“I’ve got so many terrific colleagues here, and we’ve got a vibrant intellectual milieu.” This was what Torkild Thanem said when asked about his work at the School of Business. Torkild is Professor of Management & Organization Studies – born and bred in Norway, educated in the UK – and he loves cross-country skiing.
Can you tell us about your research?
“My research focuses on power and resistance in organizations – how organizations exercise power to manage employees and the resistance which employees often express in relation to organizational change and management initiatives. Furthermore, I’m interested in the particular role of the human body in such processes – how the body constitutes a site and a medium of management and organization. At the moment I’m studying companies that work systematically to improve their employees' health. The problem of sickness absenteeism has led several companies to see a connection between employee health and productivity, and to organize health and fitness activities aimed to improve health as well as productivity. This typically involves proactive as well as preventive measures, not merely emphasizing what employees should not do to avoid illness, but also what they should do to improve their health. So this goes way beyond getting employees to stop smoking – this is more a matter of encouraging employees to exercise more, eat more fruit and vegetables, and reach a work-life balance which simultaneously facilitates organizational and personal goals.”
Over-confidence in the possibility of change
According to Torkild Thanem, managers often underestimate conflicts of interest and overestimate the extent to which employees stand united behind organizational goals. Furthermore, managers often overestimate employees’ willingness to change. But in general, people don’t like being told what to do, even when it’s allegedly in their own best interest. Moreover, people dislike being told how to lead their lives, particularly in the detail implied by many health initiatives. “It’s not that people resist change because they don’t “get it””, Torkild argues. “That’s what the mainstream change management literature tends to assume. Rather, whilst being creatures of habit and desire, we are also political animals, and our interests are affected by our bodily habits and desires, whether you’re a change initiator or a change resistor. Consequently, attempts to change employee lifestyle and work practices have unanticipated consequences.”
“It’s nothing new to speak of unanticipated consequences”, Torkild points out. “This was known even before Robert Merton coined the term in the mid-1930s. But way too little attention has been paid to the bodily politics that thwart and disrupt managerial initiatives. Although organizational change processes are increasingly designed to involve employees, any such attempt needs to acknowledge that people are driven – and embodied – by different interests and desires. And I’m not sure that such involvement can be planned or designed.”
Doctorate in Warwick
Torkild Thanem earned his first degree in management and his doctorate in organization theory from the University of Warwick in England. He has also been a visiting scholar at a number of universities in the US, including Stanford, and he has worked with other universities in Sweden. When asked what he likes about the Stockholm University School of Business, Torkild says: “I’ve got so many terrific colleagues here, and we’ve got a vibrant intellectual milieu. There is also great interest in continuously improving the School, both in terms of teaching and research.”
How can people contact you?
- I can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: +46 8 16 4643, or by visiting me in building 15.