The focus on employee commitment and loyalty in HRM has been criticised as being a form of ‘domination’ and/or ‘subjectification’. Critically evaluate some of the arguments put forward in support of this position and discuss the extent to which you agree with them.
This essay provides evidence that focus on employee Commitment and Loyalty in HRM is a form of domination and subjectification by the management. It includes reasons why Commitment and loyalty is important in HRM and why scholars believe it is necessary for organization to move from control to commitment model in the first place. Then by showing how management exerts control and power over the employees by strengthening ‘corporate culture’ which in turn improves the organizational performance and productivity by gaining greater commitment and flexibility from the employees by controlling their hearts and mind (Peters and Waterman, 1982, P. XVii)
In the modern era of knowledge economy, managing the workforce is vital. Therefore, the development-oriented organizations focus primarily on this area. In this process HRM systems plays a vital role (Sonnenberg et al., 2011; Krot and Lewicka, 2011; Rau, 2012)
The focus of HRM systems is to motivate the workforce in the organization by sustaining high level of commitment, improving performance level, constructing innovative solutions, encouraging employees to learn and improve their knowledge (Chow et al., 2008, Zakrzewska-Bielawska, 2008; Nankervis and Stanton, 2010)
Organizations are built of people working together to achieve certain goals. People working in the organization are interdependent and this calls in for coordination between people to achieve the expectation of the organization. (Pfeffer,1997)
It is said that there is always a built-in conflict between the expectations of the organization and employee’s efforts and needs, which brings us back to the ‘age- old management dilemma’ of how to align employees according to the organizational goals (Kunda, 1992:11)
Pfeffer (1997) in his New Direction for organizational Theory states that the most important and vital issue in organizations and management is control.
According to O’Reily and Chatman “Control comes from the knowledge that someone who matters to us is paying close attention to what we are doing and will tell us if our behaviour is appropriate or inappropriate” (1996, P161)
Freidman (1977) talks about various strategies managers use to exercise control over the employees.
Direct control is a more traditional approach where the employers limit the scope for the employees by threatening, closely monitoring, and reducing the responsibilities.
Responsible autonomy came into picture to combat certain undesirable outcomes of direct control strategy, where the workers are given leeway to adapt according to the needs of the firm and gain status, authority and responsibility.
Friedman also states that “Responsible Autonomy does not remove alienation and exploitation, it simply softens their operation or draws worker’s attention away from them. It is ideal to have workers behave as though they were participating in a process which reflected their own needs, abilities and wills, other than a process aimed at accumulation and profits”
Walton (1985) argues that there is a necessity to move from ‘Control’ to ‘Commitment’ strategy to manage the workforce. He claims that “traditional model of tight managerial control over the workforce was no longer effective, largely because it was based on the wrong set of assumptions about the nature of contemporary workforce and therefore about how best to manage it”
Pfeffer in his book New Directions for organisational theory claims that changes in organization structure calls for informal influence because the hierarchy is not emphasised much in organizations. There is an increasing focus on high commitment or high involvement of employees in the organizational work practice coupled with the emphasis on self-managing teams. This clearly means that the organizational values and practices cannot use formal hierarchical control as a strategy to control the employees (e.g., Katzenbech and smith 1993)
Walton states (cited by Guest) that “like it or not, in the contemporary workplace there is no choice but to manage with the commitment rather than the compliance of the workforce. Yet this is still an argument about organizational performance rather than worker well-being”
There are various debates with respect to how useful is the’ high commitment HRM’ or ‘high performance working system’ (Walton 1985)
The actual authenticity of High commitment model is questionable whether it would promote a potential form of exploitation of employee in the workforce (Freidman, 1997)
Green (2008) claims that in high performance work place literature employee commitment and loyalty are vital. Building a committed and loyal workforce is linked with “enhanced firm performance through less opportunistic behaviour on the part of employees”
It is believed that Employees who feel positive about their work contribute to the higher productivity of the organization and feel happy about the quality of their life. Therefore, there is question of what conditions the organization should provide for people employed in them to make them willing to commit (Coyle-Shapiro and Shore, 2007)
Meyer and Allen (1991, P.67) states that employees build a strong commitment towards the organization when they share values with the organization and its members. This is positively associated with job performance
Whenever people come together and act in unison power comes into picture (Arendt,1970:44). That brings us to the next question of how power is used to build commitment and Loyalty in the organization.
In social sciences and politics, “Power is the ability to influence or outright control the behaviour of people’ (Wikipedia)
Foucault in his book , The history of Sexuality, states that individuals can function as either subjects who exercise power or objects upon which power is exercised.
(Fleming and spicer, 2007) Power is conceptualized into four different faces based on how it operates and maintained in an organization.
The first face of power is coercion where one gets another individual to follow his/her orders. The second face of power is manipulation where the person in power controls the issues that can and cannot be discussed The third face of power is domination where individuals are made to act against their own interest because the system of power shapes our values and beliefs in a more appear to be acceptable way The Fourth and final face of power is Subjectification where power produces ‘the kind of people that we feel we naturally are’ (Fleming and spicer,2007: 23) Here the individuals internalize the belief system and begin to the shape the way the they think of themselves.
Further, in this essay we are going to discuss about how Commitment and Loyalty in HRM is considered a form of subjectification
“Productive of subjects, accompanied by resistance, twined with knowledge, and in modernity, insidious, totalizing, individuating, and disciplinary.” (Digeser,1992) This describes the fourth face of power by Michael Foucault.
Here power is described as totalizing and individualizing. It is considered totalizing because this sort of disciplinary power controls and monitors every form of life and changes the thoughts, behaviour, and interest of an individual to comply according to the structure which is considered acceptable and when individuals moves away from the structure they are pressurized to fall back into the system. (Foucault 1983,213).
Foucault describes that individuals are termed ‘normal’ or ‘docile’ by continuous monitoring, self -control and isolation.
In an article ‘Strength is ignorance; slavery is freedom: Managing culture in modern organizations “, Willmott (1993 ) claims that greater commitment from the employees can be achieved by ‘strengthening’ of corporate culture. He also states that rewarding and acknowledging the employees for their ‘sense of purpose’ improves their commitment towards organization.
Organizations uses various process of ‘social engineering’ such as training the employees, providing continuous learning, using various HRM techniques to make the employee self-disciplined. When they employees don’t comply to the expectation of the organization, they start to get anxious, guilty and shameful. (Schwartz, 1987a,1987b)
Willmott (1993) states that “Corporate culturism is a systemizing and legitimizing mode of control” that consciously and unconsciously shapes the way employee thinks by incorporating various HRM/TQM techniques. Their common goal is to “derive a sense of meaning and esteem, as well as payment, by directing their creative energies towards the realization of key corporate objective”
Here the system of power uses practical techniques (such as procedures for operating) and as a result power “reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, earning processes and everyday lives” (Foucault,1980:39)
Foucault states that individuals and made to feel normal by continuous monitoring, self-discipline and societal pressure of rejection. This face of power of power is focused on the soul of the individual
There are various studies which discuss about the connection between subjectivity and power in order to understand how workers become “the principle of their own subjectification” (Foucault, 1977:203)
As Peters and Waterman put it, what our framework has done is to remind the world of professionalmanagers that ‘soft is hard’. . . . It has enabled us to say, in effect, ‘All that stuff you have been dismissing for so long as the intractable, irrational,intuitive, informal organization can be managed’ (1982, p. 11) .
Now we move on to how organization use ‘Corporate culturism’ to subjectify the workers