Together with profs. Victor Bekkers, Sandra van Thiel and Bram Steijn, I developed an article on work alienation and policy alienation and their effects on behavior on the job. The article, entitled “The effects of work alienation and policy alienation on behavior of public employees” has now been accepted for publication in Administration & Society!

We were interested in studying to what extent work alienation and policy alienation resulted in negative behaviors on the job. We found that work alienation results in less work effort and more intention to leave. Secondly, policy alienation negatively impacts behavioral support for a policy and the intention to implement it. These results suggest that work alienation and policy alienation have different –but both important– effects on (intended) behavior on the job.

Click here for the full text of the article “The effects of work alienation and policy alienation on behavior of public employees”

Work alienation policy alienation

Abstract

Public employees are confronted with various pressures, such as increased work demands and the need to implement controversial policies. This study uses work alienation and policy alienation models to analyze work andpolicy pressures. Based on a survey of 790 respondents, it was firstly found that work alienation results in less work effort and more intention to leave. Secondly, policy alienation negatively impacts behavioral support for a policy and the intention to implement it. These results suggest that work alienation and policy alienation have different –but both important– effects on (intended) behavior on the job.

Keywords

Public sector work, work alienation, policy alienation, behavior, behavioral public administration

 

Three results based on this study

1. The concept of alienation should regain its former central position in public administration and organizational science

As a topic, alienation was extensively studied until the 1990s. Afterwards, it went “out of fashion” (notable exceptions are DeHart-Davis & Pandey, 2005; Pandey & Welch, 2005; Davis, 2013). McKinlay and Marceau, however, stress the importance of the alienation framework. They note that “Alienation theory combines both structural and psychological components associated with workplace discontent and has the potential to explain the changing position of knowledge workers (such as physicians) in the new economy.”

We agree with this observation, with the addition that it is also vitally important to study the different types of alienation (policy alienation, work alienation, and other types). We showed that different types of alienation have different types of effects.

 

2. Focus on the meaninglessness/meaningfulness of work and policies

We wish to emphasize the importance of the meaninglessness dimension. In the results section, it is shown that, for all effects measured, the effects of the meaninglessness dimensions were greater than those of the powerlessness dimensions. For instance, if the respondents felt that their work was meaningless, this has a far more significant impact on their (intended) behavior than feelings of powerlessness.

Many studies in HRM and change management, however, concentrate on powerlessness, studying the extent to which employees feel they can influence general decision-making processes or relevant organizational changes (for example Deci & Ryan, 2002; Judson, 1991). Far less research is being done on the meaninglessness/meaningfulness of work or new policies/change (notable exceptions are Hackman & Oldham, 1980; May et al., 2004; Tummers & Knies, 2013).

Given the results of our study, we would urge practitioners and scholars to pay more attention to the perceived meaninglessness of work or policies, rather than focusing solely on aspects of powerlessness.

 

3. Distuingish between problems at the work level and the policy level

The findings of our study suggest that policymakers and public managers should distinguish between problems related to the work level and problems related to the policy level.

For instance, policymakers and public managers could exert a positive influence on the willingness of public employees to implement a new policy by means of interventions geared at increasing the perceived influence of public employees at the policy level – pointing out, for instance, that they can help to improve the suggested policy.

Furthermore, it is important not to easily accept statements that the resistance to new policies can be simply explained by generally deteriorating work conditions (see for instance Peters & Pouw, 2005). In a similar vein, it seems unwarranted to claim that if public employees are willing to implement a certain policy, this also means they are committed to the organization’s overall management or goals.

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