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Title: How does perceived formality shape upward challenge in a UK police force?
Author: Brooks, Sarah
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 2922
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2016
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A recent number of high profile scandals have fuelled a growing desire to understand why voice goes unheard within organisations. Upward challenge is one form of voice which can be helpful for superiors as it allows them to hear about things that could be harmful for the organisation. However, challenging a superior can feel risky because of the formality associated with their role, and the perceived formality of the communication channel used to challenge. Previous studies have suggested the individuals remain silent when faced with situations where they feel voice is risky. However, little is known about how individuals perceive formality and why this might be viewed as risky. Therefore, the present study aimed to understand how perceived formality of relationship with superior and communication channel shaped upward challenge. A qualitative study comprising 19 interviews, card sort activities and one focus group using the four lowest ranks of one UK police force, found that perceived formality appeared to be situational. For example, where a superior was considered likely to use their authority to enforce action, or where certain communication characteristics were present, upward challenge could feel more formal. Perceived formality was also found to be underpinned by a number of organisation design factors creating distance between subordinates and their superiors, making the process of upward challenge feel risky. Nevertheless, the findings highlighted that some participants used a range of strategies to engage in upward challenge which were designed to minimise the risk. One strategy in particular highlighted that upward challenge was most likely to take place in private. There were also participants who did not challenge upwards and reasons appeared to be shaped by a cost-benefit analysis process, indicating that the risks outweighed the benefits. The findings can be used to throw into question a common assumption in the voice and silence literature that subordinates remain silent when voice is perceived to be risky.
Supervisor: Dick, Penny ; Carter, Angie Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available