by Valérie Carayol,
Professor in Communication sciences, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France
Editor of the Journal Communication & Organization
A dichotomy between two types of academic research is often presented in the field of Social Sciences applied to organisations, and notably in communication: on the one hand, a type of research which is of functionalist inspiration with a managerial vocation; on the other hand, a more dialectical and analytical type of research, elaborated from an axiological and ethical point of view (Heller, 2013), seeking to take distance from professional practices.
The first type of research clearly is of interest to organisations leaders. Its usefulness is evident: by helping organisations to master and optimise their communication practices, by facilitating business-to-business comparisons, and by adopting “best practices”, researchers are increasing their influence and their effectiveness in boosting productivity.
The second type of research looks at organizational practices with a certain distance, without a priori desire for optimisation, and tries to understand the communication practices in context, perhaps in their more problematic or darker aspects. Its usefulness is sometimes discussed or questioned: by encouraging the actors of organisations to express themselves, this type of research opens a dialogue within organisations to deal with the problematic or dysfunctional aspects of communication practices. Allowing such dialogue is sometimes likened to opening the Pandora’s box, hence some apprehensions.
Researchers are carrying out this form of critical management research in the field of critical management studies (CMS). It has developed in recent years in the field of communication and public relations (The Pond, Mckie, Snow, Xifra, 2015) (Ballard, Mcglone, 2016). It shows that we can gain from studying the paradoxical and problematic aspects of organisations’ communication practices and the conflicts that affect them. To the vision of an organisation often portrayed as efficient, without asperity and without adherence, (Linstead, Marechal, Griffin, 2014), they oppose that of an organization with complex and problematic functioning, putting in presence interests which are sometimes antagonistic, and which must take particularly demanding and shifting environments into account.
Why should we be interested in this type of research? What is its appeal? What do the problematic or dysfunctional aspects of communication teach us? To answer these question, we will take the example of the study of a recent phenomenon: the hyper connection of managers.
The digital transformations of organisations affect a large number of institutional, functional and operational communication processes. They also affect the day-to-day work of managers who have to deal with such transformations in their practices, the repercussions of which on the quality of their work and their health are starting to interest organisations leaders. Our team of Bordeaux researchers has conducted qualitative and quantitative studies on the detrimental effects of a quasi-permanent connection, akin to an electronic leash, of managers to ICTs (Carayol and alii, 2017). We conducted a longitudinal study on 60 managers, who were interviewed at one year intervals, as well as a quantitative study with more than 600 managers and a qualitative study with union officials and labour doctors.
We have identified complex and often paradoxical phenomena: accelerated temporalities, excessive work and information, porosity of work and private life, development of nomadic work, constant demand for availability and responsiveness.We have also been identified the detrimental and dysfunctional aspects of excessive connection: information overload, addiction to technologies, dispersion and lack of attention, techno-stress and digital incivility (Dupré and Carayol, 2017) which, in turn, induce psychosocial risks.
This research, which was conducted over three years thanks to national funding from a French research agency, made it possible to put the issue of the psycho-social risks related to the use of ICT on the agenda, while underlining the fact that ICT are a sounding box for unresolved organisational problems. The issue of hyper connexion has entered the public debate in France: a “disconnection right” has been legally enshrined and is still the subject of experiments and discussions within organisations.
A comprehensive and critical research approach has proved its usefulness in responding to very current societal and managerial questions. The study of the dysfunctional and problematic aspects of the hyper connection of managers has contributed to the undertaking of a reflection on the impact of our daily modes of communication on the quality of work and of work life.
BALLARD Dawna, MCGLONE Matthew, Work Pressures: New Agendas in Communication. Taylor & Francis, 2016.
CARAYOL, V., SOUBIALE, N., LIMA, F., FELIO, C., La laisse électronique : les cadres débordés par les TIC, (The electronic leash, managers, overwhelmed by ICT) Pessac, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, 2017
DUPRE D. CARAYOL,V., « Workplace cyber incivilities as symptoms of organizational and communication pathologies » Colloque EUPRERA, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London 12-14/10/2017
HELLER Thomas, HUËT Romain, VIDAILLET Bénédicte, Communication et organisation, perspectives critiques (Communication and Organization, critical perspectives) Villeneuve d’Ascq, Presses du Septentrion,   2013
L’ETANG Jacquie, MCKIE, David, SNOW, Nancy, and XIFRA Jordi. The Routledge handbook of critical public relations. Routledge, 2015.
LINSTEAD, Stephen, MARECHAL, Garance, GRIFFIN, Ricky W. « Theorizing and researching the dark side of organization ». Organization Studies 35, no 2 (2014): 165–188.