Forbes Article – ‘Gig workers are the workforce of the future: Here’s how to engage them’

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Dr Rochelle Haynes, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at UWE Bristol and CEO of Crowd Potential Consulting Group co-authored a recent global survey of nearly 2,000 independent workers and business leaders, some of the survey findings were highlighted in a recent article written by Larry English for Forbes last month.

(Excerpts taken from Forbes article)

More and more, workers are breaking free of the 9-to-5 paradigm and striking out on their own as independent contractors, freelancers and digital nomads.  Although a large percentage of business leaders expect gig workers to make up a larger share of their workforce in the near future, the reality is few have figured out how to effectively engage them. A recent global survey of nearly 2,000 independent workers and business leaders showed that only 10% of gig workers feel highly valued by their clients, and half feel undervalued. Additionally, many of these workers receive no support and are rarely recognized or rewarded for their contributions, says Dr. Rochelle Haynes.

The relationship between businesses and gig workers must evolve if businesses want to continue attracting top talent and maintain a competitive edge. In addition to highlighting the problems gig workers encounter, Dr. Haynes’s research also provided clarity on how businesses can better engage these workers and tap into their value:

  • Design a comprehensive onboarding process for gig workers. “One of the things we heard from digital nomads was that they’ve had jobs get delayed because they couldn’t get in touch with a person in the organization,” Dr. Haynes says.
  • Create a work environment that embraces all types of workers. Dr. Haynes, who helps companies and gigsters work better together, suggests putting mechanisms in place to make sure gig workers’ needs are being met – perhaps by offering a coworking membership or setting up hot desks at the office so gig workers can easily drop in.
  • Figure out what thrills your gig workers. “A lot of gig workers complained that they weren’t appreciated and recognized for what they do in the same way full-time workers were,” Dr. Haynes says, adding that companies need to learn how to adequately recognize the contributions of everyone.
  • Provide gig workers with some security. While some gig workers are happy to hop from job to job with no safety net, many others would appreciate some security, Dr. Haynes says. Considering that the biggest risks gig workers face are late payments and unreliable cash flow, companies should offer reliable payment and clear, mutually agreed-upon contracts.  

To find out more about the four points above on successfully engaging Gig workers, read the full Forbes article HERE

Power crafting at work: Notes from a journey in search of a phenomenon

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This guest post was written by Aykut Berber, Associate Professor in Critical HRM and Management Studies at UWE, Bristol.

What does having power mean ‘to’ an individual at work? Power and power relations in organizations have long been among the major topics explored in management. Studies are countless, yet, the conventional perspective is extensively structural where most debates revolve around hierarchical status, positions and controlling resources (e.g. Tost, 2015). But what is power from the perspective of an individual at work? Or more precisely, how does one see, understand, conceptualize and implement their own power at work? In this small blog post, I would like to share some feelings and thoughts we experienced in generating a framework for our study on power crafting at work which we published in Human Relations last year (Berber & Acar, 2020).

Our journey began three years ago on a warm November day back in Istanbul University, where I was working as Professor of Business Management and Organization. I remember me sitting with Gökhan, my co-author and a long-time friend and colleague from the department, at the school cafeteria holding a very long discussion on teaching. At first, bounded by mainstream management’s assumptions and categories, our thoughts were quite generic. This was, of course, no surprise. Teaching in business studies hardly allows one to move away from prescribed ideas in textbooks and academic journals about what management is and how an organization is run. But then, through the various teaching experiences we encountered over the past many years in the same institution, we found ourselves raising thought-provoking questions about what we teach in our management classes and what students actually did later in practice: The organization, in a sense, objectifies and subjects its members in a manner disguised as “empowerment” whereas employees make their own decisions and implement them in their social environments. But do all employees think that this “given power” is part of the mechanism by which the management of teams, departments and the wider organization is maintained? More provokingly, are they always happy to have it, embrace it, use it? To what extent are textbooks and the training provided in business schools successful to construct future managers that all together embrace the “taught” concepts of authority, power and management? How do individuals individually and socially construct their own versions of power at work?

We began our investigations right away. We never intended to make claim to introduce an alternative definition of power at work. Instead, our focus was on the individuals themselves and on gaining insight into their intentions, drives and strategies in shaping and exerting their own power at work. We wanted to understand how having and using power was understood from the perspectives of the individuals at work. What we were investigating was indeed an experiential phenomenon and we knew from the early stages that we had to immerse ourselves in interview transcriptions as well as in individual contexts and stories of our participants. There was, indeed, a particular language of management that was found in textbooks eulogizing the power held by managers in organizations and seducing readers (future managers) to “absorb it into their identities”, who were to be further shaped by organizations in which they would work (Harding, 2003: p.7). But we approached power from a very different angle: power as knowledge constructed by individuals as a result of their social interactions. In other words, what power meant to one person could mean a very different thing to another. A CEO, for example, was always acknowledged as powerful, but every CEO would come with their own definition of power and their own individual method for implementing power in an organization. People in organizations were given positions and assigned titles such as leader, manager, director, etc., but a close analysis of how they conceptualized and implemented their subjective interpretations of power associated with such positions and titles would reveal very different notions of power at work.

To develop a narrative about the phenomenon, we needed to keep ourselves away from mainstream (and objective!) definitions given for power. We discussed with our friends and students at the university and with several people in our social circles. The notion about having power at work was always there, but this was often associated with a great will to conduct relationships and use resources at work to address individual goals and ambitions that could contribute to the organization’s strategies, but more importantly, to self-development and achievement. This required a close questioning of not only what participants said, but also what meanings we and the participants assigned to their experiences. We asked: How do individuals use their discretion to make sense of their job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, and to subjectively interpret their right to exercise power at work? How do they use this discretion “in a group” to have their decisions accepted and implemented?’

The literature on power was vast and, compared to other concepts in management studies, relatively mature. However, even recent studies were still haunted by the core principles of managerialism with implications of hierarchical authority over expertise, the worthiness of efforts for profit over competence, obedience and compliance with rules over trust among individuals. It was apparent that the word “authority” was no more popular and a lot of discussions revolved around addressing issues for individuals to work flexibly to ensure efficient and creative outcomes. However, a close reading of the literature allowed us to get assured that the widely acknowledged assumption was still intrinsic to a wide range of studies: Individuals were “granted” the power and the flexibility to use that power as expected by the organizations. But what, in practice, did these individuals think? How did they interpret this “given power”? From the perspective of the micro-organizational behavior, it was also apparent that individuals acted freely within the boundaries of the power they were given, but who set these boundaries was still a mystery.

Drawing on these assumptions and gaps in the literature, we delineated our framework and redefined our question: How do individuals conceptualize and construct their power at work? We agreed that each of our participants would be the true cognizant of their own individual experience in their own real-life context—we would not look for generalizable claims. Inspired by the highly acknowledged conceptual framework proposed by Wrzesniewski & Dutton (2001) for job crafting, we framed power crafting as a phenomenon where individuals actively alter the meaning of their power at work, socially and physically shape their own power and change the way they see themselves as power holders at work. We employed interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to understand the power crafting phenomenon through several dimensions. Some participants remained within the boundaries of the role assigned by their position, but they also had their own interpretations about the power embedded into those positions. But more interestingly, few participants chose a different path. Although they were seemingly interested in getting a position in the organization, their actual aim was more about building their own territories within their organizations.

For our own part, we were encouraged to suggest that power crafting could also potentially be useful in understanding proactive behaviors shown by individuals at work from a very different perspective. Individuals at work could tend to present themselves as rational, logical controllers of chaos adapting what has been described in textbooks (Harding, 2003: p.188) and what has been assigned as power in organizations. But individuals also have their own ways of seeing things, defense mechanisms, ambitions and strategies. They are not mere objects and the phenomenon is always there: power crafting.

References:

Berber, A., & Acar, A. G. (2020). Power crafting at work: A phenomenological study on individual differences. Human Relations, 0018726720942828.

Harding, N. (2003). The Social Construction of Management. London/New York: Routledge.

Tost, L. P. (2015). When, why, and how do powerholders “feel the power”? Examining the links between structural and psychological power and reviving the connection between power and responsibility. Research in Organizational Behavior35, 29-56.

The networked self: exploring networks as a source of career development and identity for female engineers

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This month’s guest post is written by Dr Vanda Papafilippou, Senior Lecturer in HRM, UWE Bristol.

Women comprise just 12% of the UK engineering workforce (EngineeringUK, 2018), and despite the efforts of both the state and the industry, it remains one of the most male-dominated occupations. One of the main barriers for women in all male-dominated sectors, including engineering, is the persistence of ‘old-boys’ networks’ (Durbin, 2011), that is, essentially closed male-dominated networks where strategic, tacit knowledge is exchanged. Women appear to be at a disadvantage in terms of visibility, the ability to form alliances and gaining critical organisational knowledge that can lead to career progression (Greguletz  et al., 2018; Ibarra, 1993).

A very popular diversity management practice that has been used to address this issue is the formally organised women’s networks. Formal women’s networks, that can be either internal (i.e. intra-organisational) or external (i.e. inter-organisational), have been argued to provide instrumental, social and psychological support (Villesèche and Josserand, 2017). They are also argued to bolster women’s self-confidence thus contributing to retention. However, the effectiveness of women’s networks has also been repeatedly contested as they appear to lack power due to their formality (Durbin, 2015) and the fact that they might address only the symptoms of discrimination instead of the roots of the problem (Dennissen et al, 2018).

Nevertheless, despite their wide use and the critique received, the value of such networks, their ability to contribute to gender equality, and their capacity to challenge the gendered nature of both organisations and the profession itself remains a particularly under-researched area. The aim of the ‘Networked self’ study was to establish the contribution of formal internal and external women’s networks to gender equality in engineering and understand the role of human resources practitioners in their operation.

The project

The project was funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Researcher Development Awards, 2018/19. Dr. Papafilippou, adopting a qualitative approach, conducted 48 semi-structured interviews either face-to-face or via Skype/telephone. The participants were all active in external and internal networks (if their company had one) and were recruited mostly via LinkedIn and the researcher’s personal network. The majority of women worked in the UK (44), plus one in the U.S.A. and two in Australia. Most were in the construction sector (31) although other sectors were also represented, with four in gas and oil, two in the army, one in nuclear, three in aviation, three in electronic/software engineering etc. In terms of ethnicity, the majority of the participants were white (44) and only four were from BME background. There were 10 participants at an early stage in their career, 24 mid-career and 12 seniors (up to director level).

Findings

The main contribution of internal women’s networks was the invaluable social and psychological support that they provided to the women involved. The participants, and especially those on part-time contracts, felt “silo’d” within their organisation. Through their participation in these networks, these women felt free to interact and connect socially with their female colleagues, thus enhancing their feeling of belonging to the organisations and thus their job satisfaction. Also, through participating in the network, the women in the study gradually became closer. In other words, these networks contributed towards a sense of solidarity and empowerment of the women. Other important benefits of the participation in internal networks included: the development of skills through mentoring and tailored training but also help with career progression. It needs to be noted at this point, these benefits were not accessible to all women. Unfortunately though, internal networks still appeared not to have access to power resources which would eventually allow them to achieve organisational change. More specifically, all participants admitted that no matter how hard they tried, they failed to challenge the gendered nature of their organisations as these networks did not have effective support by senior leadership and the human resources department. Any change seemed to be blocked by their line managers and gender-biased performance management practices.

External women’s networks on the other hand, helped women to (re)build their confidence and (re)establish their sense of belonging to the profession. This was especially so for those returning from maternity leave where women felt overwhelmed. External networks seemed also to play an important role in individual career progression as they helped women to enhance crucial skills, such as networking and public speaking. Also, and perhaps most importantly, they enabled women to recognise the discrimination they experienced and reach out to other, more equal and inclusive organisations, or fight for a promotion within their own organisation. What seemed to be the most important contribution of external women’s networks though, was the fact that they enabled and encouraged women to actually challenge the status quo and start reshaping the professional culture. More specifically, the participation in these networks gave the opportunity to many women to ‘build bridges’ to other professional bodies (e.g. the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Civil Engineers) and networks, and participate actively in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), and not only policy-making. Last but not least, by sharing experiences and working together, the women started challenging the dominant gendered discourses and practices. Instead of adapting in order to fit in, they chose to reframe what an ‘engineer’, and especially a female engineer and a leader in engineering, can be.

Conclusions and implications for practice

Women’s networks, internal and external, seemed to contribute, each in its own way, to women’s wellbeing, career progression and gender equality. However, their efforts met three major obstacles: senior management, HR and line managers. The main implications for practice were:

  • Commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): EDI policies should become an integral part of a company’s strategy and HR and senior management should listen carefully to women’s stories and respond to their requests.
  • The entire employee lifecycle should be carefully evaluated using an EDI lens to identify where and why injustices may occur and work together with the groups affected to resolve them.
  • Companies should encourage and facilitate diversity networks as they have huge potential for empowerment, retention and organisational change and make sure that their activities and comments feed directly to organisational policies, practices and strategy
  • The women in the study talked about how their exposure to the external networks highlighted the need to change the way we view leadership in engineering and also the discriminatory practices experienced within their organisations. This finding has clear and serious implications for recruitment for senior roles and, above all, performance management and career progression.