Communicative Coworkership

Part II: Organizational Tensions

There is currently not much written about the communicative coworker, and therefore we do not grasp the consequences of these mounting expectations on the employee to be communicative in everyday organizational life; not only actively engaged in his or her work assignments, but also expected to participate in overall organizational dialogue. The lack of research means that we do not grasp how the coworker perceives, experiences and enacts these expectations. The concept of a communicative coworker is not unproblematic since it places high demands on employees in addition to skills in their professional roles, where they are also expected to be skilled communicators both in relation to colleagues and managers, and also to external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and media.


Simonsson (n.d.) describes how managers often get training, support and coaching in creating their identity as a leader, something coworkers on the other hand seldom receive in creating their identities as communicative coworkers. Ciulla (2004, p. 5) argues how employees in today’s organizations perhaps get more responsibility however not the tools required, such as time or knowledge, which she calls ”bogus empowerment”. The importance of employee participation is thus constantly put in the background when instrumental values ​​such as time and money, based on short-term goals, in the end is what is valued most for the organization (Cheney, Christensen, Zorn & Ganesh, 2010; Simonsson, 2002).


This form of organizational tension between the expectations put on the coworker and the perceived work situation, looking at the employee’s perspective of the tensions, is understudied in organizational communication research (Trethway & Ashcraft, 2004) and the understanding of the coworker’s perspective is generally underrepresented in a management and leadership oriented research field (Heide & Simonsson, 2011; Tengblad, 2007). Despite a trend towards the post-bureaucratic organization, where hierarchy is flattened and the coworker is considered to have a more active role in relation to managers and directors as well as ambassador of the organization externally (Tengblad, 2007), there is always an unequal balance of power between employee and manager. Leadership in itself is about influence, which inherently entails an asymmetric power relationship (Axäll, 2004).

Communicative Coworkership, Organizational studies

Part I: Communicative Coworkership – What is expected from us as coworkers?

The field of strategic communication is imbued with concept such as dialogue, participation and employee engagement, with communication policies and strategic documents employing this vocabulary (Heide and Simonsson, 2011). The communicative empowerment of a growingly self-dependent coworker, is based on the idea that employees should actively participate in dialogue and meaning creation, give and receive feedback on their actions and achievement, share knowledge and ideas, ask for support and listen to others, as well as act as ambassadors for the organization at large (Simonsson, n.d.).

Illustration by Anna Handell

Today in organizations as well as organization studies, we find increased expectations on the coworker to be engaged and participate in decision-making, presumably due to less hierarchical organizations which raises the status of the coworker in regards to management (Alvesson, 2004). The communicative organization is often cited as the modern organization that gives employees more agency and power, making he or she more participative and engaged, which in turn will create a successful business (Coreen, Kuhn, Cornelissen & Clark, 2011).

Illustration by Chris Gregori

This engaged employee requires more communication with and between all organizational members (Stohl and Cheney, 2001) since being able to interpret information and engage in creative dialogues are seen as capacities closely related to learning and innovation processes (Heide & Simonsson, 2011). The communicative organization is therefore considered to require communicative leadership, where the leader develops and controls the operations with communicative methods (Simonsson, 2002). In this organization where the central social practice is communication, it is not only common to talt about communicative leadership, but also communicative coworkership (Axäll, 2004; Hedman Monstad, 2015; Simonsson, n.d., Sveriges kommunikatörer, 2015), with the term communicative coworkership derived primarily from a practitioner’s area.Illustration by Jack & Wolf

The communicative leadership is considered to be dependent on communicative coworkership for dialogue to be conducted on all operational levels, since participation and communicative employees are seen as essential for the creation of value dialogue (Axäll, 2004) and considered to create effective organizations.

But what does this really mean from a coworker’s perspective?

Organization and leadership

Is the “open” office a way to control?

Christensen, Morsing and Cheney (2008) argue that research and practice in organizational communication seems to promote a kind of regulation of an employee who is opposed to participation and empowerment, in spite of a real-time picture of the commitment among employees. We can link this to a transmission perspective on communication, which in itself can suggest there are other reasons behind the open office landscape’s popularity than the pursuit of transparency and openness, and instead evolves about power. Deetz and Mumbay (1990, p.37, referenced in McPhee & Zaug, 2000, p.4) points out ”All communication necessarily involves the use of power […].” And an organization’s communication will thus always involve a production and reproduction of power.

From a management perspective, the open office can be seen as a strategy to control what is being said, something that can prevent negative rumors in the workplace. If managers are in the same room, employees should be more limited in what they dare to express. We can see traces from the rational school’s policies on staff and control (Scott & Davis, 2007).


Cornelissen (2012, p.171) talks about organizational silence as ”[…] corresponds to a ’closed’ communication climate because it involves a shared and widespread feeling among employees that speaking up is of little use, leading them to withhold potentially valuable information”. The focus here is the organizational culture and leadership as a basis for the communication climate being open or closed. On the other hand, one could argue the individual agent munity, and that this type of communication may find other channels, such as lunch breaks or digital communications in various forms (but that these channels themselves will have their implications in the communication process).

But Danielsson and Bodin (2008) and Toivonen (Larsson, 2010) points to the employees’ reduced motivation because of perceived reduced privacy and personal control. Jansson (2009) argues for the individual’s need for privacy and distance, and Galbraith (Scott & Davis, 2007) talks about the need for ”organizational slack” which means margins for error and reduced demands on performance. In an open environment where reduced performance does not seem socially acceptable, integrity, distance and margins may be difficult to create, and the open plan office fails to ensure these needs.


If open plan offices mean that employees keep quiet about what they perceive as sensitive information, such as negative results or incompetence, it could be bad for business in general, such as the ability for management to make decisions based on data existing in the organization. We can link this to Glauser’s (1984) perspective on unwillingness to communicate further if you feel that the information reflects poorly on your own work or character. The open office does not mean necessarily better knowledge sharing. The image of free communication flows may get dented if one reflects on the consequences of a boss or an employee no longer being able to invite to discussion in their private rooms. To ”invite” may well show a desire to create a personal meeting and also provide space for such physically, both factors that may be valuable for a personal relationship and better communication between the parties.

An introduction to Strategic Communication

What is a social intranet? Part I


On 25 September, Skåne University Hospital (SUS) went over to the same intranet as the entire County Council of Skåne as an organization now gathers under. All pages and news can be commented on, and opening day started with a live chat for SUS’s employees (Mattiasson, 2013). This is an example of what is called a ”social intranet”, which somewhat simplified terms is an internal organizational forum with information document and the opportunity for interactivity. The term ”social” stems from the term ”social media” which from a communication perspective can be understood as that new communication technologies are seen as social with active participants in relation to older media as having passive spectators as an audience. This is a blind historical glance since every time has had a similar discussion and each media form their social function and significance, such as the invention of the printing press, the velocipede, amusement parks, and cinema visits (Andersson, 1993; Ekström, 2010; Sjöholm, 2003). But an organization requires media to communicate internally. Cornelissen (2011) argues that organizations have to communicate with their employees in order to push morale and identification with the organization, and ensure that employees can perform their own specialized tasks. He sees it as a balancing act both to coordinate employee activities to achieve organizational goals, and also meet the individual needs. Larsson (2005) has a broader societal perspective and can explain social intranet as part of the trends of the time, that information should be disseminated by mass communication means, as well as a scholar perspective about two-way communication with active citizens.


But in contrast argues Christensen, Morsing and Cheney (2008 referenced in Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011) that research and practice in organizational communication seems to promote a kind of regulation of employee who is opposed to participation and empowerment, despite a contemporary image of promoting commitment among employees. This can be linked to the transmission view of communication (see among others Axley, 1984; Jansson, 2009; Varey, 2000; Botan & Taylor, 2004) and the traditional approach (Whittington, 2001), where rational planning from leadership direction leads to profit maximization which is seen as the organization’s objectives. Christensen and Cornelissen (2011) argues that the attraction seems to lie in the packaging of stability, order and predictability in an uncertain and segmented world. Coreen, Kuhn, Cornelissen and Clark (2011) is on the same track when they describe the conventionality in that communication itself organizes that stems from a sociological tradition of striving for social order. Here we see reflections in line with Jansson’s (2009) thoughts whether communication is inherently desirable and good.