The paradoxes found in our places of work


The manipulation paradox can be remedied by intentional listening to employee voices at corporate and individual levels. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Many employees throughout East Africa struggle in work environments with dismal power dynamics with bosses who expect too much but then sabotage the very initiatives they plead with their subordinates to perform.

When reported upwards, many boards of directors often dismiss reports of organisational culture paradoxes as conspiracies or minimalise stories assuming that complaints only stem from whiny and complaining staff. But upon closer inspection, many surface-level absurdities or contradictory situations actually turn out to be true.

Ever noticed wild claims by executives or boards to their shareholders about the exact nature of what goes on in a firm that stand completely opposite to the truth?

Recently published research by Marco Berti and Ace Simpson investigates organisational pragmatic paradoxes that limit employees from responding to entity needs because of disempowerment.

FIRST, the beginning two disempowerment paradoxes include episodic power that occur periodically. Coercion involves leaders visibly pulling leverage on resources to reward or punish in order to vary employee behaviour.

If a leader requires innovation as a key category on performance reviews but then simultaneously punishes and disincentivises risk-taking and proactiveness, then that leader uses coercion.

SECOND, perhaps an executive makes a big show before the whole company imploring his or her staff to find solutions to a recurring worker complaint, but then never gives them a chance to speak up, put forward ideas, or even look at or consider their contributions to policy documents.

The study terms such occurrences as executive manipulation that takes place when executives invisibly control what can be negotiated, discussed, or put on meeting agendas that blocks progress.

THIRD, the next two categories involve institutional systemic power structures that can disempower staff. An entity might set up authoritative procedures where every single detail, even minute, must be approved by senior manager or the CEO him or herself.

The research calls this domination whereby employees start to consider the visible systems of employee relations and approvals as natural within the firm.

FOURTH, if managers create an environment with unique meanings for common words and phrases that leads to doublethink, identities and cliques of ingroup and outgroup staff, and invisible favouritism all point towards a dismal organisational situation where a manager subjectifies their workers.

If a staff member does not fit within the subjectification structure of the organisation, then it limits their agency in responding to goals and change initiatives.

Fixing the paradoxes

Thousands of us working across Kenya can recognise different aspects of the above terrible disempowerment paradoxes in our organisations. But how can firms fix the paradoxes?

First, coercion scenarios can be reformed through transparency across the company, integrate inter-departmental goals with each other, and nurture empathy and compassion training and culture. Often external forces come in that compel such a magnitude of change.

Second, the manipulation paradox can be remedied by intentional listening to employee voices at corporate and individual levels and policies protecting those who give their opinions and solutions. Employees who proffer productive resistance typically can force such change.

Third, managerial domination gets fixed by avoiding rigid team norms and stopping extreme focuses on capturing and forcing firm-centric views of knowledge. Sadly, usually a company must collapse through a crisis in order for domination to vanish.

Fourth, subjectification situations can improve when intra-organisational communication gets emphasized that include forums and initiatives for critical reflection. Internal employee actions through micro political action campaigns can trigger such corrections.

Stuck in a hopeless job with disempowering paradoxes? Identify which of the four paradoxes fits your situation and work towards improving your situation within your departments. If unable to force change over the course of a year? Leave toxic organisations behind and find healthy firms so that you enjoy your career.

Dr. Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor