Əsas səhifə Journal of General Management Book ReviewsLeightonMartin, Men at Work. London, Jill Norman, 1981, pp.167, £3.95...
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Book reviews Martin Leighton, Men at Work. London, Jill Norman, 1981, pp.167, £3.95 (paperback). Tony Eccles, Under New Management: The Story ofBritain's Largest Worker Cooperative, Its Successes and Failures. London, Pan, 1981, pp.416, £2.95 (paperback). Michael White, The Hidden Meaning of Pay Conflict. London, MacMillan, 1981, pp.151, £20.00 (hardback). Is the British worker, as the phrase goes, a 'mystery wrapped in an enigma'? There have indeed been many attempts to unmask his behaviour (no gender intended, of course), and a generous range of ways of doing this, both within social science and outside it. Participant observation might be one method to adopt. Melt into the crowd, particularly at the manual, unskilled end of the labour market, say as a corporation road sweeper, or as a plasterer's mate on a building site and observe your fellow tribesmen at close quarters, make careful notes and then write it all up. This is precisely what Martin Leighton, an experienced journalist and TV documentary buff, did for months on end. He took on a selection of dirty jobs, became an 'invisible man' as his middle class status was put aside and saw life from the other end of the class telescope. His account of being 'down and out' in London and beyond makes fascinating reading and must be included in any classical gallery of ethnographic writing on work and workers, stretching from George Orwell to Studs Terkel. It's moreover easy to read (no Vol. 7 No.3 Spring 1982 / 87 demeaning aspersion cast here), and should appeal not just to the practising manager but also to the general reader. His account of work groups' behaviour is truly exemplary (for example, Chapter Four, "There's no foreman on this site", is a minor classic): "Manipulating management, bamboozling them, and, if necessary, downright lying to them, was a skill which some of us, and particularly Fred, developed to the point of poetic artistry. It was not a wholly unreasonable attitude if experience taught you that work was best accomp; lished without management, or even in spite of management" (p.50). Leighton introduces his mates: Fred, Alfie, Roy and others, "Once I had been admitted to the group, I became entitled to the protection of the group", he notes. His description of social interaction on site is hard to fault: I have never seen better reportage: it is simply brilliant. Part One of Leighton's book deals mostly with his subjective account of men at work; Part Two attempts a broader analysis of Britain's managerial malaise and the poverty of our industrial relations. The worst thing was the realisation "that caring about our work was pointless" (p.68). There are deep-down causes for all this: for example, and perhaps most importantly, "Puritanism, in emphasizing individual responsibility as opposed to social obligation, defined the crucial distinction between the classes: the collectivism of the working class, the individualism of the middle class" (p.87). The result, according to Leighton, is industrial apartheid "withdrawal and sometimes non-cooperation in the workplace" (p.lIO). Another potentially fruitful approach is the industrial case study: here Tony Eccles, Professor of Business Administration at the London Business School, has written a crisp account of the Kirkby Workers' Co-operative. While we have a 'warts and all' approach, possibly disillusioned and certainly critical, it is unusual in that the author was not only a warm initial sympathiser, but also was earlier involved 'on the inside' as an adviser although of a different kind from Martin Leighton's and dealing with a single, sustained case. Michael White, now Senior Fellow at the Policy Research Institute in London, adopts yet another approach to what makes the British worker tick. In his book on the hidden meaning of pay conflict, he uses extensive survey-analysis, dealing with 3,200 questionnaires. I doubt if even most informed managers will be able to read beyond the first chapter, as the treatment is highly technical, partly because the book was developed from the author's doctoral research. This then is a rather dull, but useful, book for fellow academics, although the 88 / Journal of general management findings are inevitably of general interest. People, it seems, may be happy with some aspect of their pay, but have another view about other features, and at the same time he concludes that it is no good merely looking at crude 'satisfaction' . Employees are money conscious, but attitudes to management control can arouse them to action: "relationships of authority and power between management and workers as among other groups involved in a situation ... provide the conditions for conflict" (p.12). The surveys were most rigorously carried out in a series of linked case studies, stretching from a hotel, to a finance house, and finally to a manufacturing setting. "Economic rationality" emerges as "the dominant orientation" (p.1l9), but "social relativism (was) a competing explanation" (p.1l9). So, what is to be done? White believes, rather bravely, that workers should be involved in designing their own pay systems, and that these would be less prone to conflict, with the development of trust "as a key factor" (p.138). Is then industrial democracy of this kind the answer to the British disease, so called, symptoms of which characterise all three books under review here? For one, Martin Leighton believes that there can be absolutely no solution to the guerrilla warfare of British industrial relations until we build a more cohesive society: he believes Meriden was merely a "spontaneous response" to the threat of a sudden factory closure (p.162). Tony Eccles, on the other hand, feels that giving power to the workers, as in co-operatives, without proper management structures, is a recipe for fiasco. Michael White takes yet another view, and believes in joint problem-solving via the use of attitude surveys initially, followed by participative decision-making groups later. In these hard times, however, the world-weary critic is tempted to observe that the British worker, faced with the contradictions of this or that high-minded exhortation to participate, is more likely to make his pilgrimage to Ladbrokes as readily as to any ideological Mecca; but then the pundit can be, and often is, proved just plain wrong! Leighton argues that industrial democracy in itself' 'can never be a panacea for all the problems of industrial relations which afflict British industry" (p.163). He concludes that on the one hand the British workers withdraw into the laager of their own culture, and on the other "it is the middle class" (unable to shed their old values) "who are waging the class war" (p.166). Can anyone disagree with him that it is now the time to make peace? But how? And with which Vol. 7 No.3 Spring 1982 ! 89 policies? The present Government's? Perhaps some new political· realignment of the Centre may have the answer: it is too late not to try something new. Malcolm Warner John Bell, An Employee Management Handbook: A Practical Guide to Managing People and Employment Law. EITB/Stanley Thomes (Publishers) Ltd., 1981,384 pp., £9.95. William B. Werther Jr. and Keith Davis, Personnel Management and Human Resources. McGraw Hill, 1981, 508 pp., £12.75. These two new personnel texts not only reflect different British and American cultural approaches to the subject, but are aimed at different audiences. An Employee Management Handbook was written by John Bell (as part of an EITB study programme) in order, primarily, to meet the needs of managers of smaller businesses, but also to help the first appointment manager in larger organisations and others who do not have easy access to day to day specialist advice. It is not intended as a detailed work of reference but as a source of basic guidance to help avoid some of the more obvious problems at work and to indicate when advice from the personnel or legal specialist is needed. The premises on which the book is based, and which are set out in the author's introduction, include: • Employees are a major resource. The better they are managed, the greater the advantage of your company. • There are rarely any 'right' or 'wrong' solutions; there are few easy answers. • Nothing is sacrosanct. Every brief or practice should be questioned, even when that belief or practice is continued. • Most employment law is about what you should be doing, not what you cannot do. The book is written - under relevant headings - in the form of lists of things to consider and questions to ask before taking a decision. It generally achieves a reasonable balance between 'good personnel practice' and 'legal requirements' although it tends to become more legally oriented as it progresses through the employment relationship from recruitment to redundancy (in thirteen chapters),