Personal Finance

Workplace resource wars during Covid

Workers are likely to form coalitions in pushing for the battered resources as a result of the pandemic.
Workers are likely to form coalitions in pushing for the battered resources as a result of the pandemic. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Demand for labour continues to shrink in the coronavirus era. The precipitous drop in consumer spending fails to improve materially, thus forecasting continued softening on wages throughout Kenya. As organisations lay strategy and plot to survive the economic conditions and forecasts, employee demands and expectations will fall against less and less distributable resources within firms.

Many organisations will face more infighting and us-versus- them internal approaches instead of uniting to face the coming hardships. As fears rise over the uncertainty and sad workplace eventualities, employees will look increasingly towards forming informal coalitions to represent and advocate for their perceived shared interests.

Coalitions thrive as a means of collective influence in companies. Some entities champion worker coalitions while others try to stamp them out. Coalitions form more frequently when disagreements cannot be addressed or resolved through organisational policies, procedures, practices, or governance.

A coalition is markedly different from a team or a group since coalitions typically form short-term around one central theme and ignore other disagreements or dissimilarities between members. Inasmuch, coalitions often do not succeed in achieving their goals due to competing non-identical interests mixed with desires for personal gain surrounding the one main issue.

A brand-new study by Murad Mithani and Jonathan O’Brien compiles research conducted on forming coalitions in workplaces highlighting a negative force that frequently leads to the perceived necessity of coalitions: conflict.


Employees join workplace coalitions in a conflict with those who seem to most represent and enable their own self-regarding interests.

Different research by Henrich Greve found that, sadly, the conflict motivation for forming work coalitions often does not yield results in promoting the individual employee’s reasons for joining the coalition.

Workplace conflicts can occur as persistent and perpetual tugs of war between different types of employees, management and staff, or varying departments. In such situations, coalitions of employees subtly and often quietly manoeuvre with machinations often just under the surface over, perhaps, contexts, strategic decisions, routines, task structures, outcomes, or recurring over organisational resource distribution. Such longstanding mild conflicts can persist for years.

However, more acute conflicts can arise in the life of an organisation, whether as a result of external shocks such as national political changes, a global health pandemic like Covid-19, or new regulations affecting the firm that force the entity to change its working methods to remain resilient in a dynamic environment or internal challenges such as restructuring, new leadership, or changes in revenue streams.

These often one-off conflicts divide an organisation’s staff into three different categories. A minority of proactive or the most perceived aggrieved workers informally join a coalition as active members on the different sides of an issue and vigorously shape the activities of their coalition. Next, the silent majority might join a conflict alliance, but are not keenly engaged on the issues of the group. Finally, the silent plurality of employees often stands as neutral either to the conflict issue or undesirous to politicise the acute issue.

To gain power and prestige to win their cause against real or perceived grievance, the active coalition members will often use one of three tactics.

First, logical calm heads could prevail as various organisational coalitions put together well-reasoned arguments resplendent with facts, research, solutions, and ways forward. Unfortunately, most coalitions fail to follow the first path.

Next, emotional complaining, outbursts, and finger pointing dominate the approach of the second coalition type. While raising blood pressures and gaining attention, these tactics often do not yield results. Third, coalition active members and their informal leaders can employ political tactics, including dividing and conquering, insulting those outside their group, baiting and switching on facts, spreading rumours, and using the disinformation tactics of propaganda. These Machiavellian cunning manoeuvres can win short-term battles, but frequently yield deep medium and long-term interpersonal and organisational scars in their wake.


As the world convulses in the rubble of the coronavirus spiral with economic and government fallouts, competition for ever shrinking organisational resources will form more and more internal conflicts throughout the remainder of 2020 into 2021.

Inasmuch, how do you plan to approach conflict in your organisation? Will you go direct to your department heads, executives, or boards of directors to discuss solutions to your concerns? Alternatively, would you form bottom-up swells of grievance to form coalitions to attain or maintain what you desire? If forming coalitions, let us remember the power of facts, solutions, and well-reasoned arguments especially in the challenging times now and into the near future.

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