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1.2 User-centred employment Contracts

Guideline for employment problems / PREVENTING: 1.2 User-centred employment contracts

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

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

‘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).”

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.

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

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?

Search strategy

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.

Assessment and grading of evidence

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

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. 

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Transactional Leadership
Transformational Leadership
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).
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).
“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.
‘…[T]ransformational 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.
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.
“[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.
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.
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.
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.
“… [I]t 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.
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 adopt face to face communication methods with subordinates which is positively associated with employee satisfaction” (Men 2014, p.264).
“…[T]ransformational 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) .

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

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).
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).
“…[H]ighly 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 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).
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).
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).

Balance of Outcomes

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.

Technical Remarks

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

Table of Contents

1. Recommendations on PREVENTING
1.2 User-centred employment contracts