Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Monitoring 'self-managing' employees may provoke negative work behaviours


Good things can come when members of an organisation are allowed to manage their own work, such as greater job satisfaction and better adherence with organisational policy. But this involves management doing an uncomfortable thing: surrendering control. Often, organisations compensate by coupling self-management with surveillance techniques of the  close-up or electronic variety. New research suggests that self-management has even more benefits, but that mashing it with surveillance can end up bringing out the worst in people.

Authors Jaclyn Jenson and Jana Raver conducted two studies, the first looking to establish whether people given freedom would use it to perform more positive, discretionary acts, so-called organisational citizenship behaviours or OCBs. By mocking up a fictional consultancy, the researchers could recruit 211 participants (in their own minds, employees on a one-off, very short-term contract) to show up, review investment advice, and write it up in the form of a report. Before starting their short-term shift, they were given Terms of Service both printed and read aloud; these either emphasised self-management or other-management, a promise cashed out by the shift supervisor sitting passively or actively pacing the room. The work involved discretionary elements, such as how long the report and whether to complete or skip some optional questionnaires. The amount of discretional effort  was turned into a OCB score: individuals in the self-management condition scored higher, making efforts over and above what was demanded.

Study two surveyed individuals across a range of organisations, to offer a field replication and extend the investigation to understand how surveillance interacts with self-management. The survey introduced a further outcome measure, counter-productive work behaviours (CWBs), choosing to undermine the organisation in some way, such as deliberately dragging your heels on a task. The data from the 423 respondents suggested that surveillance in itself encouraged CWBs, but this was driven by its interaction with self-management. When individuals believed they were supposed to be self managing - 'It is my responsibility, and not my organization’s, to monitor my own workplace behavior and job performance' - but the reality was that they were being monitored,  their CWBs were markedly higher. Jensen and Raver predicted this finding, seeing it as an example of psychological reactance: when freedom you believe you deserve is seemingly taken away, you will try to recover autonomy through other means, even at the expense of the organisation. Analysing trust in the organisation, also surveyed, revealed that the normally observed relationship between self management and higher trust was severed once surveillance entered the mix.

This research suggests that if you don't want to evoke petty revenges from employees, it's vital that cultures of self-management aren't tempered by close surveillance. By resisting that temptation, you're likely to yield benefits, your people more willing to perform beyond what is expected.

ResearchBlogging.orgJaclyn M. Jensen, & Jana L. Raver (2012). When Self-Management and Surveillance Collide: Consequences for Employees’ Organizational Citizenship and Counterproductive Work Behaviors Group Organization Management, 37 (3), 308-346 DOI: 10.1177/1059601112445804

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