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Vertical To Horizontal: A New Workplace Reality

Written by Rune Kvist Olsen Saturday, 08 April 2006

Tokenism as a way to create myths in justifying control and command

Tokenism is the way managers create an illusion of trying to humanize the workplace. The author Andrew Oldenquist5 has done research on the reform efforts of corporations for improving work-results. He states that Corporations are seemingly interested in improving the quality of working life, but (in reality) this is pursued only to the extent that it serves management and corporate goals - maximizing profit, improving efficiency and raising productivity. These token efforts are often only disguised manipulation, and serve only to create further resentment and resistance from those at the bottom. These efforts as alternative ways to organize the workplace end up promoting the same old vertical structures which do not create real participation and self-control, except in a token way. Oldenquist5 says further: Authority is still distributed hierarchically with decision making power concentrated at the top of structures. This leaves the majority at the bottom powerless. This is not in any way about freedom, but simply a form of modern slavery. If anyone doubts the reality of this modern slavery, then just note the fear, hesitancy, and subservience of line workers in any organization when they are in presence of bosses or other superiors. Note the hesitancy of people to really speak their minds when superiors are around, controlling and supervising the behaviour of the subordinates.

We do not >get control from others. We take control by ourselves whenever we get control. Therefore, there are equal opportunities for gaining control fundamental to all people. If we are given control by others, we are only manipulated to believe that we have control as a token effort of participation. Control is something we achieve in gaining personal responsibility. The author Ellen Langer6 says : Control is essential to human functioning and if people are given a sense of being in control of their lives, then this sense of control can bring clear mental and physical improvement to them. She also states that instead of giving people decisions to make, we should encourage decision making as an ongoing process for development of self-esteem and mutual trust. It is therefore important to realize that personally taking initiative and exerting control has more impact than when control is given by another. Giving control implies that the person giving still has control and can withdraw it according to Langer (6).

However, if we view control as an ongoing process, then it cannot be given - it can only be taken. Langer6 stated consequently that people must not be given control as though it were an object to be given and taken back. People must instead learn to take personal control as an evolving process of learning personal decision-making. Giving or delegating authority creates a superior/inferior relationship between the people involved. One person is the dominator who controls a resource to be delegated to another person below. Our authority as givers automatically grants us power over others who do not have the same access to the resources. Therefore, this practice of giving - as a form of domination and main threat in the vertical and hierarchical organization - is always encumbered with the feeling of humiliation from the receiver's point of view. The receiver suffers the humiliation of not having personal control and not being able to take personal responsibility for the transaction. It is a dehumanizing and demoralization sense of lack of control and of being imposed upon even though to some extent the offer may be benevolent for the receiver. That can make it even harder to bear, if the giving is a so-called a positive benefit. But by granting power to people to gain personal control and become personally responsible for their actions, we are at the same time granting them real freedom to become true equals and fully human beings. It is not difficult to understand that being an object of delegation and a recipient of giving (as a token of shared power), a person can naturally feel the humiliating bitterness engendered by being a powerless and subservient receiver of the mercy from the benevolent benefactor. The result of this type of submissive role-behaviour, entails the undermining of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect. Subservience will in the next round most likely lead to an inferiority complex within the subordinated individual because of the steering-mechanisms in the suppressive vertical and hierarchical power-structure.

Managers control power which they may choose to give or to share with their subordinates, but only if this does not detract from their own authority or ability to exercise power. The most obvious flaw in the context of power concentration in the hands of managers, is that it assumes that power is analogous to a commodity that can be shared among individuals or groups. This presumes the vertical and hierarchical powerbase in organizations as a fundamental factor in the organization's structure so that power can be kept in the hands of the givers. Giving, delegating or sharing power in a vertical and hierarchical structure, is just a disguised way of pretending that people will be empowered by the managers good will to give some of their power away occasionally. This is a deception in the sense that managers are not actually entitled to give away any power because their power is connected to the managers' positions and ranks. Therefore the managers' power cannot be given away as some personal gift or commodity that managers privately can choose to give away, because this power is a integral part of their job and occupational status. If they still give some of their power away, the managers will undermine their role as superiors and encounter problems with their own authority in exercising their power to control other persons.

A major characteristic of vertical and hierarchical ruling, is the general decision power a person receives from his or her position in the hierarchy. To get things done in a hierarchy with ranks and positions, people must be subject to an obligation to serve the rules in the vertical systems as superiors and subordinates. Superiors give orders and subordinates follow these given orders. In the sense that the words "giving" and "receiving" can be understood to mean portioning a sense of power between managers and the managed, these expressions can correctly be characterized as delegating power. Delegating refers to the movement of power from the superior to the subordinate and back, and always on the authority of the people in charge. The superior cannot and will not give real power away, because of the limitations in the hierarchical system. The superior can only give away an allowance as a perceived notion and symbol of getting the subordinate empowered.

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