Dissonance: a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements. (Oxford American College Dictionary)
In Reading Work, the authors have focused on the importance of “making meaning” of workplace environments through the examination (or perhaps awareness) of social and cultural practices. Indeed. Although I have not born the official role of workplace educator, I have nevertheless been tasked with the role of mediating between the needs of upper management and frontline staff in a variety of workplace situations within the nonprofit sector. Generally, due to the small size of the agencies I have worked with, training and educating staff falls to that mid-level person who is expected to divine upper management’s wishes (discourses) and translate those into staff ideals and actions.
In the chapter on the Urban Hotel, the first place I noticed where tension might develop between these two discourses was in the section “Managing Employee Identity” (p. 110). In this section Hunter describes the envisioned culture of the Urban Hotel – an attractive, congenial, competent servant whose pleasure was serving guests. On the surface, this seems a worthwhile vision for a hotel. The trick comes in the “empowerment” language and actual practice of empowerment to “serve the guests.” In also comes in what it means to “serve” the guest in practice. There is a wide gulf between cleaning bathrooms, standing all day greeting guests (some of who may just be grumpy from a long day), and spending the bulk of your time conceiving of new ways to ensure “quality.” (Oops, my bias just surfaced.)
For me, the disconnect between social and cultural practice was articulated most amusingly in the 4th Standard of Excellence: We are a team! A group of eagles, who have joined to fly in formation. This statement sums up the distance between executive management and frontline staff. Eagles do not fly in formation. Geese fly in formation. (Eagles=executive icon; Geese=workers icon) The hilarity is that no one zeros in on the dissonance of this communication effort.
Contradictions. As Hunter moves through her analysis of the Urban Hotel this word surfaces frequently. In continues to be used in chapter six as the authors discuss implications for literacy practices within workplaces. I believe that what the authors of Reading Work are trying to do is essential to overcoming the dissonance found within most work environments, and that is most simply, for people to walk a bit in each others’ shoes.