ArticlePDF Available


This paper explores the role of neoliberal ideology in workplace practices and in work and organizational psychology (WOP) research. It analyses how neoliberal ideology manifests in these two domains by using a prominent framework from the field of political theory to understand ideology through three different logics: political, social and fantasmatic logics. We explore the main neoliberal assumptions underlying existing practices in the workplace as well as in WOP research, how individuals are gripped by such practices, and how the status quo is maintained. The paper analyses how individuals in the contemporary workplace are henceforth influenced by neoliberalism, and how this is reflected in the practices and dominant paradigms within WOP. In particular, we focus on three ways neoliberalism affects workplaces and individual experiences of the workplace: through instrumentality, individualism and competition. The paper finishes with practical recommendations for researchers and practitioners alike on how to devote more attention to the, often implicit, role of neoliberal ideology in their work and research. The discussion elaborates on how alternative paradigms in the workplace can be developed which address the downsides of neoliberalism.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology
ISSN: 1359-432X (Print) 1464-0643 (Online) Journal homepage:
Neoliberal ideology in work and organizational
P. Matthijs Bal & Edina Dóci
To cite this article: P. Matthijs Bal & Edina Dóci (2018): Neoliberal ideology in work and
organizational psychology, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 07 Mar 2018.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Neoliberal ideology in work and organizational psychology
P. Matthijs Bal
and Edina Dóci
Lincoln International Business School, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK;
Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management,
University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa;
Department of Management & Organization, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the
This paper explores the role of neoliberal ideology in workplace practices and in work and organiza-
tional psychology (WOP) research. It analyses how neoliberal ideology manifests in these two domains
by using a prominent framework from the field of political theory to understand ideology through three
different logics: political, social and fantasmatic logics. We explore the main neoliberal assumptions
underlying existing practices in the workplace as well as in WOP research, how individuals are gripped
by such practices, and how the status quo is maintained. The paper analyses how individuals in the
contemporary workplace are henceforth influenced by neoliberalism, and how this is reflected in the
practices and dominant paradigms within WOP. In particular, we focus on three ways neoliberalism
affects workplaces and individual experiences of the workplace: through instrumentality, individualism
and competition. The paper finishes with practical recommendations for researchers and practitioners
alike on how to devote more attention to the, often implicit, role of neoliberal ideology in their work
and research. The discussion elaborates on how alternative paradigms in the workplace can be
developed which address the downsides of neoliberalism.
Received 25 September 2017
Accepted 2 March 2018
Ideology; neo-liberalism;
work and organizational
psychology; individualism;
The global economic crisis that started in 2007 continues to
affect societies and economies worldwide (IMF, 2016). Many
Western countries experience a sharp rise of income inequal-
ity, underemployment and unemployment (Galbraith, 2012;
Heyes, Tomlinson, & Whitworth, 2017; Piketty, 2014), and
thus continue to face concerns regarding social justice,
income equality and sustaining enough employment for the
people (IMF, 2016). Several authors have argued that the
causes of the crisis can be attributed to a dominance of a
neoliberal ideology in society (Harvey, 2005; Morgan, 2015;
Peck, Theodore, & Brenner, 2009). neoliberalism is a political-
economic ideology which postulates that to enhance human
well-being, it is necessary to maximize individual economic
freedom in society (Fine & Saad-Filho, 2017; Harvey, 2005).
Despite the academic work that has shown how neoliberal
ideology has contributed to the onset of the economic crisis
(e.g., Ayers & Saad-Filho, 2015; Kotz, 2009; Wigger & Buch-
Hansen, 2012), there is yet little understanding of how this
ideology has affected people at work (Delbridge & Keenoy,
2010; Harvey, 2005).
Moreover, itis striking how thus far the literature in the field of
work and organizational psychology (WOP) has neglected the
role of neoliberal ideology. This is important as it has been argued
that scientific research is profoundly influenced by ideologies
underpinning research questions and theoretical framing (e.g.,
Greenwood & Van Buren, 2017). Despite the calls for more
research on ideology in management (George, 2014;Grote,
2017), there is still little understanding of the role of ideology in
WOP. As it has been claimed that neoliberalism is currently the
dominant ideology in Western societies and beyond (Curran &
Hill, 2017;Harvey,2005;Morgan,2015; Van Apeldoorn &
Overbeek, 2012), it is important to analyse how neoliberal ideol-
ogy has affected WOP as a discipline, and in particular the
assumptions underlying research. On the one hand, neoliberal-
ism has affected the workplace and how people behave in the
workplace, while on the other hand, WOP as a discipline is also
affected by neoliberalism through incorporating neoliberal
assumptions in its research practices. There are a several pro-
blems resulting from a lack of understanding concerning the role
of neoliberal ideology in WOP. First, neoliberalism shapes main
assumptions within the field, and a lack of awareness causes
researchers to make choices in their research which are ideologi-
cally informed and may not be aligned with the values of the
researcher. Second, neoliberalism has been argued to have pro-
found negative effects on social justice and equality (Harvey,
2005), and lack of awareness of neoliberal ideology may legiti-
mize rather than contest neoliberal ideology in WOP. Finally,
pluralism of science is threatenedwhen scholars implicitly adhere
to a particular ideology without being aware of doing so.
This paper will analyse the logics underpinning neoliberal
ideology in the workplace and in the practices and research of
WOP. We will explain how neoliberalism has permeated the
workplace and WOP. In so doing, assumptions underpinning
WOP-research remain within neoliberal ideology, thereby lim-
iting pluralism of scientific research and narrowing the avail-
able discourse in which research can be conducted and
CONTACT P. Matthijs Bal
Thanks to Simon de Jong and Benjamin de Cleen for their comments on earlier drafts of the paper.
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
debated. Subsequently, the paper offers ways through which
neoliberal ideology can be better acknowledged in research
such that alternative paradigms can be introduced and
Ideology and work and organizational psychology
The concept of ideology is used in different ways in WOP, but
primarily in relation to how ideological beliefs drive workplace
behaviours. For instance, ideology has been defined as a
valued cause or principle (not limited to self-interest) that
are implicitly exchanged at the nexus of the individual-orga-
nization relationship(Thompson & Bunderson, 2003, p.574).
This definition is strongly tied to the purpose and values of
organizations (Bal & Vink, 2011; Thompson & Bunderson,
2003). Moreover, this perspective on ideology implies a strong
alignment with organizational purpose and how this is com-
municated to employees and other stakeholders. Using ideol-
ogy in this sense, however, runs the risk of becoming the
painting of a positive and appealing picture, legitimizing
certain interests and a specific social order(Alvesson &
Kärreman, 2016, p.140). More fundamentally, ideology consti-
tutes not only the explicit, intentional attempts within the
social order to create an image of society and the workplace
as it should be, but also the lesser known, invisible under-
standings of the social order itself (Glynos, 2008;Žižek, 1989,
Hence, it is needed not only to understand the role of
ideology at the level of intended purposes of organizations,
but also at the level of the social order itself. We therefore
need to study dominant practices in the workplace, as well as
how research and practice in WOP adopt norms about the
workplace. To do so, we will use recent work in the field of
political theory to explore the three logics of ideology, and to
analyse how these appear in the workplace and WOP (Glynos,
2001,2008). Glynos (2008,2011)) differentiates three logics
through which ideology permeates the workplace: political,
social and fantasmatic logic (Glynos & Howarth, 2007). These
three jointly explain how ideology affects the workplace and
WOP and since neoliberalism is currently the dominant para-
digm in the Western world and organizations we apply these
logics to neoliberalism.
Political logic refers to the political dimension of social
relations, and describes an ideologys core rules, norms and
understandings. Political logic explains how political discourse
influences peoples beliefs, how certain phenomena becomes
politicized or de-politicized (and thus non-challengeable), and
how political frontiers are constructed, contested, challenged
and transformed (Glynos, 2008). The final result of this process
of contestation and de-contestation is that some rules become
so axiomatic that they become invisible. For instance, indivi-
dualism as underpinning contemporary Western society is
presented not as something that is externally imposed upon
people, but is believed to constitute an inherent aspect of
contemporary society, or something that is intrinsically
good(Bauman, 2000; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier,
2002). Hence, in Western society, there are implicit rules and
norms that pertain to the individual responsibility of human
beings to be self-reliant and to ensure ones own success in
life. This has also been described as the need to become an
entrepreneur of the self(Bauman, 2000;Žižek, 2014). In other
words, people must design and develop their own lives, in
order to be functional and successful in contemporary society.
This neglects the fact that not all people may have similar
possibilities to enact their individualized responsibilities, which
thus may accentuate existing inequalities in society and the
workplace (Cobb, 2016; Littler, 2013).
Social logic is the actual manifestation of politicized rela-
tions in concrete practices, referring to how the political
dimensions are enacted and performed (Glynos, 2008).
Political logic informs social logic, and explains how and why
social practices appear or disappear, become dominant, and
how they are questioned and contested. Social logic thus
explains which practices are dominant in the workplace and
in WOP-research. For instance, the individualization of society
(Bauman, 2000; Curran & Hill, 2017) has caused employees to
become self-reliant, forcing them to negotiate their own con-
tract terms at work (Rousseau, 2005), and to be proactive at
work and employable(Parker & Bindl, 2017). In contrast,
those individuals who are less capable to do so, are not
protected anymore through regulation, through which they
are more likely to be forced into suboptimal, insecure jobs and
working conditions. Hence, dominant norms of individualiza-
tion and self-reliance in society are sustained and translated
into workplace practices, and individuals experience the
effects of individualism through the need to individually
negotiate contract terms which used to be covered by labour
law, collective agreements and HR policies.
Finally, fantasmatic logic explains why ideologically
informed social practices and political understandings appeal
to people. In other words, it explains how and why ideology
grips people, and thus, why its notions and practices come to
exist, become hegemonic and continue to exist (Glynos, 2008,
2011). It is argued that to sustain a dominant ideology in
society, fantasy supports the resistance to change of social
practices (Glynos, 2008). It does so by offering a gratifying
narrative to people that prevents the contestation of social
norms and the politicization of workplace practices, thus mak-
ing power relations less visible or even desirable (Glynos,
2008). Fantasy offers a way through which people can escape
into ideology (Žižek, 2014), thereby not having to recognize
the contradictions within the system and its practices through
means of disavowal. It is through such fantasies that people
are able to remain within a flawed system, and despite being
aware to some extent of its inherent contradictions, disavow
individual responsibility for sustaining current practices. We
now turn to the analysis of the dominant ideology of neoli-
beralism (Fine & Saad-Filho, 2017), and analyse its impact on
the workplace and WOP on the political, social and fantas-
matic level.
neoliberalism as ideology
neoliberalism is a political-economic theory about the
advancement of human well-being (Fine & Saad-Filho, 2017;
Harvey, 2005; Lazzarato, 2009). Moreover, neoliberalism also
constitutes an ideology, as it defines not only the implicit
understandings in society, but has also penetrated
common-sense understandings(Harvey, 2005, p.41), which
means that across the world, neoliberalism is widely perceived
as the natural state of affairs. Due to the hybrid nature of
neoliberalism (Peck et al., 2009), it is not surprising that
equivalent terms are used which essentially refer to the
same ideology, such as American corporate capitalism
(George, 2014), managerialism (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016;
Clegg, 2014; Delbridge & Keenoy, 2010) and corporatism
(Suarez-Villa, 2012). In the remainder of this paper, neoliberal-
ism is used as it concerns the most widely used term (Harvey,
2005; Van Apeldoorn & Overbeek, 2012). The core principle of
neoliberalism is that human welfare will be maximized when
individuals have ultimate economic freedom to act. In contrast
to more traditional notions of liberalism, neoliberal ideology
does not postulate that freedom is bounded by morality, but
that morality follows from economic freedom (Harvey, 2005).
The philosophy of unlimited economic freedom as part of
neoliberalism is based on the notion of the invisible hand
which determines in a free market the distribution of
resources (Sedlacek, 2011). neoliberalism therefore argues
that it is needed to ensure government withdrawal from the
market, such that the invisible hand can do its work in estab-
lishing a system where those who work hard are rewarded (cf.
the notion of meritocracy). Within the neoliberal perspective,
every human being is seen as a homo economicus, or a rational
agent, who acts strategically and out of self-interest and is
focused on utility maximization (George, 2014; Sedlacek,
2011). As every individual is supposed to make rational and
strategic decisions in social life, the unregulated, free market
will ensure that those with the highest quality for the best
price will prevail. In line with this theory, the government
should not interfere with the free market, and thus needs to
withdraw itself from the public sphere as much as possible.
Hence, the government needs to deregulate, privatize the
public sector, and withdraw itself from social provisions, such
as unemployment and healthcare benefits and social housing
(Peck et al., 2009).
neoliberalism also involves explicit attempts at reducing
the power of trade unions, increasing the number of tempor-
ary workers rather than offering permanent employment, and
the use of market principles in organizations (Bidwell, Briscoe,
Fernandez-Mateo, & Sterling, 2013; Kotz, 2009). The rise of pay
for performance, and the reduced role of employers in provid-
ing benefits to employees (such as retirement or health care
benefits) have all been seen as neoliberal practices at work
(Bidwell et al., 2013; Morgan, 2015). The hypothesized end
result of these activities is a completely free market, where
organizations can openly compete with each other, and where
people can freely consume against the best price for the
highest quality (Harvey, 2005).
Another aspect of neoliberalism is the commodification of
everything(Harvey, 2005, p.165). This entails the notion that
every aspect of human life should be exchangeable on the
market, as the market operates as an ethicin itself. On the
free market, not only goods and services are exchanged for
money, but also labour itself. Work in neoliberalism is nothing
more than another commodity. People sell their labour to an
organization in return for a salary, and thus, labour becomes a
commodity that can be freely exchanged on the labour
market. This constitutes a transactional perspective on the
employment relationship (Rousseau & McLean Parks, 1993),
and in particular the notion that all employees have to indivi-
dually negotiate their own contract with an employer (Harvey,
2005). Hence, in neoliberalism the meaning of work is reduced
to a mere transaction between two parties, thereby neglecting
the intrinsic meaning of work and employment relationships
for people.
Effects of neoliberal ideology
neoliberalism has had various effects. First, deregulation, pri-
vatization and governmental withdrawal from social provi-
sions have caused power to shift from governments towards
(multinational) corporations (George, 2014). As the free market
focuses on competition among organizations, shareholder
value and profit maximization (Lazonick, 2014; Porter &
Kramer, 2011), a distinction is created between the winners
and the losers in the free market. Consequently, a small num-
ber of organizations and individuals have been able to control
a substantial share of the (global) market (Vitali, Glattfelder, &
Battiston, 2011). This growing gap between powerful corpora-
tions and individuals has led to greater income inequality
(Bidwell et al., 2013; Cobb, 2016; Galbraith, 2012), which is
indicative of the contrast between neoliberal ideology with
the experienced reality of people. As free markets favour the
strongest, and without the protection of governmental regu-
lation (e.g., healthcare, unemployment and housing benefits),
it is the vulnerable people who are most likely to suffer from
the implications of increased self-reliance (Bauman, 2000).
Hence, growing inequality shows how ideology and the
experiences of people are increasingly dissonant (Stiglitz,
2012; Wisman, 2013).
An analysis of neoliberal impact on the workplace
and WOP
Our main argument is that neoliberal ideology has profoundly
impacted the workplace and WOP as a discipline. Ideology is
largely implicit, and about what is not said(Glynos, 2008;
Žižek, 1989). Hence, it is often difficult to directly assess the
influence of ideology on the workplace and scholarly articles,
as its impact can be rather implicit and hidden. Moreover,
many scholars in WOP may be unlikely to identify fully with
neoliberal ideology. However, as scholars (including the
authors of the current article) are also part of a system that
is permeated by neoliberal ideology, they are both pushed to
focus on the neoliberal elements within WOP, and pulled
towards neoliberal ideology, through the fantasies explained
below (Glynos, 2001,2008). The (original) intentions of a
researcher, and the ways research is interpreted and used to
prescribe practices dictated by neoliberal ideology may be
disconnected (see for instance research on employability;
Chertkovskaya, Watt, Tramer, & Spoelstra, 2013). Table 1 pre-
sents an overview of the three logics used to understand the
precise impact of neoliberal ideology on both the workplace
and WOP. This model describes a somewhat generalized
reflection of how neoliberalism permeates the workplace,
while reality is more nuanced and featured by contradictions.
Political logic of the workplace
The political logic of neoliberalism in the workplace is three-
fold. First, instrumentality refers to how people and resources
are valued, and is closely aligned with the principle of com-
modification (Harvey, 2005). In neoliberalism, everything
becomes instrumental to generate profitability, including
labour and people in organizations. At the same time, people
are supposed to be rational utility maximizers (Harvey, 2005),
who are likely to perceive any other party in the market
equally instrumental towards the achievement of ones own
goals. Under neoliberalism, organizations are alike in their
focus on profit maximization and shareholder value (Porter &
Kramer, 2011), and therefore treat everything as a commodity
that can be used to generate profit. People are merely instru-
mental to the achievement of organizational goals, and vice
versa, people are likely to approach the relationship with an
employer solely with instrumental goals in mind. Thus, the
employment relationship is nothing more than an instrumen-
tal exchange between two parties, which does not have any
value beyond an instrumental one. For the organization, there
is no need to invest in the employee, unless it contributes to
organizational goals. When profitability or shareholder value
can be increased by laying off people, there is essentially no
argument against it (Gilbert, 2000). Hence, political logic deter-
mines the workplace to be instrumental, and driven by trans-
actional agreements between employee and organization.
A second political logic in relation to the workplace is the
focus on individualism (see Table 1). neoliberalism is inher-
ently an individualistic ideology (Harvey, 2005), through posi-
tioning the utility for the individual as central to the structures
of society. Each individual is expected to be self-interested,
and to pursue maximization of ones own outcomes.
Individualism refers not only to the opportunity for individuals
to pursue their individual goals and desires, but also to the
individual responsibility and accountability for ones actions
and well-being (Bauman, 2000; Harvey, 2005). Hence, in neo-
liberalism, people are expected to be self-reliant, and to
ensure their own well-being, education, employability, wealth,
societal success and so on (Oyserman et al., 2002).
In consequence, the contemporary worker has become his
or her own mini-capitalist, an entrepreneur of the self, invest-
ing in his/her own future, including ones education and
health (Bauman, 2000;Žižek, 2014). Whereas education, health
and unemployment benefits used to be rights in the welfare
states, this is increasingly replaced by a system where one has
to individually invest in ones own future and employability
(e.g., through paying high university fees, health care and
unemployment insurance, and personalized pension plans;
Žižek, 2014). The rationale for this is through the rhetoric of
opportunity and free choice. The contemporary worker has
the opportunity to invent her/himself (Bauman, 2000), and has
a free choice over how to design her/his life and career.
Freedom of choice implies that people are truly free, however,
their freedom is limited to the extent that they are free to
make the right choices, which are externally determined
through ideology (Žižek, 1989). If one makes the wrong
choice, one loses the freedom to chooseitself. In other
words, the contemporary human being has a free choice to
be an entrepreneur, but by making the wrongchoice, loses
the right to do so, which leads to either unemployment or
precarious work (Bauman, Bauman, Kociatkiewicz, & Kostera,
Competition represents the third political logic. At the
organizational level, competition has co-aligned with the neo-
liberal doctrine of privatization (e.g., of health care, education,
energy and public transport). Organizations are postulated to
compete with each other on the market, and accordingly
organizations need to be managed such that they are compe-
titive (e.g., through creating sustained competitive advantage;
Barney, 1991). However, employees also have to become
competitive on the labour market, where existing organiza-
tional practices such as selective hiring and talent manage-
ment support a system of competition among employees for
the best careers, jobs and positions (Delbridge & Keenoy,
2010). The result is that employees are no longer focused on
being skilled in a job or developing themselves to fulfil intrin-
sic needs for development (Bal, 2017), but to outcompete
others for the best jobs and careers. This leads to an extrinsic
motivation where individuals should be competitive, educate
themselves, engage in organizational citizenship behavior,
and build up competitive CVs to be more employable and
desirable than others (Lazzarato, 2009). In sum, neoliberal
political logic dictates about the instrumental, the individua-
lized and the competitive nature of the contemporary work-
place. The next question, however, is how these manifest in
concrete workplace practices.
Social logic of the workplace
The social logic pertains to how ideology manifests in con-
crete practices in the workplace, and how people enact these
norms (Harvey, 2005; Morgan, 2015). In particular, there are
several aspects of the workplace in which neoliberal ideology
manifests: the prevalence of the business case,
Table 1. Logics of neoliberal ideology in the workplace and WOP.
Neoliberal ideology
Work and organizational psychology
Social logic Business case
Decline of
Control and
Instrumentality of employees
goals in scientific models, and
topics of research
Growing interest in individualized
Practical recommendations to
improve organizational
Use of theory, models and con-
cepts to explain contribution of
individual employees to organiza-
tional performance
Meritocracy &
Growth & pro-
Harmonious employment
Social engineering
individualization as a process and the decline of collective
labour agreements, the contractualization of employment,
and the rising impact of quantitative assessment, control and
monitoring. Jointly, they explain how neoliberalism has per-
vaded the very nature of how the workplace is constructed.
The emphasis on instrumentality and competition in the
workplace has manifested through the use of the business
casein the management of organizations: every action and
investment of the organization and the people working for the
organization should contribute to the competitiveness of the
organization (Greenwood & Van Buren, 2017; Harvey, 2005).
The use of the business case aligns with the idea of organiza-
tions being primarily instrumentally managed: all that takes
place in the organization should be contributing to organiza-
tional performance, profit and shareholder value, and all
employee activity is subject to these goals. Moreover, the
business case also aligns with the idea of competition: as
every organization is competing with other organizations in
the free market, organizations need to justify every investment
and expenditure in line with the business case. Employees
themselves are integral part of this, where their value is purely
instrumental to the organization, and therefore they must
continuously prove their worth in competition with other
employees or applicants.
For organizations and neoliberal governments to realize
this potential of the business case organization, where every-
thing and everyone is instrumental and competitive, it has
been well-documented how the power of trade unions has
systematically been reduced since the 1980s (Harvey, 2005;
Morgan, 2015). Consequently, the decline of collective repre-
sentation and labour agreements co-aligned with the process
of individualization of society and workplaces.
Individualization differs from individualism, as the latter is
defined by the independence of people from each other
(Oyserman et al., 2002), while the former refers to the process
of change within societies where individuals increasingly per-
ceive themselves as individuals rather than part of collectives,
and where societal structures are gradually adapting to a more
individualized nature of its structures and norms (Bal, 2017).
Inherent to the process of individualization, are changes such
as individual employees increasingly having to arrange their
own work conditions, and becoming less reliant on existing
(protective) regulation. For instance, the rise of temporary
work and self-employed contractors provide organizations
with the desired flexibility to hire and fire workers at will
without the necessity to provide lifetime employment and
benefits such as development, job security and work-life bal-
ance (Bal & Jansen, 2016). Consequently, the employment
relationship can increasingly be described as transactional
(Bal, 2017; Rousseau & McLean Parks, 1993), whereby the
value of long-term commitment to organizations has lost its
Instrumentality, individualism and competition have also
led to a focus on quantitative assessment, control and mon-
itoring within organizational life. To ensure that organizations
become and remain competitive, organizations need to
become efficient (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016). To implement
comparable ways to establish the efficient organization,
managers need quantitative measures to compare employee
performance. While these provide ways of comparison, they
do not necessarily carry validity and reliability of what they
intend to measure. Moreover, while the desire to be competi-
tive meant that all processes, activities and people in organi-
zations needed to be comparable using quantitative
measures, the resulting bureaucracy has led to the contradic-
tion of the hyperflexible, yet bureaucratic organization, where
people are closely monitored in their daily activities (Alvesson
& Spicer, 2016). In other words, for organizations to be com-
petitive, it is needed that comparisons can be made between
organizations and within organizations. The use of strict mon-
itoring and control has therefore become a central aspect of
the contemporary workplace (Vallas, 1999), strongly affecting
employeeswork experience.
Fantasmatic logic of the workplace
Fantasmatic logic explains why the practices discussed above
continue to exist, by revealing the underlying motives through
which such practices appeal to and grip people (Glynos, 2008,
2011), and thus are actively maintained by them. We identify
three elements within neoliberal ideology which pertain to the
fantasy-level: the freedom fantasy, the logic of meritocracy
and social Darwinism, and the belief in growth and progress.
Individual freedom as a fundamental value has always been
at the centre of neoliberal thought (Freeden, 2003; Harvey,
2005). neoliberal ideology appeals to people by emphasizing
the importance of peoples freedom to choose, and their
ability to make decisions for themselves (Ayers & Saad-Filho,
2015; Bauman, 2000). Individual freedom (and well-being) is
ensured by the freedom of the market, the deregulation of
everything, and the liberation of the individual as entrepre-
neur (Bauman, 2000; Harvey, 2005). At the heart of neo-liberal-
ismsfreedom fantasy is the notion that neoliberalism is the
exclusive guardian of freedom, defending it from the interven-
tionist and regulating state, paternalistic forms of organizing
and oppressive collectives. Thus, the role of the state shall be
limited to ensuring freedom and a well-functioning market
(Harvey, 2005).
In the domain of work, (individual) freedom in the neolib-
eral organization refers to the individuals freedom to choose
(and leave) their employer, the freedom to negotiate for one-
self, the freedom to design ones time arrangements, and the
freedom to manage and design ones career and development
at work (Harvey, 2005; Hornung, Rousseau, & Glaser, 2008). As
opposed to the rigid and bureaucratic burdens of collective
action and state intervention, neoliberalism offers the freedom
of flexible labour relations and flexible time arrangements. The
deal that the paternalistic organization used to offer to
employees was a power for patronagebargain (Schwalbe
et al., 2000): the employee accepted their subordination to
organizational authorities and interests and in return offered
loyalty to the organization. The organization offered life-long
employment and benefits in exchange for the work and com-
mitment of the employee (Sims, 1994).
neoliberal ideology offers freedom to the individual, which
replaces patronage. In the centre of the freedom fantasy is the
agentic and free individual who can take care of her/himself,
who is in no need of the states, the organizations or any
authoritys protection. The price the individual must pay for
this freedom is to accept responsibility for their own employ-
ment and well-being (Bal & Jansen, 2016). If the individual fails
to succeed, it is their personal failure as entrepreneur of the
self(Harvey, 2005; Kalleberg, 2009). The freedom fantasy
implies that neoliberalism has emancipated the individual
from the heavy burdens of the bureaucratic, rigid relations of
the paternalistic organization, trade unions and collective
organizing, and instead, offers the individual the freedom to
assert oneself on the market, compete with others and realize
ones interests. Through this fantasy, neoliberalism gripsthe
individual, and makes individualization, competition and
instrumentality seem appealing and desirable as it offers free-
dom to the people.
The freedom fantasy is closely related to the second fantas-
matic logic that neoliberalism offers, the fantasy of meritoc-
racy. Meritocracy has been described as the notion that merit
and talent should be the basis for how people are rewarded in
society and the workplace (Ayers & Saad-Filho, 2015; Castilla &
Benard, 2010). Success is primarily the result of willpower, hard
work and an enterprising mind (and not of ones largely
inherited social, cultural and economic capital, Bourdieu,
1986). Thus, the fantasy of meritocracy refers to the belief
that all people get what they deserve (Littler, 2013).
Meritocracy is important in the context of neoliberalism, as
its principle of fairness in the distribution of talents and suc-
cess in life legitimizes the status quo and the position of
existing elites, as they have deserved their position due to
their innate talents and hard work.
While research shows that actual meritocracy is largely
absent in contemporary society (Fine & Saad-Filho, 2017;
Littler, 2013), the ideal of meritocracy remains a powerful
force in sustaining hegemonic, neoliberal ideology in society,
thereby underpinning the viability of current practices (Glynos,
2008). Hence, the ideas underlying meritocracy constitute a
fantasy, because at present resources are not distributed in
line with each individuals talents and efforts as applied
through their daily labour (Littler, 2013), but are increasingly
clustered at the top. Innate differences and structural power
differences are often de-emphasized in neoliberal ideology
(Burke, 2013). By emphasizing the relationships between effort
and merit, neoliberal ideology ignores structural differences
among people due to privilege, including ones social class,
ethnicity or gender (Burke, 2013; Littler, 2013).
The logic of meritocracy is closely related to Social
Darwinism (Tienken, 2013). Social Darwinism departs from
the point of view of natural selection, and that the fittest will
survive, or those who are best able to adapt to changing
circumstances in the environment (Tienken, 2013). The fantas-
matic logic of neoliberalism pertains to the natural selection
between those who are able to survive and thrive in the
contemporary workplace and those who are unable to do so.
The latter group will be forced into suboptimal work condi-
tions, such as temporary work, job insecurity, low pay, few
opportunities for developments and so forth. The evolutionary
logic of social Darwinism complemented with the idea of
meritocracy offers a compelling rationale for the neoliberal
organizing of society. Similar to how successful human evolu-
tion depended on the survival of the fittest, for the sake of
progress of human society and for the sake of well-functioning
organizations, the strong and capable must succeed.
Competition is thus seen as indispensable and fair, given
that everyone has the same chances to succeed in it (Harvey,
2005). Moreover, this fantasmatic logic does not only legiti-
mize individualization and instrumentalization, but makes
these processes seem desirable. In a competitive but fair
setting, where the legitimate end goal is outperforming others
and winning, everyone should be individualistic and instru-
mentally orientated. Within this logic, where individual success
is the guarantee of societal success, it is fair that other people
become individualistic and instrumental in the journey
towards ones self-realization.
Besides people internalizing the drive to compete with
others (and individualize and instrumentalize themselves and
others in the process), the above mentioned neoliberal fanta-
sies have yet another function. They legitimize the notion that
in a society organized around competition, there will always
be losers. Because the losers of neoliberal competition are
the feeble who did not make use of their freedom and oppor-
tunities, it is legitimate that they do not receive support and
protection from poverty and isolation (Harvey, 2005). They are
the unfortunate but inevitable by-products of fair competition.
These fantasies therefore serve the purpose of soothing peo-
ples conscious in the face of social injustice and exploitation.
In so doing, they prevent the contestation of power relations
and collective mobilization, and ultimately, ensure sustaining
work practices (Glynos, 2008).
In neoliberalism, there is another set of underlying beliefs,
one that we identify as the fantasy of growth and progress. This
fantasy is twofold: it concerns a belief that when people exert
effort and become more productive, they will grow both in
status and as a person, but it also involves a belief that this
growth is inherently good. The notion that an individual stops
growing (in status or personally), or a society not making
progress anymore, falls beyond the scope of the fantasy. The
explanation of this resides in the meaning of fantasy itself; a
fantasy always involves a desire for more, for accumulation of
possession, status, or fulfilment (Žižek, 1989).
On the societal level, this fantasy has been institutionalized
through the growth-economy; whenever a country stops hav-
ing economic growth, it immediately enters a recession, with
all associated negative consequences, such as mass layoffs
and unemployment (Sedlacek, 2011). At the individual level,
people depend on their market value for survival and success
in a society organized around competition, where traditional
welfare state structures, labour unions and social support
systems are being dismantled (Harvey, 2005). In such a setting
the individual is susceptible to the fantasy of personal growth
and becomes overly focused on their individual progress and
development, which is identical to continuously maintaining
and enhancing ones own market value. This way, the indivi-
dual instrumentalizes, commodifies and exploits her/himself.
This is the mechanism through which fantasmatic logic pre-
serves hegemonic ideology: being gripped by the fantasy, the
individual internalizes the ideology to the extent that it
becomes integral part of the individuals identity and aspira-
tions. This way, there is no need for exercising coercive power
for the ideology to maintain its hegemonic position in
organizations and society (Glynos, 2008). Furthermore, the
belief in growth and progress is yet another fantasmatic
device that smoothens out the ambiguities of neoliberalism.
If the ultimate goal is to grow and progress, then the growth
and progress of a few is not only fair, but ultimately beneficial
for society as a whole (Harvey, 2005). The growth and progress
fantasy thus makes a competitive, individualistic and instru-
mental stance in society look reasonable and even inevitable:
if it is the individuals striving for personal growth and pro-
gress that makes society as a whole well-functioning, then it is
entirely legitimate and desirable that individuals care primarily
about their own interests, strive to outcompete others and
regard others instrumental in this process.
Political logic of work and organizational psychology
The political logic of WOP can be understood in similar ways
to political logics underpinning the workplace. An implicit
assumption underlying the field of WOP pertains to positivism,
with a specific intention to study the workplace as it is,orin
objective ways (Bal, 2015; Keenoy & Delbridge, 2010).
However, a positivistic stance already implies a political logic,
as it depoliticizes WOP-research claiming that it is non-ideolo-
gical (Žižek, 1989). Within the positivist paradigm, research is
meant to convey the truth and thus, its axioms, constructs,
theories, methods and findings are not to be challenged (at
least not on a political basis). Yet, every scientific discipline has
an ideological dimension, even if holders of hegemonic ideol-
ogies often claim that their beliefs are not ideological but
reflect how things really are (Freeden, 2003). Therefore it is
important to take into account the ideological beliefs under-
pinning WOP. Even though there is some attention in WOP for
themes resulting from experienced neoliberal ideologysuch
as inequality (Cobb, 2016) and insecurity (Vander Elst, Näswall,
Bernhard-Oettel, De Witte, & Sverke, 2016), the influence of
instrumentality, individualism and competition are deeply
integrated into the implicit assumptions underlying WOP
research. While few WOP-researchers may identify themselves
as being neoliberal scholars, we are operating in a system that
pressures us to adhere to neoliberal principles, even though
personally we may not agree with them. It is therefore of
utmost importance to assess our assumptions and to critically
evaluate these.
First, the instrumental perspective underpins WOP theory
and research as much as it underpins the contemporary
employment relationship (Baruch, 2015). This means that
WOP research primarily approaches the employment relation-
ship in instrumental, transactional terms (Rousseau & McLean
Parks, 1993); that is, the employee delivers a performance
which is of interest to the employer as it contributes to
organizational productivity (e.g., profitability or shareholder
value; Walsh, 2007). This assumption guiding WOP research
reflects neoliberal instrumentality: research takes interest in
the employee as a resource that can be harnessed for organi-
zational interests, instead of taking interest in her/him as a
human being.
Within this perspective, work in itself is not considered to
have an intrinsic value, and employee experiences and well-
being are not relevant outcomes as such, as long as they do
not contribute to organizationally-relevant outcomes. For
instance, in retirement research (e.g., Bal, De Jong, Jansen, &
Bakker, 2012; Zacher, 2015), arguments usually do not revolve
around the intrinsic value of work in later stages of life, but are
primarily based on the extrinsic value of older workers for
organizations. In the employee training and development lit-
erature (e.g., Lepak & Snell, 1999), investment of organizations
in employee training is usually presented as a paradox, as
training may on the one hand enhance employee commit-
ment and thus their intention to remain with the organization,
while on the other hand, it increases employability, through
which employees may be more likely to obtain a better job
elsewhere. This apparent paradox resides within the instru-
mental logic, and neglects the more general intrinsic value of
development for people and society. The instrumental logic
also reveals itself through the absence of the acknowledge-
ment of the organizations responsibility for workersdevelop-
ment regardless of whether they intend to stay or not, as
development (and education) may be considered an intrinsic
societal value. The underlying concern here is that researchers
usually do not acknowledge the assumptions or ideological
basis on which their research is founded, while implicitly
adhering to a neoliberal logic.
Moreover, individualism is also present as political logic
underpinning WOP. There is an inherent relationship between
individualism and WOP, as the field has been built on the
centrality of the individual employee and her/his work experi-
ences. While this is not necessarily neoliberal, WOP research
tends to ignore the structural factors underpinning employee
behaviours, thereby attributing a personal and individualized
responsibility for how individuals behave in the workplace.
The focus on the individual employee indicates the implicit
assumption that the individual is primarily responsible and
accountable for ensuring employability, high quality jobs and
engagement at work. For instance, the review of Grant and
Parker (2009)on work design theory explicitly discusses how
the classic job characteristics theory of Hackman and Oldham
(1975), which principally focused on how organizations should
design meaningful jobs for workers, has been exchanged for
relational and proactive theories, which emphasize the role of
individual workers in crafting their jobs. While it is not expli-
citly argued that employees should be proactive, and thus are
individually responsible and accountable, the attention to
these individualistic notions of work design carry significant,
implicit meaning, as it draws away the attention from the
responsibility of the organization towards the responsibility
of individual employees to design their own jobs and careers.
Finally, competition is also central in the political logic
underlying WOP, as research in the field assumes the work-
place to be a competitive domain where employees are com-
peting with each other for scarce resources (Call, Nyberg, &
Thatcher, 2015). In other words, employees in WOP-research
are assumed to be self-interested, rational actors who are
utility maximizers (Harvey, 2005). Employees in WOP-research
are claimed to be interested in performance, innovation,
career success, salary increases and promotions, as it fulfils
the need for growth and development. To do so, employees
are competing with each other for the best jobs and positions.
It is notable how within WOP, there is a tendency to focus on
those employees who are proactive, successfully develop
careers, while somewhat neglecting the employees who are
not proactive, or who for reasons of inability or unwillingness
do not engage in proactive behaviours or career development
(Grant & Parker, 2009; Seibert, Crant, & Kraimer, 1999).
Social logic of WOP
It also needs to be analysed how political logic permeates the
research that is conducted in the field. While WOP is not
necessarily neoliberal (Bal, 2015), neoliberal influences can be
traced in how WOP research is being practiced and used. The
practice of research concerns the choice to study particular
phenomena, but also concerns the ways through which
researchers in WOP make claims, underpin their research,
and remain silent on particular choices that have been made
explicitly or implicitly.
Hence, neoliberalism can be traced in WOP by showing
how the principles of instrumentality, individualism and com-
petition inform research practices. On the one hand, instru-
mentality can be observed in the explicit integration of
organizationally-relevant outcomes in models of individual
work behaviours. An example concerns the model of
Messersmith and colleagues (Messersmith, Patel, Lepak, &
Gould-Williams, 2011) which tested employee attitudes as
mediator and as indicator of the black boxexplaining why
HRM affects performance. In these types of studies, employees
are merely instrumental to organizational goals, which
expresses the symbolic, implicit, meaning of WOP research:
while there is attention for the individuals experience of a job,
this is important as it contributes to organizational outcomes
(see e.g., Dalal, 2005, which article begins by arguing that
performance is the criterion of organizational psychology).
On the other hand, instrumentality is also observed in how
research on particular topics is legitimized. For instance, the
review of Call et al. (2015)onstar employees(cf. research on
high potentials) represents not only an overt interest in those
employees who do well, but also in those employees who do
better than others, thereby also representing the workplace as
a competitive domain where the primary interest of workers is
to outperform others. The instrumental reason is overt, as the
first sentence of their paper reads: Stars are assumed to be
unique and add disproportionate organizational value com-
pared to nonstars(Call et al., 2015, p. 623).
Furthermore, adherence to individualism is also present in
an increasing interest in individually-focused research topics,
such as individual deals (Bal et al., 2012; Hornung et al., 2008),
employability (Fugate, Kinicki, & Ashforth, 2004), job crafting
(Kooij, Van Woerkom, Wilkenloh, Dorenbosch, & Denissen,
2017) and proactivity (Parker & Bindl, 2017). While these con-
cepts are not inherently neoliberal, they are indicative of
individualism, in its conceptualization and use in practice.
For instance, research on job crafting (Kooij et al., 2017) may
carry implicit understandings of individual employee respon-
sibility to create and maintain interesting and meaningful jobs.
This is subsequently translated into practice through (further)
reduction of organizational responsibility to provide meaning-
ful work, and a pressure to reduce collective representation
(e.g., through labour unions) in negotiating meaningful jobs
for all employees, regardless of their individual capabilities for
It can also be observed how these concepts are used in a
competitive way. It is not surprising that concepts such as
proactivity, job crafting, employability, performance and crea-
tivity are popular topics of research in WOP. As they are
employee behaviours that are determined to be crucial in
the labour market (e.g., George, 2014; Seibert et al., 1999),
they are also indicative of the rise of competition underpin-
ning employee behaviours. More specifically, studies on topics
such as proactivity do not investigate whether people are
proactive in relation to a certain objective standard of what
can be considered to be proactive behaviour, but by definition
ascertain proactivity in a competitive way, through comparing
proactive behaviour of one employee vis-à-vis other employ-
ees (Bal, 2017). This is also notable in research on employ-
ability, which tends to ignore distinctions of class, gender or
ethnicity in its appeal to workers to become employable,
notwithstanding the potential exclusion of people on the
basis of these distinctions (Chertkovskaya et al., 2013).
Moreover, another consequence of scientific interest and
research on employability is that it projects norms on people
in the workplace to portray themselves in the most desirable
way towards employers. As a result, characteristics that do not
contribute to employability (e.g., neuroticism) are concealed,
thereby reducing the possibility for people to be themselves
in the workplace, and act upon their dignity (Bal, 2017). Hence,
the meaning of employability moves beyond what is explicitly
stated in research into practice, where it also includes the
more implicit understandings around the rhetoric of employ-
ability. Therefore, a scientific definition of employability as
the likelihood of easily finding a new jobbecomes competi-
tive in neoliberal discourse, as it implies that people make
themselves as desirable as possible, thereby potentially con-
cealing their non-employable characteristics. In so doing, they
compare vis-à-vis other people, or more generally, an ima-
gined version of the ideal employable employee as portrayed
in scientific publications.
Furthermore, practical recommendations are often pre-
sented to showcase the instrumental nature of WOP-topics
(e.g., proactivity is good for organizational performance) as
well as the individualized responsibility of these topics (e.g.,
employees should become more proactive). Yet, this may also
create a paradoxical situation, in which organizations are
recommended to invest in employees and to create mean-
ingful jobs, as this may enhance organizational outcomes
(Messersmith et al., 2011), but at the same time holding
individuals responsible to ensure they develop themselves
and remain employable (Greenwood & Van Buren, 2017).
This paradox is usually resolved through positioning invest-
ments in employees as contributing to competitive advantage
for organizations (and thus instrumental to the organization),
but nonetheless refraining from linking this to an explicit
organizational responsibility or employee entitlement. Hence,
instrumentality is influential in how WOP-research is translated
into practice; yet, it has also influenced research itself.
Instrumentality has had a profound impact on the devel-
opment of theories and models. Conceptual models are gen-
erally defined in terms of how they contribute to
organizational outcomes, such as performance, absence or
innovation (Messersmith et al., 2011). Moreover, it is also easier
for researchers to publish research that establishes a link
between employee attitudes and objectiveorganizational
outcomes, such as financial profit or return-on-investment,
than it is to publish research focused on explaining soft
outcomes, such as well-being (Paauwe, 2004). The ultimate
goal of much WOP research tends to be to explain relation-
ships of subjective employee experiences with objective orga-
nizational outcomes, thereby adhering to an instrumental
logic which turns all subjectivity into the logic of the business
case. A notable example is the conceptual model of altruism
by Clarkson (2014), in which altruism in organizations is not
valued as such, but, according to the model, obtains its legiti-
macy through its potential effects on organizational success.
Altruism therefore does not have an intrinsic value, but only
extrinsic in the potential for objective success. The omitted
question is whether organizations should refrain from valuing
altruism when it does not enhance organizational outcomes
(or what to do when altruism goes against organizational
The instrumental logic also manifests in the use of theories
and concepts in WOP. One of the major theories in WOP is the
Social Exchange Theory (Blau, 1964; Cropanzano, Anthony,
Daniels, & Hall, 2017). Notwithstanding the explicit incorpora-
tion of differences between economic, social and ideological
exchange by Blau (1964), the theory has been primarily used
with an instrumental focus, postulating that employees and
organizations engage in an exchange relationship in which
both parties monitor how well the other party is fulfilling its
obligations in order to establish ones own contributions.
Moreover, it is argued that for the organization, the exchange
relationship is rather instrumental, and has value only when it
contributes to organizational outcomes. For instance, while it
is generally perceived that trust is essential in exchange rela-
tionships (Blau, 1964), it is notable to see how trust research
heavily orientates towards explaining a relationship between
trust and performance outcomes (De Jong, Dirks, & Gillespie,
2016; Dirks & Ferrin, 2002). Hence, trust (and in extension
many WOP concepts) seems to have a value only when it
contributes to organizationally-relevant outcomes.
A potential counterargument against the dominance of the
instrumental logic in WOP is that there is much research which
does focus on intrinsic outcomes, such as employee well-
being, satisfaction, engagement and work-life balance.
Notwithstanding the validity of this critique, the more funda-
mental question underlying it, is whether these concepts are
used in such a way that they require an extrinsic logic to
defend their use. The concern is that intrinsic outcomes are
increasingly attributed to have extrinsic properties in their
relationships with outcomes which are not directly relevant
to the employee her/himself (e.g., commitment is only impor-
tant as it positively predicts performance). This raises the
question concerning the prioritization of outcomes for indivi-
duals, groups, organizations or society. For instance, when
shareholder value is prioritized over employment (Porter &
Kramer, 2011), organizations may engage in layoffs to enhance
shareholder value notwithstanding the negative conse-
quences for employees and society. The alternative, however,
is lacking; there is not yet an established discourse which
counteracts the instrumental logic in WOP to defend the
inherent worth of concepts such as commitment, well-being
and work-life balance.
Individualism is also present in the choice and use of
theories and models. The notion that employees are individu-
ally responsible for their well-being and career development is
widespread in WOP. This had led to the rise of individualistic
concepts, and a positioning of self-reliance being central to
formulating theories and models. For employees to survive in
the workplace, these concepts become conditional, as they are
necessary to have a job and be successful in the workplace. It
is striking that there is hardly any research on the people who
are either unwilling or unable to engage in those activities, as
well as whose responsibility it is to manage and stimulate
employee proactivity and employability (Bal, 2017). If there is
attention to vulnerable groups, it is not to show the limitations
of concepts such as employability, but it is often focused on
how to increase the employability of this particular group,
such as older workers (Oostrom, Pennings, & Bal, 2016). It
thereby does not challenge neoliberal rhetoric, but fully
embraces it, and the aim of such research is to show how
these vulnerable groups can be made more useful for neolib-
eral society. Hence, the structural conditions of exclusion and
privilege do not have to be assessed and critiqued, whilst
maintaining beliefs in the hegemony of neoliberal ideology.
As a consequence, there remains a void concerning the role of
collectives and shared responsibilities in a field which has
become individualized in its approach towards theorizing
and conducting research. In sum, the social logic of contem-
porary WOP research dictates that choice and use of theories,
models and concepts are influenced by instrumental, indivi-
dualistic and competition-focused perspectives, leading to a
narrow view on how the employment relationship unfolds.
Fantasmatic logic of WOP
At the core of explaining dominant practices in WOP are the
fantasy constructions of researchers and the discipline itself,
which can be traced towards two main fantasies: the fantasy
of the harmonious employment relationship, and at the heart
of WOP, the notion of social engineering. It is important to
assess the fantasies that exist within the discipline itself, as
they motivate individual researchers, direct attention to spe-
cific research streams and discourses which become dominant
in the field. Thereby they potentially undermine other streams
of research and pluralism within a discipline. In other words,
the relationship between WOP research and society is not just
unidirectional, in that WOP research reflects the dominant
ideology in society, but WOP research itself also contributes
to the maintenance of societal ideologies (Glynos, 2008,2011).
At the most visible level of fantasy, we can discern the
harmonious employment relationship. This entails a belief in
the possibility of a harmonious relationship between employ-
ees and organizations, where through consensus and negotia-
tion mutual agreement can be reached in terms of shared
needs, interests, and power balance between the two parties.
This belief is dominant in WOP, where an implicit assumption
pertains to the possibility of employees and organizations to
be connected and aligned in their goals. For instance, a pop-
ular concept such as the psychological contract (Rousseau &
McLean Parks, 1993) assumes the relationship between
employee and organization to be reciprocal and equal. It is
not surprising that power differences between organizations
and employees are hardly taken into account in the psycho-
logical contract literature. Meanwhile, WOP-research often pre-
sents the contemporary employee as proactive and able to
negotiate, and therefore equal in power to the organization. It
thereby neglects the organizations fundamentally instrumen-
tal approach to labour and the employee, and thus the unfair-
ness in the structural positions of employee and organization.
Consequently, there is little reference to the employment
relationship as being formed through pluralism (Geare,
Edgar, & McAndrew, 2009; Greenwood & Van Buren, 2017),
and as such driven by divergent interests of employees and
Beliefs in fairness and reciprocity may result in fantasies of
harmonious employment relationships, as they picture a world
where mutual obligations are genuinely felt and met by the
various parties in the organization. Systematically unacknow-
ledged is the more structural exploitation in neoliberalism
which makes fairness and reciprocity effectively a fantasy
which in reality does not take place (Harvey, 2005).
Moreover, this can also be seen in the use of theories within
WOP, as social exchange theory remains one of the most
popular theoretical frameworks to understand phenomena at
work (Cropanzano et al., 2017). While other exchange frame-
works exist and have been investigated, such as communal
sharing or authority ranking (see e.g., Fiske, 1992), WOP
researchers have persisted in using social exchange theory
being able to explain almost any action in the workplace.
The question, however, remains why WOP continues to
believe in the harmonious employment relationship as under-
pinning the workplace, and why it fails to acknowledge the
variety of power relations and processes influencing the work-
place. This may be explained on the basis of the persistent
belief within WOP that the world is ultimately fair, and that
people will be rewarded for meeting their social obligations or
punished when they fail to reciprocate and adhere to social
exchange norms. However, in the reality of the contemporary
workplace, fairness is more often absent than not, and burn-
out, dignity violations, layoffs, abusive leadership and so on,
persist (e.g., Bal, 2017). In response to this unfair reality, we
suggest that the ultimate fantasy of WOP pertains to engage-
ment in social engineering. Social engineering entails the
notion that reality and societal relations can be changed
through interventions (e.g., Kooij et al., 2017; Strauss &
Parker, 2018), and that in the absence of fairness, the WOP
researcher should engage in research and collaborative activ-
ity with practitioners and consultants to change reality to
actively construct fairer and more harmonious workplaces.
It is therefore not surprising that in WOP (just as in other
scientific disciplines), a preoccupation has grown with the
impact of research on practice (Grote, 2017), and that gener-
ally experimental intervention studies are perceived as the
best example of scientific research. It is now desirable that
research transforms organizational reality, and makes organi-
zations operate in a smoother way, thereby both enhancing
organizational performance and sustaining employee well-
being (Van De Voorde, Paauwe, & Van Veldhoven, 2012).
Hence, on the basis of positivistic, objectiveresearch, it is
possible to formulate technical, evidence-based solutions
towards realizing the high performance organization that
meets the needs of both organizations and employees. This
constitutes a recipe or even a panacea for the high-performing
organization where both managers and employees are pro-
ductive and happy (Taris & Schreurs, 2009). The problem with
this, however, is that it overestimates the capacity of WOP
(and science in general) to influence (experienced) reality of
the workplace, while it underestimates the impact of structural
forces, political ideologies, and random error, over which
researchers have no control.
Moreover, social engineering fantasies are also inconsistent
with researchersproclaimed objectivestance towards rea-
lity, where they claim to study the workplace as it is. In
contrast, social engineering implies a proactive attitude to be
willing to intervene in reality and to implement changes that
correspond to the underlying principles of scholars. Hence,
this process of social engineering (e.g., through various colla-
borative efforts between research and practice) may cause
neoliberalism not only to be sustained in the workplace, but
to even be further legitimized. When WOP-scholars emphasize
the importance of organizational outcomes (e.g., performance
and profits) and the individualized and competitive nature of
work, they are actively contributing to an ideological under-
pinning of the contemporary workplace, thereby ignoring
potential alternatives and frameworks that do not correspond
to neoliberal ideology (see e.g., Fiske, 1992; Kostera, 2014).
In the current paper, we have analysed the ways through
which neoliberal ideology has influenced the workplace as
well as research within WOP. Using the framework of ideology
analysed through political, social, and fantasmatic logics
(Glynos, 2008,2011), we explored the impact of neoliberalism,
and in particular the emphasis on instrumentality, individual-
ism and competition on experiences of the contemporary
workplace, as well as in WOP research. Our main argument is
that the effects of neoliberalism on the workplace and WOP
research has been neglected. The effect of this is that research
on the one hand remains vague and ambiguous concerning
its ideological and ethical assumptions, while on the other
hand, pluralism of research is stifled through a dominance of
hegemonic ideology within the discipline (e.g., through impli-
citly enforcing organizational interests to be accounted for in
research). Our analysis on the basis of Glynos(Glynos, 2008)
framework of the three logics describing ideology offered a
way of analysing the relationships between the level of shared
norms and understandings in both the workplace and WOP
(political logic), and the level of visible practices through
which norms are enacted (social logic). This, however, is insuf-
ficient to fully capture the dynamics of ideology at work, as at
the deepest level, it is the shared, collective fantasies of peo-
ple that sustain ideology and its impact on the workplace.
neoliberal ideology sustains itself through penetrating the
fantasies of people about their own lives and how they
function in the workplace (Žižek, 2014). Fantasies are not often
discussed in relation to the workplace, while they may explain
why behaviour is persistent over time, and why changes at the
level of assumptions are not readily achieved.
This raises the question what type of solutions can be
offered for the study of WOP. The answer to this is not
straightforward, as the replacement of one ideology is likely
to produce another ideology, which may become as hegemo-
nic as the previous ideology (Žižek, 2001,2014). This has been
referred to as the double blackmail, which entails the idea that
existing alternatives to neoliberal capitalism reside in a return
to social-democracy (or Marxism), which also has been shown
to have important limitations. In WOP context, this would
imply that an alternative to the current neoliberal dominance
would be a return to historical world views, with its focus on
permanent contracts, job security, lifelong employment at the
same firm, stable employment relationships and broad collec-
tive representation via trade unions (Sims, 1994). Moreover,
historical attempts to counteract neoliberal ideology, such as
social-democracy, critical psychology (Holzkamp, 1992), or col-
lective approaches to WOP (Stephenson & Brotherton, 1979),
have yet been unsuccessful in counteracting neoliberal ideol-
ogy. One explanation could be that while addressing the
symptoms of ideology, they did not yet engage with the
fantasies that sustain neoliberal ideology. Hence, to develop
viable alternatives, it is needed to formulate these at the level
of the individual and collective fantasies that sustain ideolo-
gies despite potential inherent contradictions and tensions.
We postulate a number of implications and recommenda-
tions for future research. First, it is important that within the
field of WOP, researchers become more aware of the under-
lying (ideological) assumptions driving their research.
Discourse analysis could be informative in further elucidating
the ideological underpinnings of our research and how
researchers justify their research in neoliberal terminology
(e.g., instrumentality and business case). Only through explicit
awareness and acknowledgement of fundamental assump-
tions of research, these can be debated, defended or changed.
As objectiveresearch concerns an impossibility in a social
science (Greenwood & Van Buren, 2017), research is by defini-
tion driven by interpretations of what is happening in the
workplace, and ideological choices regarding what type of
constructs are studied, what theories and models are
designed, and how outcomes are legitimized. We advocate
pluralism in relation to our field, where we can openly debate
the basic assumptions underlying our research (i.e., why and
for whom we are conducting our research) and how we can
create more pluralism in the actual research that we do (i.e.,
the topics, methods, techniques and analyses). This may also
help researchers to make more explicit choices regarding what
can be regarded as important in the context of WOP to study.
One way of achieving this is to engage in research using
more interdisciplinary perspectives, as perspectives from other
fields may inform the validity and legitimacy of choices being
made in WOP research. Because scientific disciplines such as
sociology, political economy and geography explicitly debate
the role of neoliberalism in contemporary society (Harvey, 2005;
Morgan, 2015; Peck et al., 2009), a stronger integration of various
disciplines could not only enrich understanding of particular
phenomena (such as the experience of individuals in the con-
temporary workplace), but could also allow for broader frame-
works to be included in research. For instance, more
interdisciplinary approaches could offer important perspectives
on how structural forces (e.g., power relations, economic circum-
stances and ideology) influence individual employee behaviour.
The goal, therefore, is not to ban neoliberal perspectives on the
workplace, but to shape the space where multiple frameworks
can be debated in relation to each other, and where a playing
field is created where multiple ideological frameworks can co-
exist. For instance, while research stressing the importance of
organizational and individual performance will continue to exist
and even flourish, there should also be the possibility for coun-
ter-narratives, such as research emphasizing alternative out-
comes, for example dignity (Bal, 2017), integrity (Amann &
Stachowicz-Stanusch, 2013) or societal value.
However, it is also important to address the problematic
issues of neoliberal ideology at the systemic level, and the
need to postulate alternatives at the system-level. It is notable
how fixesor initiatives to challenge the effects of neoliberalism
easily become incorporated by neoliberal ideology, through
which the system is essentially maintained. For instance, a
focus on the victimsof neoliberalism is important but not
sufficient, as it may lead to negligence of the underlying struc-
tures in society that causes people to become victims. Hence, it is
not surprising to see WOP researchers to empathize with the
victims, but at the same time, postulating solutions within the
system, or in other words, to prescribe victims to become more
neoliberal. Hence, victimsare taught how to become more self-
managing, employable and so on, and therefore, the underlying
structures that cause systematic exclusion of groups of people
(e.g., women, ethnic minorities and older people) are not
addressed. Therefore, a dignity-paradigm may transform the
presuppositions of the workplace and WOP research through
postulating the dignity of the individual, and consequently asks
the question how dignity can be respected and promoted in the
workplace (Bal, 2015,2017). A theory of workplace dignity pos-
tulates that everything in the workplace, including people, ani-
mals and resources have their intrinsic worth, and should be
treated as such (Bal, 2017). The theory offers an alternative to
the neoliberal logic of organizing and studying the workplace, as
it deviates from the dominant instrumental logic in formulating
the structures of the dignified organization.
In sum, this paper has introduced neoliberal ideology to WOP
discourse and has explored the ways through which neoliberalism
has influenced the workplace and our research. Future research
may further explore neoliberal as well as other ideologies and
discourses in WOP. This may advance understanding of workplace
dynamics and how they influence individuals at work, as well as
contribute to greater relevance and impact of the research within
the discipline.
1. One such an initiative to debate the underpinnings of WOP research
and develop possible futures for WOP concerns the EAWOP Small
Group Meeting organized around the Future of Work and
Organizational Psychology in the Netherlands in 2018. See also the
EAWOP website.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2016). Intellectual failure and ideological
success in organization studies: The case of transformational leader-
ship. Journal of Management Inquiry,25, 139152.
Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). (Un) Conditional surrender? Why do
professionals willingly comply with managerialism. Journal of
Organizational Change Management,29,2945.
Amann, W., & Stachowicz-Stanusch, A. (2013). Integrity in organizations.
Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ayers, A. J., & Saad-Filho, A. (2015). Democracy against neoliberalism:
Paradoxes, limitations, transcendence. Critical Sociology,41, 597618.
Bal, P. M. (2015). Voorbij neoliberalisme in de arbeids- en organisatiepsy-
chologie: Menselijke waardigheid en organisatiedemocratie. [Beyond
neoliberalism in work and organizational psychology: Human dignity
and organizational democracy]. Gedrag En Organisatie,28, 199219.
Bal, P. M. (2017). Dignity in the workplace. New theoretical perspectives.
Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
Bal, P. M., De Jong, S. B., Jansen, P. G. W., & Bakker, A. B. (2012). Motivating
employees to work beyond retirement: A multi-level study of the role
of I-deals and organizational climate. Journal of Management Studies,
49, 306331.
Bal, P. M., & Jansen, P. G. W. (2016). Workplace flexibility across the
lifespan. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management,34,
Bal, P. M., & Vink, R. (2011). Ideological currency in psychological contracts:
The role of team relationships in a reciprocity perspective. The
International Journal of Human Resource Management,22, 27942817.
Barney, J. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage.
Journal of Management,17,99120.
Baruch, Y. (2015). Organizational and labor markets as career ecosystem. In
A. De Vos & B. I. J. M. Van der Heijden (eds.), Handbook of research on
sustainable careers (pp. 364380). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Bauman, Z., Bauman, I., Kociatkiewicz, J., & Kostera, M. (2015). Management
in a liquid modern world. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Bidwell, M., Briscoe, F., Fernandez-Mateo, I., & Sterling, A. (2013). The
employment relationship and inequality: How and why changes in
employment practices are reshaping rewards in organizations. The
Academy of Management Annals,7,61121.
Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New Brunswick, US:
Transaction Publishers.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Cultural Theory: An Anthology,1,
Burke, P. J. (2013). The right to higher education: Neoliberalism, gender
and professional mis/recognitions. International Studies in Sociology of
Education,23, 107126.
Call, M. L., Nyberg, A. J., & Thatcher, S. (2015). Stargazing: An integrative
conceptual review, theoretical reconciliation, and extension for star
employee research. Journal of Applied Psychology,100, 623640.
Castilla, E. J., & Benard, S. (2010). The paradox of meritocracy in organiza-
tions. Administrative Science Quarterly,55, 543576.
Chertkovskaya, E., Watt, P., Tramer, S., & Spoelstra, S. (2013). Giving notice to
employability. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization,13,701716.
Clarkson, G. P. (2014). Twenty-first century employment relationships: The
case for an altruistic model. Human Resource Management,53, 253269.
Clegg, S. (2014). Managerialism: Born in the USA. Academy of Management
Cobb, J. A. (2016). How firms shape income inequality: Stakeholder power,
executive decision making, and the structuring of employment rela-
tionships. Academy of Management Review,41, 324348.
Cropanzano, R., Anthony, E., Daniels, S., & Hall, A. (2017). Social exchange
theory: A critical review with theoretical remedies. Academy of
Management Annals, in press doi:10.5465/annals.2015.0099
Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2017). Perfectionism is increasing over time: A
meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016.
Psychological press. doi:10.1037/bul0000138
Dalal, R. S. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relationship between organiza-
tional citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior.
Journal of Applied Psychology,90, 12411255.
De Jong, B. A., Dirks, K. T., & Gillespie, N. (2016). Trust and team perfor-
mance: A meta-analysis of main effects, moderators, and covariates.
Journal of Applied Psychology,101, 11341150.
Delbridge, R., & Keenoy, T. (2010). Beyond managerialism? The
International Journal of Human Resource Management,21, 799817.
Delbridge, R, & Keenoy, T. (2010). Beyond managerialism?. The
International Journal Of Human Resource Management,21(6), 799-817.
Dirks, K. T., & Ferrin, D. L. (2002). Trust in leadership: Meta-analytic findings
and implications for research and practice. Journal of Applied
Psychology,87, 611628.
Fine, B., & Saad-Filho, A. (2017). Thirteen things you need to know about
neoliberalism. Critical Sociology,43, 685706.
Fiske, A. P. (1992). The four elementary forms of sociality: Framework for a
unified theory of social relations. Psychological Review,99, 689723.
Freeden, M. (2003). Ideology: A very short introduction (Vol. 95). Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Fugate, M., Kinicki, A. J., & Ashforth, B. E. (2004). Employability: A psycho-
social construct, its dimensions, and applications. Journal of Vocational
Galbraith, J. K. (2012). Inequality and instability: A study of the world
economy just before the great crisis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Geare, A., Edgar, F., & McAndrew, I. (2009). Workplace values and beliefs:
An empirical study of ideology, high commitment management and
unionisation. The International Journal of Human Resource Management,
20, 11461171.
George, J. M. (2014). Compassion and capitalism: Implications for organi-
zation studies. Journal of Management,40,515.
Gilbert, J. T. (2000). Sorrow and guilt: An ethical analysis of layoffs. SAM
Advanced Management Journal,65,413.
Glynos, J. (2001). The grip of ideology: A Lacanian approach to the theory
of ideology. Journal of Political Ideologies,6, 191214.
Glynos, J. (2008). Ideological fantasy at work. Journal of Political Ideologies,
13, 275296.
Glynos, J. (2011). On the ideological and political significance of fantasy in
the organization of work. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society,16, 373393.
Glynos, J., & Howarth, D. (2007). Logics of critical explanation in social and
political theory. London: Routledge.
Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). Redesigning work design theories: The
rise of relational and proactive perspectives. The Academy of
Management Annals,3, 317375.
Greenwood, M., & Van Buren, H. J., III. (2017). Ideology in HRM scholarship:
Interrogating the ideological performativity of New Unitarism.Journal
of Business Ethics,142, 663678.
Grote, G. (2017). There is hope for better science. European Journal of Work
and Organizational Psychology,26,13.
Hackman,J.R.,&Oldham,G.R.(1975). Development of the job diagnostic
survey. Journal of Applied Psychology,60,159170. doi:10.1037/h0076546
Harvey, D. (2005). Neoliberalism: A brief history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heyes, J, Tomlinson, M, & Whitworth, A. (2017). Underemployment and
well-being in the uk before and after the great recession. work. work,
Employment and Society,31(7189 1), 0950017016666199. doi:10.1177/
Holzkamp, K. (1992). On doing psychology critically. Theory & Psychology,
2, 193204.
Hornung, S., Rousseau, D. M., & Glaser, J. (2008). Creating flexible work
arrangements through idiosyncratic deals. Journal of Applied
Psychology,93, 655664.
IMF (2016). Accessed 23 February 2017. Retrieved from http://www.imf.
Kalleberg, A. L. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: Employment
relations in transition. American Sociological Review,74,122.
Kooij, D. T., van Woerkom, M., Wilkenloh, J., Dorenbosch, L., & Denissen, J.
J. (2017). Job crafting towards strengths and interests: The effects of a
job crafting intervention on personjob fit and the role of age. Journal
of Applied Psychology,102, 971981.
Kostera, M. (2014). Occupy management! inspirations and ideas for self-
organization and self-management. London: Routledge.
Kotz, D. M. (2009). The financial and economic crisis of 2008: A systemic
crisis of neoliberal capitalism. Review of Radical Political Economics,41,
Lazonick, W. (2014). Profits without prosperity. Harvard Business Review,92,
Lazzarato, M. (2009). Neoliberalism in action: Inequality, insecurity and
the reconstitution of the social. Theory, Culture & Society,26, 109
Lepak, D. P., & Snell, S. A. (1999). The human resource architecture: Toward
a theory of human capital allocation and development. Academy of
Management Review,24,3148.
Littler, J. (2013). Meritocracy as plutocracy: The marketising of Equality
under neoliberalism. New Formations,80,5272.
Messersmith, J. G., Patel, P. C., Lepak, D. P., & Gould-Williams, J. S. (2011).
Unlocking the black box: Exploring the link between high-performance
work systems and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology,96,
Morgan, G. (2015). Elites, varieties of capitalism and the crisis of neo-
liberalism. Research in the Sociology of Organizations,43,5
Oostrom, J. K., Pennings, M., & Bal, P. M. (2016). How do idiosyncratic deals
contribute to the employability of older workers? Career Development
International,21, 176192.
Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking indivi-
dualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and
meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin,128,372.
Paauwe, J. (2004). HRM and performance: Achieving long-term viability.
Oxford: Oxford University Press on Demand.
Parker, S., & Bindl, U. (2017). Proactivity at work. New York: Routledge.
Peck, J., Theodore, N., & Brenner, N. (2009). Postneoliberalism and its
malcontents. Antipode,41,94116.
Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the 21st century. Cambridge: Harvard University
Porter, M. E., & Kramer, M. R. (2011). The big idea: Creating shared value.
Harvard Business Review,89,217.
Rousseau, D. M. (2005). I-deals. idiosyncratic deals employees bargain for
themselves. New York: ME Sharpe.
Rousseau, D. M., & McLean Parks, J. (1993). The contracts of individuals and
organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior,15,143.
Schwalbe, M., Holden, D., Schrock, D., Godwin, S., Thompson, S., &
Wolkomir, M. (2000). Generic processes in the reproduction of inequal-
ity: An interactionist analysis. Social Forces,79, 419452. doi:10.1093/sf/
Sedlacek, T. (2011). Economics of good and evil: The quest for economic
meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Seibert, S. E., Crant, J. M., & Kraimer, M. L. (1999). Proactive personality and
career success. Journal of Applied Psychology,84, 416427.
Sims, R. R. (1994). Human resource managements role in clarifying the new
psychological contract. Human Resource Management,33, 373382.
Stephenson, G. M., & Brotherton, C. J. (Eds.). (1979). Industrial relations: A
social psychological approach. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Stiglitz, J. E. (2012). The price of inequality: How todays divided society
endangers our future. New York: WW Norton and Company.
Strauss, K, & Parker, S. K. (2018). Intervening to enhance proactivity in
organizations improving the present or changing the future. In journal
of management (vol., pp.). press. doi:
Suarez-Villa, L. (2012). Technocapitalism: A critical perspective on technolo-
gical innovation and corporatism. Philadelphia, US: Temple University
Taris, T. W., & Schreurs, P. J. (2009). Well-being and organizational perfor-
mance: An organizational-level test of the happy-productive worker
hypothesis. Work & Stress,23, 120136.
Thompson, J. A., & Bunderson, J. S. (2003). Violations of principle:
Ideological currency in the psychological contract. Academy of
Management Review,28, 571586.
Tienken, C. H. (2013). Neoliberalism, social Darwinism, and consumerism
masquerading as school reform. Interchange,43, 295316.
Vallas, S. P. (1999). Rethinking post-Fordism: The meaning of workplace
flexibility. Sociological Theory,17,68101.
Van Apeldoorn, B., & Overbeek, H. (2012). Introduction: The life course of
the neoliberal project and the global crisis. In H. Overbeek & B. van
Apeldoorn (Editors.), Neoliberalism in crisis (pp. 120). Basingstoke, UK:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Van De Voorde, K., Paauwe, J., & Van Veldhoven, M. (2012). Employee well-
being and the HRMOrganizational performance relationship: A review
of quantitative studies. International Journal of Management Reviews,
14, 391407.
Vander Elst, T., Näswall, K., Bernhard-Oettel, C., De Witte, H., & Sverke, M. (2016).
The effect of job insecurity on employee health complaints: A within-
person analysis of the explanatory role of threats to the manifest and latent
benefits of work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology,21,6576.
Vitali, S., Glattfelder, J. B., & Battiston, S. (2011). The network of global
corporate control. PloS One,6, e25995.
Walsh, A. J. (2007). HRM and the ethics of commodified work in a market
economy. In A. Pennington, R. Macklin, & T. Campbell (Editors.), Human
resource management: Ethics and employment (pp. 102116). Oxford:
Oxford University Press..
Wigger, A., & Buch-Hansen, H. (2012). The unfolding contradictions of
neoliberal competition regulation and the global economic crisis: A
missed opportunity for change? In H. Overbeek & B. van Apeldoorn
(Editors.), Neoliberalism in crisis (pp. 2344). Hampshire, UK: Palgrave
Wisman, J. D. (2013). Wage stagnation, rising inequality and the financial
crisis of 2008. Cambridge Journal of Economics,37, 921945.
Zacher, H. (2015). Successful aging at work. Work, Aging and Retirement,1,
425. doi:10.1093/workar/wau006
Žižek, S. (1989). The sublime object of ideology. London: Verso Books.
Žižek, S. (2001). Did somebody say totalitarianism? Five interventions in the
(Mis)use of a notion. London: Verso Books.
Žižek, S. (2014). Trouble in paradise: from the end of history to the end of
capitalism. Milton Keynes, UK: Penguin Publishers.
... Ideology has been a rather neglected topic within organizational psychology. However, recently the concept has received increasing interest, for instance due to the work of Bal and Dóci (2018), who discussed how neoliberal ideology has affected both workplaces and the field of organizational psychology itself (see also Glynos, 2008). Yet, it is impossible to provide a single definition of ideology, as it has several different meanings, and can be interpreted in various (ideological) ways, through which the concept also becomes self-referential (the study of ideology is infiltrated by ideological perspectives…). ...
... The most 'psychological' perspective on ideology is drawn from Žižek (1989), who built his theory of ideology based on the work of Marx, Hegel and Lacan, and defined ideology as a fantasy construction structuring reality itself. Given the relevance for organizational psychology, and the primacy of his work in the most recent ideology conceptualization in organizational psychology (Bal & Dóci, 2018), we discuss Žižekian theory in greater detail. ...
... As Bal and Dóci (2018) showed, ideology is omnipresent: it is not only something that can be observed in workplaces, but also within scientific research itself. In workplaces, it can be assessed how ideology manifests in organizational life and in the minds of workers and managers. ...
Full-text available
This entry describes the notion of ideology in Organizational Psychology. It discusses the strange absence of the term in the field, and provides seven ways through which ideology can be studied in the field. The entry continues to discuss ideology as fantasy construction as introduced by the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, which presents the most 'psychological' theory of ideology, and which hitherto has been rather ignored in the field. The entry also describes how this ideology as fantasy has been identified in Organizational Psychology through the study of neoliberal ideology. The entry finishes with discussing potential ways out of ideology.
... Due to growing concerns for social-and work-related factors undermining individual experience, investigations have been following a micro-social approach to the study of processes of dehumanization in the workplace and working objectification (e.g., Baldissarri et al., 2014;Belmi & Schroeder, 2020;LaCroix & Pratto, 2015). While this vogue is welcome, these subjects also find a connection with the burgeoning critique on neoliberal ideology in the workplace in the field of work and organizational psychology (WOP; e.g., Bal & Dóci, 2018), laying a rich theoretical basis to extend the study of such phenomena. ...
... Work and employment are symbolically inflected with features invoking unlimited economic freedom (Sedlacek, 2011), the use of market principles in organizations (Bidwell et al., 2013), and the commodification of resources such as human life (Harvey, 2005). This constitutes a perspective based on instrumental managerial and political strategies with an increase of decentralized responsibilities which dramatically dehumanize people and the nature of work (Allvin et al., 2011;Bal & Dóci, 2018;Väyrynen & Laari-Salmela, 2018). ...
... In work and organizational psychology, the critique of neoliberal ideology originates from a workeroriented approach against market-driven logic and performative intents (Ackers, 2014;Allvin et al., 2011;Grady, 2013;Höge, 2011). This participatory debate is oriented toward WOP to defend and foster dignity in face of continuous socioeconomic evolutions (Bal & Dóci, 2018;Bidwell et al., 2013;Ripamonti et al., 2021). According to the WOP critique, neoliberalism dehumanizes people and work by representing work and employment via three main logics: political logic, social logic, and fantasmatic logic (Glynos, 2008). ...
This conceptual essay situates the study of dehumanization processes in the workplace and working objectification within the study of neoliberal influences on the institutions of work and employment. The paper links studies from social psychology and critical perspectives in work and organizational psychology to argue that working objectification is one of the implications of the neoliberalization of work and employment. Furthermore, dehumanization processes in the workplace can be better understood through a macro-social lens, that is, an ideological perspective. Thanks to this diagnosis, the essay positions dehu-manization processes and working objectification into an ideological perspective which has the potential for theoretical impact in psychology. Finally, the essay reflects on how this approach can best develop within psychology for responsible research that cares for humanistic institutions of work and employment.
... Thus, demands for participatory and democratic decision-making and a just workplace (fantasy of democratic academia) become a question of informed leadership and organizational performance management (MEC 2019, 23). These ideas suggest the harmonious employment relationship and social engineering common in work and organizational psychology (Bal and Dóci 2018). The former refers to the assumption that employees and organization may be consonant in their needs, interests, and goals. ...
... The latter suggests that organizational performance and personnel well-being can be enhanced through 'positivistic, "objective" research' and 'evidence-based solutions' (p. 545); however, these views disregard dissent, pluralism, and power relations (Bal and Dóci 2018). ...
Full-text available
This research explores how anticipatory policymaking played out in Finnish higher education reform. The study applies a discourse theoretic framework to explore how policy narrative might prove attractive to subjects by mobilizing ideas, norms, and fantasies through affective identification. Fantasies frame and stabilize our sense-making practices, thereby providing affective belonging and (ir)rationale for our actions. As an empirical case, the analysis of the Vision Development 2030 reform elucidates how the policy documents construct fantasmatic narratives (with reference to obstacles, threats, and plenitude to come) that set the terms of debate in articulating the ‘problem’ of Finnish HE and in supplying the favorable policy solutions. Scrutinizing a range of ideological fantasies, such as articulating gloomy forecasts and reactivating cognitive and affective memories of past successes, Vision Development sought to evoke subjects’ latent emotions and desires, mobilizing them toward a reproduction of the techno-managerialist order. Applying poststructuralist discourse theory and the concept of fantasy in policy studies, the role of desire and affective rhetoric in anticipatory future-making can be critically evaluated and the implications of such policy doctrines contemplated.
... However, focusing on the moral reasoning and utilitarian value outcomes of EDI has also simplified the complexity and variety of EDI areas and the changes that have happened over the decades. Recent attempts towards digitalizing and technologically innovating managers' hiring, retention and promotion practices to repair the socio-economic and political damage caused by poor EDI measures have led to calls for agility, resilience, sustainability, greater flexibility and questioning neoliberal discourses (Bal & Dóci, 2018). Despite their attractiveness in potentially repairing damaged employee relations, the viability of the proposed flexibility and hybridization has not been tested yet. ...
Full-text available
Organizations and society are confronted with fundamental socio-political, cultural, and economic challenges because of poorly construed and implemented Equality Diversity and Inclusion measures. Whilst Organizational Behavior research has adopted a traditional approach seeking to highlight the business case benefits and focused on quantifiable outcomes measurements, recent research has questioned this dominant, neoliberal capitalist-based strand, which has perpetuated managerial hegemonic power and employer-employee conflicts. Emerging Employment Relations scholarship has identified and added additional EDI categories including further neurodiverse, social and workplace groupings, and suggested further methodological tools, including intersectionality, institutional, relational, and agentic frameworks to repair the damages. Human Resource Management research has focused on how to implement standardized regulatory mechanisms related to Affirmative Action and Social Justice models on recruitment, pay and reward. However, such western-centric approaches, models, constructs, and analysis levels have exposed greater 'psychological' and workplace, individual and group inequalities, marginalized employees and highlighted the contested and contestable nature of EDI. Alternative, non-western calls intensify.
... Moreover, remote work reinforces the instrumental role of workers within neoliberal ideology. In this framework, workers are seen as agents instrumental to achieving organizational goals and maximizing productivity, profitability, and shareholder value (Bal & Dóci, 2018). Remote work facilitates this instrumental perspective by focusing on individual outcomes and performance metrics rather than traditional office-based interactions. ...
Full-text available
Working remotely has become an abrupt reality for millions of workers due to recent external shifts. Traditionally viewed as a benefit granted to executives and knowledge-intensive workers in the corporate world, remote work is now recognized as a new, modern way of working in and with organizations. Since remote work has become more prevalent and has been growing in demand, unique challenges have also emerged. In addition to the long-identified limitations and struggles, the pandemic-induced paradigm shift has introduced a new set of complexities that are not adequately acknowledged. This entry provides an overview of the increasingly popular topic of remote working and presents the existing literature in organizational psychology. It critically evaluates the historical conceptualization of remote work and offers new perspectives that have been neglected in current scholarly debates. The entry also examines the challenges associated with remote work, including management issues, and highlights future directions for research in this area.
... Arguably, concern with where such balance points reside and how organizations can achieve them has been sorely lacking in the world of work since (at least) the Washington Consensus back in the 1980s (Bal & Doci, 2018). At the same time, however, I/O psychology has already charted precisely these kinds of linkages, for instance, between (1) organizational justice and happiness and (2) wellbeing and productivity (Fisher, 2009;Harrison et al., 2006;Harter et al., 2002;Pérez-Rodríguez et al., 2019). ...
... This leads workers to assume greater burdens and work rates and, on the whole, tolerate poorer conditions (Aragón -Bretones 2020;Utzet et al. 2014). This ideology sustains itself by penetrating the imagination and fantasies of individuals as to their own lives and relationship with work, which could explain the persistence of this behavior over time (Bal -Dóci 2018). ...
In a dynamic employment landscape, the classic determinants of job contentment and workforce engagement have become outdated. Contemporary employee expectations are shaped by significant societal transformations since World War II, the influence of Generation Z, and the indelible mark left by the COVID-19 pandemic on remote working conditions. Using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a framework, this chapter delves deep into the evolving prerequisites of the modern-day workforce. Priorities have gradually shifted from basic security and stability concerns, synonymous with post-WWII sentiments, to an emphasis on advanced needs like belonging, esteem, and self-realization. The pressing need for adaptability in human resource management (HRM) strategies is highlighted and supported by research including 640 companies from Germany and Switzerland, emphasizing a more personalized approach attuned to individual employee needs amidst overarching societal changes.
The paper presents a clinical and radically reflexive approach to action research, capable of nurturing caring relationships and renewed organizational wealth. These outcomes are achieved by creating space for research-oriented, in-the-moment, constitutive, and collective reflexivity. The paper discusses a framework for understanding a clinical and radically reflexive approach to action research. Second, the radically reflexive perspective is illustrated via a case study. Finally, the specific conditions and limits of such an approach are discussed. The radically reflexive perspective we present hopes to return researchers and participants to the center as authors of renewed organizational landscapes, thanks to their collective agency and their capacity to resist the taken-for-granted cultural and social structures whose “sickness” often has a toxic and unconscious impact on people lives. The paper, therefore, contributes to an understanding of radical reflexivity in action research and its implications for productive dialogue between other clinical, dialogical, and reflexive action-research approaches.
Full-text available
From the 1980’s onwards, neoliberal governance in the US, Canada, and the UK has emphasized competitive individualism and people have seemingly responded, in kind, by agitating to perfect themselves and their lifestyles. In this study, we examine whether cultural changes have coincided with an increase in multidimensional perfectionism in college students over the last 27 years. Our analyses are based on 164 samples and 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students, who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (Hewitt & Flett, 1991) between 1989 and 2016 (70.92% female, Mage = 20.66). Cross-temporal meta-analysis revealed that levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism have linearly increased. These trends remained when controlling for gender and between-country differences in perfectionism scores. Overall, in order of magnitude of the observed increase, our findings indicate that recent generations of young people perceive that others are more demanding of them, are more demanding of others, and are more demanding of themselves.
Full-text available
Why the need for a new theory on workplace dignity? Currently, there is not a theory of workplace dignity, which could help to understand the issues and challenges of the contemporary workplace. Hence, the need for a new theory must be resulting from an observation that current models, paradigms and theories are insufficient to explain the current economic situation. More importantly, there are hardly any new theoretical developments taking place regarding how the future workplace should and could be structured, organized and developed. This book is not by far not the first which claims that our current economic-political paradigms are insufficient to help us through the 21st century, and that contemporary society is in desperate need of new ideas to shape the workplace of the future (Bauman et al. 2015).
Full-text available
We introduce 2 novel types of job crafting—crafting toward strengths and crafting toward interests—that aim to improve the fit between one’s job and personal strengths and interests. Based on Berg, Dutton, and Wrzesniewski (2013), we hypothesized that participating in a job crafting intervention aimed at adjusting the job to personal strengths and interests leads to higher levels of job crafting, which in turn will promote person–job fit. Moreover, we hypothesized that this indirect effect would be stronger for older workers compared with younger workers. Results of an experimental field study indicated that participating in the job crafting intervention leads to strengths crafting, but only among older workers. Strengths crafting was, in turn, positively associated with demands–abilities and needs–supplies fit. Unexpectedly, participating in the job crafting intervention did not influence job crafting toward interests and had a negative effect on crafting toward strengths among younger workers. However, our findings suggest that some types of job crafting interventions can indeed be an effective tool for increasing person–job fit of older workers.
Full-text available
Social exchange theory is one of the most prominent conceptual perspectives in management, as well as related fields like sociology and social psychology. An important criticism of social exchange theory; however, is that it lacks sufficient theoretical precision, and thus has limited utility. Scholars who apply social exchange theory are able to explain many social phenomena in post hoc manner but are severely limited in their ability to make useful a priori predictions regarding workplace behavior. In this review, we discuss social exchange theory as it exists today and identify four critical issues within the social exchange paradigm that warrant additional consideration. The four concerns, around which we center this review, include the following: (1) overlapping constructs that need to be more clearly distinguished; (2) insufficient appreciation to the positive or negative hedonic value of these various constructs; (3) an assumption of bipolarity, which treats negative constructs (e.g., abuse) as the absence of positive constructs (e.g., support); and, following from the prior three issues, (4) theoretically imprecise behavioral predictions. Given that these problems are inherent in the current unidimensional framework for social exchange theory, we suggest an additional dimension–activity. We explain how conceptualizing social exchange within a two-dimensional space, while giving equal consideration to both hedonic value and activity, creates new opportunities for future research.
The book examines ethics and employment issues in contemporary Human Resource Management (HRM). Written by an international team of academics from universities in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand, it examines the problems and opportunities facing employers and employees. The book subdivides into three sections: Part I assesses the context of HRM; Part II analyses contemporary debates, continuity and change in HRM, and Part III proposes likely developments for the future seeking to identify a more proactive HRM approach towards ethical issues arising in employment. Distinctive features include: Comprehensive analysis of continuity and change in employment and HRM, In-depth assessment of the ethical contribution and potential of HRM, Timely evaluation of the ethical achievements to-date of HRM in: individualized employment relations, HRM partnerships, HRM and employee performance, and strategic HRM, Detailed recommendations for HR managers and general managers encouraging more ethically aware practice, Guidance on ethical approaches to leadership, knowledge management and collective employment relations, Analysis of alternative futures for HRM as a profession and advice on how to create more rigorous and independent professional practice, A vision of a more innovative, cooperative and ethically sensitive set of HRM practices, Clear proposals for HRM on how to attain more ethical conduct.
Neoliberalism--the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action--has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage. Through critical engagement with this history, he constructs a framework, not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.