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Article citation: Yoav Vardi, (2001) "Organizational Misbehaviour", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 22 Iss: 4, pp.393 - 405
Yoav Vardi, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Stephen Ackroyd, Paul Thompson
Sage Publications Ltd
Thousand Oaks, CA
0 8039 8736 6 (paperback)
Workers, Organizational behaviour
International Journal of Manpower
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This intriguing, challenging and frustrating new book deals with what Vaughan (1999) recently called the “dark side of organizations.” It is intriguing because of its unconventional approach, challenging because it makes one wonder about the level of understanding of organizational life, and frustrating because unfortunately when all is said and done one does not come away with the insights one expects.
Chapter 1 is aptly entitled: “Why Organizational Misbehaviour?” The authors posit that it is because the phenomenon is pervasive and because we do not have a systematic knowledge about it. Indeed, they find the paucity of knowledge about such behaviors quite puzzling, and they therefore devote part of the first chapter to explaining what they call “the neglect of misbehaviour.” First, the authors blame the all too well known human misperception (e.g. biases, selectivity). Second, Ackroyd and Thompson argue that scientists too may err by presetting their measures and ignoring the types of behavior that fall outside their range. Thus, different social and behavioral disciplines have studied misbehavior from different perspectives, while none has so far offered a mainstream, overall conceptualization of the phenomenon. For example, social psychology deals with withdrawal behavior, labor history with sabotage, criminology with theft and fraud, and labour studies examine strike behavior. The authors suggest that there still remains a large variety of behaviors that can be construed as organizational misbehavior and that it is the job of disciplines related to organization studies to explore them systematically. Henceforth, I will use the term OMB (Vardi and Wiener, 1992) to denote organizational misbehavior.
The chapter offers a short historical analysis of OMB approaches going all the way back to “scientific management” (to what Taylor described as “soldiering”), going through “human relations” (Mayo and Co. on production restriction) and its need theory successors (Maslow and Co.) who emphasized psychosocial antecedents of misbehavior, up to current work on “unconventional work practices” (e.g. Analoui and Kakabadse, 1992). Yet, “although there are insights gained from each of the disciplines and frameworks for analysis, misbehavior does not neatly map onto them. Misbehavior consists of non-compliant or “counter-productive” practices that take a wider variety of forms (and have more varied motives) than can be encompassed through the available models” (p. 24).
The authors articulate a conceptual framework or “map” consisting of four dimensions of OMB, each ranging from a cooperative mode to a hostile mode: appropriation of work (work activity to destruction); appropriation of product (perks to theft); appropriation of time (perks to turnover); and appropriation of identity (identification to group solidarity). They especially emphasize the importance of the fourth dimension since “all misbehaviour is associated with processes of identity formation and self-organization”(p. 27). For them, different levels of OMB express different levels of “disagreements” mostly between employees and management who “are engaged in a continual struggle to appropriate and reappropriate relevant material and symbolic resources.” Here, Ackroyd and Thompson’s sociopolitical orientation comes to the fore.
In chapter 2, “the Recalcitrant Worker” is introduced as the antidote for the ideal-type, compliant, willing and cooperative employee (e.g. Whyte’s classical “organization man”) “too often found in management and organizational literature”(p. 31). Ackroyd and Thompson begin by discussing sociological studies of work limitation practices. These are considered as a natural reaction to the norms of rationality traditionally governing industry. Then they review well known, as well as some more esoteric research, on fiddling, pilferage, sabotage, absenteeism and even workplace feminism, erratically shifting between places, periods and disciplines making the reading quite difficult. Curiously, for the authors this demonstrates a disjointed academia rather than the complexity of the OMB phenomenon and the inherent difficulties of conceptualizing and studying it.
In the third chapter the authors propose that in order to understand the characteristic forms of misbehavior in the workplace, there is a need to appreciate that they arise from and are related to “processes of self-organization.” These refer to the tendency of groups to form interests and establish identities, and to strive for autonomy based on these identities. The thesis is that “the pursuit of autonomy is central to self-organization and implicated in all misbehavior discussed in this book”(p. 56). Ackroyd and Thompson focus on what they call “irresponsible autonomy” that is a form of self-organization and action that occupies its own space independently of management and others in the workplace. To support this, the authors provide some “bizarre” (their term) evidence from studies of workers’ behavior in such places as a mine and a slaughterhouse where rites and humor are important aspects of self-organization. Self-organization, after all, represents the capacity to form identities in contradistinction to those imposed by formal hierarchies.
Following these tenets the authors proceed to the “production and management of OMB” (chapter 4). Their key point is that employees actually misbehave because there are rules imposed by management that govern behavior. For example, absenteeism only exists where rules of attendance are created, monitored, and enforced. On the other hand, oftentimes OMB is tolerated in organizations because of management complicity about rule bending. Moreover, managers may exacerbate employee misconduct by misbehaving themselves such as by misusing available resources. Thus, usurping such resources “while making or calling for economies elsewhere simply creates tensions and enables other employees to rationalize their own existing or potential misbehaviour” (p. 80).
Yet, complicity as well as indiscretion are not the only determinants of OMB. There are additional factors that affect managers’ judgment concerning reactions taken against such behavior: the need to secure members’ cooperation, whether such behavior is functional, whether action is more costly than the misbehavior, and whether misbehavior could be challenged on moral grounds. Such considerations require that we think in terms of what Ackroyd and Thompson call “managerial regimes.” For them a “regime refers to a pattern of control based on systematic attempts to regulate and/or accommodate to specific forms of misbehaviour” (p. 87). They propose a typology of regimes based on two dimensions – trust and regulation. Responsible autonomy is characterized by high trust and low regulation, while direct control by low trust and high regulation; controlled autonomy is highly regulated but is based on trust, whereas irresponsible autonomy is low on both. While direct control is most conducive to the production of OMB, by creating spirals of managerial control and employee recalcitrance, other regimes may enhance misbehaviors as well. This notion appears to have merit because it supports a more dynamic view of OMB.
Chapters 5 and 6 delve into two arenas in which misbehavior expresses itself in a specialized yet prevalent manner. Chapter 5 deals with workplace humor. In a nutshell (no pun intended), joking has become a legitimate means of dealing with new management regimes (such as the engineering culture in high tech described by Kunda, 1992) which balance the need to control with the realization that quality is dependent on people’s will (i.e. allowing more individual expression on the job). As the authors somewhat cynically put it: “It is no exaggeration to say that it constitutes a continuous undercurrent of satirical debunking of management pretensions” (p. 103). They distinguish between three kinds of joking – clowning, teasing and satire. Whereas satire may reflect a new intellectually based counter-culture in organizations, clowning and teasing may actually be expressions of anti-management sentiments.
Chapter 6 discusses the inevitability of romance in the workplace and the particular form of sexual behavior – sexual harassment. Sifting through several approaches and anecdotal evidence, the authors argue that because the topic is complex and emotionally loaded, there is a need for a multi-dimensional explanation of what they term “organizational sexuality”. Such a framework should “identify the negative and positive practices, the differences and similarities between and within the experiences of women and men” (p. 127). In other words, they suggest we keep organizational sexuality in perspective. In addition, they identify an important paradox. On the one hand, we condone individual expression and diversity in the new organization, and on the other, we devise more and more strict regulations that curb such behaviors. The authors suggest that we should make our messages concerning organizational sexuality less ambiguous.
The concluding chapter has an intriguing title: “The end of organizational misbehaviour?” Yet, it is a perplexing chapter which is based on an earlier paper by Thompson and Ackroyd (1995). It leaves the reader wondering whether the authors seized an opportunity to engage in an intellectual duel with their academic critics because it offers neither a clear answer to the question whether misbehavior is out, nor a coherent agenda for future research and theory building on OMB. Its principal message is that while management has installed progressive “regimes” that are designed to improve life in organizations for all members (HRM, TQM, STS), they have mostly failed, and misbehavior, resistance and recalcitrance will therefore continue to subvert them. Undoubtedly, some forms of OMB can be explained as a “class struggle” but it will not account for other types such as employee misconduct designed to benefit the organization or acts of misbehavior perpetrated against customers. Certainly it does not explain practical jokes or sexual harassment in the workplace.
This chapter notwithstanding, Ackroyd and Thompson’s book is an important contribution to the growing effort by academics to better understand the complexities, intricacies and nuances that characterize OMB. As such, one should ignore cynical remarks such as “some readers are seemingly still not subtle enough to notice the heavy irony in the deployment of key terms such as ‘organizational misbehaviour’ and ‘irresponsible autonomy”’ (p. 164). Instead, one should view the book as a challenge for articulating good interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks on OMB, for doing good research explaining it, and for drawing reasonable practical implications for dealing with it.
Analoui, F. and Kakabadse, A. (1992), “Unconventional practices at work: insight and analysis through participant observation”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 75, pp. 561-8.
Kunda, G. (1992), Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA.
Thompson, P. and Ackroyd, S. (1995), “All is quite in the workplace front? A critique of recent trends in British industrial sociology”, Sociology, Vol. 29, pp. 610-33.
Vardi, Y. and Wiener, Y. (1992). “Organizational misbehavior (OMB): toward a motivational model”, a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of Management, Miami Beach, FL.
Vaughan, D. (1999). “The dark side of organizations: mistake, misconduct, and disaster”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 25, pp. 271-305.