By Bryan Hay

In this era of quiet quitting, more job vacancies than workers to fill them, and poor job satisfaction and engagement, a good understanding of the contractual relationships between workers and employers has become more critical than ever.

“Most of us are, have been, or will be workers,” says Joaquín Gómez-Miñambres, associate professor of economics, who will discuss trust and reciprocity in the workplace when he delivers the Jones Faculty Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights, Room 104.

There’s a certain give-and-take between employers and their expectations, and how much employees are willing to devote to their work, says Gómez-Miñambres, noting recent surveys indicate that most U.S. workers are disengaged and not in the mood to do more than the minimum effort required to keep their jobs.

“We can all connect to these ideas of trust and reciprocity,” he says. “When we evaluate our work relationships, we ponder whether the employer is treating us fairly or not. And that is having an effect in our lives in how we approach work, how we see work, and how happy we are when we go to work.”

Labor contracts are often very vague and open to interpretation, with employers expecting much more than workers are required to deliver, Gómez-Miñambres says, adding that these incomplete contracts don’t provide sufficient financial incentives for employees to go the extra mile.

Fascinated since grad school with contract theory and behavioral economics, Gómez-Miñambres says his research on incomplete contracts applies mostly to white-collar employees in jobs that require creativity and abstract thinking as opposed to laborers, whose work is often regimented, observable, and more easily measured.

“Work is something most of us spend a lot of time on,” he adds. “Work-life balance is important. And it is easy to minimize the importance of taking time off. But at the same time, even if you have work-life balance, even if you do precisely what the job requires and no more, you’re still going to work a lot of time. Therefore, understanding the ways in which we can be more engaged at work is important not only for employers as they consider different incentives, but also for workers’ happiness and well-being.”

Gómez-Miñambres, who has spent most of his academic career analyzing the implications of psychologically based incentives for the selection and motivation of workers, notes that the effects of incomplete contracts and eroded trust spill beyond the workplace.

“It’s important, because it affects all of us,” he says. “Again, we are all workers, but also we are consumers and clients who benefit from healthy workplace relationships. If those relationships are dysfunctional, workers become demotivated and disengaged. As a result, we get lower quality services and products. So, a poorly managed workplace affects the overall economy as well as our daily lives.”

Gómez-Miñambres’ talk is sponsored by the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture and Awards Fund, established in 1966 to recognize superior teaching and scholarship at Lafayette College.

 

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