Recently, the New York Times Magazine had a special theme issue on “The Future of Work: What Makes a ‘Good Job’ Good?”. As it happened, the issue came out while I was reading the new book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by anthropologist David Graeber. This was a lovely bit of symmetry, because both the book and the articles in the magazine address similar questions: with more automation in the workplace, why are we not working fewer hours? If we know as much as we do about organizations and work, why are so many workers so unhappy? Shouldn’t work be getting better, instead of getting worse?
These are very big questions with complex answers. I won’t try to cover everything that’s discussed in the book and the magazine articles, and have a wide-ranging but superficial discussion; I recommend that you read the book and the articles for yourself. But I’m going to pull out a couple of themes that I found particularly fascinating.
Both the book and the articles look at the worsening relationships between workers and employers and show that this trend isn’t just anecdotal. Surveys of job satisfaction over time show (more…)
Nearly four years ago, I wrote this blog post about how the Globe and Mail newspaper responsed to allegations that columnist Margaret Wente had used uncredited sources in some of her writing. In that post, I talked about the model of population ecology, from organizational theory. The model suggests that if an organization wants to be considered legitimate, and to gain benefits of legitimacy such as resources and power, then it needs to monitor cues in its external environment, and respond to those cues in ways that the environment considers appropriate.
Wente was briefly suspended after those 2012 allegations, but returned to her job. This past week, the same blogger that found problems with Wente’s work in 2012 found uncredited material from other sources in Wente’s most recent column. The Globe‘s response to these findings was to publish a column by its public editor. The column quoted the Globe‘s editor-in-chief as saying the paper would “work with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again”, and that there would be apologies and corrections to the uncredited material.
When a newspaper endorses a political party or a candidate during an election, the public assessment of the endorsement tends to turn on two factors: the reasoning leading to the endorsement, and the perceived legitimacy of the newspaper itself. But, as in any kind of legitimacy judgement of an organization, the perception of a newspaper’s legitimacy isn’t based on a single event or piece of information. It’s based on multiple factors, including the perceiver’s beliefs about whether the organization’s actions “are desirable, proper, [or] appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions”. And that is where the Postmedia newspapers in Canada went so spectacularly wrong with their endorsement of the incumbent Conservative Party in the upcoming federal election. (more…)
Last week, in light of the ongoing revelations in the story of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, the Financial Post ran a column entitled “Don’t be the CBC: How employers should handle allegations of violence and workplace harassment”. The column contained some good basic recommendations for employers on dealing with incidents of harassment or abuse against their employees: e.g. knowing the law, training front-line managers, involving unions, and using outside experts to conduct investigations and assessments. However, one of the column’s recommendations – “avoid protecting the ‘star’” – really deserves a column of its own. Because that recommendation touches on a key issue that’s often overlooked in identifying and preventing workplace harassment – counteracting workplace cultures that implicitly support harassment and abuse.
The CBC, unfortunately, seems to be providing a very good example of how these sorts of workplace cultures can flourish. Although much of the discussion of the Ghomeshi story is around Ghomeshi’s non-work behaviour, one of the women who spoke out after his firing is a CBC employee. She alleges (more…)
One of my favourite events every year, the Vancouver International Film Festival, is in its final week. This year’s festival was a good one for me – I saw seven movies, and every one of them had something to recommend it. But the one that I enjoyed the most was a French documentary entitled Handmade with Love in France. It is a heartfelt tribute to some very talented artisans, and – although I am pretty sure the filmmaker didn’t explicitly intend this – it also illustrates the organizational theory of population ecology.
I often talk about the music industry when I teach population ecology theory, because the music industry is an almost perfect example of that theory in action. A large group of organizations – the major record companies and retailers – used to set the norm for how things were done, and controlled the allocation of essential resources (money, talent, production and distribution channels) so as to maintain their dominant position. But those organizations felt so secure in their dominance that they chose to ignore new entrants – independent musicians and record companies – that used other resources (the Internet, online sales, new distribution formats, easy-to-use music production software) to establish themselves. And what happened? The organizational field shifted and redefined itself, and the traditional organizations couldn’t adapt quickly enough to survive – as demonstrated by such recent events as the 91-year-old British record store chain HMV struggling with massive financial debt.
I wanted to write a blog entry about how the music industry has radically evolved, even within the past few years. But rather than looking at these developments from outside, I thought it would be more interesting to hear the perspective of an artist who has experienced some of these changes first-hand. (more…)
This week the Internet has been alive, at least in my part of the world, with the unfolding drama of Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s alleged plagiarism. Since one of Ms. Wente’s favorite targets is university professors, who she characterizes as grossly overpaid and lazy, and not teaching anything that’s relevant to the real world, I thought I’d use population ecology theory – one of the allegedly irrelevant topics in my Organization Theory course – to analyze why her and her employer’s real-world responses to the plagiarism issue have been so ineffective. (more…)
A while ago I wrote about crowdsourcing, which is becoming more and more interesting to me as an organizational theorist. Crowdsourcing bypasses traditional organizational structures and processes by creating what organizational theory would likely identify as a “networked organization”, Crowdsourcing creates a network of supporters around an artist or a project, and that organization can be temporary (for a one-time-only project) or ongoing (when the artist calls on those supporters whenever they have something new they want to pursue).
Thanks to the lively minds over at The Afterword, I was recently alerted to a situation that we might call “crowdsourcing gone wrong”. (more…)