Organizations strive to be effective. However, conflicts within an organization can distort the effectiveness of organizations. Potential for conflicts can be found in all organizations. Nowadays there is a need for understanding what exactly causes conflict. With this knowledge, organization can decrease the possibility of encountering conflict. We can describe organizational conflict, as an open argument between two or more individuals/groups within an organization, which leads to a disrupt cooperation (Hatch, 1997). In organizations, conflicts can occur on a horizontal and vertical level. In our research we will focus on vertical level conflicts, which mean that the conflict takes place between people from different hierarchical levels. As Jung (2003) states, conflicts are clearly associated with power/ status within an organization.
Therefore, vertical conflicts can be caused by a lack of acceptance of status and power in a hierarchal model. This last point can be attributed to ‘power distance’, one of the culture dimensions of Hofstede. Our moderator model starts with the independent variable “status” that leads to the dependent variable “conflict”, and the relationship between these two is influenced by the moderator “power distance”. Our research question is as follows: Does power distance (moderator) influence the relation between status (IV) and conflict (DV)? If we found out that power distance influence the relation between status and conflicts, we found a cause for conflicts in organizations and then we know how to reduce conflicts, that is the importance of this research question.
An increase in status, the independent variable, will lead to a higher possibility of conflict, which is the dependent variable. Hofstede’s dimension of power distance acts as the moderator. Power distance explains how less powerful members of a society, in our case organization, accept that power is unequally distributed. A high power distance refers to an acceptance of a hierarchical order. A low power distance strives for equal distribution of power, and it asks for justification of inequalities of status (geert-hofstede.com). Therefore, our hypothesis is: If there is a hierarchical order and the status increases, the possibility of conflict will also increase. Especially if there is a low power distance.
In this section we will explain what our expectations of the outcome of this research are. If the status of a person in an organization increases that person will have more power over the other employees. We expect that there will be more conflict in the organization due to the fact that there is a more unequal distribution of status. The lower employees have the feeling that they have no say in things, while their supervisor or manager has everything to say. In general this will lead to more vertical conflict.
However power distance plays an important role in this. In organizations that have a low power distance, an increase of status will definitely lead to more conflict. This is because organizations with a low power distance strive for an equal distribution of power. The employees will most definitely disagree with the increase of status, and they will not easily accept this. However, in organizations with a high power distance, an increase of status might lead to a little more conflict. But the effect is not as described above. In such organizations there is a hierarchical order that is accepted, which means that we believe that an increase of status will be more accepted. Thus, leads to a lesser increase of conflict than when there is a low power distance.
We develop a research method in order to determine whether the relationship between status and conflicts is negatively or positively influenced by power distance. The research type that we will use is a survey, more specifically, a questionnaire. We explain the process of how we will do the research method down below.
Around 270 people of several companies will be asked during our survey. We supposed that 270 people is a good amount to complete the research successfully and draw a sufficient conclusion. The expected participants who participate in our research are employees, who have to be 20 until 65 years old in order to include the different ages and their views on organizations. We try to equally choose participants from both sexes with a different employment status.
We will ask, for example, a CEO, a sales manager and a janitor from the same enterprise to get a good overview through the whole organization and their thoughts about hierarchy and power distance. However, not every company has that much female employees in their organization. Therefore, we will ask more male employees than female employees if it is necessary. Furthermore, our participants will be from different continents, namely: Asia, Europe, and the United States.
We have chosen for three continents to take off our questionnaire in order to make sure that the culture of different continents does not have influence on the results. Another reason that it is a necessity to ask organizations in different continents is the need to get adequate results. We will ask in every continent six companies to participate in our questionnaire, whereof three companies have a strong hierarchy and three companies do not have or have a low hierarchy.
Furthermore, the three companies in every continent are divided into a small company with under 100 employees, a middle company with around 500 employees, and a big company with over 1000 employees. In every company, there will be 15 employees asked to participate in the questionnaire. The questionnaire will be taken off by the online-questionnaire method. We send the several CEOs of the companies the questionnaires by email. It is not possible for us to take off all the questionnaires face-to-face because of the geographical distance between the continents. However, we will provide the questionnaires with a very clear explanation about the questionnaire. We expect that the whole procedure will take around 15 minutes per person.
Our questionnaire will include 20 statements regarding to hierarchy and conflicts at the workplace. The answers varying from a number of 1 to 7, with at the left side strongly agree and at the opposite site strongly disagree. The front page of the questionnaire is about some general background information like their age, sex, status in the company, and their nationality. However, there are also some limitations associated with the survey. Firstly, it is possible that organizations and participants do not want to participate in the survey for several reasons. Secondly, there is a chance that people do not understand the questions right and giving therefore an insufficient answer.
Because we are not using the face-to-face method, it is not possible for us to explain the question clearly to the participator during the questionnaire. Lastly, there could be some message barriers because we make use of an online questionnaire send by email. For instance, the CEO does not read the email because it was marked as spam. To put all together, our research method is a survey, more specifically, a questionnaire with 20 statements regarding to the hierarchy and conflicts at the workplace. There will be asked 18 companies in three different continents with in total 270 employees. It is an online questionnaire send to the CEOs of the specific companies by email with clear explanations.
Jung, S. (2003), “The effects of organizational culture on conflict resolution in marketing,” Journal of American Academy of Business, Vol. 3 September, pp. 242-46.
Katz, D. and Kahn, R. L. (1978), The Social Psychology of Organization, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
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