputes. In such circumstances, if a team member is too dominating or is not concerned about the needs of his or her teammates, or behaves in the opposite way, by giving in to the wishes of the other person, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes for the organisation or strained relationships among team members. Therefore, in this recommendation, we will compare two interventions that can shape interpersonal or task related activities at the workplace. 


“Research on conflict management styles reveals that there exist 5 conflict management styles based on how cooperative (concerned for others) and assertive (concerned for self) an individual is in a conflict situation Those are: 

  1. dominating or competing, a focus on winning the conflict
  2. avoiding, withdrawing from a conflict and allowing the other party to gain all demands
  3. accommodating, allowing others to win in a conflict situation
  4.  compromising, based on giving concessions
  5.  collaborating or integrating, seeking mutually advantageous gains by both parties (Thomas 1977;  Rahim 1983 as cited in Jordon and Troth 2004, p.201)”


Of the five conflict management styles, we have chosen to compare compromising and collaborative/integrating as literature indicates that these two are the most effective and recommended strategies in resolving task related conflicts (Rahim 2002 as cited in Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p. 382). 


Integrating/Collaborative Conflict Management Style


“The integrating style (also described as problem solving, collaboration, cooperation, solution-orientation, and win-win or positive-sum style) focuses on problem solving in a collaborative fashion. It involves collaboration between the parties through open exchange of information, information seeking and sharing, and examination of differences for the diagnosis of and solution to a problem acceptable to both parties. Individuals with this style face conflicts directly and try to find new and creative solutions to the problems by focusing on their own needs as well as on those of others. Hocker and Wilmot (1998) maintain that this style is both direct and cooperative” (Yu, Sardessai and Lu 2006, p.21). “People using an integrating style have concerns for themselves and for others… (Rahim, 2000)” (as cited in Saeed et al. 2014, p.217).



Compromising Conflict Management Style


“The compromising style involves give and take, whereby both parties give up

something to make a mutually acceptable decision, characterized by moderate levels of

both cooperation and assertiveness” (Saeed et al. 2014, p.217). “The objective is to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromise might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position”(Sportsman and Hamilton 2007, p.158). “Both parties have moderate concern for self and others” (Vokic and Sontor 2009, p.7). 

For parties to an employment dispute looking to find solutions on contentious issues (shaping solutions), is collaborative conflict management style or compromising conflict management style more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: Elsevier, Routledge, Emerald Insight


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: conflict management styles, collaborative conflict management style, compromising conflict management style

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:


  • Saeed, T., Almas, S., Anis-ul-Haq, M., & Niazi, G. S. K. (2014). Leadership styles: relationship with conflict management styles. International Journal of Conflict Management.
  • Chen, X. H., Zhao, K., Liu, X., & Wu, D. D. (2012). Improving employees’ job satisfaction and innovation performance using conflict management. International Journal of Conflict Management.
  • Huan, L. J., & Yazdanifard, R. (2012). The difference of conflict management styles and conflict resolution in workplace. Business & Entrepreneurship Journal, 1(1), 141-155.
  • Abas, N. A. H., Surdick, R., Otto, K., Wood, S., & Budd, D. (2010). Emotional intelligence and conflict management styles (Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Stout).
  • Chung‐Yan, G. A., & Moeller, C. (2010). The psychosocial costs of conflict management styles. International Journal of Conflict Management.
  • Paul, S., Seetharaman, P., Samarah, I., & Mykytyn, P. P. (2004). Impact of heterogeneity and collaborative conflict management style on the performance of synchronous global virtual teams. Information & Management, 41(3), 303-321.
  • Peter J. Jordan & Ashlea C. Troth (2004) Managing Emotions During Team Problem Solving: Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution, Human Performance, 17:2, 195-218
  • Deborah Weider-Hatfield & John D. Hatfield (1995) Relationships Among Conflict Management Styles, Levels of Conflict, and Reactions to Work, The Journal of Social Psychology, 135:6, 687-698,
  • Wall Jr, V. D., Galanes, G. J., & Love, S. (1987). Small, task-oriented groups: Conflict, conflict management, satisfaction, and decision quality. Small Group Behavior, 18(1), 31-55.
  • Tang, S. F., & Kirkbride, P. S. (1986). Developing conflict management skills in Hong Kong: An analysis of some cross-cultural implications. Management education and development, 17(3), 287-301.


The study by Saeed et al. (2014) examine the relationship between leadership styles and

conflict management styles among managers, while handling interpersonal conflict (managers and subordinates). A survey was conducted with 150 middle-level managers from various industries in the private sector. The data was analyzed using regression analysis. A plus point of this study is that it has received 123 citations while a minus point is that majority (115) of the participants in this study are men, so the sample is skewed. Taking into consideration all these factors, we assess the quality of this study to be moderate, as per the GRADE approach. 


The study by Chen, Zao and Liu (2012) examines how conflict management behavior impacts job satisfaction and innovation performance. For this purpose, the authors conducted a survey with 333 employees in China. The sample composition appears gender and education level balanced. The paper has received 133 citations. Taking into account all these factors, we assess the quality of the study to be moderate, according to the GRADE approach. 


The paper by Huan and Yazdanifard (2012) is a review of conflict management styles and conflict resolution from the managers and supervisors’ point of view. It is largely based on expert opinion and literature review. Therefore, we assess the quality of this paper to be very low, according to the GRADE approach. 


The paper by Chung-Yan and Moeller (2010) examines the interactive effect of interpersonal conflict at work and adopting an integrating/compromising conflict style on workers’ psychosocial wellbeing. Data was drawn from an online survey of 311 young employees living in Canada. Authors of the study have not indicated the sample composition of participants in terms of income level, ethnicity but have reported on age and gender. The study has received a moderate number of citations(50). Taking into account all these factors, we assess the quality of the study to be moderate, according to the GRADE approach.


The study by Paul et al. (2004) explores the relationships that might exist among the heterogeneity of the virtual teams, their collaborative conflict management style, and their performance outcomes. The authors conducted a laboratory experiment in which homogeneous and heterogeneous virtual teams, consisting of students from the USA and India, worked independently on a decision task involving the adoption of a computer use fee by an online university. In total, there were 63 participants in the study. This study is comparable to a small experimental study. So according to the GRADE methodology, we assess the quality of this study to be low. 


The study by Jordan and Troth (2004) examines how emotional intelligence predicts individual performance, team performance, and conflict resolution styles. A regression analysis was conducted using data of 350  student respondents. The study has been cited widely (737). Given the sample size used in the study and its citations, we assess the quality of this study to be moderate, according to the GRADE approach. 


The study by Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield (1995) examines the relationship between conflict management style, level of conflict and outcomes experienced by employees in the USA. Data was collected from 125 full-time managers (59 women) from state, regional, and local volunteer organizations. The study has received 174 citations until now. Taking into consideration all these factors, we assess the quality of this study to be low according to the GRADE approach. 


The study by Wall, Galanes and Love (1987) examines the relationship between the amount of conflict experienced, the style of its management, individual satisfaction, and decision quality of small, task-oriented groups. Data was collected from 129 students studying in an American university. The study has received 123 citations until now. Taking into consideration all these factors, we assess the quality of this study to be moderate according to the GRADE approach. 


The paper by Tand and Kirkbride (1986) reports the results of an empirical study into the orientations towards conflict and preferred conflict management styles of Chinese managers in Hong Kong. The paper examines how traditional values of the Chinese affect their conflict management styles.  A survey was conducted with 150 Chinese and British executives working in government and private sector. In all, it has received 158 citations. Taking into account all these factors, we assess the quality of the study to be moderate, according to the GRADE approach. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


Research on collaborative and compromising conflict management styles is supported by empirical studies as well as expert opinion. However, more empirical research is needed on compromising conflict management style. According to the Actionable Recommendations document and GRADE methodology, the overall strength of evidence is very low.


Note: Literature indicates that some of the desirable and undesirable outcomes of collaborative and compromising conflict management styles are the same. So readers will find the same outcome under both interventions.



Collaborative Conflict Management Style

Compromise Conflict Management Style

Open discussions among team members will lead to better understanding of the issue at hand and consensus on a solution. “Poole and Roth (1989) and Putnam (1986) argued that a more collaborative style in teams will result in superior outcomes because it encourages more open discussion and cooperation among members that will help the team synthesize information to derive a common solution” (as cited in Jordon and Troth 2004, p.201).

Studies have shown that supervisors who use an integrating style achieve more behavioral compliance, are less likely to experience persistent conflict at work and have less disputes (Rahim and Buntzman, 1990)” (as cited in Saeed 2014, p.217).

A study of 63 participants from the US and India, the participants required to make a decision. Findings of the study indicated that in groups that involved everyone in the decision making process, people felt that the final decision made was fair and felt satisfied with it.“The groups with higher levels of collaborative conflict management style attempt to integrate the views of all participants. They felt that the final decision is fair and the best outcome that the group can offer. As a result the members’ perception of decision quality improves” (Paul et al. 2004, p.316).

Collaborative conflict management style indicates high emotional intelligence i.e people are good at tackling their own and others emotions. So this intervention is correlated with qualities that are essential for managing interpersonal relationships. “Jordan and Troth (2002) found a link between collaboration as a preferred style of conflict resolution and the ability to deal with one’s own emotions and the ability to deal with others’ emotions” (as cited in Jordon and Troth 2004, p.213). This was confirmed in a study that examined conflict resolution styles and emotional intelligence of 350 respondents. The study showed that “individuals within teams were more likely to use integrative (collaborative) tactics if they were in a team that had higher average levels of emotional intelligence” (Jordon and Troth 2004, p.212). 

In a study of 125 full time managers based in the US, it was observed that people who used a collaborative style in tackling conflicts with supervisors reported less intrapersonal, intragroup, and intergroup conflict. “…participants who described themselves as high integrators in situations that involved managing conflict with supervisors reported significantly less intrapersonal, intragroup, and intergroup conflict than low integrators did” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.696).

Being able to collaborate and resolve disputes can increase the confidence of both parties and give them a sense of accomplishment (Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p.385).

Subordinates give good inputs to supervisors who use collaborative style, which can help the company prosper which in turn is beneficial for employees. “…supervisors who encourage an integrative approach are likely to receive valuable input from subordinates (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.697). 

Parties using collaborative style want to resolve their own problems as well as that of the opposite party. This causes them to explore issues fully and also incorporate the suggestions of all parties. “With an integrative approach, according to Thomas, both parties are more highly motivated to ensure that their own concerns, as well as the concerns of the other, are met in the ultimate outcome of the situation. For this reason, communication will generally be more complete and accurate, the issues will be explored more fully, and a genuine attempt will be made to incorporate the suggestions of all parties into the solution. This in turn should yield outcomes of higher quality” (Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.31).

People who deploy collaborative style have good interpersonal relationships and pursue common goals which result in innovative solutions. “Employees who favor integrating behaviors are often relationship-oriented and object-oriented. They take responsibility to pursue common goals and are open-minded at the same time. They often have good interpersonal relationships. This creates frequent open discussion, which is significant for viewpoints integration and innovation” (Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p.166). 

A person who compromises understands that time and resources are limited, which helps in reaching targets of the organisation. Compromise requires cooperation with team members, which results in improved relationship with team members. “Finally, it is important to note that Jamieson and Thomas (1974) showed com-

promise or accommodation were appropriate and acceptable conflict resolution behaviors when time and resources are limited and the issue is not important. For the emotionally intelligent individual in this study, we recognize the possibility that compromise or accommodation might be an appropriate response during the performance task and may be a sign of their ability to recognize and regulate their emotions to enhance their relationship with fellow workers and to achieve their goals within a limited timeframe” (Jordon and Troth 2004, p.202).

Compromising conflict management style is positively related to interpersonal outcomes such as a sense of belonging, recognition, appreciation, and job friendships.” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.687)

Compromising is linked with high emotional intelligence as it is interlinked with high self-awareness. So this intervention is correlated with other positive personality traits. “Emotional intelligence was also able to predict a compromising style of handling conflicts with a positive significant relationship; F (1, 40) = 4.40, p < 0.05. The compromising style also could be predicted by supervisors’ self-awareness; t(36) = 2.33, p < 0.05, indicating that the higher self-awareness the supervisors had, the more the compromising style would be used by the subordinates. In Kabanoff’s (1989) theoretical review of compromising, he found that compromising conflict management was favorably viewed, especially for less competitive people because they portrayed it as a sign of strength. (Abas et al. 2010, p. 21). 

Being able to compromise and resolve disputes can increase the confidence of both parties and give them a sense of accomplishment. “…the mutually satisfying solutions attained through active and cooperative conflict management styles (i.e. integrating and compromising) may result in greater confidence and sense of accomplishment, and in turn, improved health and well-being.” (Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p.385).

In China, people believe that when disputes continue for a long duration, compromising is an effective way of handling conflict. “For example in China, integrating is not the only way to manage conflict, sometimes if disputes continue, compromising will be a good way to handle conflict” (Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p. 167). 









Collaborative Conflict Management Style

Compromise Conflict Management Style

A study of 63 participants from the US and India required the participants to make a decision. In this study, it was found collaborative style of conflict management did not improve the level of agreement in the group.“The results of the study, however, did not support our expectation that the group agreement level improves with higher levels of collaborative conflict management style” (Paul et al. 2004, p.316).

Collaborative style of conflict management can also increase intrapersonal and intragroup conflict. So this “…supervisors using a high-integrating style with subordinates reported more intrapersonal and intragroup conflict…” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.687). Or in other words, managers’ attempts at using integrative approaches to managing conflict with subordinates may involve additional levels of conflict (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.692).

Collaborative style will lead to better outcomes only when decision-making is rigorous. “…Hirokawa (1982) found that the positive relationship between consensus-which by extension is analogous to an integrative approach-and quality of outcome held true only under conditions of vigilant decision-making (as cited in Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.35).

Falk (1981) found higher quality decisions to be associated with the distributive, not the integrative, style of conflict resolution  (as cited in Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.35).

It takes a lot of time and effort to arrive at solutions that are acceptable to both parties (Huan and Yazdanifard 2012, p. 146). 

When people compromise, the main issue goes unresolved, which leads to suboptimal outcomes. “Often the central problem is left unresolved or only partly solved in situations where conflict avoiding or compromising behaviours are adopted by the participants. As a result the organisation may not be operating at optimal efficiency or adopting the most appropriate means in order to realise its goals” (Tang and Kirkbride 1986, p.294).  




Compared to compromising conflict management style, collaboration is preferred to resolve task related conflicts at the workplace because the former leads to suboptimal decisions and main issues are not completely resolved. Collaboration between colleagues, on the other hand, results in innovative solutions which are beneficial for the employer in the long run. However, as indicated in the above section when collaboration fails or when time and resources are few, compromising conflict management style is most effective as it speeds up the decision-making process as well the time required to achieve intended outcomes. 


To illustrate the outcomes, let us take an example of a task-related dispute that arises at the workplace. Suppose, in an organisation there is an employee who is facing a computer related issue. She requests help from the IT department in resolving the issue. But the IT department is not able to provide her a satisfactory solution. So the employee wants to contact an external agency for help but the IT department wants to avoid doing that because the external agency in question in the past has not been efficient at resolving IT problems. So they believe that contacting the agency will be unproductive and will result in unnecessary expenditure. Here, the IT department and the employee are having a disagreement. 


In a collaborative style, the IT department would spend more time in finding a solution to the problem in a way that’s acceptable to the employee and will resort to contacting the external agency only if they have exhausted all means. That will take more time and effort but will save the organisation money. On the other hand, in a compromising style, the employee will accept the solution that the IT department provided, even if its not the best solution, so that the organisation will save money. Here, the employee accepts a suboptimal solution to prevent the organisation from spending time, effort and money. 


From the above example, there is a trade-off between the most effective solution and time and money in both conflict management styles. But because in the long run, most effective solutions are better for the well-being of the organisation and employee, we recommend collaborative management style

Taking into account the balance of outcomes for parties to an employment dispute, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees having disputes over specific tasks, collaborative conflict management style is more conducive to well-being than compromising conflict management style.


Literature indicates that different cultures have preferences for different conflict management styles. For example, in China, which is a collectivist society, avoiding conflict is also an acceptable in the face of a conflict, whereas in the West which is characterised by an individualistic society, collaborative conflict management style is preferred  (as cited in Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p.158). So we advise justice practitioners to take into account the culture and values of a society when recommending a specific conflict management style to resolve conflicts.

Interactional Justice

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: most plausible interventions


During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify the following interventions for containing employment disputes:

  • Supervisor applies interactional justice within an organisation
  • Supervisor applies an authoritarian leadership style within an organisation


Interactional justice


Interactional justice occurs in informal interactions between employees and an organisation’s management. This includes the interpersonal treatment employees receive. Employees expect fair, honest, courteous, and truthful treatment by the organisation that employs them and/or its agents. Interactional justice is also about the extent to which the management of the organization treats its employees with respect, courtesy, sensitivity, and attentiveness (Rahmawhati et al, p. 42). 


Interactional justice is determined by the interpersonal behavior of management’s representatives (Cohen-Charash and Spector, p. 281). Interactional justice is most likely to occur when decision makers (a) treat individuals with interpersonal dignity [sometimes also referred to as interpersonal justice] and (b) provide subordinates with justifications or explanations. Employees may hold supervisors responsible for interactional justice [outcomes, such as respect, courtesy, sensitivity and attentiveness] (Lavelle, et al, p. 843).

Authoritarian leadership


Authoritarian leadership places emphasis on the asymmetric power between leaders and followers, which allows leaders to dominate and control followers (Jian, Chen, Sun & Yang, Introduction). Authoritarian managers believe they know more than others in their organisations and have the right to get things done in their own way. As a result, they stress ‘‘personal dominance’’ over employees, unify the authority in themselves, and make unilateral decisions. In authoritarian management, leaders exhibit strong control and authority over employees and in turn the group is forced to obey the leader (Jian, Chen, Sun & Yang, Introduction). Authoritarian managers are likely to exercise control by initiating structure, issuing rules, promising rewards for compliance, and threatening punishment for disobedience (Kiazad et al, p. 514).


We compare these two interventions because they both touch on interpersonal treatment between supervisor/employer and subordinate/employee. They are distinct in the following three ways: 

  • Interactional justice focuses on outcomes (such as dignity and justification) for the employee while authoritarian leadership does not.
  • Interactional justice holds supervisors accountable to the employees, authoritarian leadership does not.
  • Interactional justice allows for information sharing between the supervisor and the employee, while authoritarian leadership does not.

For employers and employees looking to contain conflict in the workspace, is applying interactional justice or applying an authoritarian leadership style within the organisation more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: employment, disputes, mediation, prevention, justice, organizational, leadership

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Yochi Cohen-Charash and Paul E. Spector: The Role of Justice in in Organizations: A Meta-Analysis (2001)
  • Maureen L. Ambrose: Oxford Handbook of Justice in the Workplace (2015)
  • Maryline Meyer, Marc Ohana and Florence Stinglhamber: The Impact of Supervisor Interpersonal Justice on Supervisor-Directed Citizenship Behaviors in Social Enterprises: A Moderated Mediation Model (2018)
  • SuJin Son, Do-Yeong Kim and Mina Kim: How perceived interpersonal justice relates to job burnout and intention to leave: The role of leader–member exchange and cognition-based trust in leaders (2014)
  • Jiang, Chen, Sun, Yang: The Relationship between Authoritarian Leadership and Employees’ Deviant Workplace Behaviors: The Mediating Effects of Psychological Contract Violation and Organizational Cynicism (2017)
  • Richard A. Posthuma, James B. Dworkin, Maris Stella Swift: Arbitrator Acceptability: Does Justice Matter? (2000)
  • Kohyar Kiazad, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog, Thomas J. Zagenczyk, Christian Kiewitz, Robert L. Tang: In pursuit of power: The role of authoritarian leadership in the relationship between supervisors’ Machiavellianism and subordinates’ perceptions of abusive supervisory behavior (2010)
  • Rahmawati Rahmawati, Rispantyo Rispantyo, and Subekti Djamaluddin: Mentoring Function and Quality of Supervisor Auditor Relationship: Organizational Justice as A Mediation (2017)
  • Olugbenga J. Ladebo, Joseph M. Awotunde, Petra AbdulSalaam-Saghir: Coworkers’ and Supervisor Interactional Justice: Correlates of Extension, Personnel’s Job Satisfaction, Distress, and Aggressive Behavior (2008)
  • James J. Lavelle, Deborah E. Rupp and Joel Brockner: Taking a Multifoci Approach to the Study of Justice, Social Exchange, and Citizenship Behavior: The Target Similarity Model (2007)
  • Jeanne Le Roy, Marina Bastounis and Jale Minibas-Poussard: Interactional Justice and Counterproductive Work Behaviors: The Mediating Role of Negative Emotions (2012)


Cohen-Charash and Spector conducted a meta-analysis, where they researched the correlation of distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. They examined 190 studies samples, totaling 64,757 participants. This article can be regarded as high quality evidence.


The Oxford Handbook of Justice in Work Organizations provides a comprehensive review of empirical and conceptual research addressing the vital topic of workplace justice. It is a meta-analysis and can therefore be regarded as high quality evidence.


The article by Lavelle, Rupp and Brockner reviews and organizes multifoci research and theory in justice, social exchange, and citizenship behavior, develops a “target similarity” model to provide a theoretical framework for conceptualising and integrating multifoci research, and offers suggestions for future multifoci research. This literature review is graded as moderate quality evidence.


The study conducted by Son, Kim and Kim examines the linkage between employees’ perceptions of the interpersonal justice demonstrated by their leaders and consequent job burnout resulting in turnover intention. Data were obtained from 158 MBA students attending a large university in South Korea. The study can be graded as moderate.


The article by Posthuma, Dworkin and Swift uses measures of distributive, procedural and interactional justice to explain the acceptability of arbitrators in disputes. This empirical study collected data at two different points in time to reduce threats from common method variance. This article can be graded as moderate.


The paper by Meyer, Ohana and Stinglhamber aims to examine the impact of supervisor interpersonal justice on supervisor- directed citizenship behaviors by developing a moderated mediation model. Survey data were collected from 196 supervisor-subordinate dyads employed in diverse French social enterprises. This study is graded as moderate.


The paper by Kiazad, Restubog, Zagenczyk, Kiewitz, and Tang considered both supervisor (personality and leadership behavior) and victim characteristics (organisation-based self-esteem) in predicting perceptions of abusive supervision. They tested their model in two studies consisting of supervisor–subordinate dyads from Australia and the Philippines. Evidence is graded as moderate.


The article by Rahmawati Rahmawati, Rispantyo Rispantyo, and Subekti Djamaluddin is a medium sized observational study, examining the antecedents and consequences of organizational justice. According to the HiiL Guideline Approach this article is graded as low.


The study conducted by Le Roy, Bastounis and Minibas-Poussard draws on the cognitive theory of emotions and extended work published on the mediating role in this relationship, by conducting a survey with insurance company employees (N = 187). This empirical study is graded as moderate.


The paper by Ladebo, Awotunde and AbdulSalaam-Saghir examined the effects of coworkers and supervisors’ interactional fairness on employees’ job satisfaction, distress, and aggressive behavior. Surveys were employed to elicit data from 270 extension personnel from two Agricultural Development Programs in Nigeria. This article can be graded as low.


The article by Bouckenooghe and De Clercq draws from the Conservation of Resources theory. The study examines the mediating role of relational conflict in the link between interpersonal justice and commitment to change, as well as how social interaction might moderate this mediating effect. Data were captured from employees directly affected by a large-scale restructuring in a European-based organisation. Evidence can be classified as being low, according to the HiiL Guideline Approach.


The study by Jiang, Chen, Sun and Yang investigated the relationship between authoritarian leadership and employees’ deviant workplace behaviors (DWB), as well as the mediating effects of psychological contract violation and organizational cynicism. A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 391 manufacturing workers in a northern city of China. This is a large observational study. According to the HiiL Guideline Approach, this source can be regarded as low.


Research that touches on interaction between supervisor and subordinates focuses mostly on different leadership styles and procedural/distributive justice. Research about leadership is predominantly from the perspective of the employer/supervisor. It would be interesting to discover findings from the perspective of the employee/subordinates (in particular how the different leadership styles affect the wellbeing of subordinates). Furthermore, it would be interesting if research could be focused on how the interaction between supervisor and subordinate affects procedural and distributive justice outcomes.


Taking all individual assessments of sources into consideration, according to the HiiL Guideline Approach, the evidence can be graded as low to moderate.



Interactional justice

Authoritarian leadership

Fair treatment (a central element of interactional justice) leads to greater commitment, increased job satisfaction, improved job performances and other outcomes that contribute to de-escalation of potential conflicts. “… employees who perceive fair treatments by authorities [such as supervisors] are more likely to evidence positive actions through greater commitments to the values and goals of the organization; exhibit increased job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behaviors, improved job performances and reduced withdrawal behaviors” (Cohen-Charash & Spector, p. 281-282).

By focusing on interactional justice, supervisors can increase employees’ commitment to their work, which might reduce the chance of escalating conflicts. “… when employees have a positive perception of their supervisor’s fair treatment, they tend to reciprocate this favorable treatment by displaying more citizenship behaviors [voluntary commitment of the employee to the employer] directed to him/her” (Meyer et al., p. 5-11).

Interactional justice positively impacts the well-being of employees. “… [employees] having good interpersonal relationships with their supervisor represents a key predictor of employees’ well-being which, in turn, improves their job performance.” (Ambrose)

Interactional justice can lead to economic success. A respectful and helping relationship [between employer and employee] increases operational effectiveness leading to the provision of high quality services which fit with the new challenges of quality management and customer satisfaction in SEs [small enterprises] (Borzaga et al., 2011). In this way, by sustaining good relationships between supervisors and their subordinates, SEs contribute to create a sustainable competitive advantage crucial to their economic success (Frumkin & Andre-Clark, 2000). Examining how employees perceive to be treated by managers at the interpersonal level is thus of particular relevance. [Economic success leads to more and better employment opportunities] (Meyer et al., p. 5-11).

Authoritarian leadership can get things done. “Authoritarian leaders emphasize personal dominance and control over subordinates, and they habitually [are able to get results] in their own ways” (Jiang et al., p. 3).


Interactional justice

Authoritarian leadership

Wrongly interpreting interactional justice harms the relationship between subordinate and superior.  “Because interactional justice is determined by the interpersonal behavior of management’s representatives, interactional justice is considered to be related to cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions toward these representatives, that is, the direct supervisor or source of justice.

Thus, when an employee perceives interactional justice the wrong way (interactional injustice), he/she is predicted to negatively react toward his/her supervisor (or the entity that was interactionally unfair to that person) rather than negatively react toward the organization as a whole.” (Cohen-Charash and Spector)

Authoritarian leadership can lead to employees feeling angry and excluded and employees being counterproductive “… the perception of unfair interpersonal treatment generates anger, which predicts more active CWB [counterproductive work behaviour]. On the other hand, the perception of not being well informed activates feelings of fear, which, in turn, can predict withdrawal reactions.” (Le Roy et al., p. 1341-1356).

Authoritarian leadership is characterized by poor communication flow between employer and employee, which leads to withdrawal behaviors. “Problems related to poor access to information could be seen as involving more serious problems that, in turn, are perceived as threats. The fear of being rejected by the group may lead to withdrawal behaviors, not in terms of wishing to not be rejected by others, but in rejecting others in advance.” (Le Roy et al., p. 1341-1356).

Employees are important social resources to leaders, they should therefore not be treated in a humiliating manner. “… when employees perceive unfair and humiliating treatment from leaders [who apply an authoritarian leadership approach], they feel a significant loss of valuable resources, which influences the relationship with leaders since employees consider leaders an important social resource in organizations.” (Son, Kim and Kim).

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, it is clear that Interactional justice has significant benefits to the well-being of the employee. Employers focusing on interactional justice can make a positive difference for employees. Employees will feel a better sense of commitment towards the employer and increased job satisfaction. However, when interactional justice is being perceived wrongly, employees can develop resentment towards employers. Applying an authoritarian leadership approach can potentially be detrimental to employees’ well-being, as it leaves employees feeling angry and excluded. Therefore, the balance is towards applying interactional justice.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employers and employees looking to contain conflict in the workplace, applying interactional justice is more conducive to well-being than applying an authoritarian leadership style.

Actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: most plausible interventions

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following  approach to preventing the escalation of (containing) an employment dispute creating a high psychosocial safety climate, which is discussed in the literature and can be compared to a low psychosocial safety climate.


PSC refers to an organizational climate for employee psychological safety and health (a high level of psychological safety). The content domain of PSC comprises: (1) senior management support and commitment for stress prevention through involvement and commitment; (2) management priority to psychological health and safety versus productivity goals; (3) organizational communication, that is, the organization listens to contributions from employees; and (4) organizational participation and involvement, for example, participation and consultation occurs with unions, and occupational health and safety representatives (Dollard et al. p. 355).


The psychosocial safety climate (PSC) of a workplace influences employees’ coping strategies and ultimately the extent to which bullying escalates (Kwan et al.). PSC concerns the values and attitudes of senior management toward care and practices in relation to employee psychosocial well being.


High and low PSC environments

In a high PSC environment, managers are expected to show commitment for the prevention of work stress and for the promotion of psychological health among employees. In a low PSC environment, they are not. In contrast to low PSC environments, in high PSC environments communication systems are established so that stressful work conditions become known and action is taken to prevent or control psychosocial hazards. In high PSC environments there is involvement and participation of all levels of the organization in stress prevention. Furthermore, psychological health is a priority at least on equal footing with production goals. In a low psychosocial environment, production goals are more important (Dollard et al.).


The PSC construct has four main aspects that connect to best practice principles in the stress prevention, intervention, and safety climate literatures.

  • First is senior management support and commitment to psychological health through involvement and commitment. This aspect is evident when senior management take quick and decisive action to address and correct issues that affect psychological health. 
  • Second is the priority the management gives to employee psychological health and safety versus productivity goals. For example, job demands (e.g., work pressure) may be modified to make them more manageable, and management have the discretion to offer a variety of resources, such as work flexibility, autonomy, and social support that may buffer demands and reduce work stress in the interests of worker psychological health and productivity. 
  • Third is organizational communication that concerns how the organization communicates with employees about psychological health and safety issues that affect them, and brings these to the attention of employees. 
  • The fourth aspect, organizational participation and involvement, concerns participation and consultation regarding stress prevention that involves all levels of the organization, and the integration of stakeholders including employees, unions and health and safety representatives in occupational (psychological) health and safety processes. (Dollard et al.)

For employees and employers looking to prevent the escalation of (contain) an employment dispute, is keeping a high psychosocial safety climate more effective for well-being than maintaining a low psychosocial safety climate?

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: employment dispute, dispute settlement, containing, good HR-practices, keeping a safe climate.

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Bret H. Bradley, Anthony C. Klotz, Bennett E. Postlethwaite, Maria R. Hamdani, Kenneth G. Brown, Reaping the Benefits of Task Conflict in Teams: The Critical Role of Team Psychological Safety Climate (2012)
  • Stijn Pletzers, Explaining the Silent Treatment: Knowledge Hiding in Organizations Explained by Psychological Safety Climate, SelfEfficacy and Proactive Personality (2017)
  • Maureen F. Dollard, Christian Dormann, Michelle R. Tuckey and Jordi Escartin, Psychosocial safety climate (PSC) and enacted PSC for workplace bullying and psychological health problem reduction (2017)
  • Maureen F. Dollard and Arnold B. Bakker, Psychosocial Safety Climate as a precursor to conducive work environments, psychosocial health problems, and employee engagement (2010)
  • Sharon Sam Mee Kwan, Michelle R. Tuckey and Maureen F. Dollard, The role of the psychosocial safety climate in coping with workplace bullying: A grounded theory and sequential tree analysis (2016)
  • Kamal Birdi, Chris Clegg, Malcolm Patterson, Andrew Robinson, Chris B. Stride, Toby D. Wall and Stephen J. Wood, The Impact of Human Resource and Operational Management Practices on Company Productivity: A Longitudinal Study (2008)


The study by Dollard, Dormann, Tuckey and Escartin theorizes that the PSC enactment mechanism works via psychosocial processes such as bullying mistreatment climate (anti-bullying procedures), work design (procedures reduce stress through work redesign), and conflict resolution (procedures to resolve conflict). The study used two-wave national longitudinal interview data from 1,062 Australian employees (Australian Workplace Barometer project) and structural equation modelling to explore relationships over 4 years. This is a large empirical study. We identified a risk for bias, as Dollard is the Director of the PSC Observatory. We therefore lowered the strength of evidence by one level. According to our research method, the strength of evidence can be regarded as low.


The study by Kwan and others is a qualitative study, where they examined the role of psychosocial safety climate (PSC) in influencing employees’ coping strategies and ultimately the escalation of bullying. Interviews were conducted with 20 Malaysian workers. This is a small observational study. Again, there is a risk of bias as Dollard is one of the co-authors. For this reason we lowered the strength of evidence by one level. According to our research method, the strength of evidence can be regarded as low.


Dollard and Bakker hypothesized that PSC as an upstream organizational resource influenced largely by senior management, would precede the work context (i.e., job demands and resources) and would in turn predict psychological health and work engagement via mediation and moderation pathways. They operationalized PSC at the school level and tested meso-mediational models using two-level (longitudinal) hierarchical linear modelling in a sample of Australian education workers (N = 209–288). Their results show that the PSC construct is a key upstream component of work stress theory and a logical intervention site for work stress intervention. This is a large empirical study with the risk of bias, as mentioned in the other sources of evidence by Dollard. We lowered the strength of evidence by one level. According to our research method, the strength of evidence can be regarded as low.


The study by Bradley and others looks at how psychological safety can increase team performance. The study is using evidence from 117 project teams. Their research found that psychological safety moderates the relationship between task conflict and performance. Specifically, task conflict and team performance were positively associated under conditions of high psychological safety. The results support the conclusion that psychological safety facilitates the performance benefits of task conflict in teams. According to the research method, the evidence from this large observational study can be regarded as moderate.


The paper by Pletzers examines knowledge hiding and aims to explain it by looking at perceptions of a psychological safety climate, self-efficacy and proactive personality. A theoretical framework was presented. To test the proposed model, data was gathered from Dutch organizations and via the researcher’s social network using convenience sampling (N=134). According to the research method, the evidence from this empirical study can be classified as moderate.


The study by Birdi and others investigates the relative merits of human resource practices through a study of the productivity of 308 companies over 22 years. This large empirical study can be graded as strong quality.


According to our research method, we grade the evidence on a high PSC environment as low. 


More studies with lower risks of bias are needed in order to close the research gap on how to contain a dispute in the workplace. More different kinds of interventions (other than a high PSC environment) need empirical testing.



High PSC environment

Low PSC environment

“PSC gives rise to procedures that lead to fair and predictable interactions between managers and employees” (Dollard & Bakker, 2010), thereby limiting the risk of escalation in a conflict.

Conflict about tasks that occur on the workfloor in a psychologically safe environment should improve creativity and decision-making without damaging interactions. “This way, psychological safety may amplify the involvement of each team member and the intensity of interaction among teammates without endangering the harmony of the team, thereby increasing team performance” (Bradley et al. p. 151).

High PSC is positively linked to learning behavior. “[High] psychological safety is positively related to learning behavior and team performance, suggesting that teams with a psychologically safe climate learn more and perform better” (Bradley et al., p. 152).

Employees feel safer challenging their leaders. “Psychological safety mediates the positive relationship between ethical leadership and voice behavior, indicating that employees feel comfortable challenging their leaders when a psychologically safe climate has been established” (Bradley et al., p. 152). This may prevent severe conflict escalation in the long run.

Performance is mostly linked to factors that are solely designed to increase productivity. The individual and collective impact on manufacturing performance are most associated with these three theoretical perspectives: empowerment, training, teamwork, total quality management, just-in-time, advanced manufacturing technology, and supply-chain partnering. (Birdi et al., p. 469)


High PSC environment

Low PSC environment

Some employers see PSC as a risk factor in itself, even though it is meant to improve employees’ wellbeing. “[By some employers, integrating and working with] psychosocial safety climate is conceived of as a preeminent psychosocial risk factor [in itself] capable of causing psychological and social harm through its influence on other psychosocial risk factors” (Dollard & Bakker, 2010).

Low PSC environments can create pressure and extra workload for employees. “Senior management that prioritise productivity over worker health may engender and promote bullying from middle managers and first line supervisors (e.g., via increased work pressure and workload for their subordinates) in order to get the job done” (Dollard et al.). Thereby potentially creating conflict or escalating conflict.

Left unchecked [in a low PSC environment], social conflict in the workplace that characterised by negative interpersonal relationships may escalate into bullying. “Job frustration is correlated with employees’ tendency to abuse their co-workers. Hence, poor work design creates fertile soil for bullying” (Dollard et al.). 

“Unclear roles and contradictory goals may create competition and low trust, and high work pressure likely indicates little time or concern within organizations to resolve conflict” (Dollard et al.). 

Taken together, the available research suggests that creating a high PSC environment is beneficial to the well-being of employees and employers. A high PSC environment with a high level of psychological safety leads to fair and predictable interactions between employer and employee. It is also regarded to be the most ideal environment for conflict to appear, as in a high PSC environment conflict can enhance creativity. Furthermore, PSC is linked to a safe environment for employees to challenge their leaders, thereby possibly preventing escalation of conflict. 


On the other hand, a low PSC environment is only linked to undesirable outcomes. Low PSC environments cause extra work pressure, social roles and unclarity about roles.


Therefore, actively creating a high Psychosocial Safety Climate with high levels of psychological safety is preferred.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the effect on well-being for all parties involved in an employment dispute, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees and employers looking to prevent the escalation of (contai)n an employment dispute, actively creating a high psychosocial safety climate is more effective for well-being.

Co-created performance indicators

Interventions and evidence

Performance appraisal refers to a formal process, which occurs infrequently, by which employees are evaluated by some judge (typically a supervisor) who assesses the employee’s performance along a given set of dimensions, assigns a score to that assessment, and then usually informs the employee of his or her formal rating. Organizations typically base a variety of decisions concerning the employee partially on this rating (DeNisi and Murphy, p. 421).


Applying a system of performance indicators co-created by employer and employee


The Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System (ProMES) is a human resource intervention that provides feedback to members of an organizational unit via a measurement system constructed by the unit personnel. The unit constructs the system by defining their objectives, identifying productivity indicators for each objective, and developing utility curves or contingencies for each indicator, specifying the overall and relative value to the organization of different performance levels on each indicator (David, p. iii).


ProMES works according to a 4-step model:

  1. Identify Organisational Objectives. In ProMES, these objectives are called products. A design team composed of supervisors, representative job incumbents and facilitators working together.
  2. Developing Indicators To Measure These Products. The team is asked to think of measures that they would use to show how well they were generating their products.
  3. Establishing Contingencies. A contingency can be defined as the relationship between the amount of the indicator and the effectiveness of that amount. This is important because it allows the organization to see how much of a contribution differing amounts of an indicator make it the overall product.
  4. Creating a Formal Feedback Report. Effectiveness scores can be determined based on the contingencies of each indicator.


ProMES is an intervention that relies on feedback to let personnel know their levels of performance; this knowledge then serves as a tool that leads to more efficient and effective ways of performing tasks (Pritchard, 1990). The system is developed and agreed upon by both employees and management, and provides an overall index of productivity (David, p. 5).


Classic top-down performance appraisal

Traditional top-down performance appraisal systems are formal meetings between employer and employee (DeNisi and Pritchard, p. 271). Performance reviews in the classic way work with rating scales. [A common] intervention here has been rater-training. This includes a strategy of telling raters about so-called rating errors (e.g., leniency, range restriction, halo) and urging them not to commit these errors (Adler et. al.).

For employees and employers looking to find out what led to a dispute related to being sacked or made redundant (fact-finding), is applying a system with performance indicators they have co-created or classic top-down formal performance appraisal more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: Performance, review, management, appraisal, improvement, productivity, goal-based, relationships, dispute prevention, ProMES

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Angelo S. DeNisi and Robert D. Pritchard: Performance Appraisal, Performance Management and Improving Individual Performance: A Motivational Framework (2006)
  • Robert D. Pritchard, Lawrence G. Weiss, Amie Hedley Goode and Laurie A. Jensen: Measuring Organizational Productivity with ProMES (1990)
  • Jose Hernan David: Identifying the Factors that Contribute to the Effectiveness of the Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System (ProMES) (2003)
  • Seymour Adler, Michael Campion, Alan Colquitt, Amy Grubb, Kevin Murphy, Rob Ollander-Krane and Elaine D. Pulakos: Getting Rid of Performance Ratings: Genius or a Folly? A Debate (2016)
  • Daniel Schmerling and Anne Scudato: Use the Best; Leave the Rest: The Productivity and Enhancement System (ProMES) for Performance Ratings (2016)
  • Rob B. Briner and Denise M. Rousseau; Evidence-Based I-O Psychology: Not There Yet (2011)
  • Dev Kumar; Performance Appraisal: The Importance of Rater Training (2005)


The study by DeNisi and Pritchard is a literature review about designing and implementing performance appraisal systems. The authors review trends and their genesis, and propose a motivational framework as a means of integrating what we have learned and generating proposals for future research that focus on employee’s performance improvement. This literature review is mostly based on expert observational studies. The strength of this evidence can therefore be classified as low.


The article by Pritchard, Weiss, Goode and Jensen is a literature review on productivity improvement strategies. The study is mostly based on observational studies and expert opinions. The strength of this article is classified as very low.


The article Adler et al. is based on expert opinions. It reiterates the pros and cons of retaining performance ratings. The study by David identifies the effectiveness of the ProMES system and is also largely based on expert opinions. According to the Recommendations Methodology, the strength of these articles are classified as very low. 


The article by Schmerling and Scudato is a response to the article of Adler et al. They discuss  the shortcomings described in performance ratings and performance management, as well as challenge the field to further consider this well-researched and established evidence based solution as a viable alternative. This study is based on observational and empirical studies, and according to the Recommendations methodology the strength of evidence is classified as low.


There is a significant gap in the research on fact-finding in an employment dispute setting. Performance management and performance appraisal are important topics within employment dispute resolution research and can provide an important role in fact-finding when a dispute arises on the workfloor. However, research on performance appraisal is very limited. More interventions need to be studied, which would in turn improve this PICO question and employment research as a whole.


According to the HiiL Actionable Recommendations document and the GRADE approach, overall evidence is graded as very low.




Formal appraisal

ProMES allows the employees to see whether they are productive versus those aspects that need improving. “The single index [part of the ProMES] allows the effectiveness of a complex [team of people] to be summed into one easily communicable number” (Pritchard et al., p. 265)

There is a bigger chance that ProMES is accepted by organizational personnel and increases employee buy-in. “A productivity measurement system cannot work unless organizational personnel accept it. Because of [personnel] involvement in building the system [including products, indicators and contingencies] they have to defend their work to higher management. This causes them to develop a sense of ownership of the system.” (Pritchard et al., p. 266).

ProMES enables employees to see the results of their efforts. “Most jobs are structured so that doing a better job does not show up in any measurable way. With ProMES, the connection between the actions of the unit and its level of productivity is improved by the frequency of the feedback. When an indicator does improve, there seems to be considerable satisfaction. This allows employees to see how their efforts have increased productivity.” (Pritchard et al., p. 266)

Employees get role clarification. “Through the process of developing, refining and getting approval for the products, indicators and contingencies, employees are helped to more clearly understand their roles. Through the discussions to develop the system, personnel determine what their objectives should be.” (Pritchard et al., p. 267)

ProMES provides information about the work to be done. “The system helps guide personnel by indicating which activities employees should be doing and their importance”. (Pritchard et al., p. 267)

During a test of the ProMES system, measures of both job satisfaction and morale among unit personnel showed significant improvements after the system was implemented. “Employees were clearer about their roles, objectives, and how their efforts would be evaluated by management”/ (Pritchard et al., p. 269) This can in turn make fact-finding easier.

Existing formal appraisal systems can be effective for people.

“[is] … performance appraisal system perceived to be effectively serving the organisation’s current needs? Do employees view the process as one that is performance enhancing? Are the managers / supervisors effective in their role as performance raters? The answers to these questions are critical and require attention by those responsible for the appraisal system.” (Kumar, p. 13)



Formal appraisal

Employers do not always act on information that derives from performance measurement systems such as ProMES 

“… organizations are reluctant to accept or act on this knowledge” [performance evaluation knowledge, such as the information following from the ProMES system] (Briner and Rousseau, p. 14).

Most employees don’t find performance appraisals to be valuable or motivating. Instead, they find performance appraisals and performance management systems frustrating, too bureaucratic, and often not relevant to their jobs (Adler et al. p. 221). Formal performance reviews are not only perceived to be of little value, they also can be highly demotivating to even the highest performing employees (Adler et al., p. 220).

“The key reason traditional performance management approaches have failed to live up to their promise of enabling performance is that the mechanics of formal systems—how ratings are done, the documentation required, how goals are set—are inconsistent with the goal of providing frequent, credible, and useful feedback about performance.” (Adler et al., p. 220).

Without ProMES, many people within the organization may not receive objective feedback on all their activities. More frequent, specific and accurate feedback enhances performance. Such feedback is possible with the use of the ProMES formal feedback system [not with regular performance appraisal] (Pritchard et al., p. 265).

Formal performance reviews do not have added value according to managers. Managers spend a lot of time on formal performance management activities that they likewise believe add little value (Adler et al. p. 221).

Formal appraisal procedures omit to inform people whether they are performing well. Many employees have reported that before ProMES, they often received feedback only when problems arose and almost never told when they were doing a good job (Pritchard et al., p. 265).

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, it is clear that employees benefit from a performance appraisal system that they have co-created themselves, such as the ProMES system. The outcomes of systems such as ProMES clearly outweigh those of top-down performance appraisal systems.


First and foremost, their roles and responsibilities will be more clear, which can contribute to better fact-finding. Secondly, a system such as ProMES enables employees to see the results of their efforts. Top-down, formal systems on the other hand often omit to show certain objective results to employees, which can be detrimental to fact-finding. Furthermore, formal, top-down performance appraisal systems without input from employees are considered to have limited value by managers.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees and employers looking to find out what led to a dispute related to being sacked or made redundant (fact-finding), applying a system with performance indicators they have co-created is more effective than classic top-down formal performance appraisal.

Third party dispute resolution

Interventions and evidence

In mediation, an impartial or neutral third party intervenes in conflict to assist the disputing parties in negotiating a mutually agreeable resolution. The mediator does not impose a solution to either party, but rather facilitates discussion between them to help them create their own solution. The parties are not required to reach a settlement; any final decision must be based on the voluntary, mutual agreement of the parties, and usually takes the form of an enforceable contract (Bingham et al. p. 5). Employers are experimenting with inside neutral mediation (the use of an employee as mediator) and outside neutral mediation [or third party dispute settlement] (the use of an employee from a different agency as mediator) (Bingham et al. p. 6).

In-house dispute resolution


Unlike third party models of ADR, [some interventions] utilise internal staff to simultaneously maximise the chance of resolving the matter in-house and minimise the costs associated with consultants or tribunals. Four dispute resolution techniques are considered [to be in-house]:

  • The open-door policy: The open-door technique is often used as the first step in the workplace dispute resolution procedure and is a popular management method of grievance resolution involving a manager making himself or herself available at any time for an employee who wishes to raise an issue. The open door policy is essentially an informal, unstructured and ad-hoc form of dispute resolution.
  • Peer review:  Peer review may be requested if an employee has been unable to resolve a grievance with his or her supervisor. Generally, application to peer review is through the issuing of a written grievance. Consisting of a panel of fellow employees or peers and management representatives, the panel listens to the arguments and evidence presented by the employee and by the other disputant, often a management representative. Panel members may ask questions and clarify any matters necessary before a binding decision is issued through the process of secret ballot on a course of action to resolve the problem. Panel members are required to maintain the confidentiality of the process and must receive specific training in their role.
  • Internal ombudsman: An internal ombudsman is responsible for the explanation of company policies and procedures, provision of advice on alternative courses of action, investigation of claims, referral to appropriate contacts and to arrange meetings and sometimes to mediate the dispute. The internal ombudsman is particularly suited to instances where disputes are complex or involve a number of parties and the facts around the matter are contested. Investigation by the internal ombudsman consists of a fact-finding exercise where the investigator is given access to documentation and may interview personnel relevant to the claim. The internal ombudsman often handles both staff and customer concerns which cannot be resolved by senior management. Because the internal ombudsman operates through a complaints and investigation process, the model is suitable for both ‘rights’ and ‘interests’ disputes which arise in the workplace. 
  • Consultative committees: The use of consultative committees in workplace dispute resolution is also known as a voluntary voice system of dispute processing and includes both collective bargaining and nonunion grievance systems. Formal dispute resolution procedures in such a system allow employees to file complaints or challenge management decisions over matters covered by the collective agreement. Often the matter is referred to a formal bargaining committee which consists of union and management representatives. 

Third party dispute resolution


In mediation, an impartial or neutral third party [not linked to the employer] intervenes in conflict to assist the disputing parties in negotiating a mutually agreeable resolution. The mediator does not impose a solution on either party, but rather facilitates discussion between them to help them create their own solution (Bingham et al., p. 5).


Labor arbitration is an adjudicative institution established by the parties themselves as a means of closing agreements without spelling out all of the details of their ongoing relationship. The parties yield authority to an outside neutral in only a limited sense. The process provides an occasion for adjustments of agreements between employer and employee. For those relatively few grievances requiring arbitration, bargaining can continue while the hearings are going on, and a great many disputes are settled before an award issues (Estreicher, p. 759).

For employees and employers looking to open a channel of communication (meet) following a dispute, is third party dispute settlement or in-house dispute settlement more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: employment dispute, dispute settlement, in-house ADR, third party, out-house, access, mediation, arbitration, NDA.

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Bernadine van Gramsberg: Workplace Justice and the Design of Dispute Resolution Clauses (2001)
  • Lisa B. Bingham, Gregory Chesmore, Yuseok Moon and Lisa Marie Napoli: Mediating Employment Disputes at the United States Postal Service (2000)
  • Michael Gibbons: Better Dispute Resolution: A review of employment dispute resolution in Great Britain (2007)
  • Samuel Estricher; Arbitration of Employment Disputes without Unions (1990)


The article by Van Gramsberg examines the development of workplace dispute resolution in Australia and argues that workplaces have an opportunity to develop dispute resolution clauses which specifically meet the workplace justice targets of procedural, distributive and interactional fairness. This study is largely based on expert opinions. Therefore, according to the Actionable Recommendations methodology, strength of this evidence is classified as very low.


The study by Bungham et al. examines perceptions of procedural justice in a field experiment. The US Postal Service in New York district implemented an inside neutral model of mediation -that is, a model using existing USPS employees trained as mediators, for the period 1996 to 1998. In 1998 to the present, the USPS implemented a new, outside neutral model nationwide. Under this model, outside neutral independent contractors, compensated but not employed by the USPS, provide mediation services. This is a large empirical study. Evidence is classified as high according to the Actionable Recommendations methodology.


The study by Gibbons reviews the options for simplifying and improving all aspects of employment dispute resolution. It provides recommendations to the British government. This study can be classified as low, according to the Actionable Recommendations methodology.


There is much research available on in-house en third-party dispute resolution mechanisms. However, many studies are based on expert opinions and observational studies. Large empirical studies and meta analyses would strengthen the overall evidence and in turn improve this recommendation. According to the Actionable Recommendations document and GRADE methodology, the overall strength of evidence right now is very low.



Third party dispute resolution

In-house dispute resolution

Full or partial settlement is more often reached through third party resolution. The outside model produced a statistically significant higher reported rate of full or partial settlement than the inside model, even though it was open to a broader range of more intractable cases (Bingham et al., p. 17).

People feel more procedural justice in third party dispute resolution. One study on labor management and grievance mediation using outside neutral

mediators in disputes between coal mine workers and managers concluded that most of the participants in the process had favorable attitudes toward the process and the outside mediator, regardless of the outcome of their case (Bingham et al., p. 10).

People are generally happy about third party mediation. According to a study based on qualitative interviews, supervisors and employees experienced empowerment during mediation. Interviewees were generally enthusiastic about [third party] mediation as a process (Bingham et al., p. 10).

The open door policy can prevent major conflicts. [Regarding open-door policy], with training in the role of grievance handling, and in particular, in the concepts of workplace justice, the open door policy, along with a strategy of ‘management by walking about’ is an effective mechanism for drawing out employee grievances before they become major issues (Van Gramberg, p. 9).

Open door policy is linked to a higher job satisfaction and higher satisfaction of the outcome of the dispute. The open door policy should contribute to an employee’s sense of being afforded interactional justice which has been linked with employee loyalty, job satisfaction and satisfaction with the outcome of the dispute (Van Gramberg, p. 9). 

Peer reviews are participative and create an open and trusting atmosphere. [Peer reviews] remain a powerful alternative to litigation in the US, particularly as most peer review policies require the parties to agree to abide by the decision of the panel. In this way, peer review decisions are considered final and binding. Peer review systems have received accolades from a number of researchers claiming that the system is participative and builds an open and trusting atmosphere. (Van Gramberg, p. 10)

People working at companies offering an ombudsman are more likely to raise issues. Research on the uptake of dispute resolution procedures by employees has shown that employees offered a company ombudsman are more likely to raise their issue than those who are limited to contacting a supervisor or going over a supervisor’s head (Van Gramberg, p. 10).

In-house dispute systems build employee participation and confidence in management. Offering grievance systems [in house,] which promote procedural, distributive and interactive fairness not only assists in the maintenance and demonstration of workplace justice, it builds employee participation and their confidence in both the organisation and in their management. Apart from good business practice, affording employees’ workplace justice also represents sound business ethics and social responsibility (Van Gramberg, p. 11).

Giving employees an opportunity for voice within an organization will enhance commitment to the organization and job satisfaction (Bingham et al., p. 8).

A workplace ombudsman program is cost effective and can benefit an agency and its personnel. A survey conducted in five federal American agencies, concluded that managers, employees, and other agency staff who handle workplace conflict (such as Equal Employment Opportunity and Employee Assistance Plan program personnel) all rated ombudsman programs highly (Bingham et al., p. 8).


Third party dispute resolution

In-house dispute resolution

Vulnerable employees might experience barriers to third party dispute resolution mechanisms. Vulnerable employees can be deterred from accessing the tribunal system by the complexity of both the underlying law and tribunal process. In such cases the need to confront the employer directly before applying to a tribunal could act as a barrier to justice. (Gibbons, p. 9)

[Parties in a third-party dispute settlement process] tend to get caught up in the [dispute resolution] process rather than focusing on achieving an early acceptable outcome (Gibbons, p. 9).

The open-door policy has been described as inappropriate for a number of workplace disputes. For instance, this method may make the employee raising the complaint highly visible to his or her co-workers and this could act as a disincentive to raise sensitive matters such as sex discrimination claims (Van Gramberg, p. 9).

The open-door policy has also been criticised as potentially leading to employees feeling reluctant to confront their supervisor on their own. In particular, employees have reported reluctance to raise claims due to a fear of reprisal, especially if using the open door policy to bypass their own supervisor (Van Gramberg, p. 9).

In peer review, panels often have a restricted role in determining dispute outcomes. They are often limited to hearing matters of appeals against disciplinary action, work assignments, transfers, performance evaluations and promotions (Van Gramsberg, p. 10)

Disputants experience in-house dispute settlement as partian. One study examined the impact mediators have on disputant satisfaction with the mediation process when they are not perceived as impartial, but rather as partisan third panies. Predictably, disputants are more satisfied with impartial than partisan mediators. Researchers have repeatedly recognized the importance of mediator impartiality as an integral factor in assuring procedural justice and increased participant satisfaction with the overall conflict resolution process (Bingham et al., p. 9).

Literature suggests that participants may be less satisfied with an inside neutral mediator model because of key underlying differences in perceptions as to their neutrality and impartiality. Inside mediators would be more responsive to management’s perspective on a dispute than to the perspective of a complainant lower in the organizational hierarchy. Even if the inside mediator did not act responsively to management during the course of the mediation, it is likely that employees would perceive the mediator as less neutral for precisely this reason-that is, the inside mediator must continue to function within the organization and repon to superiors in a position of power or authority in relation to the inside mediator (Bingham et al., p. 15).

Participants in the inside model are less satisfied with the impartiality and fairness of their mediator than participants in the outside model. The fact that the results are so similar with the two outside neutral models leads us to conclude that the differences between inside model and outside model are not a function of timing, but rather a function of intrinsic procedural justice features of the models themselves. In particular. the key features of fairness of the process. impartiality and fairness of the mediator are significantly higher in the outside model. This is a likelier explanation for the differing levels of satisfaction with the two models than the timing of the interventions (Bingham et al., p. 16).

Third party dispute resolution systems offer a better resolution rate than in-house dispute resolution. In-house dispute resolution has a lower impartiality rate and fairness rate compared to third-party dispute resolution. 


On the other hand, in-house dispute resolution reduces access barriers (although some studies indicate that open-door policies can result in reluctant employees as well). In-house dispute settlement also results in better job-satisfaction rates, an open and trusting atmosphere and confidence in management.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the outcomes of third-party dispute resolution does not clearly outweigh those of in-house dispute resolution mechanisms. The higher resolution rate and perceived impartiality of third-party dispute resolution are important factors. On the other hand, regarding in-house dispute resolution, better access to employment dispute resolution is of importance as well.

For employees and employers looking to open a channel of communication (meet) following a dispute, third party dispute settlement is not necessarily more effective than in-house dispute settlement, for their well-being. 


This recommendation is context-specific. If employers are looking to improve access to employment dispute settlement for employees, they should invest in in-house dispute resolution. In case employers want to improve dispute resolution rates and ensure impartiality, then they should invest in third-party dispute resolution. 


Important to note is that an internal ombudsman could be a good intervention to invest in, as this is an in-house dispute resolution mechanism that is perceived to be relatively impartial.

Focus on relationships

Interventions and evidence

First literature search: Most plausible interventions

Procedural justice has been found to be an important predictor of commitment to work organizations, the effort which employees put into doing their required duties, the likelihood that employees will stay with their organizations, the acceptance of and compliance with organizational rules, and the extent to which employees engage in extra role activities on behalf of their organizations (Blader and Tyler, p. 107). Research supports the conclusion that organizational commitment is affected more by procedural justice than by distributive justice, and this is especially true in collectivistic societies (Chang, p. 262-263). 


Throughout the years, there has been much discussion on procedural justice and fairness. The main focus has been on reaching fair [distributive] outcomes. On the other hand, employees demonstrate a concern with their relationship to their work organizations because that relationship affects how they feel about themselves [their identity]. Further, they appear to evaluate that relationship with regard to the ways decisions are made and how they are treated by the organization [the quality of relationships between people within an organisation]. Therefore, the question arises in the literature whether people perceive treatment with consideration and politeness to be more important than fair distributive outcomes (Balder and Tyler, p. 109). Therefore, the interventions to be tested are:

  • Interaction and information-sharing between employer and employee focuses solely on material outcomes (distribution of money and assets)
  • Interaction and information-sharing between employer and employee focuses mostly on relationships (how people are treated)

For creating understanding in conflicts between employees/subordinates, is employers/supervisors focusing interaction and information-sharing solely on material outcomes more effective than focusing on relationships, for their wellbeing?

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: organizational, justice, procedural, distributive, interpersonal, interactional, outcomes, relationship

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Nina D. Cole and Gary P. Latham: Effects of training in procedural justice on perceptions of disciplinary fairness by unionized employees and disciplinary subject matter experts (1997)
  • Eunmi Chang: Distributive justice and organizational commitment revisited: moderation by layoff in the case of Korean employees (2002)
  • Stevel L. Blader and Tom R. Tyler: What constitutes fairness in work settings? A four-component model of procedural justice (2003)
  • Hongwei He, Weichun Zhu, Xiaoming Zheng: Procedural Justice and Employee Engagement: Roles of Organizational Identification and Moral Identity Centrality (2013)
  • Michel Tremblay, Bruno Sire, David Balkin: The Role of Organizational Justice in Pay and Employee Benefit Satisfaction, and Its Effects on Work Attitudes (1998)
  • Russell E. Johnson, Chu-Hsiang Chang, Liu-Qin Yang: Commitment and Motivation at Work: The relevance of employee identity and regulatory focus (2010)


The article by Blader and Tyler focuses on perceived fairness in group procedures. It is based on two empirical studies that tests the four-component model of procedural justice. The source is graded low, due to a potential risk of bias.


The article by He, Zhu and Zhen examines how procedural justice affects employee engagement. The source is graded low, as it is a medium observational study with no factors to be considered for upgrading or downgrading.


Tremblay, Sire and Balkin present research on organizational justice and employment benefit satisfaction and work attitudes, undertaken on a sample of six hundred employees in three different Canadian organizations. It can be considered a large empirical study and is therefore graded as moderate.


The article by Johnson, Chang and Yang presents an observational study with a potential risk of author’s bias, as the main focus of this study is to test a model on employee commitment and self-identity, which has been developed by the authors. The source can be graded as very low.


The study by Cole and Latham focuses on fairness behavior of supervisors, and its effect on subordinates. It is a randomised controlled trial with a risk of bias, and can therefore be graded as moderate.


Understanding between parties in an employment dispute has not been widely researched. Only few measures to prevent employment conflicts have been tested in the available literature. Therefore, targeted randomized controlled trials that focus on specific interventions to enhance understanding between employer and employee should be developed.


According to the HiiL Actionable Recommendations document and the GRADE approach, overall evidence is graded as low.



Material outcomes

Relationship (treatment and identity)

One study indicates that [focusing more on material outcomes such as] pay and benefits provide a better explanation of satisfaction with [the employer or] organization than process justice. “It is interesting to point out that the only measure significantly related to organization satisfaction is perception of equity with respect to immediate supervisor for pay and benefits” (Tremblay et al., p. 11).

Perceived fairness by employees depends on the relationship with the organisation/employer. When employees are treated fairly, it positively affects their view on their own identity. … “fairness is evaluated in [relationships between employee and employee]. … the primary concern is not with the material outcomes one can garner from the group, but with the role the group plays in shaping one’s identity (Tyler and Blader, p. 111). When employees are treated fairly at work, their sense of themselves as employees and as a people is improved. Fair treatment promotes a sense of inclusion in the group and importance to the group. (Blader and Tyler, p. 114)

A company/organisation can influence how employees can identify in a positive way, as people’s identity depends on group membership and the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. A person’s social identity refers to his/her knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. An organization can act as a focal and salient social category with which employees can identify” (He et al., p. 24). 

When employees identify strongly with their organisation/employer, it can result in better employee engagement and greater perceived personal success. “[Employee organizational identification] OID occurs when organizational membership is salient to meeting an employee’s self-definitional need and when an employee ties his/her self-image to the defining essence of the organization (He et al., p. 4). OID affects pro-organization behavior with the purpose of preserving the collective interests of the organization, such as enhancing organizational performance and status. These pro-organization behaviors include job attachment, extra-role behaviors, job performance, and so on. OID is positioned to affect employee engagement because OID will enable individuals to view, and internalize, an organization’s success as his/her personal success.Employees with higher OID tend to enjoy increased engagement with their work because they view doing so is mutually beneficial” (He et al., p. 4).

Focusing on a higher level of employee moral identity leads to more generosity, caring and honesty. … “employees with a strong MI [employee moral identity] tend to define their self-concepts with some typical virtuous characteristics, and tend to behave in accordance with these virtues, such as being generous, helpful, hardworking, caring, and honest” (He et al., p. 52).


Material outcomes

Relationship (treatment and identity)

Focusing on material outcomes is not the preferred way to predict job satisfaction. “Process justice is a better predictor of employment satisfaction than distributive justice” (Tremblay et. al p. 11).

Employees with strong individual identities find pay and career development important, however this does not define their well-being in an employment context. “People are motivated by personal values and pursuits that maximize their own welfare. In work contexts self-beneficial outcomes, such as pay and career development opportunities, are salient for employees with strong individual identities. [However,] the concerns of these employees are not limited solely to instrumental interests, since socioemotional outcomes like recognition, respect, and power are also important” (Johnson et al., p. 231).

As an employee, focusing too much on your identity in a group setting might lead to anxiety and guilt. “A strong collective identity leads employees to define themselves and others in terms of the groups they belong to. The collective level also determines the standards that employees use to guide their actions, which are the social norms, values, and goals endorsed by the companies the employees belong to. 

Collective-oriented employees experience a felt obligation to behave in ways consistent with group prototypes. Favorable self-evaluations at the collective level involve affirmative responses to questions like “Am I successfully fulfilling the roles and responsibilities prescribed by my group membership?” and “Are my groups successful?” Failure to successfully enact one’s roles leads to anxiety and guilt—two aversive states that people attempt to avoid” (Johnson et al., p. 232).

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, it is clear that focusing on relationships can significantly improve the well-being of the employee. This also applies to material outcomes, however less effective if relationships are not included. It is also important to mention that when employees identify with their organisation/employer on a high level, it can result in better employee engagement and better perceived personal success. Too much pressure on role-identity can lead to anxiety and guilt.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: Interaction and information-sharing by the employer and employee should focus on their relationship (this includes treatment and identity), rather than only on material outcomes.

Text-based online mediation

Interventions and evidence

For parties to an employment dispute looking to understand each other, is text based online mediation or face-to-face online mediation more effective for well-being?

Google scholar was used to identify key literature to develop this recommendation. The databases used are: HeinOnline, ScienceDirect, SSRN


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: online mediation, synchronous mediation, e-mediation, face to face online mediation

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Rule, C (2000). New mediator capabilities in online dispute resolution. MediateIndia. 
  • Braeutigam, A. M. (2006). Fusses that fit online: Online mediation in non-commercial contexts. Appalachian Journal of Law, 5(2), 275-302. 
  • Ebner, N., & Rainey, D. (2021). ODR and Mediation. Rainey, D., Katsh, E. and Abdel Wahab, A.(Forthcoming). Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice (2nd ed.). Eleven Intl. Publishing.
  • Exon, S. (2017). Ethics and online dispute resolution: From evolution to revolution. Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, 32(4), 609-664
  • Exon, S., & Lee, S. (2019). Building trust online: The realities of telepresence for mediators engaged in online dispute resolution. Stetson Law Review, 49(1), 109-148.
  • Ebner, Noam and Thompson, Jeff, @ Face Value? Nonverbal Communication & Trust Development in Online Video-Based Mediation (2014). International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution, 1(2), 103-124 (2014), Available at SSRN:
  • Parlamis, Jennifer and Ebner, Noam and Mitchell, Lorianne, Looking Back to Leap Forward: The Potential for E-Mediation at Work (2016). In K. Bollen, M. Euwema & L. Munduate (eds.) Advancing Workplace Mediation Through Integration of Theory and Practice (3rd volume in Industrial Relations and Conflict Management series). (2016) The Netherlands: Springer Verlag.
  • Ebner, N (2021). The Human Touch in ODR: Trust, Empathy and Social Intuition in Online Negotiation and Mediation.  Rainey, D., Katsh, E. and Abdel Wahab, M. (forthcoming, 2021). Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice (2nd ed.). Eleven Intl. Publishing.

Colin Rule is a renowned scholar in the field of mediation and arbitration. In this article, Rule (2000) merits and demerits of online mediation. To do this, he conceptually unpacks online mediation step-by-step. This article is based entirely on expert opinion and lacks empirical evidence of any kind. So we grade the quality of this paper as low. 


Braeutigam (2006) analyses the merits and demerits of online mediation for dispute resolution. She examines what features of online communication serve the purpose of online mediation and addresses criticism of online mediation. While doing so, she cites literature developed by various scholars and a few small observational studies. The quality of the evidence use in this paper is graded as low. 


Ebner and Rainey (2021) using literature review and expert opinion to discuss the merits and demerits of synchronous and asynchronous methods in online mediation. We grade the quality of this paper as low. 


The article by Exon and Lee (2017) examines the extent to which parties can trust a mediator when communicating in a video- collaborated environment known as telepresence. To that end, the authors design a small experimental study. In accordance with the GRADE method of assessing quality of evidence, we grade the quality of this paper to be low. 


The paper by Exon (2017) provides an overview of online dispute resolution (ODR) methods and how it has developed. It addresses mediation values developed in Model Standards and critiques a project that applied Model Standards to issues in ODR. The paper is based on literature review and expert opinion. Due to the absence of empirical evidence in this paper, we grade the quality of this paper to be low. 


Noam and Thomposon (2014) examine the effect of non-verbal communication on trust development in online video-based mediation. It identifies techniques that mediators can use to cultivate trust among disputing parties. The paper is based on literature review and expert opinion. So we grade the quality of this paper to be low. 


The book chapter by Parlamis, Ebner and Mitchell (2016) provides an overview of the broad field of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) so that we can set the stage for a more nuanced discussion of how e-mediation might contribute to dispute resolution mechanisms in the workplace. The chapter relies on literature review and expert opinion to develop an argument. Due to the complete absence of empirical evidence in this chapter, the quality of evidence is graded as low.


Ebner (2021) in this chapter discusses the significance of trust, empathy and social cues in the context of online mediation. Ebner, who has written several articles on online mediation, uses literature review and expert opinion in this article to make his argument. So we grade the quality of this paper as low. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing text-based online mediation and face-to-face online mediation as of very low quality.


Although in practice, online mediation has been used to resolve workplace conflicts, research on merits and demerits of online mediation in resolving workplace conflicts is scant. Therefore, this recommendation is based on literature that lists general advantages and disadvantages of online mediation in dispute resolution. 



Synchronous Process (face to face interaction/video)

Asynchronous process (Text based communication)

Video interaction fosters more trust among disputing parties as compared to text-based forms of mediation. Mediators find it easier to build trust among disputing parties as video is a richer medium. “…research has found video interactions to be generally more conducive to trust emergence than other media other than face-to-face interactions (Bos, Olson, Gergle, Olson & Wright, 2002)”…(as cited in Ebner and Thompson 2014). “These findings suggest that the richer the medium, the more tools negotiators and mediators have at their disposal for trust-building. They establish quite convincingly that even working largely intuitively, negotiators and mediators are likely to do better at establishing and maintaining trust via video conferencing as opposed to email or other text based platforms” (Ebner and Thompson 2014). 

In asynchronous processes, mediators don’t have to respond immediately to the disputing parties. This gives them time to deliberate before responding to messages and not react instantaneously in the heat of the moment. “In asynchronous processes, the slowed-down pace can allow the mediator a more intentional application of the mediator’s toolbox. This enhances opportunities for nuance and subtlety. Mediators might find it easier to tweak and reframe messages” (Ebner and Rainey ,p.18). “Just as disputants can react emotionally to new developments, neutrals can get caught up in the immediacy of a face-to-face session. Third parties can benefit from the cooling distance provided by asynchronous interaction, allowing them to pay greater attention to their own biases and perhaps enabling them to become more reflective practitioners” (Rule 2000).

Mediators have the discretion to establish contact with parties privately if required. This is not possible in synchronous processes, where such actions are likely to be perceived as a threat to neutrality of the mediator. Similarly, mediators can caucus with either one of disputing parties without having to worry about wasting time of the other party.  “Mediators can create opportunities for behind the scenes contact with each party to a greater degree than face-to-face processes allow, as private communication reduces threats to perceived neutrality. Working with asynchronous methods, mediators can conduct simultaneous caucusing, saving process-time” (Ebner and Rainey ,p.18). 

Disputants have the flexibility to choose a time that is convenient for them when interacting with the mediator or with each other. This gives them buffer time in which they can consult someone or deliberate over next steps and not respond emotionally which can potentially derail the discussion. “Disputants can connect to the ongoing discussion at different times, and even defer their response until after they’ve had time to consult with others, do some research, or just contemplate the situation” (Rule 2000). “Instead of reacting emotionally to a new development or escalating a discussion out of surprise, parties can consider an issue and communicate in a considered way. They can still react emotionally, but they have the option of stepping back and reflecting before they respond” (Rule 2000). “Parties and mediators can engage in text-based discussion without the immediate time pressure and other dynamics associated with synchronous, face-to-face conversations” (Ebner and Rainey, p.19). “… asynchronous online mediation is the most popular form, allowing greater flexibility because of 24-h access to the platform” (Alexander 2006 as cited in Mania 2015). 

Text-based communication can be easily archived and referred to if disputing parties cannot recollect the discussion or need clarification on certain points. parties can deny hav“Postings in an online context are usually archived, either just for the length of the mediation or even beyond the end of the mediation. Mediators can re-visit archived communications to help clarify issues, or to remind people of statements they had made earlier in the discussion. In a face-to-face session, once a party says something, it’s gone. Later a mediator can remind a party of a statement that had been made earlier in the session and the party can deny it, portray it in a different context, or reinterpret its meaning” (Rule 2000, p.75).

Mediators can refer to training materials that can help in taking the discussion ahead without alerting the disputing parties about using training materials. This will prevent disputing parties from doubting the qualification or capability of the mediator. “Mediators can also consult training material or suggested steps for parties to move through in an attempt to reach resolution, all in the middle of their ADR process. In a face-to-face session, consulting materials such as these might delay the process or make parties question the experience of their neutral” (Rule 2000, p.76).

A study conducted with mediators revealed that it’s easier for mediators to keep the big picture in sight in asynchronous communication than in synchronous where conversation dynamics are likely to consume their attention. “There was 100 percent agreement by mediators that the asynchronous nature of online communications helped them to focus on the broader picture of the conflict and not just the moment-to-moment interactions. For example, they did not have to concern themselves with interruptions from disputants. 100 percent (of the mediators) also agreed that having time to craft their responses enabled them to express their questions and comments effectively. All considered that this advantage led them to design more effective interventions” (Hammond as cited in Ebner and Rainey 2021, p.30). 

Communication dynamics among disputing parties improve as they cannot interrupt one another.   “…asynchronous, textual communication actually improves communication dynamics between the parties. One of the challenges that mediators face is keeping parties from interrupting one another” (Braeutigam 2006, p.295)  

In face-to-face meetings, disputing parties  have lesser control over vocal tone, facial expressions and body language are they are reacting to the discussion, which can potentially escalate tensions between the parties. This will help parties in maintaining focus on issues at hand instead of being sidetracked by negative body language. “Early on, developments in the field uncovered that e-mediation can be positive for high emotion or high cost issues such as family mediation or workplace conflict (Goodman 2003) as it removes a lot of the contextual cues (such as vocal tone, facial expressions and other non-verbal communication) present in face-to-face mediation that may further escalate existing tension between parties” (Parmamis, Ebner and Mitchell 2017, p.240). “When the distractions of non-verbal cues are eliminated, parties are better able to focus on the substantive issues, rather than the negative emotional content conveyed by the visual or auditory cues that are present in face-to-face encounters” (Braeutigam 2006, p.293).

The absence of non-verbal cues in text-based mediation is often considered to be a shortcoming (Braeutigam 2006). But research shows that people are just as comfortable expressing themselves in written format as they are expressing themselves orally. “In her work, Anne-Marie Hammond found that the reduced communication cues and textual communication did not significantly impact participants’ experience in online mediation. The study revealed that the lack of body language in online mediation experience did not constrain participants’ ability to express their emotions or to feel understood. Participants noted that the textual form of communication was effective because people write like they talk and thus felt they had no trouble getting their meaning across. Interestingly, a majority of disputants felt they were able to overcome the lack of non-verbal cues. Many disputants felt more at ease expressing themselves in writing than in spoken word; felt more confident in their communications, felt the mediation was less hostile, felt their communications were honest and open…” (Braeutigam 2006, p.290). 

A criticism of text-based communication is that written text can be easily misinterpreted in the absence of non-verbal cues. A calming remark can be misunderstood to be patronising. However, people increasingly use emoticons and different types of formatting (written text)  to convey tone and emotions. “Further, text is often interpreted differently than words spoken in the shared context of face-to-face communication. For example, a calming remark might come across as patronizing when typed or a joke might turn into an insult because the reader did not catch the intentionally sarcastic tone. Without tone of voice, it can be difficult to capture and convey the emotional content of words. For example, it may be difficult for the participants to catch a sincere and empathetic remark, or they may not feel the mediator has understood the degree of anger and frustration they are experiencing” (Braeutigam 2006, p.287). “… as  prevalence of text-based online communication has increased, so has our ability to convey physically perceptive information in text. Emoticons, such as “Smileys”, have become a useful way of communicating emotion online. Simple typing techniques operate similarly. For example, “SHOUTING” or an “angry email” is accomplished by using ALL CAPS. Abbreviations have also become a common way for online communicators to convey tone and emotion in their messages. The

abbreviations IMHO (in my humble opinion) and LOL (laugh out loud) are descriptors used to temper a direct statement, and to underscore humorous statements. Additionally, online communicators will often

mark a statement with the desired tone and meaning. To illustrate: “Today is a beautiful day! <sigh> I’m so lucky to be inside working! <sarcasm>” (Braeutigam 2006, p.291).


Synchronous Process (face to face interaction/video)

Asynchronous process (Text based communication)

Parties to the conflict are likely to react emotionally during interactions which can escalate the conflict. “Synchronous interactions can easily escalate a conflict because a person’s first response might not be his best or most reasonable. It is not uncommon for disputants to be sarcastic, angry, or insulting in heated moments” (Braeutigam 2006, p.295).  

Disputing parties can develop harmful communication patterns like interrupting one another. “Disputants often develop frustrating and destructive communication patterns, like interrupting one another and tuning out to what the other person is saying” (Braeutigam 2006, p.296).

Usually disputing parties agree who can be present during mediation sessions. In video based communications, one can deceptively invite an unauthorised person to witness the discussion while pretending to abide by the rules. “Even audiovisual platforms pose challenges; an unauthorized individual can easily sit outside the viewing area of the video camera” (Exon 2017, p.651)

Video-conferencing makes people feel more vulnerable as they might feel exposed to the opposing party. “…some disputants want to use ODR, yet prefer not to utilize available video conferencing for the purposes of convening; the reduced social presence of their counterparty, it seems, lends to an enhanced sense of personal security on an emotional level” (Ebner and Zeleznikow 2015, p.158). 

Video based communication gives the impression of converting non-verbal cues but in practice it does the job only partially, given that only a portion of the person’s body is visible. Also, given that disputing parties equate face-to-face online mediation with in-person face-to-face mediation, they do not adapt their communication style to requirements of online platforms. “…video-based communication does not fill in the full range of cues and psychological impacts lacking in text-based communication. It only fills them in partially, and alters others – while giving the impression of providing them in full. Communicators’ expectations that video would be the same as in-person may lead them to forgo conscious filtering of the unique set of contextual cues provided by online video communication. These could pose even greater challenges to mediators aiming to build trust, given the opportunities for misreading these cues by all communicators involved” (Ebner and Thompson 2014). 

During Covid-19 when people were increasingly relying on platforms such as Zoom, it became apparent that video-conferencing takes its toll on the mind. People feel tired, restless, self-aware, exhausted and find it cognitively dulling to sit for long periods of time in front of the screen. “…videoconferencing imposes an unusually high cognitive load, triggers biological responses we are unaware of, and generally sends our brains into exhausting spin. Brains aside, consider the physical effects of sitting rigidly in a chair for extended periods of time. By the middle of a video conference conference (or right from its inception, if it is our third call of the day) participants might experience a host of reactions that all feed directly into negative affect: depletion, exhaustion, enhanced self-awareness, cognitive dulling, physical, discomfort, restlessness and more (Ebner and Thompson 2014).”

The stationery camera used in face-to-face online communications can give rise to awkward pauses or interruptions. “…videoconferencing relies on a computer-based stationery camera that typically focuses on a person’s headshot or upper torso, which can create an uncomfortable conversation modality due to awkward pauses and/or people interrupting or talking over each other since participants cannot see or scale each other like an in-person experience (Exon and Lee , p.112)”

If the strength of the internet is weak, it can cause video-freeze, disrupting the flow of the conversation. “…poor reception may distort or limit facial expressions (Exon and Lee 2019, p.128).

Disputants cannot take advantage of non-verbal cues in text based mediation. “Disputants who engage in mediation primarily via e-mail will miss out on the cues they would receive from body language, facial expressions, and other in-person signals” (PON Staff 2021).

Parties may be tempted to “flame” each other (sending hostile or insulting messages) on e-mail or abandon the mediation entirely when frustrated” (PON Staff 2021). 

Given that the parties involved can respond at a time of their convenience, the pace of communication can slow down. “the asynchronous format means that mediators and parties must be prepared to work at maintaining consistent contact” (Braeutigam 2006, p.287). 

The anxiety and doubt that accompanies waiting for the other party to respond are a natural breeding ground for distrust and anger” (Ebner, p.390). 

Another problem with asynchronous communication is that as time passes, people forget things” (Ebner and Rainey 2021, p.37). 

Asynchronous communication, along with mediators’ ability to establish private communication with each party separately with the click of a button, increases potential for mediator manipulation and for worries about mediator neutrality” (Ebner and Rainey 2021, p.22).  

Given that the mediator does interact with disputing parties in person, he or she cannot build a rapport with them. This can affect the chances of resolving the dispute amicably. “The mediating person, with whom relations are built in a classic way, is transformed into an electronic, intangible form, which constitutes a cause for concern among the participants (Hopt & Steffek, 2013, p. 66). A lack of direct contact results in reduced personal dynamics in the overall process and problems with creating appropriate mental connections of participants to the dispute, which may result in lack of will to settle it amicably” (Mania 2015, p.80). “Friendly banter, a common technique used to establish and build rapport, may also be rare in the online environment, and many communicators tend towards a businesslike tone” (Braeutigam 2006, p.288).

Archived communications can be a problem as well, especially if insults and accusations from the beginning of a session are repeatedly revisited and resuscitated by the parties, making them unable to make progress toward resolution” (Rule 2000).


Text-based mediation has been the norm in online mediation. Evidence indicates that text-based mediation helps disputing parties as well as the mediator in communicating effectively, as opposed to face-to-face online mediation where people are likely to react in the heat of the moment and not deliberate before responding. It’s likely in workplace disputes, disputing parties are likely to have several or serious grievances against each other. To be able to resolve the dispute swiftly, without any fuss, it is in the interest of the parties to compose themselves and reflect over an issue before contacting the other party.


Because face-to-face online mediation has recently emerged in the field of dispute resolution, it’s merits and demerits have not been researched by scholars. So far, scholars have uncovered few unequivocal advantages of face-to-face online mediation, one of which is that it’s easier for the mediator to build trust among disputing parties as compared to what is observed in text-based mediation. Majority of the other benefits of face-to-face mediation are disputed. 


For instance, proponents of face-to-face online mediation state that it provides rich cues of non-verbal language which the other party can use to understand the party’s stance. However research has shown that such cues often distracts parties from tackling core issues and is likely to escalate the tension. Moreover, in recent years, people are increasingly using emoticons and language that is used on social media to communicate their feelings. So text-based communication has overcome the hurdle of not being able to communicate emotions. However, one must take into account that not everyone can articulate their feelings in-text. Neither is there substantial evidence to prove that people are able to articulate their feelings in online mediation. Therefore, we urge the reader to treat this point with caution. 


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the desirable outcomes of text-based mediation outweigh its undesirable outcomes as well as the desirable outcomes of online face-to-face mediation mediation. 


Therefore, text-based mediation is preferred.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes and quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For parties to an employment dispute looking to understand each other, text-based online mediation is more conducive to well-being than face-to-face online mediation.

As mentioned before, face-to-face online mediation is slowly emerging in the field of online mediation. Scholars are yet to explore its merits and demerits fully. We have made this recommendation based on the amount of evidence currently available. However, as the usage of face-to-face mediation increases and so does the amount of literature available on the topic, this recommendation will have to be reconsidered in light of new evidence.

Symmetrical internal communication

Interventions and evidence

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following interventions as most plausible for communication in employment disputes:

  • Symmetrical Internal Communication
  • Asymmetrical Internal Communication


“The role of internal communication in shaping organizational culture has been widely recognized by management communication and public relations scholars”…(as cited in Men and Yue 2019, p.1). “It is through internal communication that organizational leaders shape and transmit values and missions of the organization to employees and therefore involve employees in fulfilling bigger organizational purposes” (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2018; Welch, 2011) (as cited in Men and Yue 2019, p.3). It enhances employee engagement, commitment, and performance (Lee and Kim 2021, p.1). Public relations literature widely recognised symmetrical internal communication as instrumental in supporting employee-organisation relationships (Men and Jiang 2016). 


Given the intervention’s suitability in regulating employer-employee relationship, in this recommendation, we will compare symmetrical and asymmetrical communication.


Symmetrical Internal Communication:


Symmetrical communication emphasizes understanding, collaboration, responsiveness, and a balance of power and interest (Grunig et al., 2002) (as cited in Men and Yue 2019, p.3). It is characterised by attributes of “trust, credibility, openness, relationships, reciprocity, network symmetry, horizontal communication, feedback, adequacy of information, employee-centered style, tolerance for disagreement, and negotiation” (Grunig, 1992 as cited in Men and Yue 2019, p.2). 


The central notion of a symmetrical internal communication system is that organizations and leaders genuinely listen, address employees’ feedback, value their inputs, and care about employees’ interests and welfare (ibid).


Communication channels that can promote symmetrical internal communication include  team meetings, group problem-solving sessions, supervisor briefings, employee one-on-one meetings, suggestion boxes, employee hotlines, annual surveys to gather employee feedback (Men 2014). 


Asymmetrical Internal Communication


“Asymmetrical communication tends to employ the one-way, top-down approach. This type of communication persuades or controls the behaviors of employees to achieve the goals of the management.”.(J. E. Grunig, 1992; L. A. Grunig et al., 2002) (as cited in Men 2014, p.260). 


“Top-down communication involves transmitting messages from the highest to the lowest levels in the organizational hierarchy (Papa, Daniels & Spiker, 2009, 48). This type of communication is the dominant part of communication in a given organization. Since the top part of the organization (senior management, management level), leads the organization and gives orders to subordinates, this mandate is top-down vertical communication over other members of the organization” (Qerimi 2018, p.77).

Top-down communication can include mission statements, annual company meetings and reports. 

For parties looking to prevent or resolve an employment dispute, where the employer and employee want to recognise emotions, needs and interests, is symmetrical internal communication or asymmetrical internal communication more effective for well-being?

The databases used are: Elsevier, Sage Publications, Springer, Routledge


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: employee engagement, top-down communication, upwards feedback, asymmetrical communication, employees feeling unheard, internal communication

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

  • Men, L. R., & Yue, C. A. (2019). Creating a positive emotional culture: Effect of internal communication and impact on employee supportive behaviors. Public relations review, 45(3), 101764.
  • Lee, Y., & Kim, J. (2021). Cultivating employee creativity through strategic internal communication: The role of leadership, symmetry, and feedback seeking behaviors. Public Relations Review, 47(1), 101998.
  • Linjuan Rita Men & Hua Jiang (2016) Cultivating Quality Employee-Organization Relationships: The Interplay among Organizational Leadership, Culture, and Communication, International Journal of Strategic Communication, 10:5, 462-479.
  • Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving employee engagement: The expanded role of internal communications. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(2), 183-202.
  • Kang, M., & Sung, M. (2017). How symmetrical employee communication leads to employee engagement and positive employee communication behaviors: The mediation of employee-organization relationships. Journal of Communication Management.
  • Men, L. R. (2014a). Strategic internal communication: Transformational leadership, communication channels, and employee satisfaction. Management communication quarterly, 28(2), 264-284.
  • Linjuan Rita Men (2014b) Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication: Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Communication, and Employee Outcomes, Journal of Public Relations Research, 26:3, 256-279.
  • Garon, M. (2012). Speaking up, being heard: registered nurses’ perceptions of workplace communication. Journal of nursing management, 20(3), 361-371.
  • Spencer, D. G. (1986). Employee voice and employee retention. Academy of management journal, 29(3), 488-502.


The paper by Men and Yue (2019) tests the effect of internal communication (i.e., corporate-level symmetrical and leadership-level responsive communications) on fostering a positive emotional culture characterized by companionate love, joy, pride, and gratitude on 506 respondents in the US. The respondents are employees who worked in 19 diverse industry sectors. The sample size is representative of gender, as well as management and non-management employees. The size of the study as well as the quality of its sample size makes this study equivalent to large empirical research. So we grade the quality of this study as moderate


The paper by Lee and Kim (2021) examines how organizations’ internal communication

influenced by leadership communication at the supervisory and senior-levels impacts employee creativity and how employees’ feedback-seeking behaviors mediate these relationships. The paper is based on a sample size of 406 respondents from various sectors. The authors made efforts to gather a sample that was representative in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and education level in the United States and results of this survey are comparable to other studies so we grade the quality of this study as moderate. 


Men and Jiang (2016) examines respective linkages between employee–organization relationships (EORs) and authentic leadership, symmetrical internal communication, and organizational culture. Although the authors used stratified random sampling and quota random sampling to obtain a representative sample, the sample size is balanced in relation to gender but is overwhelmingly white (81.8%) and skewed towards better educated working age adults in the US. But the findings of this study align with the results of other studies so don’t grade down the quality of this study. According to the grade methodology, we grade the quality of this paper to be moderate. 


The study by Mishra, Boynton and Mishra (2014) is based on findings from interviews with 6 public relations executives to explore the growing role that internal communication plays in employee engagement. The limitations of the study are small sample size of respondents and the interviewees being alumni or visitors to the university of the first author. However, the interviewees worked in the field of internal communications and the paper is widely cited (554). Taking all these factors into account, the assess the quality of this paper to be low according to the GRADE methodology. 


The paper by Kang and Sung (2017) examines how a company’s symmetrical internal communication efforts could influence its employees’ perception of relationship outcomes with the company and the subsequent employee communication behaviors about the company to others and their turnover intention. It is based on data collected from a survey of randomly selected 438 individuals who work as sales representatives in a Korean cosmetics company. Authors have not reported the gender or ethnicity distribution of the sample size. But the paper is widely cited (211) and the results align with other similar studies. Taking all these factors into consideration, we grade the quality of this paper as moderate. 


The paper by Men (2014a) investigates how leadership influences internal public relations by building the linkage between transformational leadership, the use of communication channels, symmetrical communication, and employee satisfaction. The study is based on a web survey of 400 employees working in medium-sized and large corporations in the United States. The sample size is representative in terms of gender but information about education level and ethnicity of the respondents is missing. A plus point of this study is that the paper is widely cited (395) and the author has written several articles on the same topic. Taking into account all these factors, we grade the quality of this paper to be moderate. 


The study by Men (2014b) examines how organizational leadership influences internal communication by building the linkage between transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, and employee attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. It is based on an online survey conducted with 167 employees of a Fortune 500 energy company. The sample size of this study is sizable. The results of this paper are similar to findings from other studies. The paper is widely cited (212) and the author has written several articles of high quality on the same topic. So we grade the quality of this paper to be moderate. 


The paper by Garon (2012) explores the perceptions of staff registered nurses in California, USA and managers about nurses’ ability to speak up and be heard in the workplace. The authors conducted focus group discussions with 33 nurses. The size of the study is comparable to small empirical study but the paper is widely cited (174). So, according to the GRADE methodology, we assess the quality of this paper to be moderate. 


The study by Spencer (1986) investigates the relationship between opportunities for employees to voice their dissatisfaction and voluntary turnover in 111 hospitals based in the US. The sample size of this study is comparable to a small empirical study but the paper is widely cited (457). So we upgrade the quality of this paper to moderate, according to the GRADE methodology. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing symmetrical and asymmetrical communication as low. There exists a large amount of empirical research on this topic. However, the majority of this research has been conducted in Western countries. As a result, how social norms around relationships between subordinates and superiors affect communication styles and overall employer-employee relationship is not accounted for.  



Symmetrical Internal Communication

Asymmetrical Internal Communication

Employees experience positive emotions such as joy and gratitude when two way communication is used in the organisation. An online survey of 506 employees based in the USA working across 19 sectors shows that “corporate symmetrical communication demonstrated a strong positive effect on organizational positive culture (β = .75, p < .001), indicating that a positive culture of companionate love, joy, pride, and gratitude is likely nurtured when organizations’ communication system and climate are two-way; symmetrical…”(Men and Yue 2019, p.7). 

“…employees feel more satisfied with an organization that employs a communication system that is open, two-way, and responsive, addresses employee opinions and concerns, and boosts mutual understanding, collaboration, and dialogue” (Men 2014, p.269).

Two way communication is very effective as it provides an opportunity for informal communication between employees and managers. Argenti (1998) also argued that the most effective internal communication is two-way communication because it provides an opportunity for informal interaction between employees and managers (Mishra, Boynton and Mishra 2014, p.187). 

Symmetrical internal communication improves employer-organisation relationship. Empirical research has shown that symmetrical internal communication contributes to the achievement of organizational goals by engaging employees at different levels and enhancing employee outcomes such as organizational identification (Smidts, Pruyn, & Van Riel, 2001), empowerment (Liden, Wayne, & Sparrowe, 2000), trust (Jo & Shim, 2005), and employee-organization relationships (Lee, 2018; Kim & Rhee, 2011) (as cited in Kim and Lee 2020, p.2). A quantitative online survey of 391 employees in medium and large organisations in the USA spread across 17 industry sectors shows “that employees develop a better relationship with an organization with an open, inviting, and a responsive communicating system, which places value on employee opinions and feedback and boosts collaboration, dialogue, and mutual understanding between an organization and its employees (Men, 2014b)” (Men and Jiang 2016, p.467). A study conducted with 438 employees in a South Korean cosmetics firm shows that “symmetrical communication plays a significant role in employee perception and assessment of a quality relationship with their company…” (Kang and Sung 2016, p.95).

A two-way, and responsive internal communication system encourages the sharing of opinions and concerns, facilitates internal collaboration and dialogue, and boosts mutual understanding…” (Men and Jiung 2016,  p.463) A symmetrical internal communication system has been associated with a participative organizational culture, which emphasizes employee input, participation, sharing, collaboration, and shared decision-making (Grunig et al., 2002) (as cited in Men and Yue 2019, p.8).

Interpersonal two way communication increases a sense of belonging among employees. Cameron and McCollum (1993) noted that the two-way nature of interpersonal communication channels, such as team meetings, group problem-solving sessions, and supervisor briefings, enhances management–employee relationships better than publications. Such informal and personalized communication fosters communication symmetry and a sense of community and belonging among employees (White, Vanc, & Stafford, 2010) (as cited in Men 2014, p.270.

Top down communication helps employees to identify and own the goals, objectives and culture of the organisation. It increases their sense of belonging. “Smidts et al argue that extensive top-down communication and use of multiple channels of communication are likely to increase organisational identification, with positive consequences for self-esteem, organisational commitment and co-operative behaviour”.

One way communication helps in clarifying procedures and practices to employees. “In large organizations, organizational procedures are usually subject to an organizational manual or a staff manual, listing details of which actions should be respected and taken into account in certain situations” (Qerimi 2018, 79). 

One way communication helps in providing employees “job instructions or recommendations about how to perform tasks” (Qerimi 2018, p.79). This ensures that tasks are completed efficiently which is beneficial for the organisation. At the same time, it instills confidence among employees about their own abilities. 


Via one way communication, managers provide feedback to employees about their performance (Qerimi 2018). This helps employees in developing their skillsets and helps the employer in bringing out the best of their employees- which can fuel the growth of the organisation. 


Top-down communication helps in maintaining consistency of the message that the organisation wants to give to employees (Welch and Jackson, 2007). This solidifies the goals of the organisation in the minds of the employees and brings them a sense of clarity. As a result, both employer and employee benefit. 

When supervisors provide employees timely and relevant information, employees feel less vulnerable and rely on their coworkers and supervisors more. “Management scholars Thomas, Zolin, and Hartman (2009) indicated, however, that “when employees perceive that they are getting information from their supervisors and coworkers that is timely, accurate, and relevant, they are more likely to feel less vulnerable and more able to rely on their coworkers and supervisors” (as cited in Mishra, Boynton and Mishra 2014, p.185).











Symmetrical Communication

Asymmetrical Communication

Even if an organisation deploys symmetrical communication, the manager who receives feedback from employees can discredit the opinions/thoughts of employees by questioning the motive of the employees. “Managers were found to discount employees’ feedback because of their own implicit beliefs about employees as self-serving and untrustworthy” (Morrison & Milliken as cited in Garon 2012, p.363). 

If employees feel that the feedback that they provided to the organisation was not addressed, they will feel demotivated to speak up in the future. Focus group discussions with 33 nurses working in California, USA revealed that although the nurses experienced an open climate and spoke up, the feedback that they provided was not acted upon. This makes them feel like “it was a waste of time and energy to continue to bring up issues” (Garon 2012, p.367). 

Managers can label employees who speak up often as chronic complainers which has the effect of undermining the concerns raised by the employees and also harms the relationship between employers and employees. A study focusing on the perception of nurses of their ability to speak up reveals that “managers characterised some staff as chronic complainers, and admitted that they may then discount their views” (Garon 2012, p.368).

After communicating a concern, if the employee is not informed whether management took action to resolve the problem, the employee will feel dissatisfied. A study based on focus group discussions with 33 nurses reveals that nurses feel dissatisfied if they are not informed by the management on whether their complaint or concern was addressed or in other words if they were not kept informed of the outcome of their feedback (Garon 2012, p. 368). 

In a study based on focus group discussions with 33 nurses, one nurse remarked that managers can retaliate against employees, if they realise that employees have reported against them (Garon 2012, p. 367). Therefore, even if employees are given a platform to air their concerns, misconduct on part of managers will nullify the merits of symmetrical communication and in this case can further aggravate the conflict.

“Morrison and Milliken noted that managers’ fear of negative feedback causes them to ignore or dismiss messages” (as cited in Garon 2012, p.369). So even if employees are given the opportunity to raise their concerns to the manager, the manager is likely to ignore it. Therefore, even if symmetrical communication is streamlined in the organisation, the attitude of managers towards feedback will negate the benefits brought in by symmetrical communication.

Employees are not given the platform to provide inputs for organizational decision-making. This can result in employees feeling not heard or not valued. “Asymmetrical communication is often associated with a centralized and mechanical organizational structure and authoritarian culture, where employees have little opportunity to offer input to organizational decision making (J. E. Grunig, 1992; L. A. Grunig et al., 2002)” (as cited in Men 2014, p.260).


When there is only top-down communication from managers to employees, employees will get the impression that the company does not value their thoughts, opinions and concerns, eventually causing them to lose trust in the management. Dundon and Gollan, consider that the “perception, among employees, that their voice arrangements afford little utility, could be interpreted as a sign that management is untrustworthy” (as cited in Constantin and Baias 2014, 977). 

Asymmetrical communication harms the organisation as well; managers do not get accurate information that can help them in improving practices and working styles (Garon 2012, p.363). 

A study found out that in organisations such as hospitals, where the end user is the patient, if employees such as nurses don’t speak up, misconduct at the hands of senior doctors will go unnoticed which has the potential of adversely affecting the quality of care the patient receives. (Garon 2012). 

A study conducted with nurses working in hospitals in the US reveals that employees are more likely to leave an organisation when there are fewer platforms for them to voice their dissatisfaction (Spencer 1986, p.498). 

Employees prefer to stay silent because it avoids conflict. “Workers may avoid speaking up to maintain harmonious working relationships…” (Henrikson & Dayton as cited in Garon 2012, p.363). 



Taken together, the available research suggests that symmetrical communication is more conducive to the well-being of the employer and employee than asymmetrical communication. Asymmetrical communication helps in clarifying rules and procedures and helps employees in identifying with the goals and objectives of the organisation. On the other hand, because symmetrical communication establishes a two-way communication channel, it helps in clarifying rules and procedures to employees as well as creates a sense of belonging among employees, in forging a good relationship between the employer and employee, and provides employees opportunities to participate in decision-making. Literature indicates that employees also experience positive emotions such as joy and gratitude when symmetrical communication is used.


Literature indicates that the nature of undesirable outcomes of asymmetrical communication is more serious than desirable outcomes. While symmetrical communication can result in employee dissatisfaction with the organization’s willingness to act upon the feedback given, asymmetrical communication can result in high employee turnover, inferior quality of services provided to the customer and reduced efficiency in the organisation.


Therefore, symmetrical communication is preferred.

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, employers and employees, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For parties looking to prevent or resolve an employment dispute, where the employer and employee want to recognise emotions, needs and interests, symmetrical internal communication is more effective for well-being than asymmetrical communication.

Severance pay formula

Interventions and evidence

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following interventions as most plausible for distributing financial resources in a fair way (sharing) in employment disputes related to dismissal:

  • Current formula for calculating severance pay
  • Severance pay as calculated by courts


Severance pay makes up for a large portion of the costs of dismissals borne by employers. Garibaldi and Violante (2005) find that severance pay accounts for about two thirds of total dismissal costs for employers in Italy. Fifty percent of the total cross-country variation in the OECD strictness of employment protection legislation that seeks to protect the interests of employees is also attributed to severance pay (Boeri, Garibaldi and Moen 2013). Clearly, severance pay has the potential to impact the well-being of the employer as well as the employee. Hence, in this recommendation we try to find a method to formulate the severance pay such that it is fair to both parties to a dispute related to dismissal: the employer and employee. 


A severance pay is given to a dismissed employee to provide him or her an income until the time he or she is re-employed. The generosity or level of severance pay (also known as termination pay, redundancy pay) depends on the nature of the dismissal. Severance pay is not provided when an employee is being fired for disciplinary reasons, unless a court deems the dismissal to be unfair which is when the employee can claim a higher compensation. If the employee is being dismissed for reasons not related to his/her behaviour or for serious misconduct on part of the employee, then it constitutes a fair dismissal where the employee is entitled to receive a severance pay (Boeri, Garibaldi and Moen 2013). In such cases, the reasons for dismissal can be related to operational purposes, economic circumstances of the employer, lack of suitability for the job of the employee, definite term contracts, liquidation, bankruptcy of the form or other such economic reasons, breach of duties by the employee or long-term sickness of the employee.


It is important to note here that often employees are given a severance pay in lieu of a notice period. A notice period gives an employee enough time to secure another employment, before he or she loses the previous source of income or employment. When employees receive severance pay in lieu of notice period, they receive an amount that is equivalent to the period for which they would have worked in the notice period. At times, employees get both: a notice period and severance pay. It is not clear in literature if the calculation of severance pay differs in presence of notice period. So we also keep this recommendation broad, such that we recommend one single formula of severance pay irrespective of whether it is accompanied by a notice period. 


This recommendation pertains to dismissal where the employer dismisses the employee without notice and violates terms and conditions outlined in the contract of the employee when the worker is not guilty of serious misconduct (ILO 1995). Here, the employment relationship is being terminated for reasons such as operational purposes, economic circumstances of the employer, lack of suitability for the job of the employee, definite term contracts, liquidation, bankruptcy of the form or other such economic reasons, or long-term sickness of the employee. The terminology for such dismissals vary across countries, so instead of using particular names, we are specifying the core reason for the dismissal so that the reader can judge despite inconsistency in the terminology. 


The recommendation is applicable for employees who are employed in the formal economy. Rules and regulations governing short-term contracts, zero-hour contracts or relationships of people in the informal economy and so on may be distinct from the rules governing employees with permanent contracts. As a result, this recommendation may not be applicable there. However, that does not preclude this recommendation from being taken into consideration when formulating rules on severance pay for such employment relationships in the future.   


In the below paragraph, we will compare two methods used to calculate severance pay: 

  • Current formula of severance pay: severance pay formula that is based on laws, collective agreements and specific contractual obligations 
  • Comprehensive and systematic formula:  1) severance pay as calculated by courts 2) macroeconomic factors, 3) political economy factors and miscellaneous factors. 


The current formula for severance pay is derived from laws, collective agreements and specific contractual provisions. It takes very few factors into consideration. On the other hand, the courts have taken a more comprehensive approach to calculating the severance pay. Therefore, we combine the approach of courts with macro-economic, political economy and miscellaneous factors to form the second intervention. Literature shows that these factors are taken into account by policy makers in an indirect or non-systematic manner when developing the formula for severance pay or while defining the severance pay level (Holzmann 2011).


Current formula of severance pay (Laws, collective agreements and specific contractual obligations)


Most countries have labour laws, collective labour agreements and the specific employment contract that define the severance pay of an employee. The severance pay is determined based on the law/agreement/contract that is held to be applicable for this particular employee. Rules set out by the collective labour agreement or the specific employment type in question can override the rules set out by common law. Employees can also seek severance pay by seeking recourse from courts. 


Countries across the world such as those in Europe, or Canada, UK, India have formal guidelines that determine the formulation of severance pay. It is beyond the scope of this recommendation to delve into the guidelines that govern the formulation of severance pay in various countries. However, in the paragraphs that follow, we give an overview of guidelines used in some countries so that the reader can get a sense of practices that are being currently used.  


In Austria an employee who has worked in an organisation for more than 3 years is entitled to receive an amount from a special fund in which the employer has been transferring 1.53% of each employee’s salary. The employee can opt in to retrieving the accumulated amount or choose to leave this amount in the fund after terminating the employment relationship so that the new employer can continue to deposit monthly payments in this fund. 


In the case of Canada, the Employment Standards Act (ESA), calculates the severance pay by multiplying an employee’s regular wages for a single work week by the sum of the number of completed years of employment and the number of completed months of employment (divided by 12 for a year that is not completed). However, some employees may have rights under the common law or other legislation that allows them to claim more severance pay than the one set out by ESA. To claim this amount, employees have to rely on court based adjudication. The upper limit for notice period (based on which the severance pay is determined) as set by Canandian courts is 24 months (Thornicraft 2015, p.783).  


In Germany, if a dismissal is based on business needs or compelling operational reasons, the employee that works for a company that has more than 10 employees, has a right to a severance payment if he or she does not bring his or her case to the court within 3 weeks. The amount of the severance payment is a half month pay for each year of tenure. 


In the UK, employees who have worked in an organisation for 2 years or more are entitled to a redundancy pay if they are dismissed due to economic shocks experienced by the firm. The amount the employee receives depends on his/her age and tenure. An employee who has been wrongfully dismissed (the employer has not given the employee adequate notice or payment in lieu of notice) can seek help from an employment tribunal who will then award damages to the employee.   


In India, an employee who has worked for an organisation that has more than 50 employees for one year or more is entitled to a severance pay of 15 days of his or her salary for each completed year of service or any part thereof exceeding six months.


From the above examples, we can summarise that laws, collective agreements and specific contractual agreements take into account 1) tenure, 2) age, 3) firm size and 4) salary of the employee while calculating the severance pay. 


Comprehensive and systematic way of developing severance pay formula


  1. Severance pay as calculated by courts


There is multiplicity in the laws and institutions that govern the calculation of severance pay. As mentioned before, employment law, collective agreements, common law as well as the actual contract drafted between the parties, can all be used to determine the severance pay. In such cases, employers and employees can contest the incidence of severance or the generosity of severance in courts. As a result, courts have also been involved in the determination of severance pay. Courts involved in the adjudication of such cases have taken into account various factors that were otherwise not included in laws, collective agreements and contracts that determined severance pay. 


A Canadian court in the case Bardal vs The Globe and Mail Ltd., for example, identified that the below factors need to be taken into consideration when determining the severance pay of an employee:

  • Character of employment or specific industry
  • Length of service
  • Age of employee
  • Availability of similar employment with regards to experience, training and qualifications of the servant (Thornicraft 2015, p.783). 


So far, Canadian courts have applied the Bardal factors in 1,010 other judicial decisions as of June 2015, according to the database maintained by the Canadian Legal Information Institute (Thornicraft 2015, p.782).


As mentioned before, at times severance pay is given in lieu of the notice period. In such cases, employers have to arrive at a notice period that is acceptable and fair to both parties keeping in mind that the notice period can be switched with a monetary compensation. To help employers provide employees with the right amount of severance pay, McShane and McPhillips (1987) identified the factors that significantly affected the length of notice awarded in more than 100 British Columbia cases between 1980-86. They find that seven predictors account for 69 percent of the variance in reasonable notice awards. They are: 

  • Tenure or length of service
  • Age 
  • Job status
  • Salary
  • Actual labour market experience
  • Cost of employment
  • Gender


In West Germany, a survey of labour courts show that 75% labour courts calculate the severance pay based on tenure (in years) and the last monthly gross wage of the employee. This severance pay acts as the baseline pay. It is then modified by taking into consideration the characteristics of each case such as 

  • Probability of being re-employed
  • Age of the employee
  • Pension entitlements forfeited due to job loss
  • Alimony payments that the employee has to make
  • Firm size (Goerke and Pannenberg 2010). 


In Bohemier v. Storwal International Inc., Justice Saunders of Canada ruled that the notice period or severance pay has to be reasonable for both parties, the employer and employee. If the employer is functioning in an unfavourable economic environment, it should be possible for him or her to reduce the staff without having to bear large dismissal costs. 


Following from what we discussed above, this intervention suggests the following factors should be used to determine the severance pay: 1) age, 2) tenure, 3)

character of employment, 4) firm size, 5) economic condition, 6) availability of new employment, 7) gender, 8) salary 10) cost of employment `11) alimony. These factors have been identified by courts while adjudicating disputes between employees and employers over severance pay whereas factors outlined in the first intervention have been determined by laws, collective agreements, macro-economy and political economy and a few miscellaneous factors. 


  1. Factors based on macro-economics and political economy

Holzman et al. (2011) establish the economic rationale for severance pay. They reason that ‘’severance payment is a primitive form of social benefits which predate or complement existing benefits for unemployment and retirement and that it also functions as a job protection instrument. Based on that hypothesis, they identify the following factors as determinants of severance pay: 1) per capita income of the country  2) unemployment benefits  3) pension and 4) union density  ( political economy factor). The authors perform correlation analysis using empirical data which indicates that these factors are taken into consideration by policymakers while making decisions on labour rights and social protection programmes.


  1. Miscellaneous factors: 

A model developed by Goerka and Panenburg (2015) predicts that the generosity of  severance payments increases if firms expect court-awarded payments to be high. As a consequence, the incidence and expected level of severance pay increases with the determinants of such payments (implicitly) laid down by employment protection legislation. The model also predicts that employers are less likely to provide a generous severance pay or provide a severance pay at all, if the employee cannot bear the financial costs associated with a court dispute. Thus, two additional factors of severance pay emerge from this model: 1) expected court-awarded payment and 2) the ability of an employee to afford a court dispute. 

To sum up, this intervention uses the following 18 factors to determine an employee’s severance pay:  1) age, 2) tenure, 3) character of employment 4) firm size, 5) economic condition 6) availability of new employment 7) gender, 8) salary 10) cost of employment `11) alimony 12) per capita income of the country 13) unemployment benefits 14) pension and 15) union density 16) expected court awarded payments and 17) ability of employee to afford a court dispute 18) pension entitlements forfeited due to job loss.

For parties to an employment dispute related to dismissal looking to distribute (share) financial resources in a fair way, is the current four factor method of calculating severance pay or a comprehensive formula that takes into account additional factors more effective for well-being?

To assess the status quo of the formula of severance pay and identify severance pay, Google Search and Google Scholar were used. 


Keywords used in the search strategy are: Severance pay formula, determinants of severance pay, recession, labour courts, factors that compose severance pay, economic downturns, gender

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are: 


  • Thornicroft, K. (2015). Severance pay and the older worker: Negotiated versus litigated outcomes under canadian common law. Alberta Law Review, 52(4), 779-798. 
  • McShane, S.L. and McPhillips, D.C., 1987. Predicting reasonable notice in Canadian wrongful dismissal cases. ILR Review, 41(1), pp.108-117.
  • Deloitte.(2012). Deloitte Legal Perspectives: A Comparative Look at dismissal costs and issues across Europe. 
  • Ha-Redeye, O (2015). The New Bardal Factors May Just Be the Old Bardal Factors. Slaw: Canada’s Online Legal Magazine. 
  • Goerke, Laszlo; Pannenberg, Markus (2009) : An economic analysis of dismissal legislation: Determinants of severance pay in West Germany, cege Discussion Papers, No. 87, University of Göttingen, Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research (cege), Göttingen 
  • Holzmann, Robert; Pouget, Yann; Vodopivec, Milan; Weber, Michael (2011) : Severance pay programs around the world: History, rationale, status, and reforms, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 5731, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn
  • French, Shana and Treleaven, Ryan. (2014). The Elusive Magic Number: The recipe for the perfect severance package – and there are also costly damage options on the table. Employment Law. 
  • Gamberoni, E., Uexkull, E., and Weber, S. (2010). The role of openness and labour market institutions for employment dynamics during economic crises. World Bank. 


The article by Thornicraft (2015) examines whether firms treat older workers differently compared to young workers while giving them notice of dismissal. The article is based on statistical analysis and experimental simulation. This evidence is graded as moderate. 


In the article by McShane and McPhillips (1987), the authors identify the factors that affected the length of notice awarded in more than 100 British Columbia cases in 1980-86 and develop a regression-based algorithm to estimate reasonable notice. The sample size of this study is comparable to a small empirical study, so we grade  this evidence is graded as low. 


The article by Goerka and Pannenberg (2009) investigates factors that contribute to the incidence and generosity of severance pay in West Germany. Using a theoretical model and regression analysis of data from German Socio-Economic Panel for the years 1991-2006, the authors find severance pay is affected by ability of the employee to bear costs of litigation and legal regulations experienced by the firm around such transfer payments. This study is comparable to a small empirical study, so we grade this evidence as low. 


The report by Deloitte (2012) gives an overview of the regulations that determine severance pay across all countries in Europe. This evidence is graded as low.  


Holzmann et. al (2011) give an overview of the existing severance pay programmes, examining their historic development, assessing their economic rationale and  describing current reform attempts. It uses empirical evidence to test 3 hypotheses: (i) a primitive income protection program, (ii) an efficiency enhancing human resource instrument, and (iii) a job protection instrument. This evidence is graded as moderate as it is based on extensive empirical research. 


The article by French and Treleaven (2014) identifies factors used by Canadian courts to determine the severance pay or notice period of employees. The authors refer to particular cases and judgements made by Canadian courts to justice their choice of factors. Although the arguments made by the authors are intuitive, convincing and at times complemented with evidence from court cases, the evidence used is largely anecdotal. There is no proper study design, reference or analysis of empirical evidence. So the quality of the article is graded as low. 


The article by Ha-Redeye (2015) examines the applicability and interpretation of Bardal factors through cases adjudicated by Canadian courts. It argues that although the Bardal factors originally focused on circumstances of the employee, they can also be used to examine the circumstances of the employer to arrive at a conclusion that does not harm the employer either. The article refers to several court cases in Canada to justify its argument but it lacks the backing of robust empirical data. So the quality of the article is graded as low.  


Note: In the below section, we will compare the advantages and disadvantages of each intervention (current formula for calculating severance pay and severance pay as calculated by courts). Both interventions have overlapping factors that determine severance pay, namely tenure/length of service, age of employee, salary, and age. Despite being present in both interventions, these factors have not been included uniformly across countries, so it becomes important to list their disadvantages and advantages so as to come to a common understanding on the calculation of severance pay. 


Quality of evidence and research gap


According to our research method, we grade the quality of evidence as low. Many of the articles are based on court cases and are not backed up by robust statistical analysis, empirical research, meta-analyses or systematic reviews. This can be explained by the fact that in the absence of proper guidelines that define severance pay, courts have set a precedent by factoring in every employee’s personal circumstances as well as the macroeconomic context that employee lives in. These one-off decisions then became baseline decisions for other courts. Additionally, due to the lack of data and scholarship, it was challenging to identify undesirable outcomes for most of the factors.


Keeping in line with this methodology of developing recommendations, in the section of desirable and undesirable outcomes, we are mentioning factors associated with each intervention that have outcomes identified in literature.  Unfortunately, research on many of the factors is lacking despite the wide usage of the factor across court decisions or laws. Yet, we would like to present these factors as evidence because a) we want to provide practitioners an overview of the different factors that go in severance pay calculation across different countries and b) we could not access some of the research that could have justified the inclusion of the factor because it was available in a language other than English c) it makes intuitive sense. To explain the third point, intuitively, we know that men may be required to pay alimony which is an amount previously agreed upon between the couple. In the event that the man loses his job, he might still be required to pay the alimony regardless of him being employed or not. To protect the financial well-being of the employee, it is necessary that the alimony sum is taken into account while calculating his severance pay. 


Following are the factors that literature does not offer desirable and undesirable outcomes for but are relevant to the recommendation. 


Miscellaneous factors:

Level of expected court-awarded payments: ‘’Empirical data from Socio-

Economic Panel (SOEP) for 1991–2006 in West Germany shows that severance payments offered by firms in order to avoid a verdict rise with the level of expected court-awarded payments’’(Goerka and Pannenberg 2009, pg.82). 


Severance pay as determined by courts

Alimony, pension entitlements forfeited due to job loss, age, tenure, salary, firm size, probability of being re-employed:  More than 75% of labour courts in Germany, use factors such as age, probability of being re-employed, firm size and alimony payments to determine severance pay along with classic factors of age, tenure and last monthly gross wage (Goerka and Pannenberg 2009, p.3).



Current formula to calculate severance pay (tenure, age, firm size and salary of the employee)

Comprehensive and systematic formula

Severance pay as calculated by courts: age,  tenure,  character of employment, firm size, economic condition, availability of new employment, gender, salary, cost of employment , alimony

Macroeconomic factors: per capita income of the country, unemployment benefits, pension and union density

Miscellaneous factors: expected court-awarded payment, the ability of an employee to afford a court dispute

Tenure: Associating tenure with severance pay ensures that workers invest time in the job before they reap employment related benefits and that employers don’t fire workers with little reason. There are fiscal benefits associated with adjusting severance pay with tenure and it also protects older employees from being fired. Severance is needed as moral hazard of employers prevent them from committing not to fire workers investing

in the productivity of the job. At the same time, the nature of dismissal costs and the distinction between economic and disciplinary dismissals increases the moral hazard problem of workers as they can get away with it even when they shirk. The model developed by Boeri, Garibaldi and Moen (2013, p.2) shows that ‘’tenure-related severance pay increases productivity, reduces inefficient firing and induces an efficient allocation of labor’’. There are also ‘’social efficiency considerations for having employment protection increasing with tenure, e.g. related to the

fiscal externalities associated to layoffs in presence of tenure-related unemployment benefit systems and/or

job finding rates declining with age. There can also be equity considerations for offering stronger protection

against layoffs to older workers…(p.7)’’

Age : Canadian courts posit that older workers are likely to take a long time to find a new job, earn less money in the new job, will not be able to sustain that new job for a long time. So by factoring in the age of the employee,  while calculating severance pay is important for his/her well-being. Following dismissal, “older workers, relative to their younger counterparts, return to work at lower rates, are less successful at returning to the earnings levels achieved before they lost their jobs, and are less likely to have sustained employment after returning to work.” (Thornicraft 2015, p.796). A recent Statistics Canada study, based on the Longitudinal Worker File (a database comprising a 10 percent random sample of all individuals with positive employment or self-employment income in any year from 1983 to 2010), concluded that while 17 percent of men who lost long-term employment (defined as 12 years’ or more tenure) between ages 50 to 54 years never re-entered the workforce, 53 percent of men aged 60 to 64 when they lost their jobs never returned to paid employment. Further, even when these men found paid employment, it was typically at much lower wage levels compared to their former jobs; similar patterns prevailed for women in the same age cohorts but women were even less likely to return to paid employment following long-term job loss. When they do find new work, it is more likely to be non-standard work such as part-time work, casual employment and self-employment. (Thornicraft 2015, p.797). The long notice periods for older workers will discourage employers from hiring older employees’’ (Thornicraft 2015, p.784).

Availability of alternate employmentWhen alternative jobs are not easily available, a high severance pay gives employees enough time to find a job. French and Treleaven (2014, p.29) recommend that where availability of alternative employment is small, even low-skilled employees should be given a relatively long notice period so that it gives them enough time to look for an alternative job. 

Character of employment: Persons occupying senior positions will have greater difficulty in finding alternative employment. So its beneficial for the employee if his or her job status is is factored in while calculating severance pay. Some industries or sectors are dominated by a few companies. Employees working here will face difficulty in finding a job elsewhere. So the character of employment should also be factored in while calculating severance pay. Character of employer refers to the skillsets, level of responsibility of the employee as well as the peculiarities of the industry in which the employee works. Historically, courts have drawn a distinction between management and non-management employees in determining notice, and have assumed that the former may require more time to find similar employment than the latter (Ha-Redeye 2015).  ‘The often-cited British case of Morrison v. Abernethy School Board, that persons in senior positions have more difficulty than those in lower-status positions securing a comparable position with another employer. Though some writers have questioned this assumption (England 1978; Harrison 1972), the labor market principle remains a popular justification for considering job status in the calculation of reasonable notice’ (McShane and McPhillips 1987, p.110). With regards to peculiarities of industry, courts have taken note of features of a particular industry. For example, in Bardal v. The Globe & Mail Ltd. the court recognised that there are few large metropolitan papers so the employee can work so he must receive a long notice period (Ha-Redeye 2015). 

Size of employer/company : Small companies cannot afford a large severance pay especially in economically distressing times. So factoring in the size of the company will be in the interest of employers.  A Canadian court in the case Gristey vs Emke Schaab Climatecare Inc. declared that employee’s notice period should be reduced by one-third. This decision was in support of small companies who faced financial setbacks in difficult economic situations (French and Treleaven 2014, p.29). 

Economic conditions: It is in the interest of firms to take into consideration the economic or market conditions because analysis performed by Gamberoni, Uexkull and Weber (2010, p.3) shows that it’s more profitable for firms to reduce severance pay and then lay off workers while facing economic shocks.

Cost of employment: If an employee has incurred a significant cost while taking up the job, such a moving residence at a considerable distance or the spouse giving up a job opportunity, then its beneficial for the employee if this cost is taken into consideration while calculating the severance pay: ‘’Regression analysis of court cases in British Columbia between 1980-1986 shows that ‘individual’s cost of accepting employment with the defendant organization affects the length of notice awarded by courts. Specifically, the courts represented in our sample apparently were sympathetic to individuals employed less than three years with the defendant for whom that employment had entailed moving a considerable distance, leaving a secure job with another employer, or sacrificing a spouse’s job’’ (McShane and McPhillips 1987, p.115). 

Per capita income: This factor affects the level of severance pay and has an impact on the well being of the employee. Simply put, according to this hypothesis, in high income countries, employees can fall back on other social security benefits such as pension and unemployment benefits, so the severance pay is reduced. In low income countries where employees cannot fall back on a safety net, the severance pay should be high

Pension benefits and unemployment benefits perform a role similar to that severance pay. They are a form of job protection and income security for the employee. Therefore, while calculating the severance pay, an employer should take into consideration if the employee has a safety net to fall back on. In the absence of such benefits, employees should receive a high severance pay. 

Trade unions: Unions can influence the severance pay of employees positively, which is advantageous for the employee. (Holzmann et al. 2011).

Level of expected court-awarded payments: Empirical data from Socio-

Economic Panel (SOEP) for 1991–2006 in West Germany shows ‘’severance payments offered by firms in order to avoid a verdict rise with the level of expected court-awarded payments. Therefore, to arrive at an optimal severance pay, firms should factor in the level of expected court-awarded payment’’ (Goerka and  Pannenberg 2009, p.82). 

Employee’s cost of court procedure: ‘’Empirical data from Socio-

Economic Panel (SOEP) for 1991–2006 in West Germany shows that the incidence and level of severance pay declines with the employee’s cost of a court procedure’’. So it is in the interest of firms to examine the employee’s ability to afford a court procedure (Goerka and  Pannenberg 2009, p.82).


Existing formula to determine severance pay

Severance pay as calculated by courts


Age: ‘Canadian courts do take into consideration the age of the employee such that an older employee’s age is noted as a factor justifying increased notice, the court do not specify the exact amount of the increase awarded on account of the employee’s older age’  (Thornicraft 2015, p.783).

Gender: ‘Gender does not covary with the length of the notice awarded by the court’(McShane and McPhillips 1987, p.114).

Character of employment: These cases contest the assumption that senior employees have more difficulty finding comparable employment, and this proposition has been empirically challenged. Judicial notice of this assumption was rejected, absent explicit evidence demonstrating a link between the character of lost employment to any substitute employment (Ha-Redeye 2015). 

Literature suggests that each country, court, and agreement has developed its own unique formula of calculating the severance pay. There is no uniformity in this formula. Often, its calculation left up to the discretion of the employer, who in turn depends on laws. At times, the employer makes necessary modifications according to the nature of employment. 

As demonstrated above, laws, collective agreements and specific contractual obligations have a simplistic way of calculating the severance pay as opposed to courts that seem to have taken a more comprehensive approach, as they take into account several factors that have positive outcomes associated with them (McShane and McPhillips 1987; Goerka and Pannenberg 2010; Thornicraft 2015). Scholars have also established the importance of taking macro-economic and political economy factors into consideration while calculating the severance pay (Holzmann et al. 2011) along with a few miscellaneous factors (Goerka and  Pannenberg 2009). Literature suggests undesirable outcomes of the two interventions are very few and not sufficiently strong enough to negative the positive outcomes. However, the lack of negative outcomes on the two interventions can also be indicative of the lack of research on the issue.

Comparing the two interventions, we conclude that a more comprehensive formula is more effective for the well-being of both the employer and employee as it takes into account various aspects that influence the well-being of the two, as compared to the current formula of calculating severance pay. By that, we mean the 1) age, 2) tenure, 3) character of employment 4) firm size, 5) economic condition 6) availability of new employment 7) gender, 8) salary 10) cost of employment `11) alimony 12) per capita income of the country 13) unemployment benefits 14) pension and 15) union density 16) expected court awarded payments and 17) ability of employee to afford a court dispute 18) pension entitlements forfeited due to job loss. 

In practice, that would mean that each of these factors need to be assigned weights. The assigned weight may depend on the strength of the relationship between the factor and its ability to affect the well-being of the employer and employee. Moreover, not every factor will be relevant to every type of employment relationship or at a given time. All of which leads us to conclude that the calculation of severance pay is a complex and nuanced process. It needs the attention of an interdisciplinary and multi-level team of scholars, policy-makers and experts. Therefore, international development organisations need to play a role in developing a standard formula that can be taken as a baseline by a country or industry and then modified according to their requirements. Similarly, this standardised formula can also serve as a baseline formula for employers who can then adapt it to suit their own needs. 

Meanwhile, from a practitioner’s perspective, this recommendation can serve a starting point when making decisions about the severance pay to be provided to employees. 

The discussion in the balance of outcomes suggests that a more comprehensive and systematic way of calculating the severance pay is more effective for the well-being of the employer and employee as they try to resolve disputes related to dismissal and sharing of financial resources in a fair way.

This recommendation is based on the current way of defining severance pay, court rulings on the same and macro-economic factors identified by scholars with the help of regression analysis. Empirical evidence that shows benefits of including these factors in calculation of severance pay is lacking. So this recommendation is primarily based on theoretical justifications that establish the importance of these factors in calculation of the severance pay.

Evaluative and facilitative mediation

Interventions and evidence

In the first literature search carried out, two interventions stood out as most plausible interventions for exploring possible solutions that meet needs and interests of both parties

  • Facilitative mediation
  • Evaluative mediation


Organisational dispute resolution mechanisms are of various types: mediation, arbitration, early neutral evaluation and ombuds programme. Organisations in the UK (ACAS), US (REDRESS, EEOOC), Netherlands (court-connected mediation) are increasingly using mediation programmes. These programmes are based on three techniques that are widely used in mediation and in resolution of employment disputes: facilitative mediation, evaluative mediation and transformative mediation.Transformative mediation is a therapeutic mediation technique that came after evaluative and facilitative mediation techniques. It was developed by Rober A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger in 1994. It is based on the principles of facilitative mediation. In this recommendation, we will compare facilitative and evaluative mediation as they have a starkly different way of resolving conflicts and understanding the contrasts will be useful for practitioners. 


Facilitative Mediation


The terms “facilitative” and “evaluative” mediation derive from the work of Leonard Riskin. They represent opposite ends of one dimension of a grid intended to illustrate some variations in mediation practice (Lande 2000, p.322). 


“Riskin described the facilitative mediator, who focuses on clarifying and enhancing communication between the parties and helping them decide what to do. The mediator generally will listen to opening statements and may conduct caucuses, but the focus of the process is not on the legal merits of the dispute, so much as on the parties’ underlying needs and how those needs might be met in an interest-based settlement. The mediator generally will avoid evaluating the case, but may engage in reality-testing to help the parties achieve a more objective sense of their alternatives to a negotiated settlement” (Bingham et al. 2009, p.12). 


“The facilitative mediator does not give advice, legal or otherwise; does not provide opinions on the relative value of a parties case or individual issues within the matter; and does not make predictions on the possible outcome of the action should the parties fail to reach agreement and proceed to litigation or arbitration” (Hughes 1998). 


“Facilitative mediation is based upon three fundamental assumptions: first, the disputants are reasonably intelligent and potentially able to work with each other if placed in a neutral and safe environment. Second, the parties, after being properly counseled by their attorneys are, capable of understanding their situations better than the mediator and, perhaps, better than their lawyers. And, third, the clients can develop better solutions than any mediator might create. Facilitative mediation calls upon the parties to create options, explore alternatives, brainstorm possibilities and think laterally to fashion a resolution to the dispute. In facilitative mediation, the emphasis is on self-determination” (Hughes 1998). 


Evaluative Mediation 


“The evaluative mediator focuses on helping the parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case by providing assessment, prediction, and direction. Evaluative mediators generally ask the parties to make formal opening statements presenting their case, and then conduct one or more caucuses to meet privately with disputants. The mediator focuses on collecting facts, identifying issues, and analyzing the parties’ legal arguments to develop a sense of the case’s economic value. In other words, the mediator evaluates who is likely to win and how much the winning party will probably recover. In order to press the parties to settle, the mediator will judiciously share this evaluation with each side at strategic moments” (Bingham et al 2009, p.39). 


“The mediator may propose fair and workable resolutions to one or more issues, press the parties to accept a particular resolution, and state opinions, including opinions on the likely outcome. This model also tends to involve a more directive mediator, one who will not hesitate to ‘arm-twist’ the parties to achieve settlement. It is seen as more adversarial than facilitative mediation” (Hughes 1998).

For shaping solutions during a conflict between employer and employees, is evaluative mediation or facilitative mediation more effective on their well-being?

The databases used are: HeinOnline


Key words used in the search strategy are: employment dispute, mediation, facilitative mediation, evaluative mediation.

  • Boon, A., Urwin, P., & Karuk, V. (2011). What difference does it make? Facilitative judicial mediation of discrimination cases in employment tribunals. Industrial Law Journal, 40(1), 45-81.
  • Alexander, N. (2008). The mediation metamodel: Understanding practice. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 26(1), 97-123.
  • Berggren, Kristina E. (2006). “Do Formal Mediation Programs Work in the Settlement of Employee-Employer Disputes?” Seminar Research Paper Series. Paper 6.
  • Lande, J. (2000). Toward more sophisticated mediation theory. Journal of Dispute Resolution, 2000(2), 321-334.
  • Waldman, E. A. (1998). The evaluative-facilitative debate in mediation: Applying the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence. Marquette Law Review, 82(1), 155-170.
  • Scott H. Hughes. (1998). Facilitative Mediation or Evaluative Mediation: May Your Choice Be a Wise One. 59 The Alabama Lawyer, 246. 
  • Love, L. P. (1997). The top ten reasons why mediators should not evaluate. Florida State University Law Review, 24(4), 937-948.
  • Stulberg, J. B. (1997). Facilitative versus evaluative mediator orientations: Piercing the grid lock. Florida State University Law Review, 24(4), 985-1006. 


The article by Waldman (1998) frames the debate between supporters of evaluative and facilitative mediation through the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence. The author provides a detailed analysis on the kind of therapeutic benefits each mediation style offers. Although convincing, this analysis is theoretical and is based on experts’ opinion. The author does not refer to empirical evidence to support the arguments made. The lack of empirical research on the advantages and disadvantages of facilitative and evaluative mediation for disputants has also been acknowledged in the article. Hence, we grade this paper as low. 


The paper by Lande (2000) reasons that the debate between evaluative and facilitative techniques has led to a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each and has stimulated a discussion on the appropriate use of each technique in different contexts. The arguments made in the paper are well-thought and convincing but largely rely on literature on expert opinion. Reference to empirical research has been made only once. So we grade the paper as low 


Berggren (2006) presents evidence from a case study on othe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)- a federal agency established to enforce civil rights against workplace discrimination in the US. The EEOC uses facilitative techniques to mediate employment disputes. The author presents evidence from various studies conducted on the effectiveness of the EEOC in resolving employee disputes. Therefore, this paper can be regarded as high-quality evidence.  


Hughes (1998) analyses literature on evaluative and facilitative mediation to infer which mediation style should be used for a client’s dispute. This analysis is done using theoretical reasoning. There is no reference to empirical research in the paper. So the paper is graded as low. 


Boon, Urwin and Karuk (2011) present the findings of an evaluation of a facilitative judicial mediation, piloted by the Employment Tribunal Service in the UK. It analyses qualitative evidence on satisfaction of clients with the process and outcome of the mediation as well as reports drafted by judicial mediators. Although the sample size of this study was not large, it is still significant. The data includes a satisfaction survey of those expressing interest in judicial mediation, with thirty five claimants and fifty one employers who had experienced judicial mediation, and forty five claimants and thirty seven employers who had not.  Also, there is data on 98 mediation reports completed by judicial mediators. 

The paper presents both perspectives, that of clients and mediators. Since the sample size of this study is comparable to a small empirical study, we grade the quality of this paper as low.


Love (1997) presents arguments against using evaluative mediation. The paper largely relies on conceptual and theoretical literature to make its case. Empirical research is not used to back up the arguments. Due to the absence of any reference to empirical literature, we grade the quality of this paper as low.


Quality of evidence and research gap


A large amount of literature on both these interventions (evaluative and facilitative mediation) is based on conceptual research, expert opinions and a few small empirical studies. Large empirical studies or meta analyses are lacking.  According to the Actionable Recommendations document and GRADE methodology, the overall strength of evidence right now is low. The fact that there is not a lot of  empirical research, our understanding of the desirable and undesirable outcomes of both interventions is limited. 


Evaluative Mediation

Facilitative Mediation

In evaluative mediation, because the mediator actively directs the process, he or she can effectively reduce the domination of one party, if that is the case. ‘Evaluative techniques can provide an antidote to unfairness caused by passive facilitative mediators who permit stronger parties to take advantage of weaker ones’ (Lande 2000, p.326).

The mediator gives both parties an assessment of their chances of succeeding in their claims in the court of law. This helps the disputing parties in arriving at a compromise that is in their best interests. “The mediator can help the parties to determine what is fair so that neither leaves the table only to find out later that they got taken. Using the evaluative technique, the mediator can help disputing parties to understand how the law might vindicate their rights further helping them in avoiding an unfair result’’ (Hughes 1998). “Discussing how each disputant’s position accords with existing social and legal norms makes for more informed decision making, and, in the long run, more equitable agreements” (Waldman 1998, p.157).

Evaluative mediation is suitable when the disputing parties want to distribute resources amongst themselves. Evaluative mediation may provide the best fit if money is the sole issue or the bargaining will be purely distributive (dividing the pie) as opposed to integrative (expanding the size of the pie), as in some contract cases or in simple personal injury or property damage cases (Hughes 1998).

When disputing parties are strangers, they may prefer an evaluative model of mediation.  (Hughes 1998).

Because evaluative mediation focuses on arriving at a settlement between the disputing parties, it gives them closure which has therapeutic effects on the disputants. Advocates of evaluative mediation also argue that dispute closure has therapeutic effects and thus, to the degree that evaluative mediation helps bring about settlement, it is therapeutic, even if the parties are not the sole captains of the process (Waldman 1998, p.166).

Majority of the disputing parties were satisfied with the meditation process used by EEOC. They were willing to use the mediation process again, if a situation arises. One survey conducted through the EEOC found that of parties involved in the process, 96% of employers and 91% of claimants would use the mediation process if it was offered to them again (Berggren 2006).

One of the clients of EEOC’s mediation process is Safeway Inc, a grocery store chain. This client witnessed a reduction in the number of charges filed. “Through mediation, we have had the opportunity to proactively resolve issues and avoid against potential charges in the future.  We have seen the number of charges filed with the EEOC against use actually decline. We believe that our participating in mediation and listening to employees’ concerns has contributed to that decline” (Bergrren 2006, p.6).  

Participants in a survey that evaluated the EEOC mediation programme expressed satisfaction with the skills and role of the mediator. A report that examined the mediation techniques used by EEOC found that the disputing parties “.believe that they had a full opportunity to present their views;…express high satisfaction with the role and conduct of the mediators indicating that the mediators understood and helped to clarify their needs, and also assisted them in developing options for resolving dispute” (Bergrren 2006, p.7). 

The ACAS in the UK conducted a survey of 25 respondents who used their mediation services. The respondents appreciated the role played by mediators which shows that disputing parties are satisfied with facilitative techniques used by mediators (Saundry et al. 2013, p.3).

Facilitative mediation has therapeutic benefits for disputing parties because they “have more autonomy and are not subject to coercion by the mediator while settling the dispute”. “When people solve their own problems during mediation, it develops their confidence and feelings of well-being. This develops their ability to to cope with conflictual situations in the future (Waldman 1998, p.164).’ 

Supporters of facilitative mediation also argue that this style of mediation helps disputing parties in becoming aware of each others underlying needs. “It therefore expands the consciousness of disputants” (Waldman 1998, p.165).

The inherent nature of facilitative mediation that requires parties to communicate their needs to each other that reduces the hostilities that traditional litigation brings. “Facilitation provides an opportunity to avoid or reduce adversarial dynamics embodied in traditional litigation and often mirrored in evaluative mediation” (Lande 2000, p.326). 

At times, mediators in the interest of getting parties to settle the dispute put undue pressure on parties. Because facilitative mediation is based on principles of cooperation, disputing parties receive fairer treatment at the hands of mediators. “Facilitative avoids injustice through heavy-handed pressure tactics and questionable evaluations by the mediators” (Lande 2000, p.326).

Mediators brainstorm possible solutions with both parties which increases the possibilities of finding a wide variety of solutions as opposed to having the mediator suggest a solution which is what is observed in evaluative mediation. “The inherent nature of both styles of mediation places facilitative mediation to be in a better place to create ingenious combinations of options for resolution” (Hughes 1998).

When “disputing parties are likely to have a relationship, facilitative mediation works better to help the parties to repair the relationship, work that is crucial to solidify any resolution of the dispute” (Hughes 1998). 

Evaluative Mediation

Facilitative Mediation

Lande (2000) argues that if evaluative mediator  sides with the more dominant party in the dispute, it will damage the interests of the weaker party. This is a disadvantage of the allowing evaluative mediators that take a more active role in dispute resolution. “Stempel argues that eclectic mediation that includes mediator evaluation can provide an “antidote” to unfairness caused by passive facilitative mediators who permit stronger parties to take advantage of weaker ones. I think that it is at least as likely that evaluative mediators will side with the stronger party and thus arguably aggravate the distributional problems that Stempel is legitimately concerned about”(Lande 2000, p.326). 

“The primary criticism of evaluative mediation is the disputing parties’ loss of self determination. Although the parties always retain the ultimate authority to settle or not, critics assert that the ability to fashion a resolution based upon their own needs and interests may be compromised by a natural tendency to rely on the ideas, options, opinions and predictions from the mediator who is a person with expertise and authority. However, the mediator brings only apparent and not actual expertise. The parties (with the help of their attorneys) have greater expertise than the mediator. They have lived with the dispute for months, if not years, have slept on it, sweated over it, cried about it” (Hughes 1998).  

Opinions or valuations threaten the mediator’s perceived impartiality. “Any opinion or evaluation will favor one side and disfavor the other. So the injured party will discount the validity of the opinion of the mediator and will label it as the mediator’s bias” (Hughes 1998). 

If mediators are required to anticipate outcomes of the dispute for the parties, then only lawyers and experts in the field will be eligible to play the role of the mediator. As a result, disputing parties will not benefit from the skills that non-lawyers bring to mediation. “If it is acceptable or customary for mediators to give opinions on likely court outcomes or the merits of particular legal claims or defenses, then only lawyers and substantive experts will be competent to mediate. While this result may be good news for lawyers, the mediator pool would be substantially weakened by the loss of the talents and perspectives of nonlawyers(Love 1997, p.941).

“In mediation, little protection exists from a mediator’s inadequately informed opinion. Confidentiality statutes, rules, and agreements keep sessions private. Quasi-judicial immunity in some cases can shield mediators from liability for careless opinions”(Love 1997, p.942).

Judges in court-annexed mediation may be criticised for bullying parties towards settlement and for intervening in the style of an arbitrator, thus robbing mediation of its vital, consensual ambience” (Boon, Karuk, Urwin 2011, p.5). 

Evaluative mediation is often criticised by scholars for being an ‘oxymoron’ (Love 1996). “They argue that this technique should not be labelled as mediation as it ‘is both conceptually different from, and operationally inconsistent with, the values and goals characteristically ascribed to the mediation process” (Stuhlberg 1997, p.986)

Facilitative mediation deprives disputing parties of guidance. “The facilitative model limits judges’ opportunity to express an opinion on the likely success of the case, or its value. This is problematic in Employment Tribunals, which were established with the intention of excluding lawyers and do not indemnify successful parties for the cost of legal advice” (Boon, Karuk, Urwin 2011, p.6).  

“A purely facilitative role may inhibit some mediators in nurturing participation, leaving respondents feeling better served by the process than claimants” (Boon, Karuk, Urwin 2011, p.21). 

“Employers were more satisfied than claimants with the process. This may be because facilitative mediation is a lightly regulated negotiation which favours parties familiar with the processes” (Boon, Karuk, Urwin 2011, p.22). 

“Passive facilitative mediators unwittingly permit stronger parties to take advantage of weaker ones” (Lande, 2000 p.326). 

Facilitative mediation may not help in a long-standing dispute or where there is a clash of personalities. “Where a dispute was long standing and involved personality clashes, mediation was perceived as less effective for resolving the dispute. These types of disputes, usually but not always between employees, were assessed by all parties as likely to be resistant to mediation” (Seargeant 2005, p.22).

Mediators frequently mix facilitative and evaluative techniques in individual cases, which is often appropriate and beneficial. Appropriate use of predominantly one approach or the other may vary in part depending on the type of case. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) initiated a mediation programme where the mediators used a mix of facilitaitve and evaluative techniques. An evaluation of the programme showed that 63% of the people who underwent mediation reached a settlement compared with 21% of those who relied on traditional mediation. Additionally, participants expressed a higher degree of satisfaction with the process than the outcomes: 63% of claimants and 77% of supervisors said they would use mediation again while 50% of claimants and 68% of the supervisors were satisfied with the outcomes (Bingham et. al 2009). 


However, literature on the desirable and undesirable outcomes indicates that certain mediation techniques are more appropriate in certain cases. In some cases, a facilitative model is more useful. For example,1)  when parties are interested in continuing their relationship after the problem is resolved, 2) when both parties have enough power and can negotiate on a level-playing field 3) where there is space for creative and future focused solutions (Alexander 2008, p.11). Evidence indicates that facilitative mediation by EEOC has worked well for employers who are interested in gaining a better understanding of the problems that their employees face (Berggren 2006). Facilitative mediation is not useful when the dispute is long-standing (Seargeant 2005).


Evaluative mediation is more useful where parties are interested in distributive justice where 1) there is an exchange of money or other resources (Hughes 1998), 2) when parties have unrealistic expectations from outcome of the dispute, 3) when clients require an objective opinion of an expert, 4) when parties want a quick resolution to the dispute and 5) when resolving relational aspects of the issue is not important (Alexander 2008).

For shaping solutions during a conflict between employer and employees, both evaluative and facilitative mediation techniques are effective. However, in some contexts, the use of one technique is more useful. For instance, evaluative mediation is more useful when parties have  when disputing parties have unrealistic expectations from outcome of the dispute, when clients require an objective opinion of an expert, when parties want a quick resolution to the dispute and when resolving relational aspects of the issue is not important and where there is distribution of material and financial resources. 


On the other hand, facilitative mediation is more useful when disputing parties are interested in continuing their relationship, when both parties have equal power in negotiations, where a wide range of solutions are possible and where the employer wants to make a sincere effort in understanding the concerns of the employees.


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