Management's role in an age of distress

Industrial and Organisational Psychology. First edition - The Organisation in Crisis. First edition - Theory and Method in Organisation Studies. First edition - Organisational Change and Development. First edition - Introduction to Organisational Behaviour. First edition
March 2, 2001

Organisations are the central theme of these books. Between them they consider theories of organisations, approaches to studying organisations and the individuals within, the nature of organisational decline and its impact on employees. Most of the books combine two or more of these important themes and attempt to illustrate the practical utility of the subject area. Antonio Strati, for example, devotes the first two-thirds of his book to a review of organisational theory, and the final third to research methodologies and perspectives. His review of the literature is interesting and comprehensive - from F. W. Taylor and Max Weber to organisational pathos, logos and hypertext - but the complexity of some of the material suggests that it is an intermediate rather than an introductory textbook. This is reinforced by the research and methodology sections. Though providing a useful overview of the most commonly used quantitative and qualitative methods, these could be irrelevant unless students are expected to undertake a research project as part of the course. MA or first-year PhD students, on the other hand, may find these offer a useful and practical guide to social-science research.

In the earlier chapters, Strati manages to avoid perfunctory descriptions of the most frequently cited material by injecting some fascinating anecdotes and contextual detail. In his account of scientific management, for example, he describes how Taylor was summoned by a Special House Committee (1912) to defend his own controversial theories. In his defence, Taylor argued that productivity was the best measure of a society's civilisation. While reading Taylor's defence, it occurred to me that this view is more widely held today than ever and that many of society's problems can be traced to this materialistic and narrow evaluation of progress. Insights such as these make Strati's book a worthwhile and enjoyable read, though some existing knowledge of the subject is required.

The theme of societal and organisational decline is taken up by Ronald Burke and Cary Cooper in their consideration of downsizing, restructuring and privatisation. The main theme of the book is that these related transformations -along with globalisation, the erosion of job security, increased inequality and decreased mental well-being -are putting organisations into a state of crisis. The collection of articles is thoughtfully subdivided into four coherent and related themes. The first looks at the impact of restructuring on employees and their organisations. The contributions illustrate the negative impact of restructuring and downsizing on both profits and people. Several of the articles provide well-researched empirical evidence to support their arguments and there is also an international perspective provided by research from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Portugal. Some of the key findings suggest that "survivor syndrome" -including high anxiety and low trust -is a pernicious and corrosive symptom of downsizing with the potential to undermine individual and organisational effectiveness.

The second theme, new research directions, identifies familiar organisational phenomena such as downsizing, stress and job insecurity, but examines them using a variety of criteria such as gender, fairness and ethics. The findings, which are often inconclusive and sometimes contradictory, lead the authors to advocate more research in these areas.

The third theme is the impact of downsizing on careers. Headed "new career reality", the articles consider the changing nature of the psychological contract, the career prospects of middle-aged and older employees and the erosion of social capital through job insecurity. Though the news appears to be not all bad, there is considerable food for thought for individual employees subjected to downsizing as well as for the managers charged with implementing large-scale job losses.

The final theme strikes a more pragmatic and constructive note by identifying measures for minimising the negative aspects of organisational restructuring. The articles suggest that methods of best practice can help managers lead organisations through "survivor sickness", cope with mergers and acquisitions and provide effective leadership through the downsizing process.

Overall Burke and Cooper's is a thought-provoking and worthwhile book that attempts, through empirical investigation and reflection, to shed light on some of the most serious and worrying employment trends of our time. The articles are of a high standard and fit together well. It is clearly not trying to be a central course text but would make suitable reading for anyone studying organisational behaviour or development. It could also be very useful for managers involved in or considering a programme of downsizing or major change. Its beauty is in its injection of realism, which serves as a refreshing if disturbing antidote to the overly simplistic and optimistic prescriptions found in traditional management/MBA texts.

A second book edited by Cooper, this time with Edwin Locke, Industrial and Organisational Psychology , broaches many of the issues discussed in the context of organisational crisis. In this case the overarching connection between the 13 articles is the application of organisational psychology to specific organisational problems. Motivation, stress, organisational justice, team effectiveness, leadership, job satisfaction, goal setting and performance are the main areas addressed. Although these are familiar themes, there is a concerted attempt by the authors to link theory with practice -something my MBA students implore me to do. Although this is done to greater effect in some articles than in others, it is a feature of the book that most students and certainly all practitioners will appreciate. There is a wide range of empirical evidence, and this is useful since so many textbooks today describe psychological models and theories without reference to the relevant data or methodologies employed to support them. The articles are of a good standard and the book should make useful reading for anyone seeking to put some empirical and practical flesh on the theoretical bones of organisational psychology.

For those seeking an organisational behaviour course text, Helga Drummond's Introduction to Organisational Behaviour enters an increasingly saturated market. Fortunately, our collective appetites for introductory OB texts appear to be insatiable, and this one is a useful addition. The book covers most of the standard OB themes (motivation, culture, power, decision making etc), but I was surprised by the absence of a chapter devoted to organisational structure. However, the book is distinguished by chapters on total quality management and the symbolic life of organisations. It also includes two very useful chapters providing practical advice on how to study OB and how to research and write OB dissertations effectively. For undergraduates new to the subject and/or social-science research, these provide helpful information on practical issues ranging from exam preparation to the design of a research question. In terms of the style of the book, I appreciated its plain, no-nonsense format and the way it manages to avoid the cluttered and fussy style of many introductory texts, especially those from the US. For me, this makes the book very readable, but students who prefer their study books to be littered with boxes, mini-summaries, models and diagrams may be disappointed.

It would also have been useful to provide brief case studies as these can illustrate the practical significance of OB theories and give useful material for in-class discussion. Notwithstanding these caveats I think the book is a worthwhile addition to the growing panoply of introductory OB texts, although I would find it difficult to recommend it ahead of some of the other established texts in the area.

The final book, edited by Bob Hamlin, Jane Keep and Ken Ash, continues to examine organisational change, but from a much more practical and developmental perspective. This reflects the book's contributors, many of whom have years of experience managing change in the public and private sectors. As the title suggests, the book is a guide for managers, trainers and developers, although MBA and postgraduate students may enjoy reading the "real world" case studies and experiences. It is practical and asks some relevant questions such as "What is the role of the change agent?" "What is effectiveness and how do we evaluate it?" "How do we evaluate change programmes?" It draws on a wide range of empirical evidence from large and small organisations and generates numerous steps and guidelines intended to facilitate and improve the change process.

Several of the contributors pick up on the need to minimise uncertainty, stress and erosion of employee loyalty. In this sense, the book discusses ways of managing the process of change by addressing some of the key organisational dilemmas identified by the books reviewed earlier.

It is perhaps a sad comment that all the books reviewed here deal in one way or another with organisations and employees in distress. However, if this reflects a growing sense of realism in the literature, then it can only be seen as a positive step.

Christopher Stoney is lecturer in management, Imperial College, London.

Industrial and Organisational Psychology. First edition

Editor - Cary L. Cooper and Edwin A. Locke
ISBN - 0 631 20991 3 and 20992 1
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £60.00 and £22.99
Pages - 356

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