November is PhD month on the Business and Society blog. We'll be featuring profiles of PhD student, as well taking as a closer look at some of their research work. Thushel Jayaweera’s recent study reveals how the employer/employee relationship has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with employees feeling like they are treated with less dignity if an employer fails to keep its promises. She also outlines the knock-on effect of this, explaining that employees who feel that they are being treated with less dignity are more likely to pass on that experience to customers.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant pain and hardship to workers across the world. With redundancies and business closures, and widespread disruption even within ‘safe’ jobs, employees are having a difficult time. Significantly, organisations have had to radically shift the way they organise their work and workplaces. As a result, the very foundation of employment relations has changed - with many of the employees working remotely with little face-to-face interaction, employment relations are complicated.
Another side effect of the pandemic is the effect on the customer. My study shows that employees are likely to treat their customers with less dignity if they perceive their organization has failed to keep their promises. This is especially the case in our post-Covid lives, as the levels of stress are increased and the normal workplace expectations are disrupted.
It is generally known that when an organization fails to keep its promises in the eyes of employees, such perceptions would impact employee work outcomes. Employee breach can also impact the employee workplace dignity experience. We know that when employee expectations suffer, employees are less willing to put effort at work. Previous research (Bal et al., 2008; Zao et al., 2007) on employee perceptions tells us that employees who feel that their organisation has failed to keep its obligations or fulfil its promises are more likely to underperform at work.
Our latest findings support these assumptions. To understand how an employer’s failure of obligation lis linked to an employee’s experience of dignity at work and the subsequent work outcomes, we collected data from the service sector in the UK. Our study shows that when organisations fail to keep their promises, employees experience less dignity at work. We found that these employees were then more likely to pass this on to customers, treating them with less dignity. This is because negative experiences deplete the employee’s personal ‘resources’ – resources which are required to cope with the demands of interacting with customers – and so they are less able to cope with stressful work experiences.
In line with these findings, organisations must take steps to ensure that their employees aren’t feeling let down. A possible solution may be to maintain effective communication with the employees to ensure that they have realistic expectations of the organisation. It is also important for employers to prioritising employee experience, by creating workplace environments that are based on care and respect. Current managerial practices are insufficient, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organizations are encouraged to accept, recognize and promote employee dignity as a central tenet for success. With times so difficult, employee relations should be prioritised, if organisations are going to succeed, thrive and survive the pandemic