35th EGOS Colloquium
Enlightening the Future:
The Challenge for Organizations
University of Edinburgh Business School
July 46, 2019
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
35th EGOS Colloquium
July 46, 2019
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Profound changes in the world of work (Delbridge & Sallaz, 2015) – often ascribed to technological advances, demographic
changes and globalization – are challenging established institutions and practices in organizations, triggering considerable
speculation over the future of work. At the same time, there is a widespread debate over whether and how organizations contribute
to ‘sustainability’, i.e. the usage of environmental, social, and economic resources in a way that avoids their degradation
and exhaustion (e.g. Ehnert & Harry, 2012). In management and organization studies, both issues are debated rarely in
combination, despite calls for engaging with the human side of organizational sustainability (e.g. Pfeffer, 2010). And employees
did not feature significantly in early discussions on sustainability in management and organization studies, although the
labour dimension of organizational sustainability has been acknowledged and propagated as a key goal in policy debates (e.g.
ILO, 2017). One reason for this neglect might be the implicit tension about the meaning and scope of the labour dimension
of the sustainable organization. From a management perspective, the sustainable organization is often viewed as a new strategy
for long-term business success that is respectful of the regeneration and reproduction of “human resources” (Kramar, 2014).
From an employment relations perspective, in contrast, a sustainable organization embodies workers’ concerns regarding collective
voice and representation, work in accordance with human health and safety needs, adequate material rewards and social security
as well as equal opportunities and investment in skills and careers.
How work and workers are managed within organizations has important implications for their sustainability (Pfeffer, 2010, Kramar 2014); and multiple trajectories for the evolution of work in today’s uncertain and dynamic organizational contexts are imaginable. Two views might be juxtaposed: Davis (2013), for example, suggests that the large public corporation has outlived its capacity to provide secure employment and to serve as a pillar of social sustainability. In its place, Davis traces the contours of a future based on principles of ‘postcorporate economic organization’ which centre on alternative forms of collaborative organizing such as mutuals, cooperatives, and locally-owned companies (s. also Ozarow & Croucher, 2014; Adler, 2001). In more dystopian scenarios, the workforce models of leading platform firms in the rapidly-expanding ‘gig economy’ – characterized by insecure contracting, atomized tasks, low pay, lack of benefits, digital control, and lack of worker voice – will proliferate more widely and threaten social and economic security (Graham et al., 2017; Healy et al., 2017). Either way, organizations face challenges and choices regarding the labour dimension of sustainability and are also the social sites where associated ideologies and struggles will be played out. Yet, we know very little about how the quest for more sustainable organizations is currently materializing at the organizational coalface were workers perform their jobs.
Building from two successful EGOS sub-themes in 2017 and 2018, this sub-theme continues the interdisciplinary exchange between the fields of organization studies and employment relations by focusing on the ideologies, struggles and solutions around the labour dimension of the sustainable organization. We invite contributions that illuminate how labour shapes and is shaped by questions of organizational sustainability and what this means for future world(s) of work.
Ideologies. Sustainability is essentially a question of values and principles and thus prone to ideological debate within and across organizational boundaries. Hence, actors may disagree over how organizational sustainability should be defined, how important it is to business and society, and how the responsibilities to achieve it should be distributed amongst different private and public interests (Scherer et al., 2016). Specific questions include:
How do different organizational and institutional logics shape symbolic and substantive organizational efforts to manage labour sustainably?
How do different organizational actors interpret the labour dimension of sustainability?
What external factors are important in shaping ideologies and which view prevails in public discourse?
What internal organizational patterns may be discerned regarding practices, cultures and leadership?
When might the labour dimension of sustainable organization contradict other sustainability objectives?
How are contemporary sustainability discourses similar or different from earlier debates around enlightened labour management?
And to what extent are sustainable initiatives mere ideology to disguise, whitewash and escape responsibility and accountability?
Struggles. The sustainable organization is subject to contestation and negotiation over its boundaries. At the field level, the entry of new organizations may give rise to power struggles and unexpected cross-class coalitions (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010), for example where employers and unions join forces to prolong the life of conventional industries such as coal-fired and nuclear power generation. Similarly, conflict can arise where seemingly sustainable management practices such as flexibility initiatives produce paradoxical effects (e.g. work intensification) (Putnam et al., 2014). Likewise, institutional and organizational initiatives to diversify the managerial ranks of organizations by promoting women and minorities leaders have often led to distributive struggles with incumbents (Wright et al., 2012, Gray & Kish-Gephart, 2013). Specific questions include:
To what extent are societal inequalities intensified or ameliorated by the attempts to create sustainable organizations?
How are struggles between alternative and traditional forms of organization fought out on the battleground of sustainability?
How is management as an institution and how are managers as individuals involved in these struggles?
Do debates over sustainability differ from traditional organizational contests, for example in the ways that they are informed by wider societal discourses?
Solutions. The creation of sustainable organizations is not easy as templates are not readily available and institutionalized types of organizing, regulating and representing work face their limits. Traditional firms, unions, NGOs, and state agencies all face the dual challenge of juggling external demands for sustainability with internal tensions and transitions towards more sustainable organizing. Furthermore, negotiations to institutionalize sustainable standards can be complex and protracted (e.g. Schüßler et al., 2014; Weil, 2011). This is not only the case with respect to global labour standards (e.g. Donaghey & Reinecke, 2015; Anner et al., 2013), but also holds for designing sustainable work systems (e.g. Kochan et al., 1994), implementing diversity programs (e.g. Kalev et al., 2006) or providing labour with a collective voice (Tapia et al., 2015). Specific questions include:
How do organizations choose compliance over achievement in managing work sustainably?
To what extent might organizing work and labour be carried out in an enlightened fashion that genuinely values sustainable work?
How do firms, unions, state agencies, civil society organizations or professions reorganize to account for sustainable work and organization?
And does organizational sustainability presuppose alternative modes of organizing, including direct forms of worker participation, co-determination by workers or producer and consumer cooperatives?
What are the comparative and international dimensions in how organizational sustainability plays out in practice?
Based on the above, we invite short papers that aim to deepen our understanding of the organization-work nexus in sustainable organizations. We are interested in both empirical and conceptual papers that engage with comparative institutional examination, various forms of institutional work, and the enactment of labour processes and work organizations as well the management of meta-organizations. To the same extent, we are curious about contributions from diverse theoretical perspectives such as social movement theory, CSR & corporate sustainability, Marxist organization studies, the sociology of the professions, micro-politics, labour law or diversity management.