Coercive Power in the Workplace: Defintion, Example, Types

Coercive Power Definition, examples, types

Coercive power comes from one’s ability to punish a subordinate if they don’t comply with the instructions or perform as instructed. Though this power is useful in certain situations, it should always be used very sparingly and only be used as a last option, as there are a number of drawbacks associated with it. In this article, we shall look into Coercive power in detail, its definition, examples, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with it.

Coercive Power in the Workplace 

Coercive Power Definition

The dictionary meaning of Coerce is “Force”. Coercive power is defined as the use of force to get an employee to follow an instruction or order. It is the ability of the manager to get an employee to follow instructions by threatening the employee with punishment if the employee does not comply with the order.

The important aspect of Coercive power is the use of force to get things done. In other types of leadership, there is the use of persuasion to influence the behaviour of the employee to get things done.

Coercive Power Example

Coercive power is a formal type of power and not a personal power or referent power. It comes from one’s formal authority and ability to punish others. The common examples of Coercive power include threats of Demotion, Bonus cuts, Salary cuts, loss of privileges, Suspension, Termination.

Types of Coercive Power

There are two types of coercion – direct and indirect. 1) Direct Coercive Power 2) Indirect Coercive Power

Direct coercion is a deliberate threat by a leader to elicit a specific behaviour.

Indirect coercion is where the threat is perceived by the employee, regardless of whether it is real or not. An example of indirect coercion is where an employee starts to work longer hours in the run-up to annual bonus compensation is determined. In this case, the employee perceives a threat of not receiving their hoped-for bonus.

Coercive Power Advantages

The key advantage of coercive power is in its ability to force compliance from employees. As such, it is useful in certain situations, as highlighted below:

Insubordination: If an employee is consistently late or taking longer than allowed lunch breaks, then coercion could be used to force the employee back into line. The leader could threaten the removal of bonuses, suspension or even immediate dismissal, to force the employee to obey.

Preventing harassment and discrimination: Suspension or termination could be used as a threat to ensure that the company’s rules and policies are being followed, including those related to harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Turnaround situations: A turnaround situation exists when a company or department needs to be turned around as soon as possible, or it will be at risk of huge losses or even shut down if it doesn’t. It is natural for some members of a team to be resistant to change, but in a turnaround situation, there is no time for this and the company needs to change now. In a turnaround situation, the threat of job losses can be a useful tool in getting employees to commit to the new way of working.

Coercive Power Disadvantages

You should only really use coercive power when you have no other choice and you want to put an immediate stop to negative behaviour. Some of the pitfalls of coercive power include:

Lower job satisfaction: People don’t like when things are imposed on them. Further, no one likes to be micro-managed and resents being under a microscope.

Reduces innovation: as everyone is under a microscope under the threat of punishment there is no room for creativity and innovation.

May lead to Backlash: there is always the threat of a backlash when using coercive power. Employees may eventually retaliate or seek alternate employment, and a high attrition rate is very expensive to an organization.

Only works if used sparingly: Coercion loses its power if it is used as a standard method to get things done in the workplace. It should be used as sparingly as possible

Doesn’t work if you are not able to carry out the threat: In this case, the threat is counterproductive, and your authority as a leader can be undermined. Remember the famous quote “Only a fool makes threats he is not prepared to carry out”.

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