Employment systems in the twenty-first century

Peter J Turnbull, Peter Gahan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


In this article, we honour David Marsden’s most important
contribution: his Theory of Employment Systems
(ToES). Grounded in standard economic analysis, ToES
sets out to explain how a relatively small number
of employment systems solve fundamental problems
associated with open-ended employment relationships
(flexibility and opportunism). In the period since its
publication, the employment relationship remains the
dominant form of engaging workers; however, employment
arrangements in the UK and elsewhere have been
transformed, and employment systems in many settings
more closely resemble configurations of rules that ToES
predicted would prove unstable. While ToES does not
explicitly integrate a number of important dimensions
that define all aspects of employment systems, we show
why Marsden’s core theoretical insights retain analytical
purchase as an explanatory framework. That said,
taking a more sociologically and historically informed
approach to understanding contemporary employment
systems is required to comprehend the diversity of
employment systems and how they evolve in the twentyfirst
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Industrial Relations
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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