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Resolving Chaos in the Workplace Case Study: Nike

Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

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This essay was created for the executive team of Nike as part of a project responding to declining employee morale and increasing tension between employees. Nike is a one of the leading companies in athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment with about 10,800 people working at Nike’s corporate headquarters.


Recently, employees expressed deep dissatisfaction with the company and low morale, stating in a survey, allegations of sexual harassment and sexism such as pay discrimination. Elements of these issues included high-intensity, high intentionality workplace bullying, harassment, and acts of hostility. An analysis will be conducted on Nike from the structure of the company, its ethos, ethical standing, and work relationships.


Furthermore, this essay will call attention to the discrimination, the dangers of letting such issues to persist and will introduce a communication strategy to help eliminate such issues.

The Rise of Nike

Nike, as part of a project responding to declining employee morale and increasing tension between employees, reports on issues conflicting with the company’s mission statement. Nike’s mission statement is to “drive us to do everything possible to expand human potential” (https://about.nike.com/).


This statement is betrayed by a scathing article written by Alexia Fernández Campbell, which encompass the feelings of 50 current and former employees who described the “boy’s club culture” eliminated them from promotions and workplace opportunities (https://www.vox.com/2018/8/15/17683484/nike-women-gender-pay-discrimination-lawsuit).


Workplace bullying is destructive and negatively impacts the targets’ “self-esteem, physical health, cognitive functioning, occupational functioning, and emotional health” (Keashly & Neuman 2005, pp. 201-235). There is a decline in employee morale and increasing tension between employees due to the presence of bullying and harassment.


These are negative behaviours of ridicule, threatening, humiliation and acts of hostility (COM21 2020, p. 48). This behaviour is contrary to the ethos and mission statement of the company, which can be talked about with adjustments to the company’s structure, management attitudes, and by addressing ethical concerns present in the company’s reputation.

To discuss the systematic issues which allow for discrimination to occur, it is important to have an understanding of the structure of Nike. Alike many contemporary organisations, the structure of Nike follows a hybrid of organic and mechanistic structures and styles, with a combination of horizontal and vertical structures.


The structure is known as a matrix structure where the decision hierarchy is fluid, flexible and an employee may be responsible for reporting to their line manager (https://www.advergize.com/business/functional-organizational-structure/). The structure is horizontally split into footwear, equipment and apparel, while vertically, beneath management, are the marketing, sales, operations, HR and finance departments.


Nike also owns another footwear brand Converse and controls its operations. The complexity of the structure makes it difficult for communication lines amongst the network of people at a detriment to the employee’s morale.

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This structure has a mixed reception of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the morale of employees. A positive factor is Nike employs a single person to do more than one job, which raises their incomes and motivates them to improve.


Confusion is the result of answering to numerous bosses since a single person is given several jobs. Conflicts and grudges arose as to which work should be given precedence. Impaired coordination is highly likely since one department may not be aware of another’s plans, which can cause a shortage of funds, leading to unhealthy competition between the departments (https://www.advergize.com/business/nikes-organizational-structure-the-pros-cons/). This results in a decrease in workplace morale and makes the environment hostile rather than collaborative.


Funds should be distributed evenly and greater communication between departments is encouraged. This can be done by holding conferences, establishing lines of communication between managers and an online forum where managers would report their plan of action so there are no duplications. For this reason, the company’s structure must be revised to avoid discrimination due to a reduction in morale because of unnecessary stress.

Like sporting teams, as supported by Nike, business needs to be organised, or the lack of productivity will result in dissatisfied staff and a lowered morale (Samson, Danny, and Richard L. 2018, p. 387). There are requirements a company must meet for groups and teamwork to flourish. This includes establishing the best hybrid pattern for specific tasks, personal preferences and collaborations, communication and meetings.


Workers should overcome proximity bias, stay visible and networking, build relationships, and balance control and trust (https://www.global-integration.com/virtual-teams-training/hybrid-teams-training/). Difference types of relationships build within the work environment such as “superior-subordinate, co-workers or teammates, buyer-seller, or friends” (Cheney 2011, p. 142). Numerous co-workers and superior-subordinate relationships develop under Nike.


The company should create a climate for more friendships to arise, which would decrease the workplace bullying and harassment. Those responsible for the harassment should be held accountable for their actions. Anonymous surveys should be taken to identify who are the problematic workers within Nike. According to the results, fire maladaptive managers, train managers with post conventional attitudes and promote ordinary workers in campaigns.


These actions will improve staff morale and encourage the growth of workplace heroes. Ultimately, these actions would improve staff morale and stop the development of a toxic workplace.

Harassment is detrimental to the morale of employees. When managers have more authority over responsibility, they may become tyrants. For example, in a company hyper focused on competition, women fail to receive the same opportunities in the company.


There are numerous ways Nike can combat discrimination in the workplace. According to studies, narratives assist in building workplace relationships by focalising issues, such as a woman’s struggle to succeed in the company. This is because stories elicit emotional responses, which can improve workplace respect for women and increase morale (Emma McGinty, Bernice Pescosolido, Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, and Colleen L. Barry 2017, 136–146). Further monitoring efforts and interventions can assist in tackling poor working conditions as measures such as this have previously improved conditions (Richard M. Locke, Fei Qin and Alberto Brause 2007, pp. 3-31).


Those who create these glass ceilings should be held accountable, and justify their tasks to the chain of command. If managers are held accountable for their actions, they would not persist with their advances towards female co-workers (Samson, Danny, and Richard L. Daft 2014, p. 7).


This causes workplace bullying and biases which undermine productivity, thus making it pivotal for some team building exercises to be put in place to help form organic friendships amongst workers. Therefore, attention to the sexism within the company would increase employee morale and increase employee productivity.

resolving-chaos-in-the-workplace-case-study-nike

The ethos of the company contradicts the discrimination and low morale present within Nike from its meaning in name, its logo, and its mission statement. The cultural ethos of the company begins with its name: Nike, who is the goddess of victory in ancient Greek mythology. In the same spirit, the cultural ethos of Nike revolves around the support of athlete culture. Its logo comes from the movement and speed of the ‘swoosh’ (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/advertising/hidden-meaning-of-11-worlds-most-famous-logos/nike/slideshow/59738997.cms). Nike fuels customers with the sense of passion behind the popular slogan, “Just do it,” and with authority as a sports brand. Popular athletes promote the brand which helps support the brand’s credibility and authority.


Nonetheless, the issues with the company’s authority, such as maladaptive managers and harassment, cheapen the meaning behind what the company portrays itself as (COM21 2020, p. 36). Therefore it is essential for the company to revitalize its roots and go back to the values which underpin the company in order to target discrimination.

The declining morale of employees in Nike does not reflect the positive work culture of the company. The actual workplace does not match with the company's philosophy of their workplace culture. For example, the company’s mission statement is to “bring inspiration to every athlete* in the world (https://www.thebalancesmb.com/nike-mission-statement-and-maxims-4138115) and to bring the world together through sports (https://www.wk.com/work/nike-helden-heroes/). The asterisk after the word “athlete” to expand the idea of what it means to be an athlete, so long as you have a body, you are an athlete.


This shows the inclusivity in Nike’s workplace, however, this is betrayed by reports of women facing inequality issues within the company. The inclusiveness reflects the goal to encourage everyone to be active, whether you are wheelchair-bound or an NFL quarterback. The manager manifesto for this company is to lead, drive, coach, and inspire (https://www.thebalancesmb.com/nike-mission-statement-and-maxims-4138115).


Nike manoeuvres the brand identity and ethos around the local culture (David L. Andrews 2008, p. 48). To help combat the discrimination against women within their company, they launched a “real women campaign where they presented women in non-objective manner” (https://www.quezmedia.com/blog/rhetoric-case-nike/). This helped the appearance of the cultural ethos but this is only the surface of the company, whereas there are underlying issues with employee’s morale and sexism.

Nike - The Rise and Fall...And Rise Again

Workplace relationships are a fickle thing which needs consistency and care in order to cultivate a high morale in workers. A manager’s communication network is built on internal and external relationships, which can be turned into information highways (COM21 2020, p. 39). This is developed from peer relationships, however, many relationships under Nike have become problematic.


These types of relationships can be sabotaged by issues such as jealousy, which was escalated by the company’s competitive culture. This has negative impacts on physical and mental health, contributes to absenteeism, loss of productivity and a decrease in cash flow (COM21 2020, p. 47). Nike has an array of peer relationships and problematic relationships due to inequality.


The glass ceiling protrudes above women from top management positions (Samson, Donnet & Daft 2018, p. 547- 8; Samson & Daft 2015, p. 531). Furthermore, there are glass walls which prevents inclusions in networks which is essential for professional and social achievements (COM21 2020, p. 75). Issues such as glass walls and ceilings should be addressed in order to promote high morale in workers.


Addressing the ethical and legal rights of the employee is pivotal to the workplace morale and target discrimination. Ethical and legal rights of the employee include the addressment of health and safety issues, environmental issues, and divisive issues (COM21 2020, p. 19). For example, health and safety issues are present within the company due to workplace harassment. Issues concerning economic, social and environmental responsibilities must be met to promote employee morale and address discrimination.


The company has begun to meet its environmental responsibilities as a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Organic and recycled cotton and polyester is used within its apparel (https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-nike/). By spreading an altruistic sentiment and having a strong reputation for sustainability, Nike can improve employee productivity, by aligning with the environmentally friendly sentiment which is growing with the presence of social media (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/279106).


Helping employees feeling more connected to the natural environment has been proven to improve employees productivity and wellbeing (https://www.hcamag.com/nz/specialisation/employee-engagement/how-can-going-green-impact-staff-morale/192959). This would help promote the growth of workplace heroes who are motivated by the ethics displayed in Nike. This would improve productivity and promote togetherness rather than competitiveness.

resolving-chaos-in-the-workplace-case-study-nike

The labour conditions of the company need to become more inclusive towards women in order to garner a higher morale in workers. Nike has released ads promoting female empowerment, such as promoting stars such as Serena Williams (https://journal.businesstoday.org/bt-online/2019/nike-and-empowerment). Nonetheless, it seems stars are more promoted and respected than employees, as there was no record of there being employees deemed as heroes.


Female workers were left out of the company’s inclusiveness as in 2018, the company were sued for “creating a culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment” (https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-nike/). This shows that employee safety is not ensured by the company, which needs to be combatted and addressed to promote a higher morale amongst workers.


The job of the manager is to increase morale and cultivate a unified team which would meet the demands of the company. For example, “A manager tries to create by being sensitive, nurturing, and trying to bring out the best in people” (Grosman qtd in Samson & Daft 2012, p. 19), which is a post-conventional, Theory Y approach to management. This approach should be taken towards Nike’s workplace structure to promote morale and tackle workplace discrimination.


This is because Theory Y works under the assumption people will exercise self-control, accept responsibility, and creatively solve problems (McGregor 1961, p. 71). This type of work environment would encourage the growth of post conventional workers, leading to more heroes or knowledge workers. Since they value fairness and diversity, they would be able to come up with ethical solutions which would greatly help the company (Samson & Daft 2015, p. 191).


By giving such workers a platform, this would heighten the morale of employees who are motivated by these individuals, and therefore, be encouraged to speak up against discrimination. Moreover, managers must be trained to increase morale and cultivate a unified team which would meet the demands of the company. Creating the ideal work environment such as this would encourage higher morale in the company, thus combatting discrimination.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Nike has numerous changes to make to increase morale and eliminate discrimination. Solutions to these issues include revising the structure of Nike, dealing with harassment, remaining true to the company’s mission statement and ethos, and addressing the ethical and legal rights of the employees.


Values must be followed, such as the idea of inclusivity, to make female workers more comfortable in the company. Managers must be trained to increase morale and cultivate a unified team which would meet the demands of the company. Ultimately, Nike must do what it can to promote morale and eliminate discrimination, and in doing so, it would bring out the best performance the company is capable of.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Simran Singh

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