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CASE 3 p JoannaBrewis This casestudy derives from qualitative researchundertaken in two uni- versity
CASE 3
p
JoannaBrewis
This casestudy derives from qualitative researchundertaken in two uni-
versity departments,onelarge and well established,the other much smaller
and newer. The former broadly demonstratesthe bureaucraticprinciple of
the exclusionof personalisedrelationships,the other is a far more intimate
and close-knitenvironment.The aim is to illustrate different organisational
cultures and offer suggestionsasto the effecteachmight have on individu-
als and organisational processes,for example communications, co-ord-
ination of different projects and measurementof organisational effective-
ness.Intimacy hererefersto relationshipswhich revolve around reactingto
the other personasan individual rather than an organisationalposition; the
continuum of intimacy extends from casual acquaintanceshipat one end
through to closefriendship and romance at the other. Typically intimacy
hasbeencharacterisedas problematic at work given the lack of objectivity
such a relationship implies; one cannot,it is argued' make viable business
decisionsconcerningpromotions for exampleif one is personallyinvolved
with thosewho will be affected.But it is alsopossibleto arguethat a closer,
friendlier atmosphereat work allows for a higher level of motivation and
improved communications. Recentdevelopments in managementtheory
have addressedthe use of culture to achieveimprovements like these;the
casecanthereforebe usedto high1i~t suchwork.
like these;the casecanthereforebe usedto high1i~t suchwork. BACKGROUND British academiapresently facesa number of

BACKGROUND

casecanthereforebe usedto high1i~t suchwork. BACKGROUND British academiapresently facesa number of important

British academiapresently facesa number of important challenges.These include the fact that resourcesarebeing continually cut while studentnum- bers at many institutions are rising, the removal of tenure (lifetime employment)for lecturers,and the introduction of quality initiatives in acad- emic teaching.It is alsothe casethat direct competitionfor studentsbetWeen

E
E
institutions has intensified due to the old polytechniCsachievinguniversity statuS.The institution cited in the caseis
institutions has intensified due to the old polytechniCsachievinguniversity
statuS.The institution cited in the caseis certainly facing all of thesepres-
sures,which must be assumedto be impacting on the two departmentsused
in the study. Department A is a large, multi-site department which dates
back to the inception of the university itself. It employs 70 academicstaff.
The undergraduate coursenumbers approximately 600students across3
years and there are 150postgraduates.Department B is much smaller and
operatesfrom a singlelocation.It has relatively recentlybecomea research
and teaching centre in its own right. Department B employs 28 academic
staff, 9 researchersand has 160postgraduatestudents.The subjectstaught
I .
and The researchedin research conducted both departmentsarescientific. in these two departments consisted of semi-
structured interviews, designed by the author, which focused on the
respondents' thoughts concerning the way in which members of the
departmentcommunicatedand interactedwith eachother.Interviews were
conductedwith individuals at all organisationallevels and with both men
and women.
THE SITUATION
Department A
The
culture
in
this
department
was
reported
as revolving
mainly
around
the
work
ethic;
respondents
commented
that
the
feeling
was
very
much
one that the staff were hereto work and any extraneouscontactbeyond the
demandsof a particular project was 'just politics' and thereforedangerous,
unnecessaryand distracting.Thereis no room for what was dubbed 'senti-
ment'. It is also the casethat external constraints have impacted on the
department as one man remarked, 'it's difficult
to find five minutes to
have a chat about the weather any more.' This was attributed to tighter
funding and an increasing student rolL Intimacy and friendship then
would' get in
the way' of the tasksat hand; the achievementof departmen-
tal It researchand is hardly surprising, teachinggoals. given the above findings, that very few of the
respondentsclaimedthat they had closefriends at work and eventhosethat
did saidtheywereby no meansascloseasthoseoutsideof work; otherpeople
at work weremoreusuallydescribedas'colleagues','pals', 'working friends',
'very closeacquaintances'and soon. Relationshipsthat did
existtendedto be
betweensame-statusindividuals
Interaction
was emphasisedfor the most
part to be very professional;'I would say this is one of the most person-
respectingsetof peopleI've comeacross','it's very civilised','informal but on
a profp:ssionallevel'.This was put down by somerespondentsto the fact
that it was an academic institution rather i1-l&iJ
~
Ln.d,-1sh-1alestablishment.
.
The role of intimacy at work 45
The role of intimacy at work
45
The role of intimacy at work 45 Romancewas certainly absentfrom the agenda.It is felt generally that
Romancewas certainly absentfrom the agenda.It is felt generally that any particularly 'inappropriate'
Romancewas certainly absentfrom the agenda.It is felt generally that
any particularly 'inappropriate' behaviour,for examplea staff-student liai-
son, would be dealt with extremely quickly and from a high level. It was
alsonoted that any sucharrangementswould be highly incongruous;most
respondentsfound it extremely hard to picture any kind of involvements
(betweenmembersof staff or between staff and students) taking place in
the department it simply seemedalien to them, '
. a foreign idea'. An aca-
demic jokingly made referenceto the David Lodge novels about academia
and wondered what kind of an institution he taught at to find so much
romantic intrigue there.A postgraduatestudent further claimed that 'I can
categoricallysaythat we don't go to the extentof romance'.
The distancebetweencolleaguesis illustrated by a secretary'sanecdote
concerningher boss,who is a professor.When he wishes to communicate
somethingto someonehe will always give it to her to type up and sendasa
formal memo;this evenhappenswhen it is being sentto the academicwho
occupiesthe office next door to his. A similar procedureis enactedwhen he
telephonessomeone;he always requeststhat his secretarytelephonefirst
and 'announce'him asit were. Indeed this professoralsofinds disciplinary
matters hard to deal with becausethey involve interpersonal communica-
tion; he will engagehis
secretary to deal with these as they arise on his
behalf. Communication on the whole tends to be work-related and for-
malised. Another secretarycommented that' a lot of them round here are
not very good at communicating.
you find as if you're working
at
having conversations
. talking about anything that's not to do with work
they ~on't seemto be ableto
.'.
Hierarchy is an important element in departmental culture. A female
academicobservedthat eventhough appointmentsof women to academic
positions were on the increase,those in posts had made little real impact
becausethey were not in positions of power. A secretary also made the
point that
in a company,apart from M.D.s,managementand the rest of the staff are more or lessequal,they all
in a company,apart from M.D.s,managementand the rest of the staff are more
or lessequal,they all treat eachother the same,but academicsand non-acade-
micsarejust
theacademicsarevery condescendingand
I meanl'm oneof theyoungestmembersof staff soI'm treatedasa babyin some
respectswhich I don't like at
they don't havemuchrespect
. they think a
secretaryis just going to havea babyand thenshegivesup.
There is also little communication between the different departmental sites-
there are four spread acrosscampus - and although one could put this down
to geographical distance there are ample telephone, internal mail and com-
puter links to enable communication. Furthermore, while it is the casethat
contact is sought on the basis of shared work interests (members of research
groups tend to be familiar with each other), one respondent commented that
if two laboratories were engaged in separate work they would be unlikely
with each other), one respondent commented that if two laboratories were engaged in separate work they
It: --~-- 46 Casesin Organisational Behaviour ~~i~~~: to communicateat all even if the rooms were
It:
--~--
46 Casesin Organisational Behaviour
~~i~~~:
to communicateat all even if the rooms were next to eachother on a corri-
dor. It was further noted that the lack of a communalcommonroom made
mingling unlikely, and that at the annual Christmas dinner everyonesat
togetherin researchgroups and very little mixing took place.When asked
whether they thought such an event brought the department closer
together,somecommentedthat it did, but only in so far asthey were gath-
ered in the sameroom! One respondentcommentedthat this departmental
function was alwaysheld on campus(which is not true of similar eventsin
other departments) and that had it not been it would perhaps have been
more relaxed;'onceyou leaveX (workplace)somehowthings change'.
Impactof culture on staff
How does this culture of distance, of lack of intimacy,
affect those who
work within
it? The atmosphere in the department was variously charac-
terised by its members. A member of support staff said that
feel that whatever closerelationshipsthere are at work, whether it be father-
son,husband-wife, girlfriend-boyfriend, it doestend to cloud people'sjudg-
ments when they're having to make judgments about things both from their
aspectand alsofrom the aspectof someonewho's trying to either superviseor
look after or be responsiblefor [them]. You always have that, however liberal
I
.I I';1:
you like to
and that's my basicview of it, I would rather leaverelation-
shipsawayfrom work.
The feeling among some respondents then is that close involvement with
colleagues detracts from one's ability to perform at the optimum level at
I:
, I
!r
1:
work. The lack of intimacy is alsoseenaspositive for other reasons.Two of the
women interviewed had been seriously sexually harassed,both in other
university departments.Mary's reactionwas to tell her husband,who sub-
J., il
[ j !i 1
sequentlyaccompaniedher to work to discussthe matterwith her superior.
Sheremarkedof her former departmentthat 'that's how it had alwaysbeen
~
I
"
;1
-
the men acceptedit, when you worked in that office that's just the way it
was. You go into somewherewhere that isn't the
there's no one
like that here (Department A) now and if someonecame in like that it
would That get culture straightenedout.' had resulted in an unpleasantand uncomfortablesituation
for the junior women who worked within it; the harassingbehaviour was
certainly 'nothing personal' in that it was directed at more than one
woman. The more senior women, interestingly, had not experienced
harassmentfrom The other woman, the man Brenda,had in question. resignedwhen the man in questionmade
it physically impossiblefor her to do her job. Subsequentlyshehad in fact
beenoffered her position back,slightly redefined in order to put a distance
~
le er b- \T-
le
er
b-
\T-
m it n.e it
m
it
n.e
it
The role of intimacy at work 47
The role of intimacy at work
47
betweenher and the harasser.Brenda'sharasserhad also beenher senior and again his behaviour had not been confined
betweenher and the harasser.Brenda'sharasserhad also beenher senior
and again his behaviour had not been confined to her although she did
comment that she was the target of his most sustained efforts. Shealso
mentioned that the department in which these events occurred was
smaller, more gossipy and that intimate relationships were far more the
norm. Both she and Mary were much more comfortable with the imper-
sonalatmosphereof DepartmentA.
But there were also negative evaluations. The formal nature of depart-
mental culture was seen to hinder communication in such a way that
uneasytolerancecharacterisedmost working relationships.One respondent
commentedthat 'back stabbing'was rife, becausepeoplewere unwilling or
unable to communicate.Lack of sensitivity was imputed to the department
by another respondent (a relatively new member of staff) who saw the
departmentalworking environmentas 'very
very
. no tolerance whatsoever'. Indeed this respondent's dealings wjth the
department thus far had in fact taken the form of a serious disagreement
with a superior, the stressresulting from which had led to the respondent
becomingill. The lack of understanding, contactand reciprocity identified
by thesetwo respondentsin particular and many respondentsin generalis
seento mitigate againsteffectivedepartmentaloperationfirst and job satis-
faction second- clearly the two arealsoconnected.
Department B
Department
B
The other departmentstudied aspart of this programmewas much smaller and altogetherdifferent. It is single-site,which is
The other departmentstudied aspart of this programmewas much smaller
and altogetherdifferent. It is single-site,which is seento accountfor some
of the closeness.Lines of communication were universally described as
clearerand lesscluttered than in someof the larger departments.There is
far lessemphasison hierarchy; a technician claimed that in other depart-
ments the academics'
tend to treat the non-academicstaff like slaves
basically',but that in this one 'they muck in' for the mostpart.
Here it was the presence(rather than the absence)of communicationand
closenesswhich was identified as the glue which maintained the effective-
nessof the workplace. As one respondentput it, 'it's like a
you
know families. I mean,I've got threesistersand we're alwaysfalling
but eventually it all gets back on an even keel'. Shedescribed a 'blazing
row' she'd had with a senior academic - hierarchically very much her
superior - the previous week, saying that it had all been'forgiven and for-
gotten'. This department is very much one where the participant 'can say
what you feel without there being repercussions'. Another respondent
commented that disagreementswhich do occur are typically smoothed
over at departmentalsocialeventswhich arefrequent ('any opportunity for
a celebrationthereis a party here').Thereis alsoa greatdeal of out-of-work
socialising,which doesnot necessarilyobservehierarchy - a secretarysaid
here').Thereis alsoa greatdeal of out-of-work socialising,which doesnot necessarilyobservehierarchy - a secretarysaid
48 Casesin Organisational Behaviour
48 Casesin Organisational Behaviour
that she would invite a professor to her house should she give a dinner party
that she would invite a professor to her house should she give a dinner
party and a technician described her and her husband's friendship with
anotherprofessorwho lives nearto them.
The continuum of interaction in the department also extends to the
romantic. Mutual romance is frequent and accepted, even adulterous
romance. There have been several staff-student liaisons for example,
including one which resulted in divorce - when husband and wife both
worked in the deparbnent.However, it seemsthat this has actually caused
very little trouble; it was only pointed out that the academicand the stu-
dent in questionwere askednot to attend the Christmasparty that year in
order not to disrupt the celebrations.In fact most regulation in the depart-
ment does seem to take place at this very informal level; as a senior
academic put it, 'one would hope there's not a reason to mention it'.
Relationshipsare tolerated and for the most part do not createproblems.
As one respondent said 'it works quite
if people are professional
about it and don't let it interfere with their working life'.
Two other depart-
mental membershave also been married to eachother and subsequently
divorced during their careersin the department and still continue to work
U
b
CI
il
I
e
togetheramicably. Romanceis an everyday part of working life for this particular depart-
ment, but it is generally expected that people will regulate their
involvements themselves,and 'regulate' is the key word. One or two mem-
bers were identified as not being able to undertake this, and were
castigated for their poor handling of the situations that resulted. Those
exampleswhich follow were referred to by severalrespondents.One indi-
vidual (who admitted flirting all year) had to fight a co-worker off at a
departmental socialevent.Another had naively encouragedan academic's
attentions and had experiencedsubstantialdifficulty in deterring him asa
result, and a further woman had reputedly 'come on' to various members
of the department(both men and women) to the extent that shewas practi-
cally physically assaulting them at work. Intimacy here then is seen to
co-existwith departmentaloperations,and even enhancethem, but only if
carefully controlled.
Furthermore the informality and cohesivenesswithin the department is
not always seen to be positive. Two respondents mentioned occasions
when the police arguably should have beenalerted to events,but were not
called due to an unwillingness to, as one put it, 'wash the dirty linen in
public'. One incident in fact constituted a serious assault and yet was
'hushed up'. It is also possible to comment that the kind of incidents
I
describedabove-
e.g. the problem experiencedat the departmentalsocial
I
event- are at leastpartially generatedby the highly sexualisedatmosphere
of this particular working environment. One's fellow employeeis certainly
likely to be a friend and possibly a partner, unlike in the larger deparbnent.
!t is ironic also that the intimacy within the department seemsto gener-

~

The role of intimacy at work 49
The role of intimacy at work
49
~r th 1e .15 .e, ate 'bitchiriess',just as lack of communication doesin DepartmentA. Two
~r
th
1e
.15
.e,
ate 'bitchiriess',just as lack of communication doesin DepartmentA. Two
respondentsdescribed themselvesas good friends in two separateinter-
views and then went onto heartily criticise eachother;onesaying the other
onewas an over-friendly teaseand one saying the other was catty and jeal-
ous. Here it seemsto be a caseof familiarity breeding contempt.It should
also be pointed out that any such remarks made in the other department
(A) were a good deal more reticent and also tended to be generalisations
th
rather than referring to specific individuals. Department B was further
~
describedby a postgraduatestudentasextremely 'gossipy'; colleaguescon-
u-
in
tinually 'fished' for
spread very quickly
personal information about each other which then
round the grapevine. As a result this student never
rt-
or
.t'.
15.
\al
rt-
tly
trk
discussed anything personal with other members of the department.
Perhapsthen the closenesswhich the departmentvaluesis alsoto a certain
extent counter-productive, in terms of relationships and of departmental
achievement.
It is alsothe casethat the veneerof mutual respectsometimesslips; asin
the anecdoterelated by a secretary,who had beengiven a report to write
by an academicand upon submissionreceivedthe somewhatbackhanded
compliment, 'I didn't know you could write - this is very good'. It was sim-
ilarly pointed out that freedom of information was restrictedby the senior
academicsdiscussing important departmental matters over lunch at the
somewhat exclusive Staff Centre. Again the intimacy of interaction does
not impact significantly on the 'real' businessof the department,which is
conductedfor the most part asthe formal structuredictates.
ACTIVITY BRIEF
ACTIVITY BRIEF
1 (a) According to bureaucracy theory, what kind of personal relation- shipsshould exist between organisational
1
(a)
According to bureaucracy theory, what kind of personal relation-
shipsshould exist between organisational participants? Draw upon the
casefor illustration.
(b)
How might the above model impact on
(i)
individuals and
(ii)
the achievementof organisationaI goals?
Draw upon the casefor illustration.
2 (a) Contemporary management theories advocate a different mode of interaction within the workplace. How
2
(a)
Contemporary management theories advocate a different mode
of interaction within the workplace. How does it differ from that
described above? What is the rationale behind these recommen-
dations?
(b)
Would you say that Department 8 demonstratesthe characteristicsof the
new workplace,asenvisagedby the theoriesabove?Supportyour answer.
3 Suggest why the two departments differ in culture. If you were given the task
3 Suggest why the two departments differ in culture. If you were given the
task of managing cultural change as suggested by the
theories in question
.
2(a), how might you go about it? Why might current pressureson academia
n~r~~~;t~t~
~I Irh
,
-
~ rh~n"'D"
~
,.~
~ 50 Casesin organisational Behaviour i~ RECOMMENDED READING Crozier, M. (1964). The Bureaucratic phenomenon,Chicago:
~
50 Casesin organisational Behaviour
i~
RECOMMENDED
READING
Crozier, M. (1964). The Bureaucratic phenomenon,Chicago: University
Press (Chapter 7).
Gerth, H. H. and Wright-Mills,
C. (1948) (eds.). From Max Weber:Essaysin Sociology,
Harrison, London:RoutledgeandKeganPaul R. (1987).OrganizationalCulture (Chapterviii). and Quality of Service:A Strategyfor
Peters, ReleasingLovein T. (1989).Thriving the Workplace,London: on Chaos:Handbookfor AMED. a Managemert:tRevolution,London:
Mullins,Pan &>oks,L. J. (Chapter(1993). Managementiv).
and Organisational Behaviour, London, Pitman
~J
11
(Chapters 2, 10 and 20).