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This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Professional service firms in Western Europe have a reputation for putting huge pressures on their junior employees, resulting in very long work hours, and as a consequence health risks.
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This study explores moral leadership as a possible response to the stigma of such dirty leadership. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 consultant managers and with each one of their juniors, and found that managers put several pressures on their juniors; these pressures bring high levels of stress, lowered wellbeing and burnout.
Society considers such a pressuring leadership style morally dirty.
Moral or Dirty Leadership: A Qualitative Study on How Juniors Are Managed in Dutch Consultancies
To counteract the experience of being seen as morally dirty, we found that consultant managers were normalizing such criticisms as commonly assumed in dirty work literature. However, they also employed several moral leadership tactics to counteract the negative consequences criticized in society.
However, in addition to the well-known individual-level tactics, consultant managers and their juniors also reported moral leadership support at the organizational level, like institutionalized performance talks after every project, trainings, specific criteria for hiring juniors, and policies to recognize and compliment high performance. Still, we cannot conclude these moral leadership approaches are moral by definition.
They can be used in an instrumental way as well, to further push performance. Keywords: work organization, dirty work, moral leadership, taint normalization, management consulting 1.
High-status professions are no exception. Popular criticisms also target consultants for their lack of expertise and overly high fees, lack of independence, and a focus on rationalization over human values [ 56 ].
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A different moral problem criticized in society is that managers in professional service industries like banking [ 13 ] and law firms [ 1415 ] put quite strong pressures on their employees. The pressures go far beyond standards of social desirability, even to the extent of violating labour laws. The consulting industry, for instance, is known for burnout, mental problems, stress, and disturbed work—life balance due to demanding clients and managers [ 161718192021 ].
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As a consequence, manager criticisms abound in consultant jokes, cartoons and on Internet fora see for instance managementconsulted. Members and former members of the occupation point at the moral dirtiness of such pressuring leadership, and of the manager job.
The constructs of dirty work and occupational stigma have initially been developed in sociology by Goffman and Hughes. Society stigmatizes in particular low-status occupations like hangman or janitors, similar to groups like drunks or ex-convicts [ 2223 ]. Ashforth et al. They have explored how dirty workers and their managers respond to the pressure of feeling stigmatized, and found in their empirical studies that dirty workers respond by normalizing the taint experience in order to protect their self-esteem, and to reduce the stress caused by the feeling of being stigmatized.
They also found that managers were helping employees with normalizing the experience of stigma. However, whereas insiders are assumed to reduce feelings of stress caused by a critical public opinion [ 26 ], outsiders produce such stress for a reason.
In case of moral taint, they want to influence the immoral behaviour. Bankers are stigmatized for their extremely high bonuses or irresponsible profit seeking. That means a banker can, and should do things differently according to public opinion. Additionally, when greedy bankers start normalizing what they do, public opinion stigmatizes them even more, to make clear their behaviour is still not acceptable.
This is illustrated by the Ralph Hamers case in the Netherlands. We do not accept.
It was considered very inappropriate behaviour, thus adding to the moral stigma the bank carried already for its role during the financial crisis, and ING Bank lost many clients that month.
Whereas normalization seems helpful when work is dirty due to physical hardship and toxic elements as experienced by miners and firefighters, normalization seems less effective for morally tainted managers due to their assumed agency and responsibility. As a consequence, managers might feel inclined to cope with moral taint differently than only by normalization.
While normalization might serve individuals in the short run by reducing their own experience of stress, society could see normalization as a variant of moral disengagement [ 27 ], thus adding fuel to the fire, and reinforcing the stigma of morally dirty leadership.
To explore the puzzle around the appropriateness of normalization as response to moral taint, we drew on moral leadership literature, which has studied the dynamics between moral leadership and reputation.
Scholars like Rhode [ 28 ], Schminke et al. However, despite the fact that dirty work and moral leadership literature both study responses to moral taint, these responses have not been related cf.
As the effects of normalization can be counterproductive in situations of tainted leadership, we expected to find moral leadership responses in such cases as alternative response to normalization. However, it assumes that managers have sufficient agency to be able to make a difference in their institutional context, and that they intentionally try to prevent the creation of moral stigma.
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- Moral or Dirty Leadership: A Qualitative Study on How Juniors Are Managed in Dutch Consultancies
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Following openwork types of earnings on this nasty internet on these assumptions, we explored how openwork types of earnings on this nasty internet managers cope with the morally dirty aspects of their overly demanding leadership style by studying both their normalization and moral leadership responses. To answer our question, we performed interviews with 12 consultant managers and with each one of their juniors about their common leadership experiences.
The study makes two contributions.
First, we found that consultant managers illustrate several moral leadership tactics in their work, in addition to normalization. When talking about the existing social constructions of morally dirty leadership, they stress their moral leadership behaviour.
This adds a new coping repertoire to the current dirty work literature cf. Our research design does not allow conclusions about how effective this new coping repertoire might be in reducing moral stigma, or the stress caused by such stigma.
Still, moral leadership is theoretically a more adequate response than normalizing as it does not imply moral disengagement, while normalization often does.
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As moral taint assumes agency, and responsibility for violating accepted moral standards, moral leadership is the response actually expected by society. When consultant managers meet this expectation better, it could reduce their feelings of stress together with the contempt in society.
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However, the agency of managers, and even more juniors, is limited, so both do still benefit from self-protection by normalization, and we found such responses as well. Second, we have identified organization-level support for the moral leadership attempts of consultant managers. Currently, moral leadership literature heavily focuses on what a manager can do as an individual [ 2830 ], but this ignores the limited agency of consultant managers.
They need to respond to deadlines, client demands, top management expectations and other institutional constraints.
The organization can offer support to counterbalance such constraints. Both junior consultants and their managers mention high-frequency performance reviews to monitor juniors, standard training and coaching sessions for juniors and policies to better select candidates for the job.
The latter policies aim at what Ashforth et al. The institutionalized character of these support measures make them quite visible, which responds to the stressful image of consulting work and its pressuring management. The support measures imply visible acknowledgement that the work context challenges consultant leadership more than direct managers can handle on their own with individualized arrangements [ 18 ].
A similar multi-level management approach to improving employee wellbeing and to reducing stress has been developed in Australian universities [ 36 ]. The dirtiness can be physical, leading in extreme cases to disgust and repugnance, but it can also be social and moral [ 1 ], leading to a less physical form of social disapproval, but still loss of dignity. The dirtiness becomes more a metaphor then.
In that sense, we disapprove the work of morally tainted occupations like used-car salespeople, tabloid reporters, exotic dancers, sex-shop workers or correctional officers see [ 242631323334 ]. It also does not imply everyone avoids these services, as some might even like them.
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High-status professions can be morally tainted as well: for instance, lawyers [ 1415 ], healthcare professionals doing abortion work [ 37 ] and after the financial crisis, we can add bankers to the list [ 23 ]. That is because physically or socially tainted work is usually protected by a necessity shield: garbage needs to be collected although it is dirty [ 38 ], we really need AIDS workers even though many could feel uncomfortable in their work context [ 39 ], and we also need firefighters although the work is dangerous [ 33 ].
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In contrast, society sees more evil than necessity in morally dirty work. In most dirty work studies, society is assumed to stigmatize a profession as with one voice. However, specific interest groups may be most active in socially constructing a stigma.
For instance, these who like to smoke and are still healthy will most likely not actively co-construct the tobacco industry as morally tainted, but the anti-tobacco lobby will certainly do. Next to different interests, time has its effects. For instance, public opinion turns more and more to the acceptance of abortion work in spite of the downsides, thus softening the stigma, whereas the stigma around bankers shows opposite dynamics.
While dirtiness of an occupation is reflected in the public eye, we still need to ask who really cares. For instance, the paying client of consultants does turbo options strategies for mobile trading seem to be very concerned about their more dubious virtues, as consultant services continue to be in demand.