Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Stability of Individual Grievance Behavior: An Examination of Assumptions about Grievance Activity

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Stability of Individual Grievance Behavior: An Examination of Assumptions about Grievance Activity

Article excerpt

Assumptions about the degree to which individual grievance behavior is stable and consistent across time guides both research and practice (Bemmels, 1994). For example, practitioners sometimes assume that there is a high degree of temporal stability in the level of employee grievance activity (Breslin, 1981). Because it is assumed that employees who file multiple grievances in one period will do so consistently throughout their career, efforts are made to screen out "grievance prone" employees (Meade, 1962; Hogan and Hogan, 1989; Ones et al., 1993). And researchers often assume that there is sufficient stability in grievance behavior to justify using grievance activity in one period as an indicator of an employee's propensity to file grievances throughout his/her career. (For a critique of this approach, see Gordon and Miller, 1984.)

Little, however, is known about the degree to which individual grievance behavior is actually stable and consistent across time (Peterson, 1992). In order to examine assumptions about the stability and consistency of grievance behavior, this study examines the distribution of grievance activity at the individual level over a fourteen year period following the introduction of a grievance system.

Behavioral Consistency and Grievance Behavior

While the stability and consistency of grievance behavior has not been examined, researchers have examined the degree of consistency in behavior such as absenteeism (Ivancevich, 1985; Breaugh, 1981) and performance (Henry and Hulin, 1987). This research suggests that past behavior is often a good predictor of future behavior. Furthermore, this research suggests that while the predictive utility of past behavior declines with the passage of time, past behavior often is a statistically significant predictor of future behavior even after the passage of several years (Henry and Hulin, 1987). But it is important to note that grievance behavior is clearly distinct from behavior such as absenteeism or performance (Klaas et al., 1991). For example, ability factors are important determinants of performance and such factors may be relatively stable over time. No such ability factors, however, are relevant in determining grievance behavior. Motivational factors are primary determinants and less is known about the long-term stability of such factors.

Therefore, while research on the stability of other behaviors might lead us to expect some type of stability in grievance behavior, the unique nature of grievance activity precludes definitive statements about the exact pattern of this stability. The stability and consistency of grievance behavior could take a number of distinct forms. Alternative perspectives on the grievance system suggest three different forms of stability that could be observed. In the remainder of this section, we will explain each of these perspectives as well as the pattern of stability that would be predicted by each.

The Stability of Grievance Behavior: The "Bad Apple" Perspective

A commonly held view among practitioners is that there is a high degree of stability in the level of grievance behavior across a grievant's career. According to this view, there are "bad apples" who file multiple grievances during every stage of their tenure with an organization. Therefore, if a grievant files several grievances during the first few years of his/her career, it is expected that he/she will file several grievances during subsequent stages of his/her career (Mead, 1962; Carner, 1961; Purcell, 1960).

Associated with this belief about stability in the level of grievance behavior is the assumption that these "bad apples" are grievance prone (Breslin, 1981; Hogan and Hogan, 1989). These grievance prone employees are thought to be motivated to seek out the opportunity to file grievances (Dalton and Todor, 1979). While the construction of grievance proneness has not been clearly defined or measured, it is typically assumed to include relatively stable personality characteristics such as dominance (Steers and Braunstein, 1976), a need for power (Winter, 1973), and a hostility to rules and authority (Hogan and Hogan, 1989). …

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