Laughing about Work: Dilbert Meets a Self-Disciplining Worker

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I really enjoyed today's Dilbert comic strip:

This is a great illustration of what sociologists label normative control--subtle ways of directing employees to work harder and be more loyal not through traditional forms of structural control such as monitoring and direct supervision, but through workplace norms and identities. If companies are successful at getting employees to internalize the desired norms and values as their own, then employees will identify with their employer, form emotional attachments, and serve the organization's interests as if they were their own. In other words, workers become self-disciplining (to use a Foucauldian term).

This might be a win-win situation if workers' interests truly align with corporate interests. Alternatively, if workers' and corporate interests do not truly align, then efforts to create corporate cultures ideologies and other norms are better seen as campaigns to ultimately lure workers into serving corporate rather than personal needs and goals. So which perspective is right? There are differing opinions, but today's Dilbert comic certainly gives us something not only to chuckle at, but also to think about. Unfortunately, the joke might be on us.

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About this Blog

Whither Work? is a blog about work created by John Budd. I am a professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and the author of several books including The Thought of Work. Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWBudd.