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.

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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.

Posted in alternative organization, democracy | Leave a comment

The Privilege to Work from Home

Allowing employees to flexibly organize their work and their work time is usually regarded as part of the holy grail to motivate employees, to grant them some degree of autonomy, to allow them a certain level of work-life balance (strange enough that we divide work from life), to commit them to the organization and, of course, to raise productivity. Offering employees the choice to work from home, either partially or permanently, is part of the idea that flexible work arrangements bring about the above effects. However, writing about the advantages that working from home offer, some OB textbooks have a tendency to neglect the employees’ predicaments associated with flexible work schedules and the struggle involved when people try to balance their work and their life. This is quite puzzling as there is a wide collection of literature pointing out exact these issues.

I would like to invite you to try the following little exercise, while you teach your students about how to implement work-life-balance among the workforce through flexible work arrangements. Let them read the following short story and ask your students to discuss Shelley’s struggle. Could they see the issues involved in this case? Would they agree that we should speak of privilege here? Could they come up with own examples of people’s struggle when working from home or in flexible schedules? Could they see similar or additional problems related to other flexible work arrangements that seemingly promise a better balance between work and life?

“Shelley was relieved to read a memo from her manager in which he suggested that, instead of returning to the office full time when baby Emma turns ten weeks old, she might like to consider coming in only three days a week and to work the other two days from home. Shelley was pleased. This meant she could spend more time with Emma and at the same time reduce the cost of childcare. The first few weeks seemed to go well, though Shelley remained exhausted from Emma’s many unsettled nights. Emma seemed also to need more attention during the day than she had in the first few weeks they were at home together. Soon Shelley was choosing not to go back to sleep after Emma’s 4 a.m. breast feed. She felt she could better use that time catching up on work emails. It seemed to her that the tasks embedded in the emails coming from the office were becoming bigger and more complex. Perhaps she was imagining it. She would ask Emma’s Dad to take Emma for a few long walks over the weekends so she could be sure to stay on top of the workload. She did not want to risk being asked to come into the office five days a week. It was, after all, a privilege to be able to work from home.”

Source for the case text: Suzette Dyer, Maria Humphries, Dale Fitzgibbons & Fiona Hurd (2014) Understanding Management Critically. A Student Text, Sage, p. 110

Posted in Homeworking, Teaching, work-life balance | Leave a comment

Working less and being more productive!?

“British people work some of the longest hours in Europe, but are among the least productive. Now some companies are shortening the working week to increase efficiency, health and happiness”, writes theguardian.com. Look what they think could be a solution to this problem:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/nov/05/firms-switched-four-day-week-increase-efficiency-health-happiness

Posted in alternatives, Management, Working hours | Leave a comment

Material to Teach about Cooperatives

Workers’ cooperatives or cooperative enterprises are seldom covered in OB textbooks. This is interesting for two reasons. First, cooperatives constitute a form of organizing work that has the capacity to serve both instrumental needs such, as salary and job security, and social needs, such as solidarity and workplace democracy. Second, cooperatives are not just utopia but have a significant share in our economy and labour market. In this post I would like to share some material that you could use for teaching students about cooperatives. Please note that this is not an exhaustive collection. It should rather serve to supplement your own material.

The principles of cooperatives:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training, and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

It took these principles from the webpage of the International Co-operative Alliance (https://www.ica.coop/en/cooperatives/cooperative-identity?_ga=2.201778583.76468358.1541062117-1687893629.1541062117), where you will find a short explanation of each of them. You can also find the principles on the webpages of numerous cooperatives that restate them as the ones they adhere to. It may also make sense referring to the history of these principles and thereby to the Rochdale Pioneers, who developed and promoted them in the US (see for example: https://www.rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop/). You can find similar movements in Switzerland, Germany, and elsewhere, as there is a national cooperative movement in almost every country.

Video material:

List of cooperatives on Wikipedia:

Problems of cooperatives:

Much of the material on cooperatives tends to present them in a fairly positive light. Therefore, I also collated some material to critically discuss cooperatives.

Student exercises:

  • Let your students read the principles of cooperatives and ask them if (and why / why not) the principles appeal to them.
  • Ask your students how they would realize the principles of cooperatives if they would be members of a 10-person cooperative or a 500-person cooperative.
  • Ask students to conduct interviews with employees of private firms to investigate these employees’ thoughts on the principles of cooperatives compared to their current place of employment. Do these principles appeal to them? Why? Why not?
  • Ask students to read Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014) and to find additional material for (or against) the so-called degeneration crisis.

Selected literature:

  • Ben-Ner, A. (1984). On the stability of the cooperative type of organization. Journal of Comparative Economics, 8(3), 247–260.
  • Ben-Ner, A. and Jones, D. C. (1995). Employee participation, ownership, and productivity: A theoretical framework. Industrial Relations 34(4), 532–554.
  • Cheney, G., Santa Cruz, I., Peredo, A. M., & Nazareno, E. (2014). Worker cooperatives as an organizational alternative: Challenges, achievements and promise in business governance and ownership. Organizations, 21(5), 591-603.
  • C. (1983). Some factors affecting the success or failure of worker cooperatives: A review of empirical research in the United Kingdom. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 4(2), 163-190.
  • Johnson, A. G., & Whyte, W. F. (1977). The Mondragon system of worker production cooperatives. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 31(1), 18-30.
  • Spear, R. (2004). Governance in democratic member-based organisations. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 75(1), 33-59.
  • Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014). Managing and resisting ‘degeneration’ in employee-owned businesses: A comparative study of two large retailers in Spain and the United Kingdom. Organization, 21(5), 626-644.
Posted in alternative organization, Participation | Leave a comment

Why Do Temp Workers Work as Hard as They Do?

This is the question that Shinji Kojima wants to answer in his article that was published in 2015 (The Sociological Quarterly). Kojima presents the results of an ethnographic study of Japanese factory agency workers, thereby showing that agency work can have intrinsic value for agency workers.

Kojima departs from the two reasons for why agency workers show high levels of work effort that are frequently mentioned in the academic literature. First, there are structural conditions of agency work, particularly related to the tripartite relationship between the worker, the agency (that is their employer), and the so-called user-firm (i.e. the firm the leases agency workers from the agency and that has the right to instruct and monitor their daily work). In this relationship, agency workers do not have much power, though, but are subject to control from both the agency and the user-firm. Furthermore, they are permanently on the verge of becoming unemployed as neither the agency nor the user-firm guarantee long-time employment. The literature argues that due to these conditions agency workers show high levels of work effort, even though they may do so only grudgingly. Second, the literature points to the material and cultural incentives of agency work. Compared to other forms of precarious work (e.g. directly hired temp jobs), agency work has the advantage to regularly get access to paid jobs (so-called assignments) via the agency, because the agency has access to a variety of user-firms seeking to lease flexible labor. Additionally, by working hard agency workers have the chance to earn a certain level of social status within the agency, hence, partially escaping the usually low-status connected to agency work. Finally, there is the opportunity to use agency work as a stepping stone into permanent employment in one of the user-firms. Even though this opportunity often proves to only be a theoretical one, it still offers an incentive to work hard and – together with the above – create a certain degree of commitment among the agency workers to this type of employment.

Shinji Kojima argues that despite the above reasons scholars continue to grapple with understanding why agency workers work as hard as they do. The first of the above approaches neglects that these workers have any agency as it is only the conditions that force them to work hard. The second one reduces agency workers’ commitment to economic and social incentives what implies a pure instrumental work orientation. According to Kojima there are other, more subtle mechanisms at play that explain the agency workers’ high levels of work effort.

Studying Japanese factory agency workers, Kojima shows what drives the workers to work hard. They developed a specific understanding that to be a successful agency worker. This understanding is closely tied to the workers’ ability to survive the physically and psychologically challenging conditions of factory work. To prove that they can master these challenging conditions and, hence, to be seen as successful, the agency workers in this study show extraordinary levels of engagement and effort. Mastering the art of factory work is what constitutes meaning for the agency workers and creates an awareness of being a competent and hard working – and in this sense valuable – worker.

Creating their own sense of what constitutes success in factory agency work, the workers use their creativity to counteract the alienating effects of agency work resulting from its restrictive structural conditions. The workers use their creative potential to learn the art of factory work and to adapt it according to the specific context of each user-firm. They also see the results of their work, e.g. the correct assembly of a module, as outcome of their individual effort, hence, their hard work. According to Kojima both aspects contribute to work satisfaction.

The agency workers‘ high level of effort to achieve mastery in factory work transforms alienating agency work into meaningful work, suggests Kojima. Learning and perfecting the art of factory work established an awareness amongst the agency workers of the value of their work. They see themselves as knowledgeable and hardworking human beings, who have the chance and willingness to secure a certain degree of creativity and individuality in connection to their work. This understanding, in turn, creates a rather high level of commitment to factory work and results in the implicit motivation to continue working hard; because working hard renders the agency workers’ factory work meaningful.

Mind you, the agency workers in this study were not naïve. They were very well able to reflect the problematic circumstances of agency work, such as discrimination by the user-firm’s management, social exclusion by the user-firm’s core employees, or the feeling of unfair treatment in case the assignment was abruptly terminated. Unfair and poor treatment from the user-firm was a particularly painful experiences for the agency workers as such treatment collided with their self-understanding of being a competent and hard-working agency worker.

Overall, Shinji Kojima’s study suggests that agency workers’ assignment in a user-firm could have intrinsic value for them. This insight stands in stark contrast to the often-implicit assumption found in the literature that agency workers relationship to the user-firm is only instrumental. Even though agency work features coercion and control, like other workers, also agency workers use their “humanistic drive“ (p. 378) to make alienating working conditions more social, bearable and thereby meaningful.

 

Reference

Shinji Kojima (2015). Why Do Temp Workers Work as Hard as They Do?: The Commitment and Suffering of Factory Temp Workers in Japan. The Sociological Quarterly, 56(2), S. 355-385).

Posted in alienation, Meaning of work, motivation, work commitment, workers' perspective | Leave a comment