The Enlightenment of Organizational Power

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This essay provides an overview of how organizational structures are beginning to open their worldview to individuality among employees and why, specifically to the tattooed community.

Submitted: September 28, 2014

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Submitted: September 28, 2014

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Power is a binding force throughout our society that has been deeply ingrained into our ways of thought, ideologies and norms from the beginning of time. Power is fluid; it flows back and forth between people through various forms of communication, whether it is everyday talk, body language, or the way you present and identify your self through style and appearance. Although power is found in every encounter we have in our day-to-day life, one of particular importance and interest is how power is communicated in the workplace. Organizational communication of power is changing; it is adapting to the technological age with all of its flash, fashion and speed. The workplace is being forced to evolve or perish; non-traditional ideas have become the traditional way of doing things. The individuality of employees is becoming a powerful force for the face of companies. Contemporary management is now asking “many workers…to express their differences and individuality by telling onsite employers ‘who they are’ outside of the workday” (Fleming, 2013). One way employees can communicate this to employers is through their physical appearance. Organizations have consistently exerted control over employees through the expectations of physical appearance, thus operating “simultaneously on employees minds and bodies” (Allen, 2011).  I will focus this reflection on the individual form of self-expression through tattoos and how that impacts the communication of power between employee and employer.  As a tattooed young adult entering the workforce, I would argue based off research and personal experience that unique expression of ones sense of self through tattoos has become more accepted in the American workplace. Tattoos are becoming more established into our culture, and thus coercive power is no longer the norm when it comes to policies on physical appearance in organizations; hierarchical structures are looking to empower employees for better productivity leading to a more positive and informal communication of power in organizational structures.  

According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in 2006, almost half of all Americans between the ages of 21-32 have at least one tattoo or piercing besides their earlobe (Selvin, 2007). That is a large portion of today’s job force, and by now in 2014, hiring force. To cut out people with tattoos as possible employees is only doing a disservice to the company. Directors and CEO’s have been finding themselves saying things like, “if [we] adopted a no-tattoo policy, [we] would lose excellent candidates” and “why let some body art get in the way of hiring the best qualified candidate?” (Reed, 2007). Employment is coming down to quality, not quantity. With their being an equal balance between applicants who are and are not tattooed, the ideology of discrimination for jobs is changing the stigmas found in co-cultural exchange between the dominant and non-dominant groups. Who is to say what the dominant or non-dominant group (the tattooed or non-tattooed) is when the job seeking population is so equally distributed between both groups? Thus, one could argue that the power playing field is being leveled; with tattoo rates climbing those who are tattooed are now being treated and viewed by organizations and colleagues with more equality due to their merit versus their appearance.

When going through the interview process, the employer exerts control over the hiring process, thus holding the power in the relationship between themselves and the interviewee. But now with more employers having open minds, that power is no longer always a negative force. I have had positive power relationships with my superiors in my past two jobs, including the job I have now. As a student employee for student disabilities at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, I asked my supervisor if it would be okay for me to wear clothing that showed my tattoos and her answer was, “as long as the work is getting done, you can wear whatever you want!” This led to me feeling more comfortable communicating with my superior. The structure of power was still there, she was still my boss, but she had shown value and respect past what would be expected from looking at my resume; it became a more personal relationship, allowing me to feel less restricted in my work and in my communication with her. This became vitally important later down the road when I was writing a grant proposal for our department; I was stressed from my own assignments and had no idea how to write a grant proposal, so finding the energy and motivation to do so during midterms was somewhat difficult. However, I valued that job and I valued my relationship with my boss. She had shown her confidence in me from the beginning and had always given me a sense of value and respect for my work. That caused me to feel inspired, and effectively more efficient. In effect, we did end up receiving the $10,000 grant. Luckily, the theme of enlightened relationships of power in organizational structures is only growing. CEO”s are realizing that to increase task management and production with todays expectations for increased weekly work hours, they must encourage employees to be “their everyday self on the job” (Mee Mun, Janigo & Johnson, 2012). The idea of having ones job and ones personal life separate is beginning to blur as work hours and intensity increase. Allowing employees to have a higher level of comfort in their self-awareness by allowing them access to tap into their true everyday selves is having a direct effect on labor productivity, creativity and a more positive organizational culture (Fleming, 2013). Giving people the freedom to show their tattoos, a personal form of self-expression, is to break down communication barriers and allow for more valuable work relationships where power can be evenly distributed and based on trust. 

On the first day of my current job, I asked my employer if I needed to wear long sleeves in order to keep my tattoos hidden and she replied, “absolutely not, they are beautiful and I encourage you to be who you are.” This and my last job are the two best jobs I have had because the power placed on my physical appearance is not negative or coercive. Therefore, the power they are exerting on me and me on them is mutual and respectful. I give them the power to direct and guide me in my work, to give my job structure; while they give me the power to do my job to the best of my ability without the constraints of worrying about stigmas or having my work devalued based off of my appearance. It has been said that “the past 30 years in Western culture [has] been labeled a “tattoo renaissance” “(Mee Mun, Janigo & Johnson, 2012). Whether someone is tattooed or not, individual differences in the workplace are beginning to be valued, opening the door to the creative world and allowing us as a culture to honor the abilities inherent in those around us without judgment. Hierarchical structures of power are necessary in order to help control chaos, give us organization, boundaries and to help point us in the right direction, but power based off of value and respect is what is leading to a more productive workforce, especially for the tattooed community. 

 

 

References

Allen, B.J., (2011). Difference Matters Communicating Social Identity (2nd ed.). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.

Fleming, P. (2013). Review article: ‘when life itself ‘ goes to work: reviving shifts in organizational life through the lens of biopower. Human Relations. 67(7), 875-901. doi:10.1177/0018726713508142

Mee Mun, J., Janigo, K.A., & Johnson, K.K.P. (2012). Tattoo and the self. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 30(2), 134-148. Doi: 10/177/0887302X12449200

Reed, A. (2007, Nov 25). Weighing tattoos in the workplace. Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA). Retrieved from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nbc/news

Selvin, M. (2007, Aug 12). Workplaces grapple with tattoo taboos. Seattle Times, The (WA), Retrieved from http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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