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Purpose: This study tests three theories of determinants of workers’ subjective response to work situations – structural factors (measured by individual, organization and job characteristics), general disposition, or informal work arrangements as constructed by Laubach’s (2005) “consent deal.”

Design/methodology/approach: Data were obtained from the Indiana Quality of Employment Survey, a survey of workers covering general working conditions. We constructed 10 models regressing worker perceptions and attitudes (e.g. satisfaction, relations with supervisors, meaningfulness) on structural determinants. We then used structural equation modeling to identify an underlying factor representing a general worker response from elements of the attitudes and perceptions. Finally, we regressed a scalar version of the general response factor on the structural determinants using the previous models.

Findings: We identified a single second order latent factor underlying the 10 attitudes and perceptions which represented the “general subjective response” of workers. This supported the concept of a dispositional effect. We then found that structural factors had a minimal effect on the subjective response, but that informal arrangements had a very strong effect. This undermined the first two theories and supported the third.

Implications: Worker attitudes and perceptions are very resilient to different formal work arrangements but are highly influenced by the informal arrangements negotiated between workers and front-line management. Organizations can have the strongest effect on developing worker support by empowering front-line managers to make informal deals on workplace rules.

Originality/value: This study offers a means to probe the relationship between formal and structural and the informal and subjective worlds of the workplace.


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