For decades, employees in the Nigerian labour market have complained about poor compensation and less-than-ideal workplace policies, with many unable to change their circumstances. Now, new research from University of Edinburgh Business School show that significant and positive changes have come to the fore in recent years.
New research examines how Nigerian workers are negotiating better deals

Conducted by Dotun Ayeni, a Nigerian Doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with Sara Chaudhry (Birkbeck University of London) and Maryam Aldosarri (Aston Business School), this research shows that both employees and employers are now customising work arrangements via i-deals. I-deals are personalised, non-standard workplace arrangements negotiated between individual employees and their employers to meet their needs. This in turn is leading to an increase in the divergence of working arrangements, not seen in Nigeria for over 50 years.

As the sixth most populated country globally, and Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria has the highest youth population in the world. It is a culturally and ethnically diverse nation, with over 500 regional languages and dialects spoken and over 400 ethnic groups. Its economy depends on revenue accrued from oil exploration, however fluctuations in global oil prices, corruption, and increasing national debt have seen the nation’s economy shrink to record lows.

Nigeria’s socio-economic landscape has significant implications for the world of work, chief of which is the growth in informal and precarious work in the form of sole-proprietorship, popularly called the one-man business. Many in full-time employment are either underpaid or overworked. However, the bargaining power of employees with high-in-demand skills has sky-rocketed, thereby increasing their ability to negotiate non-standard employment terms with their employers.

“I-deals have an inherently secretive element, making them delicate to study, understand and address,” said Ayeni. “Our research offers insights into how the dynamics in three key industries in Lagos impact i-deals negotiations and how employees and their employers navigate them.”

The team collected data over a two-year period, taken from participating firms including an advertising agency, a dental practice, and a large capital market firm. Accompanying these data were interviews with 62 participants ranging from employees, managers, supervisors as well as HR professionals.

The after-effects of a global pandemic, rapid technological advancements and the growing need for organisations to attract, engage and retain talent have impacted the rise in requests for i-deals. Therefore, employers are being forced to rethink how best to personalise the employment experience for each employee.

Author Sara Chaudhry adds: “Our paper gives voice to three employee categories: (1) those who have had to negotiate their employment conditions, (2) those looking to negotiate but with little or no experience and (3) co-workers who have observed their colleagues being granted i-deals at work. Our findings show that i-deals are a complex phenomenon impacted by the context in which they occur, and therefore employees and employers must pay attention to their contexts when considering or experiencing i-deals. Certainly, there are questions about fairness and equity with regard to i-deals.”

Maryam Aldossari, another collaborator of the research, notes: "This paper offers a variety of tools to women and other marginalised employee groups on the options available for those considering i-deals. For example, employees who may find it challenging to bargain alone can join forces with others to legitimise their i-deal requests. Supervisors who see themselves as allies can also take charge of i-deals negotiations to help employees with low bargaining power. Importantly, employers must do more by providing their employees with benefits tailored to fit a more significant segment of their workforce. Given the varied need of employees in today's workplace, employers should also ingrain a culture of personalisation whereby no employee feels out of place requesting a specific condition of work when the need arises.”

Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that forward-thinking organisations are not only personalising employment arrangements but are moving to an era of hyper-personalisation, enabled by technology, that puts people rather than employers at the heart of HR support. In sum, organisations that will succeed in the future world of work are those that embrace the individuality of their people and offer avenues to support their needs.

Read the full paper, 'Temporal contexts and actors vis-a-vis I-deals' timing and creation: Evidence from Nigeria'.