Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Workplace Dispute Resolution in the Homecare Industry: The Triangle of Worker, Client, and Manager

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Workplace Dispute Resolution in the Homecare Industry: The Triangle of Worker, Client, and Manager

Article excerpt

This study explores contrary predictions of workers' dispute resolution strategies by examining three different types of homecare businesses: a conventional, hierarchical business that is run for profit; a hierarchically organized charity; and a worker-owned, worker-managed cooperative. Some literature asserts that the structure of the organization will impact how workers address their workplace disputes. However, other literature argues the structure and culture of the industry will have greater influence than organization on workplace dispute resolution. The data in this study imply that the industry effects had the greater impact in the homecare industry. Members of the worker cooperative did not exhibit different dispute resolution behaviors; workers at all three businesses described similar dispute resolution strategies. The triadic structure of the homecare industry (employee-patient-manager), the clients' physical dependency on service, and the intense loyalty of workers to clients obviated the need for many formal grievance strategies. In addition, the supportive managerial culture of the industry facilitated easy informal dispute resolution, resulting in workers at the cooperative, private hierarchy, and charity all favoring informal resolution over raising formal grievances, exiting, or toleration. These findings highlight the importance of including industry effects in employee dispute resolution research.

This article explores how the structure and culture of the homecare industry affects workplace dispute resolution behavior. In contrast to the predictions of some scholars that businesses organized as worker-owned would have substantially different dispute resolution behavior from conventional businesses, workers in all three businesses (conventional, charity, cooperative) reported similar dispute resolution strategies. Rather than tolerating problems, raising formal grievances, or exiting to avoid disputes - as do workers in other industries - the homecare workers resolved their disputes informally. This specific behavior might be these homecare workers' main dispute resolution strategy because homecare involves caring for vulnerable clients who would be negatively affected by some disputing strategies - particularly exiting and filing formal grievances. Managers and employees both worked to avoid these disruptions, thereby limiting the dispute resolution options available to workers. Additionally, the culture of the industry allows for sufficiently successful informal dispute resolution so that quiet toleration of disputes is not necessary, leaving informal dispute resolution as an appealing and accessible option for homecare workers, regardless of the structure of their employers' particular businesses.


Scant research has investigated the effect of the structure of the organization and the industry on how workplace disputes are addressed. However, both could be important factors. Some literature suggests that flattening organizational hierarchy will change how employees resolve their workplace disputes. Odier literature rejects this possibility, implying that flattening the organizational hierarchy is not sufficient to alter fundamental dynamics of dispute resolution. Finally, other literature emphasizes the importance of the industry structure and culture in creating dispute resolution norms that are unique to the particular industry.

The Importance of Organizational Structure

Hierarchical organizations. Some scholars assert that the structure of the organization, more so than qualities inherent within individuals, promotes workplace activism (Pateman 1970). Pateman argues that workers in oligarchic organizations will be apathetic and passive, while workers in organizations that foster participation will respond with greater activism. Pateman maintains that people have a natural desire to control their own destiny, and, therefore, naturally prefer activism over passivity (see also Hodson 2001). …

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