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Accounting for workplace flexibility: Internal communication in an Australian financial institution

Vijaya Murthy (Discipline of Accounting, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
James Guthrie (Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

Accounting Research Journal

ISSN: 1030-9616

Article publication date: 9 September 2013

2407

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to consider the impact of social accounting at the micro level and examines the use of social reporting for constructive purposes through internal communication devices. It explores the discourse adopted by a large organisation in social accounting and reporting (workplace flexibility) through employee newsletters. In doing so the paper seeks to answer two research questions. First, what workplace flexibility practices are evident in the employee newsletters? Second, do management use discourse (including self-accounts) in newsletters for self-serving management control purposes or for the emancipatory purposes of benefiting employees?

Design/methodology/approach

Content and discourse analysis are used to examine “workplace flexibility” practices portrayed within the newsletters. This study explores the discourse adopted by a large Australian financial institution, in its social accounting disclosure in employee newsletters. It does so by examining the discourse adopted by the organisation in relation to one aspect of social accounting, that is, “workplace flexibility” in the employee newsletters over the period 2003-2007.

Findings

The paper finds the financial institution used its internal newsletters to influence employee attitude and behaviour, not as claimed for social “betterment” – justice, welfare, emancipation. The possibility of social accounting's emancipatory potential was suppressed by those responsible for providing the accounts. The paper found that management used discourse (including self-accounts) in the newsletters for self-serving management control purposes and not as claimed for benefiting employees.

Originality/value

The idea that the organisation provides workplace flexibility for the sake of benefitting employees is questionable. The discourse found in the newsletters suggests that flexible work options instead appear to be aimed at garnering employee loyalty, with subsequent employer benefits of improved organisational performance. The organisation used the discourse on workplace flexibility to blur the boundaries of work and life and persuade the employees to work harder and longer, to continuously increase productivity. In doing so, the organisation camouflaged its own economic sustainability and profitability as workplace flexibility.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Fiona Crawford and Julz Stevens from Macquarie University for their invaluable research assistance. The authors also are grateful to the participants at the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) conference, Adelaide and the Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Accounting (IPA) conference, Innsbruck for their feedback and comments on this paper.

Citation

Murthy, V. and Guthrie, J. (2013), "Accounting for workplace flexibility: Internal communication in an Australian financial institution", Accounting Research Journal, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 109-129. https://doi.org/10.1108/ARJ-12-2012-0096

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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