Workplace Conflict: Change Over Morale?

If I had have asked Mr. Freeman a question after his speech tonight, my question would have been “Does using conflict as a basis for the creation of change and value interfere with the value of employee morale?” In Freeman’s presentation tonight one of the main points that I took away was the importance of urning conflict in tho the creation of value as a firm. Freeman talked about tradeoffs that companies have to make and how avoiding them can lead to a company’s greatest innovations. His example was the story of the DuPont chemical company. The owner was faced with a tough choice while trying to make the company more environmentally-friendly: shut down a factory or continue to practice traditional manufacturing that caused environmental harm. The owner decided to stick with the newly established values and shut the factory down, but a few weeks later engineers returned and told him that they had worked hard and discovered a solution that would keep the factory working, make it more environmentally-friendly, and actually lower costs overall. Freeman’s conclusion was simple: by putting the workers in this corner, they were forced to innovate and ended up improving their situation. But how sustainable is this practice?

Another one of the important points that I took away from Freeman’s presentation was that an organization should create value for all of their stakeholders, employee’s included. Freeman encourage workers to be intrinsically motivated and passionate about the work they do, not just motivated by rewards. With this in mind, I think that there is a disconnect between valuing employees like this and using conflict as a tool for innovation. Sure it worked once in the DuPont example, but how often can you put employees in a threatening condition in order to gain new ideas? The new ideas definitely created value for the company by improving their manufacturing process, but I would argue that it also caused a loss in value by lowering the morality of employees. An employee could only handle working in a conflictual situation so much before it becomes so taxing that they lose their passion in their work. There is a point where it is no longer worth being under stress all the time, it can only be handled in small doses by employees. I would have been interested in seeing what Freeman would have had to say about this question and whether there was a balance between using conflict for creation and keeping employees satisfied.


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