A conflict between one of my former employers and a former colleague of mine made me curios to find out what leaders and employees do to solve conflicts. It also got me wondering what employees know about their rights and what labour unions do to help employees when the employees are in a conflict with their leaders. It also made me question if leaders and employees even use the law or labour unions when they are in conflicts. My curiosity on these questions resulted in a comparative qualitative study, with participant observation, of the work environment in one hotel in Norway and one hotel in Palestine. By comparing a hotel in Norway with a hotel in Palestine, I got to see things from another perspective and it also opened up for me to see beyond my taken-for-granted views of my own country Norway.
With the use of organizational theory I have looked at the two hotels’ organizational forms and their significance for the work environment and for the leaders and employees time and opportunity to communicate. I found that both hotels could be viewed as mechanistic organized when it came to hierarchy, division of labour and empowerment and that time and opportunity to communicate was more important for the work environment than the hotels’ organizational form.
I have with the use of organizational theories and theories of sociology of law looked at what significance the institutional environment had for the leaders and the employees in the two hotels. I have found that the leaders and employees took some of their rights and duties for-granted and that the two hotels had become isomorphic with the legal institution. I also found that the employees in Norway created their own rules in the different departments and through this the different departments could be seen as small semi autonomous fields. In both Norway and in Palestine I also found “living law”. The management had created rules that were inconsistent with and also violated the law in the two countries, but neither the leaders nor the employees in the two hotels knew that these were violations. Both hotels can therefore be seen as semi autonomous fields. Because of time and opportunity to communicate the employees in Palestine had a common knowledge about rules and norms, the law and the labour union while the employees in Norway had more specific knowledge or no knowledge at all depending on what department they belonged to. I also found that in Norway almost none of the employees were members of the labour union while in Palestine almost all the employees were members of the labour union and they were also active users of the labour union.
I was also interested to see what significance the power relations in the two hotels had for how the leaders and employees solved conflicts. I have found that the employees with the least opportunities are using resistance strategies while the employees with more opportunities to much less degree resists. In both Norway and in Palestine they solve conflicts through negotiations and settlements. At the same time I have found it was much easier for the employees in Palestine to negotiate with their leader than it was for the employees in Norway. And again this was related to the fact that the employees in Palestine had time and opportunity to communicate.
I have found that the organizational form not necessarily is the most important factor to create a good work environment. Creating time and opportunity to communicate can be much more important. This holds true also when it comes to knowledge about law, rules, norms and labour unions and also when it comes to solving conflicts.
Keywords: Ethnographic design, participant observation, work environment, organizations, institutional environment, power relations and conflicts.