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‘Because I need somewhere to vent’: The expression of conflict

through work blogs

Abstract

Employee resistance has traditionally been analysed as an activity that occurs in the work

organization. In recent years new Internet communication technologies, such as blogs, have

expanded the possibilities for employees to express conflict. This paper explores how these

developments can add to our understandings of employee resistance to the labour process.

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Got pulled into the office for my ‘appraisal’ today and got a look at the forms our

Management use to keep tabs on our performance… What amused me was the crude

tools they were using to appraise my performance. I shall explain; everything we do is

logged on our hand held computers. Every street we visit, every stop to use the toilet

(Which is logged in the twee little transatlantic idiom of the menu system as a ‘Comfort

break’), every car we start to book and end up moving on is in the hand held log. The

statistics off this are downloaded to industrial strength spreadsheets and turned into

whizzy flashy graphs, which mean absolutely dick. What all these graphs and flashy

thingies fail to appraise is the human side of the job…(a reproduced extract from the

blog of a parking attendant).

Introduction

This paper examines the new Internet phenomenon of work blogging. While the opening

blog extract only offers a limited perspective on this practice, it is positioned in this paper

that work blogging represents an expansion in the possibilities for employees to express

workplace conflict, and as a practice for employee to resist the labour process. In seeking

to research a practice that is typically undertaken in an anonymous fashion and almost

impossible to directly observe (Schoneboom, 2007), as it is enacted outwith the workplace

from a personal computer, the author distributed questionnaires to elicit from work

bloggers the reasons why they blog about the jobs that they do and the places in which they

are employed.

An important reason to investigate work blogging relates to the fact that employers

see such practices as a threat to their prerogatives and therefore, at this stage of affairs,

there is good reason to assume work blogging is be linked to employee resistance to the

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labour process. What has been written about the practice of work blogging – typically via

the popular media – seems to confirm this position, although we have no way of knowing

at present the level of effect such practices have on the labour process. For instance, the

practice of work bloggers have been criticised for causing potential harm to the employer’s

reputation or business interests (Spencer, 2005), being inconsistent with the business

mission (Joyce, 2005), and a way in which employers and their brands have been exposed

in a way not possible just ten years ago (Phillips, 2008). More impartial accounts, however,

portray work blogging as providing frontline news from the modern workplace

(McClellan, 2004). Here there are reports of internal struggles for power (Berger, 2005),

and details of what is ‘really happening’ on the front-line of public services (The

Guardian, 11 April 2007), particularly in the case of police work (BBC One, 2007),

teaching (Wallace, 2007), and that of civil servants (Oliver, 2008). Moreover, such is their

notoriety, work blogs have been increasingly reproduced in book style format (e.g. see

Chalk, 2006; Copperfield, 2006; Reynolds, 2006; Simonetti, 2006; Blachman, 2007;

Sticker, 2007).

Work blogging and similar Internet practices of employees have also aroused a

small degree of scholarly interest. Scholarly research undertaken so far rejects the view

that work blogging is a nuisance to businesses or represents a faddish and amateurish

enthusiasm for a transient form of communication technology (Keen, 2007). Instead,

research findings propose work blogging to be an emergent method by which employees

can overcome increased isolation in the workplace (Gely and Bierman, 2006), work

blogging has been compared to an artistic form of employee resistance and many work

bloggers should, in effect, be viewed as ‘intellectual descendants’ of writers, such as Albert

Camus, Henry Miller, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, and Nikolai Gogol

(Schoneboom, 2007). Work blogging, moreover, has been portrayed as an emergent means

for employees to achieve objectives conventionally pursued through traditional

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communication technologies, staff representative bodies and, self-organized work groups

(Richards, 2007). In effect, extending the view that people are turning to the Internet for

everyday purposes (Haythornthwaite and Wellman, 2002) to the employment domain.

It is surprising, therefore, to find that so little research has been invested in finding

out more about the opportunities that are currently being presented for self-organized

conflict expression via rapidly developing new forms of communication technology. It is

also all the more surprising to see work blogging neglected when labour process theorists

continue to re-visit the problems associated with conceptualising employee resistance

(Hodson, 1995), the alleged disappearance of employee misbehaviour (Ackroyd and

Thompson, 1999), how new management initiatives means researchers must look

elsewhere to see practices of dissent (Fleming and Sewell, 2002), and, how the Internet is

increasingly becoming a tool of choice for spreading information about employers around

the world (Collinson and Ackroyd, 2005).

The point of the paper, therefore, is to answer the following questions. For instance,

is it reasonable to promote the idea that work blogging represents a new and important

development in how employees resist the labour process? If so, how should we understand

this development, as writing about work is just not the same as opposing ‘organizational

goals’ in the work setting? This paper explores work blogging through the reproduction of

a small number of blog extracts and, as with the case with workplace ethnographies,

utilises data taken from self-reporting questionnaires to help get ‘below the surface’ of why

some employees elect to communicate conflict in this manner.

To begin to answer these questions, the paper is divided into four sections. First,

the debate about what constitutes employee resistance paves the way for work blogs to be

analysed later on in the paper. Following an overview of the literature are further details

and justifications for the methodological approach taken in the study of work bloggers. The

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analysis is presented in the final two sections, divided into the presentation of data,

followed by an overall discussion of the findings.

Contemporary debates on employee resistance to the labour process

What constitutes and how we should view employee resistance directed at management

control has evolved considerably at a time when conventional equivalents have remained a

marginal feature of the industrial relations landscape (Millward et al, 2000, Kersley et al,

2006; Hale, 2007). In this domain, labour process theorists have expanded what constitutes

oppositional behaviour to include a myriad of individual and collective employee practices.

Contemporary oppositional practices include gossiping (Noon and Delbridge, 1993),

distancing and findings spaces for escape (Collinson, 1994; Delbridge, 1995; Knights and

McCabe, 1998), silent protests (McKinlay and Taylor, 1996a and 1996b; Graham, 1995),

deliberate lateness and absenteeism (Palmer, 1996), monopolising tacit knowledge

(Delbridge, 1998; Storey and Harrison, 1999), manipulating work routines (Webb and

Palmer, 1998), cynicism towards supervisors (Taylor and Bain, 2003; Marra, 2007),

scamming and leaving (Mulholland, 2004), and, appropriating teamworking initiatives to

undermine management prerogatives (Vallas, 2003, Townsend, 2004; Richards and Marks,

2007).

Labour process debates that surround employee oppositional behaviour, however,

present less of a united front. The orthodox view concentrates on looking for less obvious

forms of oppositional behaviour in an era noted by a decline in traditional forms, such as

strikes, sabotage, picketing (c.f. Hodson, 1995; Thompson and Ackroyd, 1995; Ackroyd

and Thompson, 1999; Fleming and Sewell, 2002; Collinson and Ackroyd, 2005; Spicer

and Bohm, 2007). More specifically, the orthodox view is based on the following

premises. First, it is apparent that the essential conditions for oppositional behaviour are

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still present (Thompson and Ackroyd, 1995; Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999). Second,

changing methods of work organization and management of employment relations requires

researchers to see oppositional behaviour in a new way and go looking in places previously

off the radar (Fleming and Sewell, 2002). Third, there is a belief that contemporary

employee dissent, such as cynicism, refusing to take part in company rituals,

whistleblowing, making fun of the organization, psychological distancing, being hostile to

customers (Collinson and Ackroyd, 2005) require the use of participatory and longitudinal

research methods that conflicts with the average researcher’s broader commitments

(Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999). The fourth issue concerns the varying nature of

oppositional behaviour and how it can manifest in deflecting abuse, regulating effort,

defending autonomy and expanding influence (Hodson, 1995). A final dilemma is how the

quest to research new forms of self-organized oppositional behaviour has led to an over-

concentration on individual case studies (Edwards et al, 1995). Allied to this concern is

that focusing on struggles in the workplace ignores how a whole range of non-professional

groups are actively engaged in struggles with discourses of management beyond the

workplace (Spicer and Bohm, 2007).

The ‘Foucauldian’ turn looks at shrinking opportunities for oppositional behaviour

in the context of employee subjectivity under contemporary labour processes (c.f. Sewell

and Wilkinson, 1992a and 1992b; Sturdy, 1992, Collinson, 1994; Sewell, 1998; Knights

and McCabe, 2000; Sturdy and Fineman, 2001). The main basis of this approach is that

unproductive, recalcitrance and disobedience is significantly influenced by employer

incorporation of surveillance systems integral to new quality practices (Sewell and

Wilkinson, 1992a and 1992b, Sewell, 1998; Knights and McCabe, 2000a), the curtailing of

management as a privileged agent to the labour process (LaNuez and Jermier, 1994), the

radical re-organization of work aimed at serving intensified product markets (Knights and

McCabe, 1998), and, the widespread use of totalising teamworking discourses (Knights

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and McCabe, 2000b). Furthermore, Foucauldian labour process theorists are sceptical of

the determinism of power asymmetries and reject the irreducible relationship between

employee opposition and management control (Collinson, 1994). Instead, the emphasis on

opposition turns towards notions of employees exploiting spaces, ‘blind spots’ and

ambiguity left by management when implementing new control regimes (Knights and

McCabe, 2000a; Knights and McCabe, 1998; Sewell, 1998). One further important

difference to orthodox theory is that resistance is broadened as a concept to include

practices where opposition and compliance co-exist, such as ‘shifting work’ (Sturdy,

1992), ‘resistance by distance’ (Collinson, 1994), or ‘intrapsychic resistance’ (Sturdy and

Fineman, 2001). However, Foucauldian labour process theorists do not rule out the

possibilities for conventional or self-organized forms of opposition, although they believe

new management initiatives put significant constraints on these practices (O’Connell

Davidson, 1994). Instead a contribution is made in terms of an expanded analytical

framework to help further explain and understand such acts.

What constitutes employee opposition is complex and only basic principles have

been covered in this section. Resistance varies from hostile opposition to silent and

begrudging compliance. What is also clear is that resistance evolves according to

opportunity and employee ingenuity, yet there are tensions between labour process

theorists in terms of what should be seen as resistance and where we are most likely to find

it. However, external practices such as work blogging are currently peripheral to both

debates. An attempt to evaluate and locate such practices follows the methodology section.

Researching work bloggers and blogs

Potential research participants were drawn from a database of work blogs collected by the

author since early 2005. The database was assembled over approximately two years and

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involved the author regularly ‘trawling’ the Internet in search of suitable blogs. The test to

be included in the database involves the sourcing of blogs that contain strong references to

matters of a work-related nature. Blogs where work is an interstitial matter, emerging

perhaps only fleetingly when the blogger has had a ‘bad day at work’, were not considered

for the current study. Due to translation problems, only work blogs written in English were

considered.

By early 2007 the author had assembled a database of 744 work blogs (see figure

one) and is allied to a much larger and ongoing research project on the subject of

possibilities for employee empowerment through new forms of Internet communication

technologies. Around 120 of the work blogs are written by people in the UK. A further 50

involve work blogs originating from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. By far the

largest part of the sample comes from the USA. Collectively, all work blogs are noted for

depictions of the labour process in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ neo-liberal political economies. During

the period that the database was assembled many employees deleted or abandoned their

work blogs. It is estimated that with deletions the sample and database would have grown

to approximately 900. Many more work blogs were known to exist by the author and the

final figure of 744 is limited only by the time taken to sort and screen suitable candidates.

The database is structured on the basis of broad occupational themes (see figure one) and is

indicative, to a certain extent, of what occupations or professions are most likely to be

represented by work bloggers. Indeed, figure one suggests public servants, such as various

health professionals, police officers and educators, make up the majority of work bloggers.

However, private sector and low-skilled employees are also well represented in the sample.

FIGURE ONE GOES HERE

It was not possible to use the data collection methods typically associated with

studying emergent forms of employee resistance – participant observations and

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ethnography. Instead, an on-line questionnaire is the only method used to collect primary

data on work bloggers. The questionnaire approach was deemed appropriate for two

further reasons. One reason relates to accessibility to bloggers, as many bloggers write

anonymously and under pseudonyms to prevent wider identification and the possibility of

disciplinary action by their employer. Targeting a small group, as was the case with

Schoneboom’s study (2007), was judged to be ill-suited to investigating the broader

significance of work blogging. Due to the sensitive nature of blogging, most bloggers were

asked to take part in the study by leaving a comment on their blog inviting participation in

the current study. Researcher subjects were also invited to take part in the study via email

(email addresses are often found on the homepage of blogs). However contact was made,

each blogger was provided with a web-link to an on-line questionnaire and details about

the current research project – an approach that complements the nature of what was being

researched. As little was known about work blogging in early 2005, a range of open-ended

self-reporting questions were applied.

Questionnaire data gathering commenced in April 2005 and ended in October 2005.

Out of 520 requests made, 207 bloggers responded (39.8 per cent return rate). Three

returned questionnaires were unfit for purpose. The questionnaire involved ten questions

on the subject of personal work blogging practices. Due to the sensitive nature of work

blogging, the research author did not request personal details. Only data taken from the

first four questions are used in this paper. In the light of requests from the majority of

research subjects, all data taken from the questionnaires were anonymised so that no

discernible link could be made between the statements, the blog itself, and the individual.

Despite reassuring work bloggers, comments such as: ‘I have the fear of being identified

now’, appeared throughout the questionnaire data. Due to the nature of the questionnaire –

requesting qualitative responses to open-ended questions, techniques associated with a

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grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1968) were used to analyse the data. This

involved reducing similar themes in the data to broader and distinct categories.

Further data used in the current research draws on reproduced blog extracts. A

number of work blog extracts are used at the beginning of the results section to further

exemplify this practice, yet as has already been witnessed at the beginning of the paper,

written narratives that contain expressions of conflict do not readily reveal where this

practice fits with debates on employee resistance to the labour process. However,

reproducing work blog entries presents us with a range of unique ethical dilemmas. For

instance, while the Internet and work blogs are probably viewed by many as a technically

accessible domain, and accessibility is often equated with being in the public sphere, the

question of whether technical accessibility equals publicness is problematic (Berry, 2004).

In most instances work bloggers may knowingly publish to an open and worldwide

network, yet in the vast majority of cases, this practice will go unnoticed to the hundreds of

millions who regularly ‘surf’ the Internet. As such, reproducing work blog extracts in a

separate domain to which they were intended has the potential to be intrusive and harm

friendship or community-based networks. With this in mind the author followed ethical

guidelines by being courteous, civil, and respectful of the privacy and dignity of the

research subjects (Jones, 1994).

In practice this involved attaining consent for reproducing material taken from

work blogs. Work bloggers were contacted concerning permission to reproduce blog

extracts and in the process requested to put forward example postings based on themes that

relate to the current paper. As such, the author went to every length possible to make sure

that blog extracts were not reproduced so as to exaggerate their significance, and that

anonymity would be guaranteed throughout all data representation.

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Tales of the expected

The narratives of work bloggers vary somewhat in style and content, and a number of

themes run throughout the practice of work blogging. Some of following extracts

(shortened in some instances for the purpose of being concise) indicate why employers

may see work blogs as a threat and how ‘insider stories’ may attract wide media attention

and public enthusiasm. In reality the vast majority of work blogs represent nothing more

than employees posting honest accounts of the jobs that they do, and the places where they

work, to the Internet. By far the most common theme involves employees documenting the

reality of the jobs they do week in and week out. The following extracts are broadly typical

of work blogging practices:

There are times when my call center feels like a war zone. Because there are times when

our transactions may take several calls inbound and outbound to complete, we may have

multiple calls from different people before a customer is satisfied. On Friday the call

volume was brutal. Low on staff, problems with inbound servers and glitches in the

software combined to make one of those days... (call centre supervisor).

…I drew her blood a few days ago. She told me I wouldn't be able to, that no one ever

did a good job, and that I was going to hurt her. She had tiny veins that were deep and

the other nurses decided I should do this. I did get both tubes, and it did hurt she told

me. I haven't any cure for that - I've got to use a little needle to get in through the skin to

where the blood hangs out. I told her I was sorry it hurt… (general nurse).

The station has been locked up since 1:10 and even though it's been a very quiet night,

I've been catching glimpses of strange things out of my office window. When I could

see the outline of a shape on the stairs. I checked my CCTV cameras and I couldn't see

anything there. The fact it's 4:00 and I'm alone on the station has been freaking me out. I

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have to go and do a pre-opening station check soon, and to tell you the truth, I'm not

looking forward to it (security manager).

…First off the bat is packing customers shopping for them. Checkout Al doesn’t follow

the company rules on this, but then neither do 90 per cent of the other checkout

people… (supermarket sales assistant).

A further common theme of work blogs are self-authored accounts of employee objection

to management policy and practice. As was the case with the introductory blog extract, the

following extracts are exemplified by employee remarks on how higher-level decision-

making conflicts with how they go about their daily duties:

Somewhere along the way it was decided that Intelligence Led Policing was the way to

go. Apparently the police just reacted to what happened. So now we have offices full of

Analysts and other ESSO staff both police and, cue politically correct term, Support

Staff whose job it is to advise us, the shiftworkers, to patrol and what to look out for

whilst we are doing that patrolling. Policing led by Intelligence apparently… (police

officer).

Here is a circular I received today:

Dear doctor

Good evening, hello and welcome to your guide to MMC!

Now you may have heard a lot about this radical new restructuring of junior doctor

training and this letter is to make sure you are fully clued up… (hospital doctor).

However, work blogging is by no means a practice that entirely revolves around employees

telling outsiders ‘how it is’ or ‘sounding off’. Indeed, what is also typical is for work

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bloggers to use this forum to vent enthusiasm for their jobs, as well as to explain to

outsiders what they do:

One of the things that attracts me to advocacy is the basically non-judgemental

approach. We help people to make their voices heard: their own voices and their own

wishes. We don't give advice, we try not to let our own feelings or beliefs get in the way

of our work, we'll even help people to say things that we think are just wrong - in the

hope, perhaps, that by effectively saying them they'll be able to get into a debate with

other people that might help them develop more palatable aims… (advocate).

It is also common for employees to use their work blogs to re-tell and share with others

humorous anecdotes from the workplace:

Overheard on the corridor today:

"OK, go in, get into pairs and practice oral. I'll be back in a minute"

Wish I taught French (high school teacher).

It would be misleading, of course, to stereotype all work blogs as a forum exclusively for

the expression of conflict, or any of the other categories suggested. At this stage, it is more

accurate to think of work blogs as being record of how employees experience their jobs

over time. Many work blogs have been going for several years and as a consequence of

their longevity, for instance, employees who indulge in these practices go in an out of

varying stages of engagement and disengagement with their jobs. Although not covered in

the current research, work bloggers also, occasionally, make remarks about life outside of

work.

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Backstage with the work blogger

As an outsider to the work blogging phenomenon, it would probably be fruitless to observe

the employee when posting to the Internet. Further, it would be virtually impossible to

observe over 200 different employees, who perform a myriad of jobs, in a myriad of

organizations, who are dispersed far and wide across the world, and to check what they are

writing about fits with how the researcher or other parties viewed events. Instead, we must

pursue what is perhaps the next best option – within certain pre-defined confines, allow

work bloggers the freedom to detail why their job and place of employment is a major

theme of their extra-work on-line practices. This proved to be a sound strategy, as the data

concerning personal insights is noted by clear patterns and re-occurring themes. What is

more, because most work bloggers operate in networked closed-knit peer groups based on

similar occupational themes, it makes exaggerated comments far less likely and easier to

spot.

The exercise in itself is aimed at looking for insights into why work is a theme for

on-line practices, why employees turn to blogging as an external expression of their jobs

and the places where they are employed, why employees continue to blog about their jobs

over many months and years, and, who employees are connecting with when posting their

personal thoughts and experiences to the Internet.

Why is work the main theme of the blog?

The short answer to this is that work is important to those who take to the Internet to write

about the jobs that they do. Work may well be important to the employee, yet as will

become evident in the questionnaire data, many employees who use blogs do so to contain

frustrations with certain dimensions of the jobs that they do. For nearly 30 per cent of work

bloggers, venting outside of the workplace (in Cyberspace) is a new way of trying to

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temper the harsher elements of the labour process. The following quotes demonstrate this

in more detail:

Because I needed somewhere to vent (sales manager).

It is a way of relieving stress with others that may share my frustrations and it is a good

forum in which to exchange ideas (high school teacher).

I blog as a stress outlet. My workplace is unavoidably ridiculous and my writing

relieves the built-up tension (office manager).

Using blogs as a ‘metaphorical punch bag’ represents the most common primary reason,

yet there are many other reasons to make work a theme of the blog. For instance, a fifth of

work bloggers saw it is a natural forum for talents they could not use on work time. The

following statements, however, suggest work is coincidental when exploring under-utilised

talents:

I've always enjoyed writing, and always wanted a job which involved writing. The job I

was in when I started the blog didn't really give me the opportunity to write, so I started

the blog as an outlet (office administrator – started blog as a fast food sales assistant).

Writing has always been a hobby of mine and work seems such an obvious subject,

providing a never-ending source of material. The blog is a useful route to an audience

(emergency medial practitioner).

It is an emotional release. It is an outlet for me to express my creativity in ways

different (faster, more emotionally, etc) than in other aspects of expression more

traditional to my work (office administrator).

Further primary and common reasons for making work a central theme include keeping in

touch with friends, family, colleagues and similar professionals (14 per cent):

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[It’s] to connect with other teachers – only teachers understand the work (school

teacher).

The main purpose is for my friends and family to see what I have been up to. To share

pictures, etc... (high school teacher).

To build a network of people who have the same background as I (airline pilot).

Of similar quantity (13 per cent) are employees who set up work blogs to influence or

educate both insiders and outsiders to their professions:

To ‘share the “real story” of New York law firms with others (solicitor).

To share my experiences and encourage others to share theirs. To build a community of

nurses (general nurse).

People are interested in what I do (cancer research) because it’s mysterious and

challenging (oncologist).

Twelve respondents were vague or did not state a particular reason for making work a

central feature of their on-line practices. However, only an absolute minority (two) claimed

to blog as an act of outright defiance:

It’s a way of getting my own back at the bosses and it’s better than putting it on a

message board because of censorship rules (retail sales assistant).

For everyone's enjoyment, and to have a "dig" at [my employer] (TEFL instructor).

Why do employees turn to blogging?

The second question put to work bloggers drew similar responses to the first question. For

instance, 26 per cent saw work blogging as a strategy to release work-related frustrations

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and to release tension. However, the replies for question two also allows insights into why

blogging was preferred over more conventional methods of dealing with grievances:

I was frustrated with my management and how they did not care (call centre operator).

[I started blogging because of] utter frustration with my job! The blog allowed me to

moan about it without the fear of retribution, and to give my friends and family a break

from hearing me moan about it – instead, I blogged! (office administrator).

I want to talk to other teachers, I want to expose the teaching profession to others, and I

want to vent (high school teacher).

A further 24 per cent of work bloggers seemed far more content with the labour process

under which they were subjected to, and turned to blogging to keep a diary of what they

did each day. However, a certain degree of frustration and a touch of irony can be detected

in their responses:

Work is the main part of my life. What else! (oncologist).

It’s the easiest subject for me to write about (pharmacist).

To keep track of the things that happen at work - it's often too much to remember

(further education lecturer).

A clear departure from the responses noted in question one uncovers how employees turn

to blogging after reading the work of other work bloggers:

I was reading others and thinking I could do better (road maintenance operative).

Seeing the success of the Random Acts of Reality blog and that it had been well received

by the ambulance service (ambulance controller, emphasis added).

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I read a now-defunct blog called Male Librarian Centerfold and found that he was

having similar patron problems - it seemed like a good way to vent (librarian, emphasis

added).

Following on from wanting to start blogging after reading blogs was a desire to join an

established network of bloggers and share ideas and opinions that relate to the jobs that

they do (13 per cent):

To give people a glimpse into what I do. My work leads me to realise many of my

dreams - it is work, but it doesn't feel like it. I wanted to share that (call centre

supervisor).

This is the most liberating communication form I've encountered. It offers tremendous

possibilities for scholars, for ideas, for democracy, for the press, you name it

(academic).

To share ideas and teaching resources (high school teacher).

A further 11 per cent moved into work blogging primarily to offer realistic views of what

they did, often stating confusion on the part of outsiders to their profession:

It’s about portraying an accurate picture of life in call centres (call centre supervisor).

To give my audience an insight of what it's like to work in pre-hospital medicine,

furthermore, giving the audience an idea of the specific encounters prehospital

professionals experience working (emergency doctor).

Provide a more accurate portrayal of death investigation than television or books

(coroner).

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Further responses were minor by comparison and the only other discernible employee use

for blogging involved using this Internet platform to keep a professional development log

(3 per cent).

Why do employees keep on blogging?

In almost 50 per cent of the responses work bloggers reported that they continue blogging

for the same reason they started blogging:

The frustration doesn't go away! (high school teacher).

Sheer continuing annoyance with what we have to do each day (mental health nurse).

I am airing my own opinion. There is no other forum (waitress).

However, by far the second most popular response (33 per cent) found employees who

blog reporting a new found sense of community or popularity as the main reason why they

keep blogging:

No one in my real life will listen to me as much as my Internet audience does (waiter).

The feedback I get from my readers and my own desire to document some of the more

unusual or extreme elements of what I do (journalist).

I like the almost-daily writing, I have an audience, I feel like part of a community of

educators who blog (high school teacher).

I've had over 400,000 hits from all over the world (solicitor).

I am quite surprised at the readership I have built up in six months. I have about 500 hits

per day which is nice (flight attendant)

The fact that over 2500 people a week read it (lawyer).

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Further comments on the subject of why employees keep blogging suggests such practices

can become addictive (eight per cent):

Every hit I get gives me a thrill (call centre supervisor).

Once you start, it becomes something of a game, to see if you can keep going. I like the

connection with readers and other bloggers (psychiatrist).

I would blog even if no one read it but I have to admit the feedback and interaction with

my readers and others motivates me to keep going. It's nice to know someone

appreciates your writing (flight attendant).

Six per cent reported that they continued to blog about their jobs and the place that they

worked, but the emphasis changed over time:

It was about letting off some steam and now I see it more as a useful resource

(academic).

My work sucked so much when I started blogging. I realised I was in the wrong job and

now I blog about the excitement I have for my new job (office manager).

An exact amount (six per cent) reported that they had either changed the main subject of

their blog or stopped altogether after a while:

I've stopped now because I was getting bored and boring. In call centres, things come

around in cycles so it’s hard not to repeat yourself (call centre supervisor).

I don't really blog about work anymore (sales assistant).

Who are bloggers connecting with?

Responses for question four clearly confirms the collective angle to work blogging – an

angle that cannot be readily appreciated by business or media interpretations. By asking

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work bloggers who reads what they post to the Internet we see a side of this Internet

practice that would be hard to appreciate as an outsider or non-user of blogs. However,

around 30 per cent of all bloggers reported that their blog was not really aimed at any

particular group, or they were unsure who read it in the first place:

Anyone and everyone (hygienist).

Anyone who can be bothered to read it! I've never really thought of a target audience - I

just write what I'm thinking, and hope people find it (office administrator).

Not quite sure yet, no established audience (cashier).

By far the largest type of audience reported by work bloggers (46 per cent) involved

employees who work in similar jobs to that of the work blogger:

It’s mainly other teachers and people who want to be one (high school teacher).

Many are lawyers, but many are just regular net surfers who happened upon it, or

politically interested folk (lawyer).

Primarily other paramedics and EMS workers although I am finding a number of

readers who are not in the EMS field and are interested in what the life of a paramedic

is like (emergency medical technician).

However, a further 10 per cent of work bloggers indicate that it is a non-specific range of

adults who reads their blog:

[My main audience is] adults with an interest in how police officers think (police

officer).

Consultants and others in the pharmaceutical industry; anyone interested in an insider's

account of pharma (pharmacologist).

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A lot of people with some connection to the military. Then again, a lot are just people

who support the military and are interested in it (soldier).

The remaining 13 per cent of work bloggers indicate their Internet practices allows them to

keep in touch with family and friends when they work away for long periods of time.

However, the open nature of work blogging means that writing for people back home can

have unexpected consequences:

I find that it’s a good way to keep my family informed of events in my life while I'm

away at work. It certainly helps my family understand what I do better (airline pilot).

When I’m away from home I find it good to get what goes on in my head down on

paper. It’s also great way of keeping my buddies and family informed back home (civil

engineer).

Originally it was just for friends and family but these days I’ve found that quite a lot of

people who don’t know me are interested in what I’m getting up to’ (scientist based in

Antarctica).

Locating work blogging in labour process debates on employee resistance

The current interest in work blogs and work blogging was prompted by intriguing accounts

of such activity that have appeared throughout the popular media since circa 2004. The

media, however, produce largely biased and superficial accounts of work blogging,

particular from those whose main aim is to uphold the interests of business. Further media

accounts are less biased and centre on how work blogs can contain details of work

organizations that employers would prefer to keep sheltered from the outside world.

Despite a more balanced picture emerging of the practice, the wider and more impartial

stance on work blogs failed to grab the attention of labour process theorists and

Page 22 of 33
researchers. As such, it would be easy to make a further contribution to the extant

knowledge on work blogging, yet this is not the primary purpose of the current research.

Due to the unusual and novel nature of this emergent practice, the main aim of the

current research was to assess the extent to whether work blogging represents a new and

important development in how employees resist the labour process. As such, a further aim

was to consider how work blogging fits in with labour process debates that surround

employee resistance. The task of realising the main aims of the paper shall now begin, but

first there is a brief reflection on the methodological approach used in the current research.

The task of researching what is in essence a vast array of networked individuals,

operating in largely hidden subcultures, which in turn are embedded in a global

communication network, is by no means an easy challenge. The ideal approach would have

been to shadow and observe work bloggers in their place of work, as is the case with

traditional studies of employee resistance, and question them about their choice to express

themselves in this manner. This approach is not a realistic option, yet future study must

consider how two-way or observational techniques can be applied in the study of employee

Internet practices. Instead, and also related to fact that many work bloggers fear employer

reprisals for what they do on-line, an alternative data collection method was considered –

on-line self-reporting questionnaires. As is the case with all research methodologies, self-

reporting questionnaires have both strengths and weaknesses. In retrospect, a questionnaire

cannot deliver the rounded data that can be attained through interviews and observations.

However, a major strength of the methodological approach is that it allows the

procurement of very insightful data from a large pool of employees who are employed in

an equally wide-range of occupations and professions. The method, moreover, was

sensitive to the awkward situations many employees face when practising work blogging,

and without that consideration, we may have ended up with much more data, but that data

Page 23 of 33
would have come from a significantly smaller sample of employees and occupational

groups.

An opening assessment of the data suggests work blogging is not one homogenous

practice and appears to be pursued by employees for a number of reasons. As such, it is

fair to say that work blogging is primarily about communication and in this instance we

have an emergent, yet generic communication technology, being modified for one

particular, yet broad interest. Therefore, blogging allows employees a novel mode of

expression. It also seems that conflict emanating from the labour process will inevitably be

directed through this channel of communication and interaction. What is also apparent,

certainly in terms of those who contributed to the data collection exercise, is that whether

employees are happy with their work or not, employees seem far from satisfied with

current arrangements (whether provided by the organization or not) for discussing and

debating their jobs and the challenges they face at work. As such, the findings point

towards a shifting locus of conflict expression – from workspace to Cyberspace.

Conclusions of this kind follow recent research findings in that the Internet is being used

by ordinary people for an ever-increasing range of everyday purposes (Haythornthwaite

and Wellman, 2002). However, should we just simply view this as the transference of

‘office gossip’ (Noon and Blyton, 1993) to a new and external forum for social

intercourse?

Stepping up the intensity of analysis that little bit more and this time moving

exclusively to insights provided by those closest to the practice of blogging, suggests there

is more to this activity than idle and benign gossip, and that the current findings do not

support the wider thesis of blogs as ‘Cyber-waffle’ (e.g. Keen, 2007). The case to support

this view is built up over the following points. First, it is reasonable to assume from the

data that, in most instances, the environments in which the work bloggers are embedded

exhibit the conditions for conflict (Thompson and Ackroyd, 1995; Ackroyd and

Page 24 of 33
Thompson, 1999). However, in this instance work bloggers might well have been

aggrieved by some of the actions of their employers, yet for less than clear reasons direct

frustrations to the massive voids of Cyberspace, rather than through conventional modes of

expression, such ‘shop-talk’, grievance procedures or staff representative bodies. This

practice, therefore, appears to have strong parallels with the notion of non-directed conflict

(Edwards and Scullion, 1982). Venting through blogging, moreover, appears to be about

employees dealing with aspects of the labour process that they just cannot fully internalise

or adjust to. However, as the data suggests, blogging about work does not resolve the

problems of the employee and instead we see parallels (based on venting and

demonstrating compliance at the same time) between this practice and that of ‘distancing’

(Collinson, 1994), ‘shifting work’ (Sturdy, 1992), and ‘intrapsychic resistance’ (Sturdy and

Fineman, 2001). However, it would be more accurate to conclude that the practice of work

blogging includes gossip, but the practice does not stop at the trading of nugget-sized

anecdotes. The reality appears to be the creation of a shared space where dispersed and

isolated employees, who share come together based on common occupational themes and

language, can build a greater understanding of their individual and collective subjectivities.

This in itself departs in many ways from the most recent interest in self-organized labour

(Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999) that entirely revolves around the work setting. In the

Internet domain such practices are generally conducted entirely outwith the jurisdiction of

employers, likely to involve far more people than is typically the case with conventional

self-organized formats, and involve only those most committed to the cause. As such,

practices that surround work blogging are far less opportunistic than recent examples of

self-organized activities noted in the most recent crop of literature on this subject.

Therefore, at this level of analysis, the research findings point towards work

blogging being a new and creative form of coping with work (Delbridge, 1998; Storey and

Harrison, 1999; Noon and Blyton, 2007), rather than a forum for resisting the labour

Page 25 of 33
process, as noted in the most recent crop of ethnographic research (e.g. Taylor and Bain,

2003; Mulholland, 2004; Townsend, 2005; Richards and Marks, 2007). Indeed, if this is

the case then work blogging fits in well with the Foucauldian turn where employees search

for spaces left over from radical alterations to the labour process (e.g. Sturdy, 1992;

Knights and McCabe, 2000a; Knights and McCabe, 1998; Sewell, 1998; Sturdy and

Fineman, 2001) by seeking autonomy and respite in spaces they can call their own, for

now at least. Put differently, a Foucauldian view on work blogging would lead us to

believe that Cyberspace has become the latest meeting point for powerless and rudderless

labour. However, we must question this assumption as the analysis so far has almost

entirely focused on an assessment of work blogging per se, and less as a part of a much

broader and longer tradition of labour process research. As such, it would be premature to

label work blogging as ‘coping’ without a broader evaluation.

Intensifying the analysis that bit further requires the use of an analytical framework

developed over a much longer period of time than its Foucauldian counterpart. However,

in doing so requires us to be that little bit more hypothetical and put a little more emphasis

on possibilities rather than the actualities that emerge from the data. First of all, at one time

or another, employees use blogs to express disagreement with their employers.

Furthermore, certain dimensions of work blogging have remarkable similarities with some

of Hodson’s (1995) categories of employee resistance. For instance, work blogging may

not allow employees to regulate their effort, yet blogs could be used as an in-direct means

to deflect abuse, defend autonomy and expand influence. This suggests work blogging and

similar forms of Internet communication between self-organized employees has the

potential to play a much greater role in debates that surround employee resistance to the

labour process. Second, as Fleming and Sewell (2002) note, to keep the notion of the

employee as an active agent to the labour process alive, we must look for resistance in as

many new places as possible, especially if employers continue to close down conventional

Page 26 of 33
and unconventional opportunities for employees to express disapproval with the labour

process. The data suggests there is little doubt that Cyberspace can represent a new arena

for self-organized conflict expression, and this point merely adds to the picture noted most

of all by employer objections to work blogging practices. Third, the current research is

based on a snapshot form of analysis based on employees applying a very new Internet

communication technology. What this means is that when methods best suited for picking

up on employee resistance, as espoused by key writers on employee resistance (e.g.

Thompson and Ackroyd, 1995; Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999), are applied, then we may

find work blogging to be more about resisting than coping with the labour process. For

instance, due to new management control initiatives, it could well be the case that effective

forms of employee resistance may only be achievable with the communication and

information sharing capabilities that blogs and such currently present. Fourth, it is plain to

see that work blogging involves some sort of struggle over how the labour process should

be portrayed. As such, Internet-based and narrative-forms of resistance represent a clear

addition and new direction to debates that surround employee resistance to the labour

process. Indeed, Spicer and Bohm (2007) seem wholly correct in identifying a trend in

employees challenging management discourses, outwith the work setting, and outwith

professional forms of organization. The current practice of work blogging also adds weight

to Collinson and Ackroyd’s (2005) claim that employees are now more willing to trade

information about employers via the Internet with the express interest of resistance in

mind.

Conclusions

The current research set out to investigate the new employee practice of work blogging and

to consider where such practices fit with debates that surround employee resistance to the

Page 27 of 33
contemporary labour process. The analytical process led to a suggestion that work

blogging should be considered as a new form of employee resistance. However, the

importance of work blogging does not lie entirely in its newness. What is important to note

are the possibilities that are presented for self-organized employee resistance in the context

of the Internet being opened for ‘everyday purposes’. The contribution, therefore, of this

paper is to highlight how labour process researchers must not neglect the communication,

organizing and co-ordinating capabilities of new communication technologies that are

becoming more and more a common feature of all walks of modern life. There seems to be

great potential in these new forms of Internet communication technologies, yet this

potential will probably be never met if it is used, or understood, as a separate practice to

more recognisable and effective forms of employee resistance. What is required of labour

process theorists is to recognise the role new forms of communication technology may

play in both current and future employee resistance acted out in the work setting. The

recommendation is that research methods and ways to understand resistance must be

adapted to consider these findings, if we are continue to promote and discuss the notion

that the employee remains an active agent to the labour process.

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Page 32 of 33
Employment category Number Example titles
Education (high school) 98 Report Card
Nurse 93 The NHS Confessional
Police 68 Life In The Law Abiding Midlands
Medic 62 Musings Of A Disheartened Doctor
Office and manager 59 Thoughts Of A Terminally Bored Office
Worker
Emergency services 49 Confessions Of A Fire Control Operator
Education (HE) 36 A Lecturers Life
IT, technical and craft 29 That’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature
Retail 29 Don’t Blame Me! I’m Just A Sales
Assistant
Airline 27 Sorry, I Don’t Have Peanuts
Hotel and restaurant 25 Pizza Hut Team Member
Miscellaneous 25 Walking The Streets (traffic warden)
Taxi 25 All In A Days Work
Librarian 24 Loopy Librarian
Call centre 22 Call Center Purgatory
Scientist 15 75 Degrees South
Law 11 The Magistrate’s Blog
Military 11 Universal Soldier
Transport 11 Bus Driving
Education (FE and TEFL) 10 Daily TEFL Grind
Sex worker 9 A Day In The Night Of A Stripper
Actor and film industry 6 Diary Of A Chicago Actor
Total 744

Figure one: Work blogs by broad occupational or professional categorisation

Page 33 of 33