Abstract: Understanding Manageriaism in the Human Services through a Framework of Organizational Discordance (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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434P Understanding Manageriaism in the Human Services through a Framework of Organizational Discordance

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Lauren Willner, PhD, Assistant Professor, San Diego State University, San Diego
Background and Purpose: Human service nonprofit organizations (HSNO) have been profoundly impacted by managerialism; the process of organizations adopting and implementing principles and practices derived in the for-profit sector. Emerging in the 1980s as a result of Neoliberal polices related the New Public Management, managerialism presumes that market-based strategies are the most effective way to structure organizations operating in resource scarce environments. Today, this model maintains its stronghold over many organizations, including HSNOs, and results in what Dart (2004) refers to as organizations becoming more “business-like” in both structure and function.

This paper examines the impact of managerialism on HSNOs. Specifically, the emergence of organizational discordance within HSNOs resulting from managerialist practices and ideology is explored. The study contributes to the small but growing body of literature on the subject and bridges the fields of social work and organizational studies. In doing so, the impact of managerialism on employees, clients, and organizational health more generally can be more fully understood. Finally, the implications of this trend on the capacity of HSNOs to meet their goals and to address and solve complex social problems is examined.

Methods: Using a single-case study design, in-depth interviews were conducted with 43 staff members within three human service nonprofit organizations: a homeless services agency, an agency serving low-income older adults, and general poverty relief organization. The organizations were located in a large urban area serving a highly diverse clientele. Participants included front-line staff (n=7), program level staff (n=6), middle management (n=8), leadership staff members (n=14), and executive level staff (n=8). Semi-structured interviews were conducted over a period of nine months. Interviews were transcribed and subsequently analyzed using qualitative data analysis software. In accordance with constructivist grounded theory analytical techniques, interviews were inductively coded into initial/open codes, focused codes, categories, and themes.

Findings: Findings revealed that when actively embraced by HSNOs, managerialism contributes to organizational discordance within and between all levels of the organization. This discordance, which can best be understood as the existence of disharmony among various organizational actors, results in a range of challenges that affect the abilities of organizations to fully meet their missions and goals (Willner, 2017). These challenges are most acutely represented in the conflict that seemingly emerges between professional ethics and values rooted in an ethic of care and social justice, and the managerialist practices embraced by the organizations.

Conclusion and Implications: When adopted by human service organizations, managerialism threatens the ability HSNOs to fully realize their mission and goals. Employing a framework of organization discordance, this study helps to explain the negative impact managerialism has on HSNOs, specifically the ability to meet mission related goals and outcomes. Consequently, managerialism threatens not just organizational functioning, but staff and client/community experience is adversely impacted as well. Finally, this research positions managerialism as challenging to social work values and ethics. Understanding this more fully enables service providers to mitigate these difficulties, which can lead to more effective and ethically informed service provision.