University of Tasmania

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Organizational variation and the role of professional participants : a study of social welfare workers in three settings

posted on 2023-05-27, 16:44 authored by Roach, Sharyn Leanne
The theoretical problem under investigation is the location of professionals in complex organizations and the apparent incompat- ibility of professional and bureaucratic norms. A central problem within much of the discussion of professional employees is the emphasis upon ideal typical descriptions of professional and bureau- cratic organizations. This study develops out of a concern that although ideal types are extremely valuable in directing attention to central issues for research, their highly abstract character inevitably results in the blurring of organizational variability. In an analysis of professional-organizational relations exclusive focus upon ideal types therefore tends to obscure some of the imply- cations of different organizational settings for professional active- ities and for possible interdependence and integration. In addition, other significant sources of tension and conflict which affect pro- fessional tasks and professional authority are frequently ignored. In order to pursue this problem the approach adopted is both empirical and comparative. It focuses upon a single group of professional employees, but treats the type of organization in which they work as variable. The case of social welfare workers employed in three different organizational contexts was selected. The first type of organization examined is a hospital, the second, a government welfare agency~ and the third, a state probation service. Within the different types of organization, power and authority distribution, formal goals, and inter-occupational relations vary. The discussion indicates the unintended consequences which various organizational contexts have for professional employees 1 actual tasks and concerns. It also investigates and explains the conditions under which professional-organizational conflict and tension, or alter- natively, integration and harmony occur. Within each organization the position of social welfare employees in the division of labour, their location within the pre- vailinq authority structure, and their relationship with clients are investigated. The impact of these factors and the unintended implications of organizational employment for social welfare workers' activities, responsibilities and professional role expectations are described and analyzed. Within this framework the importance and role of education and credentials for social welfare personnel are considered. The major findings confirm that the type of complex organiza- tion does affect professional autonomy. The study shows that the potential for professional-organizational conflict and tension differs between various organizational settings. It also indicates that hierarchical authority relations and specific organizational rules and procedures are neither the only, nor the most important source of tension for professional employees. Hospital welfare workers tend to lack authority and prestige and therefore relations with members of the dominant profession, i.e. medical doctors, is the major source of conflict and tension. However, in the government welfare agency, potential tension and disharmony do indeed stem from hierarchical authority relations and specific organizational requirements. By contrast, the analysis of the situ- ation of probation officers indicates that employment in a bureau- cratic context does not necessarily result in reduced control either in the professional-client relationship, or in other occupational activities. This situation is suggestive of professional-organizational integration. The findings support the central proposition that ideal type descriptions are not sufficiently sensitive to organizational variability and therefore cannot cope adequately with the complex- ities that affect professional employees' actual activities and authority relations. Informed by these observations a re-formu- lation of those existing theories of professional-organizational relations which emphasize the inevitability of disharmony and conflict wherever professionals work in complex, bureaucratic organizations is proposed. This re-formulation involves a compre- hensive analysis of the situation of professionals in organizations which requires consideration of the unforeseen implications of organizational variation, differential authority distribution and relative prestige for professional authority, responsibility and ideology, and for control of the professional-client relationship.


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Copyright 1982 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1983. Bibliography: l. 131-137

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