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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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 Look what they think could be a solution to this problem:

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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 (, 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: 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.
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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.



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

So, commitment in OB is about employees’ commitment to the organization, right? Wrong!

Looking at OB textbooks, you will easily discover that for most textbook authors commitment is about organizational commitment. In this sense, commitment is usually presented as the bond that individuals develop towards the organization they are working for. So, organizational commitment means for example to identify with a particular organization and its goals, while wishing to maintain membership in the organization (e.g. Robbins et al., 2017). This identification can have different types, such as affective commitment (an emotional attachment to the organization), continuance commitment (the economic value of staying), and normative commitment (based on moral or ethical obligations) (see Meyer & Allen, 1991, for these types). Implicit in many textbook chapters is the assumption that organizational commitment is a valid construct to understand the attitudes of employees in long-term and full-time salaried employment contracts.

However, taking into account the developments within the field of work commitment – and I am not talking about most recent developments but those that are observable for many years – I wonder why OB textbooks continue to provide a quite narrow perspective to students. We hardly read – and therefore teach our students – about the processual nature and dynamic interplay between affective, continuance and moral commitment, relational and transactional commitment, as well as other targets of commitment than the organization, such as the work group or the work itself.

Many of these ways to address work commitment differently originate from the research of non-standard employees (see e.g. Ashford et al., 2007; Guest, 2004; Thorsteinson, 2003). Due to employers’ continuous efforts to make the organization, the work, and the employment relationship more flexible, we see more and more temporary work arrangements, part-time and project-based contracts, the leasing of labour (e.g. agency work), and subcontracting in today’s world of work.

These work settings are fundamentally different from the standard employment relationship, because workers are employed in work arrangements other than full-time wage and salaried jobs and in jobs that are of limited or uncertain duration (Hudson, 2001). As a consequence, workers (the term employee is probably no longer valid in this context) undertake work differently, connect to firms differently, and pursue careers with a different outlook (Ashford et al., 2007).

Referring to the above-sketched contemporary work settings, many authors challenge the understanding of commitment as a rather stable bond to the organization because such an understanding has been developed from the assumption of permanent and full-time salaried jobs. In a recent review, Van Rossenberg et al. (2018) aim to consolidate the current knowledge on work place commitment in what they refer to as temporary work and cross-boundary work. Regarding temporary work, they propose that “workers are more likely to develop transactional types of workplace attachment and develop lower levels of commitment” (p. 156), that workers are committed to multiple employers over time, and that they develop commitment to multiple targets. This, in turn, suggests that commitment scholars should also have an eye on possible conflicts between commitments.

On a broader plane, I would like to suggest that the new and different understandings of work commitment, which the research on non-standard employment introduced, might also have value for our general understanding of workplace commitment. For example, do workers (no matter if they have a standard or non-standard employment contract) really only develop commitment to the organization? What about their commitment to other targets within the organization, such as their department, the work group, or particular individuals? How about commitment towards customers or suppliers, hence, targets outside the immediate realm of the employer? And what if workers feel commitment towards the work itself? It might be fruitful thinking of commitment as being developed towards multiple targets, not only the organization. Furthermore, commitment should not be treated as static concept but as shifting between targets, inside and outside the organization. For example, during time of managerially imposed changes, workers may still be dedicated to their work but feel less committed to the organization but perhaps shift their focus of commitment to the immediate work group that is affected by the change.

I also suggest seeing commitment as neither being only affectual, continual or moral, but as a combination of all three aspects. This is not really new, I believe, but I sometimes experience people thinking of commitment as just being either one of these three types. Moreover, the combination of affectual, continual or moral commitment, which might be unique in a given situation, is neither fixed nor stable but may as well change over time. I remember the time when one of my former employers, without negotiating other possibilities with the employees, began to dismiss people for pure economic reasons. Due to this experience, my previously moral obligations to this employer became quite low. I continued working there, however, as I did not have any alternative. Hence, my continuance commitment became rather dominant, whereas both my moral and my affective commitment, which had been quite strong before the incident, almost vanished.

Finally, the potential conflicts between various commitments should be another aspect to learn from the above. Being in various and shifting ways committed to multiple targets may create conflict between the numerous commitments that workers develop. Such conflicts and how workers and organizations attempt to address them should therefore constitute another perspective when we talk to our students about work commitment.

Summarizing, for me the above suggests providing our students a much broader understanding of commitment in organization than the one offered by many current OB textbooks. A multi-facetted or multi-dimensional view on commitment may be better suited to enable our students to understand work organizations.


Ashford, S. J., George, E., & Blatt, R. (2007) Old Assumptions, new work. The Academy of Management Annals, 1(1), pp. 65-117.

Guest, D. E. (2004a) Flexible employment contracts, the psychological contract and employee outcomes: An analysis and review of the evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews, 5/6(1), pp. 1-19.

Hudson, K. (2001) The disposable worker. Monthly Review, 52(11), pp. 43-56.

Meyer, J. P., & Allen, N. J. (1991). A three-component conceptualization of organizational commitment. Human Resource Management Review, 1, pp. 61–89.

Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge, Timothy T. Campbell (2017) Organizational Behaviour, Pearson (2nd edition)

Thorsteinson, T. J. (2003) Job attitudes of part-time vs. full-time workers: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 76(2), pp. 151–177.

Van Rossenberg, Y. G. T., Klein, H. J., Asplund, K., Bentein, K., Breitsohl, H., Cohen, A., . . . Yalabik, Z. Y. (2018). The future of workplace commitment: key questions and directions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(2), pp. 153-167.


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Book Suggestion: Understanding Identity & Organizations

Today I would like to suggest a book to you; A book that you could use for teaching the subject ‘identity in organizations’. Since I work with the identity concept I am looking for a book that I could use as the basic text for a course on identity. Do not get me wrong, there is plenty of material available. However, I mostly see articles, anthologies and scholarly books and I miss something that comes closer to a textbook. Understanding Identity & Organizations, written by Kate Kenny, Andrea Whittle, and Hugh Willmott, and published by Sage in 2012 is one of a few exceptions.

I believe that this book could serve as a primary text for a course on identity in organizations, either as stand-alone textbook or supplemented by other texts. It covers all relevant topics of the field and presents them in a reader-friendly way, I think. Here is the list of contents:

Introduction to Understanding Identity

  • Introduction
  • Identity vs Personality
  • Identity on the Management Agenda: A Brief History
  • How Do Individual and Organizational Identities Interact?
  • Introducing the Book
  • Suggested Reading

Theoretical Perspectives on Identity

  • Introduction
  • Social Identity Theory (SIT)
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Foucauldian Perspective
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Narrative Approaches
  • Micro-Interactional Approaches
  • Application Exercise – The Case of Frances
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Diversity and Identity

  • Introduction
  • Identity as a Social Category
  • Identity as a Process of Social Construction
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Occupational Identities

  • Introduction
  • The Meaning of Work
  • Occupational Cultures and Boundaries
  • Managerial Identities
  • Professional Identities
  • The Dirty, the Deviant and the Degrading
  • Unpaid Work and Unemployment
  • When I Grow Up I Want To Be …
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Identity and Organizational Control

  • Overview and Introduction
  • Bringing Identity to Work
  • Managing Culture
  • Managing Identities
  • Identification and Dis-identification
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Organizational Identity

  • Introduction
  • Organizational Identity: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
  • Organizational Identity – Properties or Beliefs?
  • Types of Organizational Identity
  • Power in (and of) Organizational Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Virtual Identity

  • Overview and Introduction
  • Competing Perspectives: Technological Determinism and Social Constructionism
  • New Connections and Identity: Online Communities
  • Virtual Identity, Power and Control
  • Teleworking and Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

The Future of Identity

  • Introduction
  • Strong Attachments and Totalizing Workplaces?
  • Weak Attachments and the ‘Flexible’ Firm
  • New Public Management
  • Identity and the Global, Virtual Firm
  • The Future of Diversity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading

Glossary of Terms


Give it a go!



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