Discussion forum for members of the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group

Friday, May 25, 2007

Some employee-manager conflict is unavoidable

Here are four reasons why I believe that "some" of the hatred between employees and their managers is unavoidable.

Attribution theory - According to Jones and Nisbett (1971), individuals typically make dispositional attributions when looking at the causes of the behavior of others and situational attributions when looking at the causes of their own behavior. For example, if someone in your class flunks a test, you would most likely think that it was due to something about the person (e.g., they are not smart). If, however, you were to flunk a test, you would be more likely, instead, to say that it was because you didn't study, didn't care, or got no sleep the night before. Employees make dispositional attributions when looking at the behavior of managers because they don't understand the situational factors that are underlying the behavior of managers. Managers do the same when trying to understand the behavior of employees.

Roles - The roles that individuals are placed in effect their behavior. Consider the 1971 Zimbardo prisoner study in which volunteers were randomly assigned to be guards or prisoners. Within less than a day individuals started to assume the roles. Guards became demeaning, dehumanizing, and sadistic. Prisoners became depressed and rebellious.

Intergroup theory - Most organizations are hierarchical systems with upper, middle, and lower groups. Just by the very nature of their place in the system and their differing perspectives, hatred emerges. Uppers stereotype lowers as incompetent and lowers stereotype uppers as not worthy of trust.

Self-fulfilling prophecies - Rosenthal (1968) told 3rd grade school teachers that certain students were late bloomers and their IQ scores would increase dramatically. Lo and behold that's what happened. Somehow the teachers consciously or unconsciously treated these students differently. The dim view managers have of lower-level employees is often confirmed because they don't empower their employees to demonstrate their competence.

The job of OD practitioners is thus like salmon swimming upstream. There are many forces working against employees and managers respecting and cooperating well with each other.

Bruce Katcher

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is hatred between employees and managers inevitable?

Our May 23 program was on “How To Make Organizations More Employee-Friendly: Lessons from Surveys of Over 10,000 Employees.” It was led by Bruce Katcher, President of Discovery Surveys, Inc., and author of 30 Reason Why Employees Hate Their Managers, recently published by Amacom.

Bruce put us through a “point counterpoint” exercise, where we divided in half, one group listing reasons why conflict between employees and managers is inevitable and one group listing reason why it is not. Among the former was the fact that the two sets of people have different interests; in the latter camp, it was suggested that the fact in some organizations there is harmony between employees and managers means that such conflict is not foreordained. Some noted that without the hope that employee-conflict can be resolved OD practice would be pointless; others suggest that OD practitioners may be too inclined to ignore realities from outside the workplace that cuase such conflict to be expected.

This thus proved to be a question that led to a stimulating discussion and provoked insights about our work. We’ve thus chosen it as our current Question of the Month.