New Books on Gender Studies and Critical Social Theory

The other day I received a notification from Sage that there are two new books available, which – according to my opinion – could be interesting for critical OB teaching.

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Too scared to go sick?

Recently the Industrial Relations Journal published an article entitled “Too scared to go sick? The management and the manifestations of workplace attendance in the food retail sector” written by Anastasios Hadjisolomou (2016). Conducting several case studies in the UK and Cyprus, Hadjisolomou seeks to answer the question of how firms in the retail sector ensure cooperation of their staff with regard to attendance. Hadjisolomou refers to an earlier article from Taylor et al., 2010, in which the authors argued that many organisations have embedded a strict absence control regime as an integral element of their labour cost reduction strategies. As Hadjisolomou emphasizes in the discussion of his study, his results parallel Taylor et al.’s findings:

“Despite the differences in formality and the drivers of coercion, the data shows that employees across all four cases were indeed ‘scared to go sick’ (Taylor et al., 2010). Overall, the management across the four case study organisations attempted, as Taylor et al. (2010, p.283) conclude, ‘to solve the problem of the indeterminacy of labour’s attendance [emphasis original] through coercion rather than consensus’.” (p. 430).

This, however, is not the full story. Hadjisolomou also highlights that attendance “was also managed through cooperation and accommodation” (p. 430). In this sense, management did not only employ a coercive approach to force attendance. Particularly shop floor managers also emphasized the prevention of absence, using “flexible practices, such as shift swaps; notice to line managers; early leave; late starts; unpaid leave and a one/two-hour break, to accommodate employees’ circumstances outside work, encouraging attendance through accommodation and cooperation” (p. 428). In this sense, the front line managers attempted to accommodate the workers’ and the organization’s interests (at least to some degree) and not simply enforced attendance using managerial power.

According to Hadjisolomou the combination between coercion and cooperation, hence, punishing absence (i.e. the stick) and accommodating to the needs of employees (i.e. the carrot) constitutes a dual approach to absence prevention. “A plausible explanation to this is that management are aware of the need to combine punitive measures with practices that can sustain possible cooperation within the workplace” (p. 430). Following other authors, Hadjisolomou argues that creating and maintaining a certain amount of cooperation is necessary in order to ensure constant performance from labour, i.e. value-creation. Therefore, the firms in this study developed a “hybrid absence management regime, which balances coercion and cooperation” (p. 430).


Hadjisolomou, A. (2016) Too scared to go sick? The management and the manifestations of workplace attendance in the food retail sector. Industrial Relations Journal, 47: 417–433. doi: 10.1111/irj.12148.

Taylor, P., I. Cunningham, K. Newsome and D. Scholarios (2010), ‘Too scared to go sick’-reformulating the research agenda on sickness absence’, Industrial Relations Journal, 270–288

Posted in Management, Managerial control | Leave a comment

Workplace Privacy Under Surveillance

Well one could argue whether there is such a thing like workplace privacy. However, the Workplace Surveillance Team thinks there is and it is under threat. This is most likely the reason why they produced the following video clip.

Posted in control, Management, Managerial control | Leave a comment

“To put yourself in someone else’s shoes”

Addressing the topic of perception and particularly the role of stereotyping and prejudice, I do not only discuss with the students how stereotyping ‘works’ and what the consequences are. I also discuss with them what we could do to address and thereby potentially reduce people’s reliance on stereotypes and prejudice. In so doing, I refer to an article written by Adam D. Galinsky and Gordon B. Moskowitz (2000) entitled “Perspective-Taking: Decreasing Stereotype Expression, Stereotype Accessibility, and In-Group Favoritism” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), pp. 708-724). In their article, the authors demonstrate that “to put yourself in another person’s shoes” constitutes an effective way of reducing people’s reliance on stereotypes and decreasing prejudice.

In the last written examination I asked my students to provide specific examples from the workplace in order to describe how putting someone in another person’s shoes could look like. In the following I would like to share with you some of the examples that the students provided to illustrate the variety of possible answers from students in the first semester even though most of them do not have any previous work experience.

  • “A few years ago, the boss of Germany’s Burger King headquarters took part in a television experiment called “the Undercover Boss” in which he disguised himself beyond recognition and “infiltrated” the workforce to experience and ultimately improve working conditions for employees. After his newly won impressions, he demanded that every manager needs to work a specific number of days a year in one of the restaurants alongside regular staff to earn their annual bonuses.”
  • “Another approach could be to put the colleagues of the disabled in a wheelchair for a day. This approach makes people think about the experience they gain very quickly – it is impossible to be in a wheelchair for more than a couple of minutes before obstacles occur during everyday activities, just to go through a door can be difficult. Even getting around at the university which is to some extend handicapped accessible can be a task. I need to know where all the elevators are (and have developed a elevator radar) and which elevator to take to come to which classroom with the least amount of steps. This is something others just do and never think about, if there is not a elevator nearby the stairs are.” (this has been written by a student with physical disability)
  • “For example, university. Student think that teaching is easier than study. Because teacher have to prepare only one subject, but student four and more. And it’s a good idea to change it for some hours or for a day. For student it will be good to understand that it’s not easy to teaching, to prepare for every lecture, because not every student cares about preparing for the subject, but teachers can’t come not ready.”
  • “Another example is my last summer job in Hard Rock Café, I was working on the shop: selling t-shirts and others products of their brand. I used to be just by myself and sometimes groups of people would come in and ‘destroy’ my clean and tidy shop. The managers would get upset if the see the shop messy with t-shirts unfold so one day they put themselves in my shoes and came with me in one of those crazy days when big groups of people from different countries come into the shop and start asking questions, unfold clothes and at the same time other asking to please come into the counter because they want to pay. After experienced this, my bosses praised me for my good job and I got a bonus. A limited edition pin from the shop.”
  • “Lets say, that you work as an academic doing some complex analysis of the economy of the society at a university. While you work long hours, you might see the cleaning staff go way earlier than you and having coffee breaks while they are talking about gossip and daily life. You may see it as easy simple work without a need to think much and therefor done by not so smart people, since they just talk about silly things in their breaks. By putting yourself in the cleaners shoes you might realize what the job not has in complex thinking, it probably has in daily fast and repeatedly physical tasks, which would demand a physical smartness, that you don´t have as an academic.”
  • “There is also this guy in Denmark, he is one of the riches in the region around Skagen (Skagen is located all the way in the north of Denmark). He is the CEO of the largest (or maybe the second largest, I don’t know) fishing vessel fleet in Denmark. And out of the days he is working, he spends 2/3 of them on the sea, with his workers to stay neutral and at the same level as them. In the 1/3 that is left of the year he spends that running his business. Here you can really see, a good example on, how he is fulfilling this saying ‘to put yourself in someone else’s shoes’.”
  • “Another way could be for a multinational company that some workers are sent abroad for a short or medium period of time to work there. This way, workers can see how it is to be abroad, to be a foreigner and how to live in a different culture. Thus, when coming back those workers would be more tolerant, open and receptive towards other cultures or mindsets. Here as well, the actual feasibility needs to be questioned. It should be asked as to whether the workers that have stereotypes actually want to go abroad. It would be more likely that those want to go that are already open-minded and have fewer prejudices than those that would actually need to go abroad. But still, in my opinion, this could be an effective way to make single workers and a whole company more open or tolerant towards other persons if those that have been abroad can implement the experience they have gained into the working culture.”
  • “As a different example, take school teachers that (at least in Finland), once or twice a year are obligated to try out working at another place for a day or two. Experiencing other jobs (e.g. working as a supermarket cashier), they are able then to reflect these experiences on their pupils truthfully, preventing the young from forming prejudices from those jobs. Today school teachers in many countries also engage often in international cooperation with teachers from other countries, learning from one another in their everyday work environments. Therefor they develop their own work habits, introduce new ideas both home and away, and get rid of some national stereotypes, both for themselves and for their pupils.”
  • “Another, quite creative idea to reduce prejudices has developed over the past few years. Workers do not have their own desktop at work any longer, but use any of the available, possibly a different one every day. This gets them to meet a lot more colleagues, get in touch, be involved. Especially in bigger companies this is useful to decrease prejudices about other departments, not only individuals. Just to mention a few, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have implemented this principle. The Examples might also show that this method is not working for every kind of organization. For instance, a highly digitalized work environment is necessary to make workers independent from individual desktops etc.”
  • “Another example is the strategy of worker-worker understanding at Cafe Gratitude. The company is a collaboration of farm and cafe with the common goal of serving specially grown and prepared food for their customers. The cafe decreases the cause of stereotyping and prejudice by letting the two collaborators meet and identify with their different positions. This is accomplished by arranging trips for the workers of the cafe to visit and help at the farm, creating an understanding of the underlying process and workings of the farm. When back at the cafe, the strategy has established a feeling of relation to the producers and respect and understanding for the worker doing the labour prior to food preparation.”
Posted in Perception, Stereotype | Leave a comment

Deskilling emotional labour

Just (issue) published in Work, Employment and Society:

Ikeler, Peter (2016). Deskilling emotional labour: Evidence from department store retail. Work, employment and society, 30(6), 966-983. doi: doi:10.1177/0950017015609031

How have the skills of service jobs changed? Have they undergone deskilling, upgrading or some contingent or compensatory development? This study examines these questions as they pertain to frontline sales work in US department stores. It begins by identifying an operational concept of service skill latent across recent debates and then examines it via qualitative comparison of full-line and discount stores in New York City. Based on an evaluative framework akin to that of Blauner, this study’s workplace-level findings suggest that the industry-level succession of full-line stores by discounters has embodied a decline in the complexity and autonomy of salespersons’ emotional labour.

Posted in De-skilling, Emotional labour | Leave a comment

Is there such a thing as innate human nature? Or are we shaped by our experiences and the power of the cultural and social institutions around us?

A couple of years ago, made available a discussion between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault entitled “The Clash of Titans”. Their discussion addressed the two fundamental questions: Is there such a thing as innate human nature? Or are we shaped by our experiences and the power of the cultural and social institutions around us? How both Chomsky and Foucault answer these questions reveals the assumptions of their diverse theoretical positions. Adopting either one of these positions has a profound impact on the study of organisations in general and on our particular understanding of the legitimate knowledge that we teach in the field of Critical Organisational Behaviour.

The website offers two extracts of the discussion with English subtitles. The whole discussion, which lasts about one hour, is only available without subtitles. Hence, if you are not able to understand French, you may have difficulties following Foucault’s explanations. However, by only watching the excerpts you will get a grasp of the different theoretical stances of Chomsky and Foucault. Furthermore, you may also enjoy their sophisticated way of exchanging different positions of intellectual knowledge.

Posted in Critical thinking, inequality, Power | Leave a comment

The motivating effect of being nude

How would you feel when your employer offers you to work naked in order to improve motivation? Well, I had a hard time imagining how this would look at my workplace… However, after receiving complaints about the de-motivating effects of the rigid dress code, the management of a publishing house in San Francisco, California, came up with this rather ‘creative’ reply. For the period of one month they invited their staff to be naked while working. The idea of this social experiment was to foster openness and boost employee morale. Please read the story on

You may also want to have a look at a similar case from the UK:

Do you believe that it worked? Was this just a clever idea to improve motivation or what else could have been achieved by deliberately transgressing the customs related to the exposure of the nude body at the workplace? How would you feel when your management would decide to increase moral and motivation through such a measure? Did this idea in fact have any effect on employee morale and motivation? Did it perhaps have other effects, too?

Posted in motivation | Leave a comment