Employee’s social game play

The work of Michael Burawoy (1979) makes a valid contribution to our understanding of the nature of work. Theorists such as Crozier (1964) and Mayo (1933) argue that employee’s social ‘game play’ undermine management’s position and delegation of work. However, Burawoy offers the notion that rather than these games posing a threat to management, they are in fact favourable (within limits) in creating ‘manufacturing consent’. Such ‘games’ can be identified as being discovered through the work of Mayo (1933) and the Hawthorne studies.

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He discovered informal work groups form unofficial norms ; sanctions of cliques to regulate group behaviour. Mayo stated that supervisors have to be aware of both individuals’ social needs ; power of the informal group, in order to align these to achieve formal or official objectives. More socially aware than scientific quality gurus such as Ishikawa (1985), Mayo’s understanding of such informal ‘game playing’ is similar to Burawoy’s research; Burawoy’s positive conclusions about such behaviour are intentionally different. Burawoy concludes that ‘game playing’

Is an undeniable occurrence in organisational work but is positively correlated to the quality of work by employees. This can be linked into motivation, whilst being a polar opposite to much scientific research (concluded by such theorists as F. W. Taylor), which refers to the notion that employees are unhappy with work and solely motivated by money. Once the theory of employees social needs are understood, Burawoy can illustrate how it is a favourable activity. He states, “The very activity of playing a game generates consent with respect to its rules.

” Similarly illustrative, Burawoy states, ” The game does not reflect an underlying harmony of interests; on the contrary, it is responsible for and generates that harmony’. Criticisms are however, in existence. As made known by Smith and Thompson (1992), with such a system in place, friction between management and employees can arise through the coercively regulated labour process. Management must have some involvement in the ‘game playing’ because although it can be beneficial, if one side disrupts the other’s work, the system can break down.

An example of this could be management delegating extra work without the consensus of the employees. Another major criticism of Burawoy is that his research ignores gender’s impact on work/work groups, whereas in separate research (e. g. , Crompton et al (2000)), gender is seen as having a massive impact on all work issues. Noon and Blyton (2002) argue that by viewing workplace survival strategies, we can unearth many complex patterns of action and meaning. Workplace survival refers to employee survival of the alienating tendencies at work via the employment of survival strategies.

Marx (1930) states that there are four types of estrangement experienced by employees. They are: 1. Self-estrangement 2. Estrangement from the product of their labour 3. Estrangement from their species being 4. Estrangement from others It is due to these circumstances that employees seek a way to attempt to ‘survive’ such estrangements and therefore survive work. Noon and Blyton (2002) state that there are five main survival strategies, being ‘making out’, ‘fiddling’, ‘joking’, ‘sabotage’, and ‘escaping’. All are employed as a method to combat alienation through informal processes and action.

Noon and Blyton (2002) say that there are two identifiable distinctions between these five forms of survival. They are consent or resistance to management. It is from these identifiable interpretations that conclusions can be drawn; that survival strategies can be favourable or problematic to management dependent on the way it is interpreted. For example, if interpreted as a form of consent, ‘joking’ can install a form of group regulation and great stress reliever, hence increasing employee morale and therefore productivity. This is obviously preferable and advantageous to both employee and employer.

However, if the same strategy is interpreted as being resistance to management, ‘joking’ can be seen as an undermining of management and consequently create friction between the two parties impacting adversely on the workplace environment. Durand and Stewart (1998) make clear research conclusions from the article ‘Manufacturing Dissent’. It is concluded that ‘game playing’ can adopt two forms, being ‘making out’ and the ‘transparency’ effects. The former is the conclusion of consent and self-subordination via competition for the piece rate.

The latter is different in that although adopted to establish the same benefits, it entails competing for management approval in teams. The transparency concept does form the basis of the manufacture of consent, but as Durand and Stewart (1998) state, “… it also constitutes the rules for the manufacture of dissent where employees attempt to ‘recover’ aspects of the transparency process so as to make the most of an exploitive environment. ” Another point to be taken is that transparency is not confined between formal management and sub-ordinate workers; it has been manipulated for use between shop floor workers themselves.

This research unearths vital information about why workers work as hard as they do via the initialization of informal groups and extends Elton Mayo’s research in the deliverance of the idea of ‘game playing’.


DURAND, J., STEWART, P. , 1998. Manufacturing Dissent? Burawoy in a Franco-Japanese Workshop. Work, Employment & Society, 12 (1), 145-159. ISHIKAWA, K. , 1985. What Is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way. 2nd Ed. London: Prentice-Hall. NOON, M. , BLYTON, P. , 2002. The Realities of Work. 2nd Ed. Hampshire: Palgrave. SMITH, C. , THOMPSON, P. , 1992. Labour In Transition. London: Routledge.