Managerial and Professional Careers in an Era of Organisational Restructuring(*) (1)

By Martin, Bill; Riemens, Wendy et al. | Journal of Sociology, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Managerial and Professional Careers in an Era of Organisational Restructuring(*) (1)


Martin, Bill, Riemens, Wendy, Wajcman, Judy, Journal of Sociology


Introduction

The fate of the professional-managerial class in countries like Australia seems to be a mass of paradoxes and contradictions at present. On the one hand, we are told the organisations which employ professionals and managers, or which generate demand for their services, are down-sizing and de-layering to the extent that middle class jobs are constantly under threat (Scase and Goffee 1989). On the other hand, there is an emerging model of a `portfolio career' whose advocates declare that it provides professionals and managers with new horizons for autonomy and control in their careers (Arthur and Rousseau 1996; Heckscher 1995).

This paper tries to unravel some of these apparent mysteries by presenting the results of a major study of the careers of professionals and managers in large Australian firms. The study focuses on the impact of organisational restructuring on professional and managerial careers, it was stimulated by the elementary problem that while there is now a reasonable amount of research investigating how the structure of work organisations has been changing in recent years, there is only limited research on how this impacts on professional and managerial career's (see Halford et al. 1997; McGovern et al. 1998; Osterman 1996; Redman et al. 1997). Much of the existing literature assumes that major organisational restructuring has occurred in most firms and then attempts to assess the impact of this assumed change on managers and professionals. However, the empirical evidence on both issues is equivocal.

Beginning with organisational change a popular view of the 1990s was, that firms worldwide had dramatically reduced their managerial staff (see Caulkin 1995; Collinson and Collinson 1997; Littler et al. 1996; Lockwood 1995; Oliver 1997; Stroh and Reilly 1997). However, when examined closely, evidence about the extent and character of organisational change is at best mixed. Two contrasting sets of data on the Australian case illustrate the uncertainties. Littler et al. (1996) surveyed 653 Australian firms and found that 57 per cent said they had down-sized (reduced the total number of employees) between 1993 and 1995, while 44 per cent said they had de-layered (reduced the number of management layers in the organisation). Responses to the survey also suggested significant negative effects on employee motivation and commitment in firms which down-sized. However, the survey relied on the assessment of the one individual in each company who filled out the questionnaire, and did not separate managerial and non-managerial employees.

By contrast, the 1995 Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (AWIRS) paints a rather complicated picture (Morehead et al. 1997). Just over half (51 per cent) of workplaces reported having experienced some re-organisation of workplace structure in the previous two years, with larger organisations (over 500 employees) far more likely to report such change (83 per cent reported it). Of a range of kinds of change, re-organisation of workplace structure was most frequently seen as having the greatest impact on employees, especially in large firms. However, the respondents who provided this information usually indicated that managers were generally positively disposed to these changes (72 per cent responded in this way). Nor was organisational restructuring usually associated with a decline in the number of employees in workplaces. In 36 per cent of cases it resulted in no change and in 24 per cent, the number of employees actually increased (while in 40 per cent of cases employee numbers were reduced). Overall, the AWIRS data are more sensitive and detailed than those of Littler et al., and it seems likely that the more complicated picture is more accurate--a substantial amount of organisational restructuring is not about reducing employee numbers, and managers are often positively disposed towards it.

Although the image of firms shedding management layers and large numbers of managerial employees certainly oversimplifies the matter, there has been a great deal of change in organisational structure in the last decade or two.

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