Damned if you Do; Damned if you Don’t
The case described in the case study “Damned if you Do; Damned if you Don’t” is a classic example of the abuse of power. It also shows how underpowered employees cannot act and how those who are empowered could, even when faced with dilemmas of dependency, power and objective. In the end, it is important to evaluate and pick the right alternative in order to be satisfied with one’s ethics and career.
Ken Hamilton is abusing his power as manager of Jenifer Chung by sexually harassing her, threatening her to receive a bad evaluation on her performance if she doesn’t agree to sleep with her. Jenifer, being not empowered enough to act against him, raises the issue to Fran Gill.
The big dilemma in front of Fran has several aspects: first of all, apparently she wants to be a role model for successful women in their career and has undertaken steps to get a job with a higher managerial position where she will earn more money and have more interesting and challenging job content. In her application process, she has asked Ken to be a reference for her, being a good friend of hers, and has also asked him to keep the process confidential because it would infringe her career path if she would remain at her current workplace.
Due to that there are three dilemmas that are on her way to action:
- There is the referent power that her friend posses over her – due to the fact that Ken and Fran are good friend she is appalled from his unethical behavior and at the same time is hesitant to act against him.
- Ken has an apparent information power over Fran because he is the only one who has the information that she would not like the others at Thompson Grocery to know she is applying at the drugstore vice-president position.
- Based on point 2, Ken has also coercive power over Fran because he is able to spread the information about her application which would be a punishment for her acting against him. In that sense, she is dependent on Ken as his recommendation shows both scarcity and non-substitutability.
- On the other hand, Fran would like to start exhibiting expert power by influencing people as a successful woman who works her way through for high-ranking career. In that sense, her ethics pull in the direction of helping Jen and acting against the sexual harassment.
Based on the four dilemmas above, Fran is faced with the following alternatives:
- Status quo: don’t do anything against her friend in order not to stop her application process. That would mean that she will receive her recommendation from Ken and apply for her vice-president position. However, she would feel terribly immoral because she has not acted as role model for women. Furthermore, it is important to note that she is one of the two finalists in the job application process, so as much as Ken’s recommendation is a limited resource, it is not of great importance.
- Wait and seek: she could keep a low profile until the application process is finalized in order not to lose either of jobs. If she get the job, she can act freely, and if she does not get recruited, she could prove to be a role model at her current job. However, the job evaluation process in occurring right now and Jennifer needs her assistance right now. A delay could mean that the harassment could continue. That would be also inconsistent with her logic.
- Resistance: Fran can resist all those complexes and influence her friend to act appropriately. As Ken is an acquaintance of hers, that should not be such a difficult task and he would correct his behavior. If he does not, she could use coercive power because even though sexual harassment is not yet criminalized completely, it is considered a serious ethical offense. Furthermore, that would bring the advantage of a normalized office relationship between manager and subordinate and increase work effectiveness and efficiency (quantitative criteria) and would stir up the ethics in a positive direction (qualitative criteria). It would also bring her expert power as a true role model for women’s career path.
In conclusion, faced with the dilemmas exhibited of Ken’s referent, information and coercive power, Fran’s ethics and desire for career path, the best alternative for her is to influence Ken in the direction of changing his behavior. She could use all nine influence tactics in order to make sure that Jenifer receives the appropriate evaluation, and in that Fran will ensure a powerful push for her career and ethics as she strives to be a role model for women at the workplace.