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Management Control and Worker Responses

One view of a company is that it is a system for generating returns for shareholders. In fact, company directors, in most jurisdictions, have a fiduciary duty in law to look after the best interest of shareholders. Another model of a company is that it is a collective of stakeholders, all with competing interests, and that is the view that guides the analysis in this chapter. Earlier, I proposed that organisational citizenship and resistance were emergent properties at Level 3. Organisational citizenship is a concept that captures behaviour that we could describe as an employee ‘going the extra mile’. Citizenship is the voluntary investment of effort for the benefit of the organisation. Organisational resistance is the opposite. Hodson (2001) identified categories of legitimate management activity that, if implemented poorly, generate resistance. I have recast Hodson’s analysis in terms of management intentions and resultant outcomes. By resistance, Hodson means behaviour that usually falls short of direct action, such as going on strike, but still results in inefficiency and reflects a loss of goodwill. It is not necessarily sabotaging or vandalism (although that is not unknown in labour disputes), but it is an unwillingness to support, or a lack of alignment with, company goals. Resistance could be characterised as intentional subopti- mal performance. The balance between citizenship and resistance might be seen as the practical manifestation of morale. The four key management functions and their associated actions derived from Hodson’s work are:

Control v Management Chaos and Abuse

Demand v Overwork

Delegation v Challenges to Autonomy

Continuous Improvement v Contradictions in Employee Involvement

Control, Management Legitimacy or Chaos and Abuse?

I want to start this section by restating the concept of ‘control’ as a legitimate right to make decisions about the employment of assets as it goes to the heart of many problems between the management and workforce. The important part of the definition is that control also relates to power ‘not explicitly defined in law or contract’. Control affords management the space to act unilaterally in terms of asset use for which no specific authority or precedent exists. It is the tension between the management and the workforce that flows from this unregulated state that gives rise to issues of citizenship and resistance. Anderson (2017) has coined the phrase ‘Private Government’ to characterise the nature of post-industrial employment. She cites the ways companies exercise almost tyrannical control over employees and makes the point that if actual governments were as abusive, they would not be elected to power in democratic countries. One example she uses, which is becoming increasingly widespread in aviation, is random testing for substance and alcohol consumption. A rational argument can be made for random testing given that pilots have been caught attempting to board aircraft when above the legal alcohol limit and the effects of alcohol on performance are well known. However, Anderson’s point is that to demand the right to test based on no suspicion could be construed as an abuse of management’s power. In effect, management (albeit supported by law or delegated to a third party in some states) has drawn to itself the right to intrude into the prior life of the employee. By prior life, Anderson means life preceding the contractually obligated duty period. Although alcohol is voided through the system in a fairly short period, some recreational drugs might still be detectable weeks after use. Drug use during the employee’s own time might leave a detectable trace that, although possibly so slight as to have no effect on current performance, remains grounds for action. Furthermore, management typically mandates punishment should an employee choose not to participate, even if innocent of any possible charge. Anderson’s point, of course, is not to defend drug users or drunks. She is suggesting that the distribution of power between the workers and management has shifted significantly in favour of management such that we are now blind to the imbalance. On the one hand, this can encourage cavalier action on the part of management while, on the other hand, increase the likelihood of acts of resistance on the part of workers.

Another example, which will be picked up in the next section, is that of job demands. We saw in Chapter 4 that work-induced fatigue can impact a pilot’s personal life and can have long-term health effects. In a study of nearly 400 pilots in 25 different airlines, 45% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they would not report fatigue ‘for fear of investigation of off-duty time’, and 34.8% responded similarly to the statement ‘fear of investigation of commuting arrangements’ (Greig, 2019). These responses reflect, in part, a fear of self-incrimination because pilots do have a duty to report for work in a fit state. In a significant number of cases, respondents are rejecting the company’s right to intrude into their personal lives. Garud and Shapira observe that those who stand to lose their investment, in an economic sense, should have control over risk-taking activities. However, if that investment is the health and well-being of employees then the implication of this position suggests that current approaches to, say, setting flight time limitations need a radical review.

The unintended consequence of this imbalance between the management and workers lies at the heart of Hodson’s analysis. In an attempt to demonstrate some semblance of independence, workers develop ways to express their frustration while stopping short of industrial action or resignation. Workers find ways to withdraw emotionally, and sometimes physically, from the workplace without provoking management sanction.

Hodson’s framing of the reciprocal, management chaos and abuse, describes the way in which management’s attempts to direct and control the workforce on a daily basis can often result in turbulence and confusion. A good example would be the stability of the published crew roster. The roster, of course, defines the life of a crew member over the period for which it is valid. Changes to the roster often disrupt personal plans, and yet the roster production process can be fragile and unstable. One airline I worked with managed to produce the pilot roster 2 weeks in arrears. Another airline employed an individual to run rostering, equipped with no more than a pencil and graph paper. The rosters were always incorrect. Pencil and paper methods have probably seen their day, but even modern computerised systems can still fail. Of course, the reasons for disruption do not solely rest with the management side of the equation: individuals fail to report significant personal changes to the rostering team; short-notice company tasks occur requiring individuals to be taken offline, and people fall sick. In a study of roster stability, 3% of changes were due to operational disruption, either weather or technical faults. Crew recognise that such disruptions occur and are tolerant of the subsequent need to change rosters. The biggest cause of roster instability was crew ‘no-shows’ for duties or training events. In fact, on an annual basis, the airline involved had to plan 33% more simulator events than was needed to meet the training plan because of crew no-shows (personal communication). However, notwithstanding the cause of the disruption and the challenges of staffing aircraft, the solutions generated by management to deal with disruption are often seen by the workforce as adding to the problem. For example, opaqueness around the proper establishment of the crew for the number of aircraft operated can be an issue. Having insufficient reserve pilots available, such that rosters were guaranteed to be changed, can be seen as simply pushing the problem downstream. Managements have to act in real time to resolve issues around staffing but the nature of their solutions sometimes causes friction.

The interpersonal styles of individual managers, together with perceptions of competence, company responses to the grievance and the silo effect mentioned earlier all represent chaotic and abusive management. In terms of how employees respond to it is worth just pointing out one way in which pilots and cabin crew differ from many other types of employee. Airline crew spend their working days away from the office. They spend little time in a central location and so more general communication can be difficult. One common form of resistance is choosing to ignore management altogether or finding ways to work around management. Individuals find ways to generate their motivation to work and create social groups within the workplace that provide a sense of belonging that does not flow from the company. These are forms of psychological protection that are, nonetheless, responses to the perceived management inadequacy. More active forms of resistance include not keeping up-to-date w'ith company communications, using unauthorised workarounds and shortcuts to make the job simpler or reconfiguring the job to your satisfaction. In this latter case, role ambiguity, which was one of the sources of safety drift at the level of the individual, can be triggered by the management action.

 
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