Modern organisations run effectively as a relation of interdependence. Modern management however has inherited ideas of separation and independence, the idea of power over others and not power with others. This use of power provokes resistance among employees, which is perceived by management as ignorant, negative or initiated by troublemakers. More efficient ways of perceiving resistance can include viewing resistance as productive, potentially positive and created by power. In this essay I argue that by learning to read resistance in this way will benefit management and lead to a better understanding of its causes and effects and a more efficient organisation. To better understand this relationship of resistance between management and staff, I will discuss four principles on the formation of resistance and its consequences. First, I will suggest reasons for resistance in modern organisations, then I will discuss different types of resistance and their implications on businesses, next I will examine how this resistance is perceived by management, and I will end with how management can reduce resistance by creating a relationship with employees rather then exercising control. Finally, I will conclude that by learning to read resistance in a positive manner and using it to create an interdependent relationship with staff, management will be able to improve the efficiency and productivity of their organisation.
Research conducted by Glazer (1989), revealed that most employees would initially believe in a number of factors; the organisation is truly devoted to their mission; the organisation wants to know about misconduct in the business; and reporting this misconduct will be rewarded. Management however, usually acts upon a false understanding of the nature of power. Power, as exhibited by members, is treated as a possession, rather then a relationship (Knights and Roberts, 1982). Managers ultimately deny their relationship with staff and use their power coercively. Staff will then respond with their own counter-coercive strategies. This creates a vicious cycle which removes any potential the business once had for an effective relationship between management and staff (Knights and Roberts, 1982). A central motive for resistance is the want or need for change in the occupational structure.
Management usually characterises resistant staff as being disgruntled or bitter when this is most likely not true. Rothschild and Miethe's (1994) research suggested that resistant staff were in fact capable and valued employees. Their reasons for resistance then might be that they are somehow strongly invested in the reputation and future of the business. They ultimately believe that the disclosure of abuse in the workforce is in the best interest of the firm (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). Resistant staff seem to be highly devoted to the organisations true mission, and believe that this behaviour challenges this mission.
Another reason for staff to resist management may be that they are devoted to the rules and principles that they adhere to outside of the organisation (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). These rules and principles may come from behaviour or ethical standards they learnt from church, in professional training or in their families. Their devotion to these principles seems to protect them from pressures to conform to misconduct and will give them the need to resist (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994).
Research (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994) suggests that there are an increasing number of people being employed in business where it is their job to report misconduct, and to not do so is not doing their job properly. As modern organisations are larger, so is the need to monitor internal activity. Self-monitoring, as such, has grown rapidly within these modern organisations. For example, the modern legal system mandates that social workers report all known and any possible cases of abuse.
In research in the field of accounting, Knights and Collinson (1987) found that employees had an immense mistrust for management. This suspicion was the result of the exposure of management's underlying manipulation of the organisations policies. This exposure was often achieved through the discovery of inconsistencies and contradictions by management (Knights and Collinson, 1987). Staffs major criticisms were how management would abandon production in support of marketing and planning. Management would discuss ideas of teamwork in the workplace with employees but would rarely put in an appearance on the shop floor (Knights and Collinson, 1987). As such, rather than taking on management's ideas of improving communication through teamwork, staff would focus on exposing the inconsistencies and contradictions of management. In response to resistance, management created an individualising effect by disciplining staff, leaving them divided and less able to conduct resistance (Knights and Collinson, 1987). In this case, staff did not create a relationship with management.
Another case regarding employee resistance was put forward by Ezzamel, Willmott, and Worthington (2004). Resistance in this case was split amongst employees, those who adapted and those who opposed manager's pressures to change. The organisation structure at Northern Plant was considered to be contradictory; this is because whilst management and staff were able to work as a relationship, this relationship was built by the fact that management saw staff as a disposable commodity (Ezzamel, et al., 2004). Management would use their power to control employees.
Employees then became a 'slave of managerial instruction' (Ezzamel, et al., 2004) but would only contest a certain amount of misconduct as they sought to protect other conditions of management, which had created a sense of independence and seemed free from managerial control. Pay and conditions were a significant factor for resistance and disputes at Northern Plant; however, resistance at Northern Plant was not based solely on protecting material possessions such as pay or job-security (Ezzamel, et al., 2004). Management's efforts to introduce lean production were perceived as something that would remove their freedom and mortify any self-identity (Ezzamel, et al., 2004). This effort to remove these freedoms fuelled employee's resistance, making it difficult to manage because of its nature to be discursive, unorganized, distancing in nature (Collinson, 1992, 1994), mischief based, and missing any overall objective. Employees at Northern Plant consistently planned to outwit management and extinguish any effort to introduce lean production.
It has been found that if employees use any information to disrupt or challenge management, the whole organisations' resources will be used to remove the individual (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). Employee resistance has been used as a way of freeing themselves from the organisation and expressing their self identity (Wray-Bliss, 2010). It can also be an important form of communication or an attempt to assert an amount of control to balance out power in the organisation.
Academics have found that in general, employee resistance can be split into formal and routine forms of resistance (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Formal resistance is any kind of organised opposition to management such as worker protests, strikes, grievances and output restrictions (Edwards and Scullion 1982, Friedman, 1977). Routine resistance, however, is any less visible or indirect forms of opposition that can disrupt the everyday workings of an organisation (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). This resistance is most likely unplanned, spontaneous and is difficult to observe as it is covert in nature.
Prasad and Prasad (1998) found, during their research, that resistance can be categorised in multiple ways in the modern organisation, being:
Open confrontation to supervisors and clients (McFarland 1980, Paules, 1991); subtle subversions of control systems through the use of gossip (Gottfried 1994) and horseplay (Thompson, 1983); employee withdrawal and disengagement (Fuller and Smith, 1991, Graham 1993); and ambiguous accommodations to authority. (2000, p.388)
These types of resistance are not easily recognised as such due to the fact that they are hidden as legal business actions (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
Routine resistance is observed in three different ways within an organisation (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Owned resistance is acted out by staff taking responsibility for their actions. Named resistance, however, performed by both management and staff through an open partnership of responsibility (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Indirect resistance, on the other hand, is formed by managers alone.
Bottom-up resistance can take the form of sabotage, work avoidance strategies or whistle blowing (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). Whistle blowing is becoming a more prominent strategy in recent organisation. This form of resistance is the disclosure of information regarding misconduct in an organisation (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). This disclosure can be to someone higher up than themselves or to an authority outside the organisation. Disclosing information regarding to misconduct in an organisation cannot lead to a change in the operation of a business unless this information is sent upwards throughout the business or outside the organisation (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994).
Whistle blowers will usually begin by discussing their issues with senior managers with the idea that they would make changes to prevent this misbehaviour (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). It is only when employees find that these senior managers do not feel the same way about these issues or that they themselves are involved in the wrongdoing that whistle blowers will seek help from outside the organisation.
Whilst personal motives are apparent within whistle blowing and reporting misconduct in the business, this employee resistance must be viewed as a purely political decision (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). This is because whistle blowing intends to change the way an organisation is handled by management. A manager's response to employee resistance is also political, it is intended to discredit the employee resisting and warn any others that may feel the same way (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994).
Academics view whistle blowing as an ethical expression, (Westin, 1981; Brabeck, 1984; Elliston, 1982), as an assertion of professional responsibility (Greenberger, et al., 1987; Glazer and Glazer, 1989), as arising out of deeply held religious or humanistic values (Glazer and Glazer, 1989), or as a miscalculation of the costs (Miceli and Near, 1985). Management however, usually views those who resist as insane or as simply trouble makers.
As discussed, power is treated as a possession by managers, rather then a relationship (Knights and Roberts, 1982). The effort to control an organisation, however, is usually met with heavy formal and informal resistance. As observed by Gottfried (1994), female service workers would dress rebelliously as a way of communicating their resistance. This, however, does not mean that all women who dress rebelliously are trying to communicate resistance, dress code violations may be reflections of a personal preference choice or they might be oblivious to these regulations' existence (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Therefore management should not always conclude that resistance is taking place in the organisation. Routine resistance on the other hand, can convince otherwise and many managers see resistance everywhere (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
For example, White's (1987) research in two manufacturing plants found that workers would bypass factory rules to ensure the efficiency of maintenance done at the plant. This could be viewed as resistance because it symbolizes an effort to return employee pride and autonomy in an otherwise unfriendly environment (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
When an action is named as resistance, an individual will never identify themselves with the resistance but will identify others who participated in these actions (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Two cases put forward by Prasad and Prasad (2000) demonstrate this behaviour.
Before the involvement of computerization in an organisation, new video display terminals (VDTs) were stored in the firm's basement. Shortly after their arrival, the basement was flooded due to a bursting of an old pipe. Although accidental in its nature, the destruction of the VDTs was viewed by many as resistance to change in the workplace and a great act of sabotage which delayed the implication of computerization by several weeks (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
The second case involves the use of a term known as 'careful carelessness'. This expression was used to explain the actions of employees which were negligent in nature, but were termed as deliberate and planned by management (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Many of these actions caused or could have caused the damage of company property and the disruption of normal everyday work in the firm. This included spilling beverages on computer terminals and keyboards, forgetting to turn computers off at night or save important files. Management believed that these incidents were more than accidents that happened by chance (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
In both cases, there was no ownership of these actions (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). They always seemed to be an action taken by someone else in the organisation, the identity of such a person was never known. Also, the flooding of the basement was never officially named as sabotage but the act of labelling these actions was enough to place blame on others as these actions were disruptive and damaging o the business (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
Identifying a person's actions as resistance creates an amount of tension which limits control in an organisation (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Naming resistance resulted in the creation of heroes in the organisation. Even though the flooding of the basement in the example above was never officially named as resistance, the person thought responsible for this was hailed as an organisational hero for 'sticking up' to management power (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). This also created a feeling of management invulnerability. Management never publicly discussed the idea of sabotage to staff. The employees who believed in the act of resistance felt that they had won against management as they were betraying their inner tensions and insecurity by not publicly discussing resistance (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
Prasad and Prasad (2000) found that management have interpreted some actions as resistance when in fact they were claimed to not even be intentional. This creates a problem for managers so a term to describe this situation known as 'indirect resistance' will be used in explaining this occurrence.
One example is that of an organisation that was adapting the computerisation process. In the beginning of this process, the new computer technology was described by management as being 'human', 'smart' and 'helpful' (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). This was to remove any fears or nervousness projected towards the introduction of this new technology. When the computers were eventually introduced to the organisation, employees accepted their superiority and began relying heavily upon them whilst lowering their own thinking and decision making processes (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). When management asked why employees were causing the failure of some parts of the organisational process, staff responded that 'the computer does your thinking for you' or 'I thought this thing [computer] was super smart... if I have to use my brains all the time, I can't see why we need them'(Prasad and Prasad, 2000). This frustrated management and was discussed privately as 'dumb resistance'. Employees on the other hand thought they were adhering to management's expectations.
Cases of dumb resistance caused problems for managers because they were unable to take action against this form of resistance since it is seemingly unintentional (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Management could not discipline their staff because these acts were not purposefully operated. Although by judging these actions as resistant, management contributed to the downfalls that this so called resistance caused to the business (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
Not all resistance is intended, when management exercises an increased amount of control in an organisation, what is viewed as resistance is also increased (Wray-Bliss, 2010). At this point of control, even creativity, forming an opinion and leisure time become acts of resistance.
Traditional approaches to employee resistance have regarded resistance to be the main objective of staff (Prasad and Prasad, 2000). Research however, suggests that most resistance is assisted by management. It was through managerial communication that cases of employee resistance became known as 'careful carelessness'. It was also managers who created the idea of 'dumb resistance' as employee behaviour (Prasad and Prasad, 2000).
Management methods that seek to control and treat labour as an expendable commodity are not preferred in business (Ezzamel, et al., 2004). Instead, creating a relationship with employees to form a cooperation of responsible labour is favoured. Methods of management that strive to gain or harness labour's consent are then rather used (Ezzamel, et al., 2004). Labour's willingness to engage with management results from the process of negotiation instead of conflict and adjustment.
Managers have many ways of gaining obedience from employees (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). This may be received in the form of promotions, raises, firing, demotion, job evaluations, or reassignment. Primarily though, management uses the regulation of rewards to do this (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). The power through management's ability to distribute rewards and punishments gives them a large amount of control which can be used to reduce resistance in the organisation.
Management may also try to influence or persuade employees to gain their complete obedience (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994). This may be received in the form of promises, bullying, discussion, negotiation, manipulation, demand, claiming expertise, ingratiation and evasion of the issue. By using these tactics, management will be able to gain compliance from staff without having to resort to using their power to fire resistant employees (Rothschild and Miethe, 1994).
To conclude, in this essay I explained why employees resist due to control portrayed by management, the different ways that staff will resist this control, how management, whilst pursuing to control and dominate aspects of resistance in the organisation, actually formed resistance, how management can view resistance as purposeful accidents, and how management can reduce resistance by forming a positive relationship with employees. Ultimately, whilst seeking to control an organisation, management has created resistance in the workforce. To reduce resistance, management should seek instead to create an interdependent relationship between themselves and their staff.
* Brabeck, M. (1984) 'Ethical Characteristics of Whistleblowers', Journal of Research in Personality 18: 41-53.
* Collinson, D. (1994). Strategies of resistance: power, knowledge and subjectivity in the workplace. In J. Jermier, D. Knights, & W. Nord (Eds.), Resistance and power in organizations (pp. 25-68). London and New York: Routledge.
* Collinson, D. (1992). Managing the shopfloor: subjectivity masculinity and workplace culture. Berlin Walter de Gruyter.
* Edwards, R. C. 1979. Contested Terrain: The Transformation of the Workplace in the Twentieth Century. Basic Books, New York.
* Elliston, F. A. (1982) 'Anonymity and Whistle-Blowing', Journal of Business Ethics 1: 167-77
* Ezzamel, M., Williams, H., Worthington, F. (2004) "Accounting and Management-Labour relations: The politics of production in the 'factory with a problem'" Accounting Organisations and Society, Vol 29, pp. 269-302, Elsevier.
* Friedman, A. L. 1977. Industry and Labor: Class Struggle at Work and Monopoly Capitalism. MacMillan, London, U.K.
* Fuller, L., V. Smith. 1991. Consumers' reports: Management by customers in a changing economy. Work, Employment and Society 5 1-16.
* Glazer, Myron and Glazer, Penina (1989) 'The Whistleblowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry, New York: Basic Books
* Gottfried, H. 1994. Learning the score: The duality of control and everyday resistance in the temporary-help service industry. J. M. Jermier, D. Knights, W. R. Nord, eds. Resistance and Power in Organizations. Routledge, London, U.K. 102-127.
* Graham, L. 1993. Inside a Japanese transplant: A critical perspective. Work and Occupations 20 147-173.
* Greenbergerm D. B., Miceli, M. P.amd Cohen, D. J. (1987) 'Oppositionists and Group Norms: The Reciprocal Influence of Whistle-Blowers and Co-Workers', Journal of Business Ethics 6: 527-42.
* H. Scullion. 1982. The Social Organization of Industrial Conflict. Basil Blackwell, London, U.K
* Knights, D. and Collinson, D. (1987) 'Disciplining the Shopfloor: A Comparison of the Disciplinary Effects of Managerial Psychology and Financial Accounting' Accounting Organizations and Society, Vol 12, No. 5, pp. 457-466, Great Britain, Pergamon Journals Ltd.
* Knights, D. and Roberts, J. (1982) 'The Power of Organization or the Organization of Power' Organization Studies 3 (1): 47-63.
* McFarland, J. 1980. Changing modes of social control in a New Brunswick fishing packing town. Stud. Political Economy 4 99-113.
* Miceli, M. P. and Near, J. P. (1985) 'Characteristics of Organisational Climate and Perceived Wrongdoing Associated with Whistle-Blowing Decisions', Personnel Psychology 38: 525-44
* Paules, G. F. 1991. Dishing it Out: Power and Resistance among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA.
* Prasad, A., P. Prasad. 1998. Everyday struggles at the workplace: The nature and implications of routine resistance in contemporary organizations. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 16. JAI Press, Greenwich, CT. 225-257.
* Prasad, P. and Prasad, A. (2000). Stretching the Iron Cage: The Constitution and Implications of Routine Workplace Resistance. Organisational Science, Vol. 11, No.4, pp.387-403. INFORMS.
* Rothschild, J. and Miethe, T. D. (1994) 'Whistleblowing as Resistance in Modern Work Organisations: The Politics of Revealing Organisational Deception and Abuse.' Resistance and Power in Organisations.
* Thompson, W. E. 1983. Hanging tongues: A sociological encounter with the assembly line. Qualitative Soc. 6 215-237.
* Westin, A. (1981). 'Whistleblowing: Loyalty and Dissent in the Cooperation', New York McGraw-Hill
* White, C. 1987. Why do workers bother? Paradoxes of resistance in two English factories. Critique of Anthropology 7 51-68.
* Wray-Bliss E. (2010) "Managing Resistance", Lecture 9, 21129Managing People and Organisations, University of Technology Sydney, unpublished.