Dismissed by a machine

How would you feel if your employer would implement an automated system of performance measure that uses algorithms to monitor your work output and to decide about your future in the organization? Many of you would probably rebel against such an idea, yet, some might already work under such or similar conditions. Amazon seems to be an example of an employer that “automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for productivity”, like Colin Lecher argues in an article published in The Verge. The article refers to documents revealing an “automated tracking and termination process”, were machines monitor the performance of employees in Amazon warehouses, including “time off task”. In case employees underperform, the system “automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors”. Even though supervisors are able to override the process, there is no information provided whether they use this possibility or not.

Here is the link to the full article: https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/25/18516004/amazon-warehouse-fulfillment-centers-productivity-firing-terminations

Reading the text, I became reminded of Frederick Winslow Taylor once claiming that in teh past teh man (sic!) has been first, while in the future the system must be first. Well, it seems that we have well arrived in the future…

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Posted in Managerial control, Scientific management, Technology | Leave a comment

Deep acting is good for you

All of you, who are familiar with the concept of emotional labour will remember that Arlie Russell Hochschild (1983) suggests two strategies of how employees respond to organizational demands to display certain emotions and to enact behavioural scripts – surface acting and deep acting. You might also remember research indicating the various detrimental effects emotional labour has for employees’ well-being or job satisfaction due to emotional dissonance (e.g. Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Abraham, 1999)

However, did you know that there is research suggesting that reacting through deep acting is actually better for your well-being compared to surface acting?

Pugh et al. (2011) discuss how particularly surface acting results in lower job satisfaction and higher levels of emotional exhaustion. They argue for example that employees lack control over their emotions and feel inauthentic when they engage in surface acting strategies. The mismatch between personal emotional states and organizational display rules induces emotional dissonance and as a consequence leads to emotional exhaustion. Furthermore, surface acting results in low job-satisfaction due to the uncomfortable dissonance between real and faked emotions (Bhave & Glomb, 2016) and it leads to higher rates of absenteeism (Nguyen et al., 2016).

The study of Xanthopoulou et al. (2018) on the relationship between emotional labour and the need for recovery proposes that employees, who engage in surface acting become more tired and therefore they feel a higher need for recovery after work. Depleting resources through surface acting result in exhaustion (Xanthopoulou et al., 2018). In contrast, using deep acting has positive effects for both employees’ daily well-being at work and their need for recovery after work. Through deep acting employees avoid a discrepancy between displayed and felt emotions and therefore they stay energetic (Xanthopoulou et al., 2018).

When employees engage in deep acting, absenteeism and turnover is reduced, argue Hülsheger and Schewe (2011) and Chau et al. (2009), since the emotions that are outwardly displayed are congruent with the ones inwardly summoned (Humphrey et al., 2015). In this sense deep acting hinders emotional dissonance and the associated negative consequences to occur. Deep acting “does not harm employee well-being, and deep acting is positively related with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job performance, and customer satisfaction”, as Humphrey et al. (2015, p. 749) summarize.

As a consequence, for example Hülsheger and Schewe (2011) claim that organizations should promote deep acting amongst their employees and train them to regulate their emotions in way that is healthy for both the employee and the employer.

I wonder what you and your students think of that.

 

References

Abraham, R. (1999). The Impact of Emotional Dissonance on Organizational Commitment and Intention to Turnover, The Journal of Psychology, 133(4), 441-455.

Ashforth, B. E., & Humphrey, R. H. (1993). Emotional Labor in Service Roles: The Influence of Identity. The Academy of Management Review, 18(1), 88-115.

Bhave, D. P., & Glomb, T. M. (2016). The Role of Occupational Emotional Labor Requirements on Surface Acting-Job Satisfaction Relationship. Journal of Management, 42(3), 722–741.

Hülsheger, U. R., & Schewe, A. F. (2011). On the Costs and Benefits of Emotional Labor: A Meta-Analysis of Three Decades of Research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(3), 361-389.

Humphrey, R. H., Ashforth, B. E., & Diefendorff, J. M. (2015). The bright side of emotional labor. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36, 749– 769.

Nguyen, H., Groth, M., & Johnson, A. (2016). When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Keep Working: Impact of Emotional Labor on Absenteeism. Journal of Management, 42(3), 615–643.

Pugh, S. D., Groth, M., & Hennig-Thurau, T. (2011). Willing and Able to Fake Emotions: A Closer Examination of the Link Between Emotional Dissonance and Employee Well-Being. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 377-390.

Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A. B., Oerlemans, W. G., & Koszucka, M. (2018). Need for recovery after emotional labor: Differential effects of daily deep and surface acting. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39, 481-494.

 

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Are women better leaders?

This semester I asked my students to write a short up-to-six-pages scientific essay about the topic “Are women better leaders?”. We discussed this question during some of our classes and we developed answers from various angles. Many of my students decided to write an affirmative essay arguing that women are indeed better leaders. They referred to various literature, for example explaining that women have higher levels of empathy and emotional intelligence, employ a more collaborative leadership style, and are better at communication as they focus on creating a community, empowering subordinates, and communicating effectively.

Reading these essays, I was astonished about the degree of stereotyping that I met, particularly as we discussed this in the class as being a potentially problematic consequence of promoting for example a particular female leadership style. And I believe that some you may agree that the above-exemplified argumentations may do nothing else than putting women in a box or force them into a specific position by imposing identities (or rather identity templates) upon them, which they may find inappropriate and difficult to accept but at the same time also difficult to escape from. Moreover, the repeated use of such stereotypes may just reinforce the gendered division of our society, instead of deconstructing this division.

However, many of the students in their essays departed from research indicating that women continue constituting the minority when we look at leadership and management positions in most countries of the Western world and probably in all countries of our world. Now, let us just imagine that repeating the stereotypical argument that women make better leaders would step-by-step result in them having an equal share in occupying leadership positions (also at the top) and thereby having more impact on how we construct our world. Hence, imagine for a moment that reinforcing to think in stereotypes in this sense could have the effect of making the world more equal. Would this be wrong? Wouldn’t this constitute an effect that many would appreciate? Wouldn’t in this case the end justify the means? Well, I do not know the answer to these questions. However, I guess that also with regard to gender stereotyping the potential effects are not necessarily that straightforward as we sometimes might think they are.

Posted in equality, gender, Leadership | Leave a comment

Emotional Labour as Gendered Performance

As Rose Hackman in her 2015 article in the Guardian shows, emotional labour constitutes a gendered activity. This may not be new to you, particularly as the concept is largely studied within contexts of jobs and occupations that used to be sex-typed as female ones. However, I think that Hackman convincingly shows how emotional labour is a gendered performance beyond the immediate realm of the workplace and thereby both a consequence and a social mechanism of our gendered society.

Here is the link to the article.

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Crew Orientation in the Fast Food Industry – Regulating Employees’ Behaviour, Emotions, and Identities

The other day one of my students told me about the McDonalds Crew Orientation Modules available on Youtube. I think it might be a good idea sharing them with you as you might wish to use them to show your students how the company aims to regulate employee behaviour and emotions, yet, also how it attempts to provide identity templates for its employees.

 

You and your students will easily notice the rather posh image of working at McDonalds that is created by these video clips. You may want to compare this image with your own and your students’ experiences as customers (or even as employees) of McDonalds restaurants. You could also refer to Youtube videos exemplifying some of the experiences of employees at McDonalds restaurants. There are plenty available, but I leave it up to you to judge their quality.

Finally, you could discuss with the students to what extent they believe that the McDonalds Crew Orientation Modules will have an actual effect on future and current McDonalds employees in terms of regulating emotions and behaviour and creating particular work-related identities. Surely visiting a McDonalds restaurant one could easily observe that employees enact behavioural and emotional scripts. However, to what extent they identify with their work and the organization beyond their scripted behaviour could be discussed by the students.

Posted in control, Emotional labour, identity | Leave a comment

Like pigs to the slaughter? (adapted from J. M. Corbett, 1994)

Source: J. Martin Corbett (1994) Critical Cases in Organisational Behaviour, Palgrave, p. 232

I presented this cartoon to my students in one of our classes on the topics of power, politics, control and resistance. I asked them to interpret the picture and to answer the question: To what extent does the picture provide an apt metaphor for the way a) management and b) employees tend to relate to technological “progress” in a company?

Immediately I observed that many faces went blank and students began to look rather puzzled. I walked around and talked to some of them in order to find out what the matter is. I learned that many of them where rather unfamiliar with this type of exercise and therefore did not really know how to respond to the task. I was quite surprised since this class teaches students in Master programs and I assumed that they could easily handle the little exercise. However, it turned out, that many of them couldn’t.

So I began asking them to identify who in the picture represents the management and the employees. Next they should identify the technology and explain why it is new. Some had difficulties understanding that when you plug the male connector to a socket, electricity flows from the socket into the plug. Hence, the new technology did not suggest electrocuting the pic instead of using for example a knife (which would perhaps be the old technology), like a few suggested. Rather, instead of slaying the pics, which would be the expected technology in a slaughterhouse, the new technology suggested that its life is now exhausted bit by bit. This is of course only one way of interpreting the picture but it could help us to understand why the pig apparently does not appreciate what is happening.

Even if students understood this, they struggled to transfers the insight to the world of work. I asked them to think about employees being confronted with new technology implemented by management and it took a while until answers such as:

  • the management may introduce new technology as a sophisticated way to exploit employees,
  • the plug and the circumstance that one becomes connected by the cable also means to be more easily monitored and controlled,
  • the angry look of the pic as expression that employees are aware of the consequences that new technology might have for their work, and
  • the management as the group that has the final word with regard to which technology is introduced and why and how this is done.

I suggest using this little exercise and ask your students to make associations. Perhaps they will less struggle with interpreting the picture.

 

Posted in Managerial control, Power, Technology | Leave a comment

My Thoughts on: Lynda Gratton (2004) The Democratic Enterprise. Liberating Your Business with Freedom, Flexibility and Commitment. Prentice Hall

The other day I was strolling around in the library – something that I often used to do in past but only occasionally nowadays – when the above book caught my eye. Without looking into the book, I borrowed it and spend the next two train rides to work reading about the democratic enterprise and the results and conclusions Lynda Gratton draws from her democracy study. Even if it has been published quite a few years ago, I think it would be worth sharing my thoughts about it.

The book takes as its outset the tales of three citizens that happen to be exemplary stories of employees, who adopt the stance of a citizen while working in an organization. Afterwards we delve into the history of democracy learning about classical, liberal, direct, competitive/elitist, and legal democracy. The author continues by turning towards what she refers to as the tenets of the democratic enterprises. According to these tenets, employees (should) become labelled ‘citizens’, who firstly engage in an adult-to-adult relationship with their employer and in return expect that the employer treats them as adults as well. Secondly, as citizens, employees become investors in the organization that they work for seeking to build and deploy their human capital. Thirdly, in democratic enterprises employees are enabled to become, who they want to be, and thereby – the author refers to John Stuard Mills here – to frame the plan of their life to suit their own character. Fourthly, as investors, employees can determine the conditions of their association with the company, hence, decide to invest or de-invest, amongst other things. Fifthly, even though the liberty of the individual employee is a central value in the democratic enterprise, the liberty of some individuals should not be at the expense of others. Creating win-win-situations is key in this regard. From this follows that, sixthly, individual employees are not only accountable to themselves. They have accountabilities and obligations to the organization as well.

In her democracy study (conducted between 1993 and 2000), Lynda Gratton investigated to what extent these tenets are visible in the practices of contemporize organizations. She devotes one chapter presenting the results of the study, thereby showing how employees of Citibank, GlaxoSmithKline, Hewlett-Packard, Kraft Foods, Lloyds TSB. Parcelforce, and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital experience the above tenets of democracy to be realized in their daily work.

After these more descriptive chapters, the book takes a normative turn. Lynda Gratton describes some of the aspects that drive contemporary organizations towards democracy and she elaborates the building blocks of creating the democratic enterprise. According to the equation that she offers, individual autonomy + organizational variety + shared purpose add up to the establishment of the democratic enterprise. Explaining each of these building blocks, Lynda Gratton shows how organizations can bring the democratic enterprise into reality by addressing numerous so-called key elements. Who the organization is, respectively, who stands in front of creating the democratic enterprise becomes transparent in chapter eight, where the book discusses the role of the CEO and leadership team (as philosopher and visionary), the team leader / manager (as creator of space and goal setter), and HR (as creator of insight and builder of trials and experiments).

The book ends with a chapter providing five good reasons for why managers and leader should establish a democratic enterprise: Employees would be more engaged, win-win solutions would be established, the organization would be more just and fair, more agile, and finally more able to integrate.

This last chapter does the final bit of suggesting a shiny future to all organizations that are successful instrumentalizing the idea of democracy for economic purposes. In so doing, the book makes the notion of democracy and citizens functional for organizations’ efforts towards becoming economical effective. If only the leaders and managers are able to create the conditions that enable employees to feel and act as citizens, the democratic enterprise will be able to use them most effectively, while it simultaneously makes them feel good. In this way the democratic enterprise will be able to outperform its competitors that have not yet understood exploiting the notion of democracy for their business. You may interpret this as my critical stance towards the book, and you rightly do so. I think it is problematic to turn the idea of democracy into a commodity, hence, putting a price tag on it to determine its value for the capitalist economy. I am also concerned that the book, as it speaks to employers, tends to reinforce an unequal relationship between managers / leaders and employees. It is the former who have the capacity and responsibility to create the conditions for the democratic enterprise, while the latter are largely expected to passively react to these conditions by behaving and performing as citizens. By the way, the term ‘citizen’ receives a specific connotation in the democratic enterprise that deviates from notions of someone, who is entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman. To what extent can employees in capitalist organization be regarded as freemen or freewomen? The book does not take into account the effects of capitalist conditions of paid employment, particularly the antagonistic relationship of capital and labor and the subsequent exploitation of employees. It rather seems to offer a way of creating a win-win situation for employers and employees alike, which one could challenge as even the democratic enterprise continues to exploit its employees.

However, despite this critique, what would actually happen to the world of work if the idea of the book would spark the interest of employers? Wouldn’t this have the potential of ameliorating the conditions of some if not many employees? I think that one could probably argue that the working conditions of employees might improve if more organizations would decide to live up the principles that this book develops. If employers would (at least try to) treat their employees as adults (not as infants or puppets), enable them a fair degree of influence on their workplace and working conditions, and allow employees to have their paid work contributing to their personal development, for some the work experience and therefore their life could indeed be shinier.

Yes, I know, this reads old fashioned as I connect to humanist ideals proposed by the human relations movement in the beginning of the past century. For some it may also read naïve as the democratic enterprise would only constitute a more sophisticated form of control in organizations, wouldn’t it? Being aware of such critique, I cannot help continuing to believe that also small steps could contribute to make this world a little bit better, well knowing that what better actually means is of course open to dispute.

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