‘Evil Eleven Syndrome’: The dark side of workplaces

Research based on a framework developed at the Tampere University School of Management reveals the dark side of Finnish workplaces, which weakens both worker well-being and performance. Organisational inefficiency was analysed both theoretically and empirically with the aim of locating its sources and effects in municipal work communities providing social services for the elderly. Non-interference led to features symptomatic of the ‘Evil Eleven Syndrome’.

A theoretical framework of participatory action research developed by Associate Professor Sirpa Syvänen of the Tampere University School of Management in Finland during the course of her postgraduate studies (Syvänen, 2003) was used to examine the culture at workplaces in the social sector providing services for the elderly in four Finnish municipalities and its impact on their efficiency.

Each workplace or community was investigated over a two-year period by conducting and analysing data obtained using various fieldwork and research methods including work conferences, interviews, letters, multidisciplinary development work groups, staff meetings, training sessions and observations. The qualitative data were subjected to a phenomenological method of analysis. The validity of the results from the qualitative analysis were confirmed by comparison with findings from the Finnish Quality of Work Life Surveys.

The same framework was used to carry out several follow-up action research projects including the ATPU project (Syvänen et al, 2007) and the HOTEVA project (Syvänen, 2008).

Key findings

‘Evil Eleven Syndrome’

Non-interference is a feature of work culture that connects all the workplaces. As a consequence of non-interference, many factors causing internal inefficiency in the work communities were ignored. This was manifested in diverging aims, objectives, rules and service ideologies. Other features of work culture were a lack of feedback, backbiting, superficiality, no feel-good behaviour, covering up, hiding, callousness, bossiness, lack of communication and indecision. These are also the symptoms of the ‘Evil Eleven Syndrome’ (Syvänen, 2010).

Management

The main factor causing organisational inefficiency was the management structure maintained by political decision-makers and public officials, with its various decision-making and power-wielding systems. The work of managers was mostly manifested in autocratic ‘bossiness’ as well as slack, weak ‘non-management’ (laissez-faire). A crucial finding was that democratic and supportive leadership was rarely present.

Group pressure

At a group level, internal inefficiency resulted from low effort levels caused by group pressure and sanctions. A typical mode of action was manifested in the principle of ‘everyone does everything’, which standardised tasks, and made them similar and routine (daily schedules, work procedures). Because of the convention rationale or cooperation strategies based on group standards, productivity decreased, competence was wasted and skill deficits emerged. Group members were also excessively loyal to each other; they gave and received very little feedback.

Different types of work behaviour

Four types of workers could be distinguished:

  • the masters of work;
  • the overburdened;
  • the underachievers;
  • the underburdened.

Those who were able to control their work themselves by regulating their effort level considered their work as the least burdening. Those who worked on the basis of impersonal regulation had the most difficulty controlling their work. Their work behaviour also increased the workload of others.

External pressures

External pressures from the economy and work partners, and challenges to change were considered negative. Insufficient resources (due to the recession and budget cuts, adapting to the financial situation, reducing staff costs), increase in work and clientele, and the increasing degree of difficulty of work manifested themselves as diverse, increased and novel pressures of work felt by all employee groups and supervisors.

Due to the scarcity of resources and negative attitudes towards training, employers did not arrange sufficient opportunities for staff to participate in initial, further or continuous vocational or professional training; nor did they support or oblige staff to participate in training. Lack of competence also resulted from the recruitment process implemented by employers on financial and social grounds.

Effects on productivity and effectiveness

In conclusion, internal inefficiency affected overall productivity.

  • It lowered the quality of work life and reduced the working capacity or input of the staff. In other words, their well-being, motivation and commitment to work deteriorated. Problems in the atmosphere at work, the number of days taken as sick leave and employee turnover increased, and staff sought other jobs.
  • It worsened the financial situation and narrowed productivity, resulting in a high level of costs, and low productivity of work and economy.
  • It diminished the effectiveness of work and services rendered; that is, the outputs were not sufficient to meet all the needs of the elderly.

Among the factors that hindered the effectiveness and provision of quality care were:

  • employee-centered routines;
  • low standards and tacit norms;
  • neglect;
  • lowered work ethics;
  • individual maximisation;
  • problems in interaction with the elderly.

Commentary

The theoretical framework used by Professor Syvänen has gained an award for its efficiency in practice. For more information see her recent book, Evil Eleven Syndrome: Dark side of workplaces (Syvänen, 2010).

References

Syvänen, S., Pressures at work and the costs of non-interference: sources and effects of internal inefficiency. Work communities providing services for the elderly in the municipal social sector as a case in point (in Finnish, 2.87Mb PDF), Acta Universitatis Tamperensis 942, Tampere, Tampere University Press, 2003.

Syvänen, S., Erätuli, P. and Kokkonen, A., Research-assisted project for developing meals and cleaning services in Kainuu province. The ATPU project 2006–2007 (17Kb PDF), Helsinki, Finnish Work Environment Fund, 2007.

Syvänen, S., Development organisations and dialogues among services for elderly’: Experiences and results results from ‘The Factors of Welfare and Productivity’ – HOTEVA project 2005–2008 (183Kb PDF), in Lehtonen, J. and Kalliola, S. (ed.), Dialogue in working life research and development in Finland, Frankfurt am Main and Oxford, Peter Lang, 2008.

Syvänen, S., Evil Eleven Syndrome: Dark side of workplaces. Pressures at work and costs of non-interference, Saarbrücken, VDM Verlag, 2010.

Irja Laamanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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