Isolated, unprotected and scared to speak out

In case you are able to engage your students into reading longer texts, I would like to recommend the following one that I found in the “Guardian online” today:

How the most vulnerable workers are targeted for sexual abuse

In this text and the personal story that it reveals, Bernice Yeung exposes readers to one of the dark sides of the contemporary world of work. Telling about sexual harassment, labour immigration, low-wage immigrants, and labour exploitation, it offers a sharp contrast to the often colourful world of Google, Apple, or Microsoft that conventional OB texts tend to portray.

Posted in capitalist economy, Critical thinking, dirty work, Harassment, inequality, precariat | Leave a comment

So what are emotions and how do we feel and talk about them?

Tiffany Watt Smith introduces us to the social nature of our way to experience emotions. She challenges the existence of a set of basic and universal emotions and, at least a bit, the commodification of emotions in our time and age. She invites us to think of emotions as culturally and historically shaped and that there is more than the physiological aspect of emotions. Emotions are complex and, as she tells, ‘elastic’ systems that refer to both the biology and the culture that we live in.

I believe that this presentation could be used as a starting point to establish a powerful counterpoint to the often universalistic, functionalistic and, in a way, simplistic conception of emotions in traditional OB textbooks. Emotions are not simply reflexes. Rather the way we feel is informed by the way we make sense of what we feel (hence, culture, history) and this sense making, for example the terms that we use for our emotions, in turn inform our feelings by telling us what we can actually feel. I know that asking students to watch a 15 minutes video might constitute a challenge (for them and us). However, if we formulate a couple of questions that students should answer while watching, we might offer them a guide for understanding the video and in this sense perhaps motivates them to actually watch it and to engage in thinking about emotions differently.

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Merry Christmas to All of You

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Rebalancing society

”Enough of the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves. Enough of the pendulum politics of left and right, as well as the paralysis in the political center. Enough of the visible claw of lobbying in place of the invisible hand of competing. Enough of the economic globalization that undermines sovereign states and local communities. Have we not had enough exploiting of the world’s resources, including ourselves as “human resources”?”, writes Henry Mintzberg in his pamphlet “Rebalancing Society” that was later published as a book by MacGraw-Hill.

Henry Mintzberg calls for a radical renewal of society beyond what he refers to as the left, the right and the centre. He sees the plural sector, i.e. the community, as the major driver of this renewal as the private sector and the governmental sector have done well proving their incapability to do so. I would recommend referring to this book when setting the scene for a more critical approach to teaching Organisational Behaviour. I believe that Henry Mintzberg offers an appropriate interpretation of the imbalance that we observe in many of the so-called Western societies where the private sector is given priority and thereby assigned the authority to determine how societies are supposed to function. Addressing the imbalance in society, Henry Mintzberg takes a critical stance towards, for example, resource exploitation, the neglect of the externalities caused by human activities, growth for the sake of growth, the power of big corporations (which apparently are not only “too big to fail” but also “too big for jail”), and relentless individualism with “every person and every institution striving to get the most for him-, her-, or itself, over the needs of society and a threatened planet” (p. 20). He also refers to social initiatives emanating from the plural sector as being the ones, who have the capacity to bring about change in society.

The following YouTube-clips may serve as a teaser for the book. The full manuscript is available online from:

Posted in alternatives, Change, Critical thinking | Leave a comment

Ask your manager!

The other week I had a guest in my course. She works in the HR department of an internationally operating firm and trains employees in the area of business ethics. The company has a code of conduct and in order to implement the ethical guidelines specified in the code they developed a card game. The guest introduced my students to the company’s approach to business ethics and ethical conduct and she invited the students to play the game. We divided the students in groups of six and in the groups they had to respond to several ethically difficult questions, such as:

  • One of the suppliers of our company sends you 20 bottles of expensive wine. What do you do?
  • One of our competitors invites you to a golf seminar. What should you do?
  • You are offered a two-weeks holiday in Hawaii by one of our suppliers. How do you react?
  • You learn that one of your colleague’s relative is employed at one of our suppliers. What do you do?

For each of the questions the cards provided four possible answers and students had to decide, which of the four would be the correct one. In case students’ guesses differed we asked them to discuss the reasons. With regard to the correct answers, it quickly became obvious that each time one of four possible answers to each ethical dilemma stated: “Talk to the manager.”, “Discuss with your manager.”, “Report to your manager.”, or “Inform your manager.” this was deemed to be the correct one. Hence, students did not have a hard time deciding for the correct answer.

It soon become patternly obvious to the students that in order to ensure ethical conduct employees had to ask their direct manager with regard to almost every ethically problematic situation that they could come across during their work. Therefore, I asked my guest, why they decided for this approach. She explained that according to the firm’s view managers are usually better equipped with the necessary knowledge to take decisions according to what counts as ethically correct behaviour. Hence, employees should frequently refer to their direct manager.

I saw this pattern before, when I analysed the codes of conducts of big German firms. Even though almost all of the codes strongly emphasized the employees’ vital responsibility for implementing the ethical guidelines that the code specifies, the code text made it very apparent that in the end the employees had to refer to their direct supervisors, managers in higher positions, or specific ethics boards as soon as they experienced or observed something that could violate ethical conduct. Hence, and rather unsurprisingly, the distinction between management and employees, i.e. the division between conception and execution as one legacy of Scientific Management, is also observable with regard to determining what is write or wrong behaviour and taking appropriate decisions.

Posted in Ethics, Management, Managerial control, Scientific management, Taylorism | Leave a comment

What is Organizational Communication?

When addressing the topic of communication, most OB textbooks refer to the sender-receiver-model, write about downward, upward, and lateral as well as written, oral, and no-verbal communication, discuss various types of communication channels and how to best use them for conveying different messages, and pay attention to formal communication and the grapevine.

I have not yet been able to find a OB textbook that introduces students to the idea that it is through communication that we establish the whole notion of what we take to be the organization. Even though the concept of communication as being constitutive for organizations has become quite prominent within organization studies, at least among those, who work in the subfield of organizational communication, apparently it has not yet found its way into OB textbooks.

In case you would supplement your OB textbook, you could do so by watching the following video aptly differentiating between the more classical way of understanding communication in organizations and the perspective that sees organizations as communication.

Posted in alternatives, Communication | Leave a comment

Life and death in Apple’s forbidden city

Posted in Assembly line, Globalisation, Meaning of work | Leave a comment