What is it about?

We theorize that actors’ cognitive frames influence their desired HR practices, and these practices will be stable if managers and employees share similar frames. When actors’ frames are mismatched, however, HR practices can violate employee expectations and trigger a sensemaking process, potentially leading to framing contests and conflict. We hypothesize predicted patterns of conflict and expected outcomes depending on the nature of the frames mismatch. Allowing for frames mismatch uniquely highlights the importance of recognizing managers’ and employees’ frames for understanding HR outcomes and conflicts observed in practice.

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Why is it important?

Our paper uniquely contributes to the employment relations literature by incorporating cultural-cognitive and discursive elements into what has to date been a predominantly deterministic structural understanding of the origins of HR practices and sources of conflict in the employment relationship. The resulting framework can better explain the variation in HR policies and practices that we observe in practice; provides an avenue for understanding how competing organizations in the same industry can have very different HR strategies; yields a new categorization of HR practices: effective, underutilized, or causing recurring, antagonistic conflict; and illustrates the richness of a (mis)matched frames theoretical approach that could be usefully applied elsewhere in employment relations. Our paper also makes a unique contribution to the broader management and organizations literature, where frame analysis has not been systematically applied to a study of the employment relationship.


Adopting a cognitive frames approach to understanding the employment relationship complements emerging employment relations research on ideas, but our approach uniquely reveals new opportunities to research framing and discursive contests within organizations and to understand old conflicts in a new light. For example, scholarship on managerial resistance to unionization has generally focused on the implications for labor costs and labor control. But a framing perspective also leads to the possibility that managers seek to avoid unionization because a union makes it harder for managers to impose their desired cognitive frame on employees. As a second example, by recognizing that an individual’s cognitive frames are shaped by their identities and past experiences, a framing approach can support Lee and Tapia’s call for identity-conscious analyses in employment relations. By illustrating the applicability and usefulness of frame analysis to the employment relationship, we hope to inspire others to extend it.

Professor John W Budd
University of Minnesota System

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Making sense of (mis)matched frames of reference: A dynamic cognitive theory of (in)stability in HR practices, Industrial Relations A Journal of Economy and Society, March 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/irel.12275.
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