Authors: David Courpasson and Jean-Claude Thoenig

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0230277861, 256 pages

This is not a book about workers rising up against abusive employers with pitchforks and torches. It’s about highly respected, dedicated young managers who like or even love their jobs, but who rebel when they feel their employers have driven them to the breaking point. Organizational sociologists David Courpasson and Jean-Claude Thoenig explain how managers reach such pivot points, and what trouble ensues when they do. In their view, such apparent trouble generally amounts to a constructive challenge from managers to their superiors that says, “I object to what you’re doing, but I’d like to suggest how to fix it.” The book’s real-life case studies (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) show how managers in varying situations rebelled in different ways. Although the authors offer little guidance on how to realize the positive outcomes of these rebellion scenarios in your own workplace, getAbstract thinks this book will help middle managers better understand how they can solve problems by embracing constructive resistance and rebellion – and yet escape career death.

Rebels with causes

When managers feel that they are at a breaking point, their companies can find themselves dealing with “rebellion, revolt, protest,” and more. A rebelling manager’s superiors may assume that he or she is going through a tough time at home, not getting enough sleep, or crumbling under too much work. They can be tempted not to take rebellion seriously. But they should. Managerial rebellion has more substantive grounds than stress or even pay raises. Such rebellions occur for an entirely different reason: disagreement over “the way the top executives run things.”

Managers who rebel are not malcontents. Typically, they are respected, contributing players who are getting established at their firms and who generally enjoy their jobs. They rebel because they reach a point where their employers’ expectations interfere with or infringe on their private lives, beliefs, or values, or the company trespasses on a “forbidden zone” of privacy. The ensuing revolt can lead to resignations, but nearly all manager revolutionaries start by offering better solutions or encouraging change. Here are a few real-world examples of such “creative rebellion”:

The rebellions of “Patrick” and “Michael”

Patrick was a manager at “Construct,” a French civil engineering firm. His boss, Louis, called him late one Friday evening at home to tell him that management had selected him to run a “major testing lab” the firm had purchased in Scotland. Louis gave Patrick 24 hours to think about the offer and informed him that the new job started in a few days. Taking the months-long assignment would separate Patrick from his wife and new baby. Deciding that he could not leave his family on such short notice for so long, Patrick declined. He knew rejecting an assignment was a cardinal sin at Construct, and he would have to resign. He left a few months later and found a new job. Four colleagues who disapproved of what the firm did to Patrick also left.

Michael was an engineer at “Strand,” a manufacturing firm. His managing director told him the company was going to assign him to lead a low-performing factory that needed to be shut down. As the boss, Michael would have to lay off more than 300 employees. He felt he couldn’t take the assignment because, years earlier, his father had lost a job in a garment factory during a layoff. With that painful memory, Michael knew he could never do the same thing to other workers. He turned down the offer and, eventually, left the company…

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