The ideology of managers in the management of employees in small and medium sized enterprises in Australia

PhD Thesis

McDonald, William James Charles. 2005. The ideology of managers in the management of employees in small and medium sized enterprises in Australia. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

The ideology of managers in the management of employees in small and medium sized enterprises in Australia

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorMcDonald, William James Charles
SupervisorWiesner, Retha
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages389

Alan Fox's unitarist ideology provided a useful categorisation of managerial perspectives on managing employees and the nature of organisation. However, it was an intuitive framework, developed as part of a reformist argument for a pluralist system of industrial relations. It was not based on a systematic, empirical study of managers and, while applied to research, there has been little testing of the construct. The primary research question addressed in this thesis is whether managers in contemporary SMEs exhibit unitarist characteristics. A number of subsidiary questions follow. The first set explores managers' attitudes towards managerial prerogative, conflict, collective workplace relations and trade unions. Analysis of the data produced 11 unitarist dimensions. The second addresses whether organisational and personal characteristics and managers' perceptions of the limitations on management are significant for SME managers' ideological frameworks. The third identifies whether consultative, participative and collective practices are employed in work organisations. The definition of managerial ideology, including both managers' beliefs and values and also their workplace behaviour and practices, led to testing the relationship between the unitarist dimensions and managerial practice, and managers' satisfaction with employees. Finally, the thesis investigated whether there were any significant links between managerial practices and managers' satisfaction with employee performance. The methodology included a mail survey of SME managers in Eastern Australia with 206 respondents, and an interview programme of 20 SME managers in Brisbane, Queensland. The significant findings of this research are, first, that consultative or participative managerial practices do not necessarily reflect a pluralist ideology or orientation. SME managers limit the scope of decisions for involving employees, and usually shopfloor employees, utilising practices that do not compromise managerial power or managerial prerogative. Second, organisational and personal characteristics are relatively unimportant contextual variables in management behaviour in SMEs, unless it was described as a family business. Third, this thesis provides an alternative to the conclusions of some industrial relations scholars that managers employ a mix of unitarist and pluralist strategies. The adoption of apparently pluralist management practices in consultation and employee participation are revealed in this research as being predominantly non-threatening to managerial prerogative and organisational power structures in workplaces in terms of who is involved or excluded, and about what matters employees are consulted or involved. The overall results of managers' attitudes to collective workplace arrangements and trade unions confirm a general unitarist orientation in Australian SMEs. Fourth, the evidence does not suggest any clear binding of values and beliefs with managerial behaviour. Underpinning normative perspectives on management is an underlying commitment to protecting managers' power in the work organisation. It is this fundamental political commitment that both guides and constrains strategic choice in managing employees in SMEs. Unitarist ideology is thus central to the norms of management, and goes to the core of managerial prerogative. Finally, the results indicated that SME managers in the study usually did not demonstrate strong attachments to their views on the issues presented to them.

Keywordsmanagement, manager, enterprise, human relations, Dunlop's industrial relations theory, unitarist construct, organisation
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350710. Organisational behaviour
350716. Small business organisation and management
Byline AffiliationsFaculty of Business
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