How Employees Can Leverage Web 2.0 in New Ways to Reflect on Employment and Employers

How Employees Can Leverage Web 2.0 in New Ways to Reflect on Employment and Employers

James Richards (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-384-5.ch049
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Abstract

How and why businesses can and should exploit Web 2.0 communication technologies for competitive advantage has recently become the focus of scholarly attention. Yet at the same time, one key organizational actor in the business equation–the employee as an individual and collective actor with distinct interests from that of the employer, has been given scant attention. Using media accounts, questionnaire and interview data, this chapter seeks to map out early trends in employee interests in Web 2.0. The findings point towards three distinct, yet interconnected employee uses for Web 2.0–collaborative practices that extend employee abilities to exchange a wide-range of ‘insider information,’ express conflict, and ‘take action’ against employers. Due to the nature and size of cyberspace, however, more research is required to gauge the popularity and effect of these emergent trends.
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Trades unions were founded by the type of people who now blog. That is my gut feeling (local authority employee and active work blogger).

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Introduction

Due to new Internet technological developments that no longer limit Web-pages to being asymmetrical broadcasts of information and opinion (Herring et al., 2004), and how new Internet communication technologies massively decrease the technical knowledge to post information to the Internet, ordinary people need no longer be the passive recipients of Web-page information (Kolbitsch and Maurer, 2006). The new reality is that the Internet is increasingly becoming the focal point for everyday purposes (Haythornthwaite and Wellman, 2002). What is more, the rise of Web 2.0 communication technologies, such as social networking and blogging platforms, has led to ordinary individuals becoming a primary dynamic of the Internet (Coté and Pybus, 2007).

However, emergent research in this domain demonstrates a clear bias towards assessing and evaluating Web 2.0 as a range of tools that may help employers gain competitive advantage over rival organizations. For instance, in this field there has been research that explores the possibilities for businesses to take advantage of new Internet communication technologies, such as ‘employee blogs’, wikis and message boards, in conjunction with existing teamworking initiatives (Hoel and Hollins, 2006; Brown, Huettner and James-Tanny, 2007; Efimova and Grudin, 2007). Research suggests there are business advantages in senior members of the organization using ‘corporate blogs’ as a new way to manage public and customer relations (Wood, Behling, and Haugen, 2006). There are also debates that surround the merits of using information from the social networking profiles of prospective employees as part of a wider corporate recruitment and selection process (Brockett, 2007; Berry, 2007).

While Web 2.0 in the context of the business organization is clearly a very new and emergent field, it is also clear to note that there is a distinct neglect of how employees are adapting to and exploiting a series of Internet communication technologies for their own distinct benefits. This is especially concerning when it has been known for some time that early Internet communication technologies can augment powers of organization and integration (Castells, 2000) and allow fragmented individuals to re-assert identities and interests in an advanced and technologically-driven capitalist age (Barglow, 1994). That said, fragments of research have emerged in this field, for example, considering the legal implications for employees who blog about their work (Gely and Bierman, 2006) and how blogs may allow employees to resist and cope with the labour process (Schoneboom, 2006 and 2007; Richards, 2008; Ellis and Richards, 2009). As such, in the light of paradigmatic changes to the nature of Internet, it is very reasonable to suggest there would be a great deal of value in mapping out and up-dating the wider possibilities for employees who pursue their employment-related interests through new forms of Internet communication technology.

To achieve these aims the paper is divided into four sections. First, extant literature on both individual and collective employee use of the Internet is discussed. This paves the way for findings to be analysed later on in the paper. Following an overview of the literature the methodological approach used in this paper is outlined. The analysis is presented in the final three sections, divided into the presentation of data, an overall discussion of the findings, and concluding comments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organisational Behaviour: OB is a scholarly discipline aimed at maximising organisational effectiveness. However, OB scholars tend to view work organisations as separate entities to broader societal activity. As a consequence of a narrow focus, interests of employees can end up marginalised or explained in the context of the dominant parties to the employment relationship.

Human resource management: HRM is in essence a range of managerial tools designed to extract more value from employees, as an organisational resource, than its predecessor (personnel management). HRM research is primarily aimed at maximising the contribution of the employee to the organisation.

Internet use: Uses for the Internet have expanded rapidly over the past decade. The Internet has, in effect, become part of everyday activity and purpose. Employees, as such, have seen great value in the emancipatory capacity of the Internet and begun to use it to explore what matters most to them in relation to employment.

Employee Interests: the majority of contemporary management literature regularly omits a detailed account of the people who make organisations successful. Employees are typically portrayed as passive agents to management theory. Employee interests vary markedly, yet usually relate to fair treatment by employers, career goals, and managing the demands of the work organisation in relation to demands that originate from outside the work organisation.

Web 2.0: Web 2.0 represents a paradigm shift in how the majority of users interact with the Internet. Typically, this involves a shift from most Internet users being passive recipients of information to being active contributors to web content. Web 2.0 is closely associated with the rise of social media, such as blogs, wikis, social networking, file-sharing, etc.

Organisational Misbehaviour: OMB is an emergent feature of most management-related disciplines. Yet, how OMB is conceptualised varies markedly between management-related disciplines. OMB is viewed, for example, as the errant actions of employees and a by-product of poor people management, employee actions that result from employer-government attempts over the past 30 years to stifle organised labour, and minor hostilities between different interest groups that occur in the workplace.

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