‘Turning a blind eye’ a typical response to threatening managerial controls

Employees who perceive managerial controls to be restrictive and punitive will develop dysfunctional and negative responses to the organization where they work, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA).

These responses might be observed through what the researchers call ‘workplace deviance’ — for example absenteeism, reducing effort, daydreaming, taking longer breaks — and turning a blind eye, also referred to as ‘deliberate ignorance’ by the team from the UK and Spain.

Management control systems are procedures and processes used by managers to set goals, monitor and evaluate progress, provide feedback and encourage employees to conform to organisational expectations.

The research explored the perception of managerial control rather than the actual controls used by organizations, and focused on two main forms which are commonly used — performance management systems and compensation systems, such as bonuses.

Published in the journal Accounting Forum, the findings show that management controls perceived to be threatening are effective in motivating employees when this perception is mild.

As it increases though, it leads to abnormal behaviours, with the perception of threatening control also commonly associated with deliberate ignorance, for example by refusing information that is offered or inaction, such as not searching for further information. The researchers warn that both workplace deviance and deliberate ignorance have costs and pose an economic threat to organisations.

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