Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

Service Sabotage

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The relationship between frontline service employees and customers has always been interesting research topic for service marketers as the customer-contact service employee is the service and organization in the customers’ eyes and consumer interpretations of employee performance will create their impression of the service brand (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2009).Most early work on service frontline employees is based on the assumption that interaction between service encounters and customers is harmonious and productive, where service provider tries its best to satisfy customer’s needs and expectations and where service failure is generally described as service performance that fails below a customer’s expectations for all kinds of reasons – the service may be unavailable when promised, it may be delivered late or too slowly, the outcome may be incorrect or poorly executed, or employees may be rude or uncaring (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2009).But there also exist another reason for service failure - employees who can sabotage the service brand through their performance at the front line (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009). Contact employees who willingly perform badly and actively work against the brand. The misbehavior which deliberately causes a poor service experience for a customer is often called as “deviant”, and the employee is labeled as a “service saboteur” (Patterson and Baron, 2010).Ind (2004) describes the brand saboteur as any individual who works against the brand idea and Harris and Ogbonna (2002) view service sabotage as employees’ conscious actions that are designed to affect negatively customer service.

Research works on sabotage topic estimate that up to 75 percent (Harper 1990), 85 percent (Harris and Ogbonna 2002), and even 96 percent (Slora 1991) of employees regularly behave in a way that can be described as either intentionally dysfunctional or deliberately deviant.This paper aims to describe different approaches, perspectives, and motives for service sabotage at the front line and offers various implications and suggestions to help managers to better manage service sabotage. SERVICE SABOTAGE Workplace sabotage is commonly de? ned as any unconventional practice used by employees to show their dissatisfaction. Findings uncovered in studies of employee sabotage and deviance in manufacturing companies provided by Ackroyd and Thompson (1999) markedly differ from the acts of service sabotage uncovered by Harris and Ogbonna (2002).The effects of sabotage are typically delayed in manufacturing firms while almost immediate in case of services. Manufacturing sabotage commonly targets the firm itself or coworkers in contrast to service sabotage where the target of service sabotage is customer. Manufacturing sabotage actions interrupt production and negatively affect the operation and performance of the organization.

In services, sabotage has negative affect on employee-customer dynamics and disrupts service encounters.And finally, sabotage in a manufacturing setting is perceived more as hidden phenomenon that have commonly covert and private nature as opposed to service sabotage, where 64% of the cases described were public. RESEARCH APPROACH There are differences between the authors regarding their perspective/point of view when conducting research on service sabotage. Most of the research works related to employee sabotage and deviance focus on service performance, employee behaviour, and on the service encounter between a customer and an employee from the perspective of the consumer.On the other hand, Wallace and de Chernatony (2009) decided to approach the topic of the service performance and service sabotage from the managers’ and employees’ point of view, while Harris and Ogbonna (2002, 2006) limit their studies on service sabotage to employee views as the aim of their works is mainly to identify the motivations and consequences of the various types of employee misbehavior. MOTIVATION FOR SERVICE SABOTAGE There is significant debate in the literature regarding the motives for employee sabotage.Hartline and Ferrell (1996) state that main causes of negative employee behaviour are stress, frustration, and confusion inherent in the boundary-pning service role.

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This perspective is sympathetic to the front line service employees as authors suggest that ambiguous roles frustrate employees and this impacts on consumer satisfaction and consequently on the service brand. Employees may feel overworked, badly paid, and highly stressed (Hartline and Ferrell, 1996), which affects their behaviour.Harris and Ogbonna (2002) deny this perspective, and its assumption that employees are “malleable” and “submissive”. They also deny perspective that a saboteur is “deviant” as this may suggest that the individual is acting irrationally. Employees willingly misbehave and are fully intent in such actions (Harris and Ogbonna, 2006). Authors suggest that sabotage offers “equalisation” as it allows employees to react to difficult consumers or management demands (Harris and Ogbonna, 2006).Through a survey of low-wage frontline customer-contact employees Harris and Ogbonna (2006) showed that service workers’ characteristics are linked to their tendencies to sabotage service encounters, and service sabotage behaviors are associated with individual and group rewards, effects for customers, and other performance measures.

Their findings further show that management control efforts and perceived labor market conditions are also linked with service sabotage and through employees’ motivation to comply sabotage increases team spirit.Their research works show high level of occurrence, frequency and diversity of sabotage behaviours, with over 85 percent of employees admitting to some form of sabotage. Wallace and de Chernatony (2009), based on their qualitative research on sabotage from the managers’ and employees’ point of view in retail banking suggest that sabotage arises from underperformance, rather than overt deviance, as suggested by Harris and Ogbonna (2002).Findings from Wallace and de Chernatony’s (2009) research lead to suggestion that there are three key issues that negatively affect employee performance and lead to sabotage: employee fear, overwork, and compliance. These issues influence job satisfaction, consumer resentment and employee security. They lead to brand sabotage, as they negatively impact on employees’ performance and on the communication of the service brand.Fear of logging complaints or offering service recovery is the first sabotage issue identified by Wallace and de Chernatony (2009).

Employees’ failure to understand or comply with service requirements is perceived by mangers as a form of sabotage, even though the employee may not have a deviant motive for this behaviour, as service recovery is a critical component of service performance (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2009). Overworked employees trying to meet ? nancial metrics and consumer needs is the second issue suggested by authors.Overworked employees affect branch performance by creating problems and stress for other colleagues. Busy employees lead to dissatis? ed consumers (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009). The third sabotage issue aroused by research is compliance. Front line employees view compliance as a detraction from expected service levels, which is reducing the efficiency of customer service, while managers view compliance in a positive way, as a component of service performance (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009).Authors in their study further define role frustration, job dissatisfaction, informal culture and role ambiguity as negative components of employee behaviour, also called the drivers of sabotage.

These are the states that negatively affect service employee attitudes and performance. Drivers lead to job stress, confusion, lack of clarity about the role and negativity. Affected employees negatively in? uence the consumer’s interpretation of the service brand, as negative behaviour con? icts with the service brand message (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009).Wallace and de Chernatony’s (2009) ? ndings support Hartline and Ferrell’s (1996) perspective about employee sabotage and indicate that rather than retaliation or revenge (Harris and Ogbonna, 2002), it is frustration with excessive consumer expectations and an inability to serve consumer needs, which negatively in? uence employee behaviour (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009). Lawrence and Robinson (2007) state that workplace deviance is a form of organizational resistance, caused by power and driven by provocations.Provocations come from disparities between a current state and some ideal state, need, or desire, which creates frustration. Enactments of power can lead to a loss of autonomy and identity, and to perceptions of injustice, which together can provoke feelings of frustration, which in turn may motivate deviant behavior (Lawrence and Robinson, 2007).

Authors suggest that organizational power has the potential to induce workplace deviance, while the nature of deviance as a form of resistance depends on the nature of the power that inducts it.Forms of power that are systemic (discipline or domination) will tend to incite deviance directed at the organization, whereas episodic power (influence or force) will tend to provoke deviance targeted at individual organizational members (Lawrence and Robinson, 2007). Deviant actions may be functional to those engaging in them because they serve to maintain and protect their needs for autonomy and sense of self-respect and fairness (Lawrence and Robinson, 2007).Lawrence and Robinson’s (2007) findings support Hartline and Ferrell’s perspective about employee sabotage, which state that one of the main causes of negative employee behaviour is frustration, and at the same time they support Harris & Ogbonna’s (2006) suggestion that service sabotage may represent the form of resistance and equalization in labor-management relations, as Lawrence and Robinson’s (2007) findings also shows that traditional forms of resistance do not produce the outcomes that many employees desire and service sabotage may be employee’s covert form of equalization against the actions of manipulative management.Patterson and Baron’s (2010) research work on deviant behaviour of frontline employees in retail store offers different perspective on service sabotage phenomenon. It concentrates more on customers with their perceptions and notions, as they represents active part of encounter and directly influences service quality. Patterson and Baron (2010) suggest that customers often have negative preconceived ideas about the true motivations of employees.

The results of their study surprisingly show that an overwhelming majority of customers ? d employees to be guilty of misbehaviour whether they witness incidents to support this contention or not. Customers generally perceive retail employees to be bored, lazy, and unhelpful, to discriminate between customers according to appearance, and to “act” their role to bene? t themselves or their supervisors rather that improve customer service (Patterson and Baron, 2010). Study illuminates fact that most customers, especially the young ones, have very low opinions of retail customer-contact employees and they enter the stores with shared pre-conceptions of why the employees are behaving the way they do.They do not expect to be satis? ed or delighted by the service employees. Authors uncovered that, while customer-employee encounter might seem polite on the surface, many service encounters are characterised as adversarial, a kind of running battle, a covert power struggle between staff and cynic customers who believe that the actions of store employees are motivated by self-interest and sel? shness. Customers use cynicism extensively as a resource that reassures them that they are not overly dependent on the retail employee.Through cynicism, they maintain their perceived relative power in the exchanges (Patterson and Baron, 2010), while contact employees being willingly unhelpful to customers simply and very effectively restore the social balance of power, which is surely on the side of the customers, since the discourse of consumers sovereignty privileges the needs of consumers, while necessarily, at the same time, negates the needs of employees (Korczynski and Ott, 2004).

Patterson and Baron’s (2010) study findings together with Korczynski and Ott’s (2004) context of the balance of power in the service encounter suggest some similarity with Harris and Ogbonna’s (2006) and Lawrence and Robinson’s (2007) suggestions that sabotage offers equalisation in employee – customer relations, as it allows employees to react to difficult consumers. But tendency to be unhelpful does not necessarily have to be a deliberately conscious snub. It might be just a natural product of an employee’s human propensity to avoid physical labour; at least this is how the customer sees it (Patterson and Baron, 2010).IMPLICATIONS Based on various findings, coming from different studies on service sabotage and deviant behaviour, shown in previous section, the following part offers some of the recommendations, which should help managers to reduce employee sabotage at workplace. Harris and Ogbonna’s (2006) finding that individual characteristics are linked to service sabotage underpins the importance of frontline staff qualities and therefore, an implication of their study is need of consideration of these factors during recruitment, induction, training and probational period by human resource managers.Authors suggest that managers should critically evaluate the qualities of job applicants when recruiting employees into positions where service sabotage is possible in order to minimise the possibility of service sabotage incidents. Efforts to identify potential service saboteurs and measures to control their behavior should be implemented by company management.

Use of cultural control efforts can also affectively change employees’ set of mind and help controlling the actions of service personnel when direct controls are ineffective, not in place or can not be used.Harris and Ogbonna (2006) further advice managers to use well-developed mechanisms and programs that are designed directly or indirectly to control the actions of frontline employees, including organizational culture interventions, psychological profiling and selective recruitment, electronic surveillance and a range of bureaucratic control mechanisms. Authors advise managers to develop strategies and tactics designed to enhance employees’ sense of self-worth (programs of employee empowerment, job enrichment, group-based socialization and reward systems, job rotation, self-development, self-improvement).In order to deal with fear, overwork, and compliance - issues that negatively affect employee performance and lead to service sabotage, Wallace and de Chernatony (2009) recommend managers to ensure that employees are encouraged to own complaints and their fear caused by unrealistic metrics or perceived consumer retaliation is limited. There should be structures provided to support employees with large workloads, to ensure that they do not pass stress to their colleagues and employees should be evaluated on both ? nancial performance and customer service metrics.Procedures should be developed in a manner which best facilitates customer service and employee adaptability (Wallace and de Chernatony, 2009). Authors suggest that this could be achieved by management example, and through best practice training, which should include advice in dealing with customer retaliation and case studies of employee experiences.

A frontline employee training is also strongly recommended by Patterson and Baron (2010). They suggest that it should be orientated on customer trust development, reduction of customer cynicism and support of employees’ constructive creativity.According to the authors, employee training should not be provided through functional scripts and handy customer service tips, as customers are inclined to be cynical in the ? rst place and the employee adoption of an organizationally devised script when dealing with customers reinforces their cynicism. This can eventually result in customers deliberately aiming to ruin the script and encourage service sabotage behaviours from severely bored employees (Patterson and Baron, 2010). Many authors and theories argue that organizations can and should increase managerial control to ensure employees act in company interests.Lawrence and Robinson (2007) in contrast state that attempts of managers to control and limit deviant workplace behavior may even increase such behavior, rather than reduce it. By conceptualizing deviance as a form of organizational resistance, we can move the study of deviance away from the notion that there are unique “deviant” organizational members (Lawrence and Robinson 2007) and so only by understanding the causes of deviance effective solutions can be identified.

CONCLUSION This paper presents variety of opinions in the extant literature regarding the motives, drivers and issues of frontline service sabotage.Hartline and Ferrell (1996) suggested that the stresses inherent in the service role were responsible for creating bad. Harris and Ogbonna (2002, 2006) found that saboteurs were willfully misbehaving and sometimes acted out of desire for revenge. Wallace and de Chernatony (2009) proved that Hartline and Ferrell’s view is applicable to the banking sector and that the banking role is inherently stressful, and behaviour is affected as a consequence. Lawrence and Robinson (2007) argue that workplace deviance is often sparked by the systems of organizational power that lead to employee frustration and eviant behaviors. Their findings support Hartline and Ferrell’s statement that frustration can lead to negative employee behaviour, along with Harris and Ogbonna’s (2006) suggestion that service sabotage may represent equalization in relations. Patterson and Baron (2010) found that frontline employees are trapped in an uneven power dynamic where markedly cynical customers hold the balance of power.

Paper also presents implications of the ? ndings, to help managers dealing with workplace deviance and sabotage.Harris and Ogbonna (2002, 2006) recommend managers to use advanced recruitment techniques, improved monitoring measures, well-developed controlling mechanisms and strategies designed to enhance employees’ sense of self-worth, while Wallace and de Chernatony (2009) strongly suggest encouraging employees, providing employees support structures, improving employees’ evaluation metrics and using the best practice training when fighting the service sabotage. Patterson and Baron (2010) also argue that appropriate training in necessary for creating successful service encounters with cynical customers.Findings indicate that intentional sabotage is driven by range of factors (Harris and Ogbonna, 2006) and the service context in? uences behaviour. Extensive studies show that sabotage behaviour is very potential and ubiquitous phenomenon which requires constant attention and further research because deviant behaviour, when not confronted, becomes the norm (Patterson and Baron, 2010).

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Service Sabotage. (2018, Dec 09). Retrieved from

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