Engineering compliance and worker resistance in UK further education

Kim Mather (Keele Management School, Keele University, Newcastle‐under‐Lyme, UK)
Les Worrall (Faculty of Business, Environment and Society, Coventry University, Coventry, UK)
Graeme Mather (Faculty of Business and Law, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 10 August 2012



The purpose of this paper is to explore control and resistance in the UK further education (FE) sector by examining senior college managers’ attempts to engineer culture change and analysing lecturers’ resistance to such measures.


Data were derived from interviews with managers and lecturers in two English FE colleges and the analysis of college documents. Interview data were analysed thematically using NVIVO software.


It was found that college managers sought to build consent to change among lecturers based on values derived from “business‐like” views. Culture change initiatives were framed within the language of empowerment but lecturers’ experiences of change led them to feel disempowered and cynical as managers imposed their view of what lecturers should be doing and how they should behave. This attempt to gain control of the lecturers’ labour process invoked the “Stepford” lecturer metaphor used in the paper. Paradoxically, as managers sought to create lecturers who were less resistant to change, individualised resistance intensified as managers’ attempts to win hearts and minds conspicuously failed.

Research limitations/implications

The paper draws on data from two case study colleges and this limits the generalisability of its findings.

Practical implications

The paper provides a critical perspective on the received wisdom of investing in stylised change programmes that promise to win staff over to change but which may alienate those they purport to empower and ultimately lead to degenerative workplace relations.


The paper offers new insights into culture change from the juxtaposed, polarised views of senior managers and lecturers, while highlighting the negative consequences of imposing change initiatives from above.



Mather, K., Worrall, L. and Mather, G. (2012), "Engineering compliance and worker resistance in UK further education", Employee Relations, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 534-554.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.