Cutting the String of Control: Managerial ‘Retreat’ During Plant Closures
Wigblad, Rune, Townsend, Keith J., Hansson, Magnus, & Lewer, John (2007) Cutting the String of Control: Managerial ‘Retreat’ During Plant Closures. In Work, Employment and Society Conference, 12 – 14 September, Aberdeen, Scotland.
In nine cases of firms which closed, productivity increases were experienced after negotiations with the affected employees were finalised, up until the final day. This productivity change is known as ‘the closedown effect’. Possible explanations for this effect reveals, contrary to the explanations to the Hawthorne effect, that Management’s interest in the labour process were fading away, hence we witness "Management by absence".
Several scholars have pointed out that subjectivity matters and we use a labour process theory framework to address subjectivity; primarily, Michael Burawoy´s concept of the games associated with "making out". Although Burawoy mainly discusses piece work situations, he also states that the games employees play also applies in the assembly work context. Furthermore the concepts of ‘rate-breakers’ and ‘working to rule’ strategies applied by workers to control their pace of work are relevant to this research. Labour (individually and collaboratively) regularly attempt to gain an increased level of control over their work situation.
The frontier of control is shifted when a closedown decision is made by top management. A common feature in the temporary closedown organisations studied was that productivity increased in a situation where management control over daily operations was diminishing. Managers were providing greater autonomy to those that they supervise, empowering them both formally and informally to make decisions over work. The causal pattern in closedown processes is that a reordering appears of the organizational and economic structure, knocking out the established order and changing the frontiers of control. These changes are analysed in this paper.
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