Exploring the phenomenon of silence in organisational settings as experienced by Non-Standard Workers

  • William Sture

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The purpose of this study was to capture, analyse and interpretate NonStandardWorkers (NSWs) experience of the phenomenon of silence in organisational settings to provide a conceptualisation of the antecedents and determinants of silence utilised by NSWs. NSWs are defined as being individuals delivering services within a contractual legal framework Cappelli and Keller (2013). The body of workers defined as NSW are an important classification of workers, with more than 1.65m, or 1 in 8 of workers in the United Kingdom and that approximately one third of surveyed organisations intend to recruit a NSW on a regular basis (Kitching and Smallbone, 2012; 2015). Despite their importance, studies to date have largely focused on creating and defining worker classification, identification of the life cycle of a NSW, and the impact on standard workers (SWs’) from blending with NSWs (Kunda, Barley and Evans, 1999; Barley and Kunda, 2006; Cappelli and Keller, 2013).
To capture the experiences of NSWs, in its full richness and depth, this study utilised hermeneutic phenomenology, a methodology combining descriptive phenomenology with interpretative phenomenology and, hermeneutics to transform the lived experiences of silence in organisational settings into a textual expression of the essence of the NSW’s experiences (van Manen, 1990).
Key findings of this study include identification of the antecedents and determinants of silence utilised by new entrant and experienced NSWs. New entrant NSWs are motivated to remain silent for reasons of feeling ineffective and adopt defensive voice to reduce the risk of early contract termination. In comparison, experienced NSWs utilise a tactic of remaining silent for a period of up to two weeks’ silence during his or her socialisation into an organisation to enable gathering knowledge about the reality of organisational settings through listening to the organisations informal communications.
Experienced NSWs demonstrate learning of the importance of maintaining a continuous marketing presence. This presence enables experienced NSWs, to identify the availability of opportunities in the market place, this knowledge is utilised as a determinate of voice or silence. Where market opportunities are limited experienced NSWs reduce their willingness to voice as a defensive mechanism from early termination of contracts.
A key antecedent to voice is the tactic utilised by experienced NSWs to establish the client’s willingness to hear the voice of the NSW during the negotiation stage, where the NSW determines voice could be restricted or the NSWs perceive a risk of reputational damage experienced NSW’s will walk away from a contract opportunity.
The findings determine that a climate of silence in an organisation acts as a powerful determinate for NSWs to remain silent to defend their contract. In addition, a new contribution is the role of NSWs in the creation or supporting a climate of silence through a transfer of their experiences of a climate of silence when they were standard workers (SWs).
The findings demonstrate the blending of workers as an antecedent to NSWs determination to remain silent. First, the physical location of NSWs with SWs, where a client physically co-locates NSWs with SWs, this acts as a powerful enabler for voice, whereas a segregated environment influences NSWs to remain silent. Second, the size of a blended team; where the team size is small, this acts as enabler of socialisation between SWs and NSWs encouraging voice. In contrast, larger teams can create isolation and or worker cliques acting as a disruption to voice. Third, experienced NSWs utilise a tactic of socialising with colleagues outside the workplace to gain knowledge of the colleagues as a key enabler to voice.
The overall studies contribution to knowledge is the provision of a conceptual model of the NSWs sense making framework that presents the antecedents and determinants utilised by NSWs in their determination to voice or remain silent. This is a significant contribution as it contributes theoretical, policies, and practice proposals for academics and practioners as to the antecedents and determinations of voice by NSWs in an organisational setting.
Date of Award17 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorAlex Avramenko (Supervisor) & Mohamed Branine (Supervisor)


  • Non standard workers
  • Contractors
  • Silence in organisations
  • Sense making
  • Hermeneutics
  • Phenomenology

Cite this