The Fulfilling Workplace: Ronald J Burke & Cary L Cooper (Gower 2012)
The sub-title to this weighty tome is “The organisation’s role in achieving individual and organisational health” and the editors – Burke and Cooper – have enlisted a serious collection of academics from the field of organisational psychology to provide 14 scholarly articles on the subject-matter. It is 314 pages in length, fully referenced (as one would expect) and is definitely not bed-time reading!
Setting the context for the book from the economic and corporate travails of the last 5 years, the core theme centres around the individual barriers to productive work and the challenges of operating in an environment of organisational mayhem. It also investigates individuals as the cause of dysfunction at both a team and an organisational level. The book’s proposition is that a healthy workplace can be achieved by the development of healthy individuals and a healthy working environment. The concept of the ‘healthy workplace’ is defined as one in which individuals are able to bring personal resources, healthy practices, beliefs, attitudes, and values into a working environment in which the organisation of work adds value to the individual’s collective skills, abilities and experience. They summarise this latter bit as a healthy, non-toxic work environment.
After first exploring the social and organisational risks attached to human frailties and the toxic effect of corrupt leadership and ‘dark side’ personality, the first part of this book looks at the organisational initiatives to tackle both human frailty and the corrosive impact of hierarchical toxicity. The book then moves on to examine the desirable individual and organisational elements of healthy individuals and healthy organisations. In this section, work engagement – the active psychological state characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption – is reviewed and aspects of the intervention process are outlined: issues covered widely in the academic world that have been widely suggested to promote work engagement are job demands, job crafting, strengths-based approaches, work-life support systems, goal-setting, work-life support programmes and supporting psychological capital.
Other topics covered in the book include the role of passion in organisations. Linked to the growth in interest in positive psychology and strengths-based personal development, there is some interesting exploration into this topic associated with engagement, motivation and personal fulfilment at work. Social capital is also discussed at length.
The nature of work, classic motivation theories, the continuing existence of gender inequalities and ‘unfair’ work environments, narcissism and questions of corporate ethics are further topics, covered in detail and with persuasive academic rigour. The book concludes with a description of work done on corporate wellness programmes, and with attempts to demonstrate financial benefits from such initiatives.
This is a book of heft and depth, with contributions from the great and the good of organisational psychology. It was always likely to seduce me, an organisational psychologist, but it also has lots of thought-provoking sections with practical implications. It is also a fantastic reference book; something to dip into when encountering business-unit challenges of motivation, engagement, performance management and manager-frailty.
It is also a book that is unafraid to address some issues that corporations seem unwilling or incapable of addressing: leadership ineffectiveness, narcissism and the corrosive effect of having the wrong people in leadership roles.
Are there some downsides to this book? – well, that depends on your starting point. It is not designed to be a manual for practical human resources management. And it does not contain a ‘painting-by-numbers’ approach to solving your most difficult challenges. For the open-minded, creative HR professional the content of this book will develop the range of potential solutions to the difficult issues presented by our business partners. It will also inspire some readers to go / find other similarly-challenging academic papers that attempt to address the organisational difficulties we all face from time to time.
Rating: 4 out of 5.