Table of Contents
What is Coercive Power?
Coercive Power is a type of power that uses threats, force, or other forms of coercion to get an outcome. A team leader who threatens to remove, suspend, or demote an employee is using Coercive power.
It is not a personal power but it is the power of the position of authority. It is derived from the word coerce whose dictionary meaning is force. How coercive power works revolve around the abilities of managers to get employees to follow instructions by threatening them with any form of punishment if the instruction is not followed adeptly.
By power definition, coercive power is the ability and authority that can be exercised to influence an individual to deliver results through the usage of fear and threats. In simple terms, it means someone using possible punishments as a motivation to influence someone else. This constitutes an element of leadership. This is one of the methods used by an individual to influence people around him/her.
This power establishes a punishment possibility if the desired results are not delivered. It tries to force or compel behavior instead of influencing behavior through persuasion. Some of its examples can be demotions, threats of write-ups, layoffs, pay cuts, terminations, etc in cases employees do not follow the orders.
Coercive power is the use of coercion by someone in a leadership role to persuade employees or team members to comply with orders by using threat, force, or personal power of the leadership position. A manager might use it to force an employee to follow an order by threatening the employee with some form of punishment.
Coercive power is a formal power source. In this, the threat of force is used to influence agents into compliance. The force used in coercive power could be positional, emotional, social, political, physical, economic, etc, and is not necessarily recognized by the target.
An employee could be threatened by taking away his job or bonus by a supervisor wielding coercive power. The fear of coercive power drives the compliance of the threatened subject.
For coercive power to be successful, the leader influencing must be watching the target of influence. The execution of coercive power by any authority assures cooperation and compliance and prohibits any kind of free riding. The perception of these powers stimulates particular cognitions like motives, relational climates, and trust. Studies have found that enforced compliance and an antagonistic climate are increased through coercive power.
5 Examples of Coercive Power
Here are some examples of Coercive power in the workplace or in business
- The threat of termination: A manager threatens to terminate an employee if the employee does need expectations
- Demotion: A manager threatens to demote an employee if they are not performing or not meeting performance standards.
- Salary reduction: An employee’s salary may be threatened to be reduced if they are unable to perform.
- Suspension: An employee is threatened to be suspended for an indefinite amount of time without pay because he is not performing or is not upto mark.
- Overtime: An employee might be forced to go through overtime with inadequate compensation.
How Coercive Power Impacts the Workplace?
There are several different forms of power in a workplace like reward power, referent power, coercive power, etc. Amongst these, coercive power is a formal type of power. Power in a workplace even exists without any formal organizational hierarchy and outside any formal hierarchy in the workplace.
In simple words, the use of force to gain the desired results from an employee in a workplace is called coercive power in the workplace. This power arises from the ability of an individual in authority to punish an employee for his/her non-compliance. This power, for example, could be used if an employee carries out an order out of a fear of losing a bonus or his/her job. Under this, they are forced to carry out the task given to them by the individual in authority. As it is a type of the formal power in organizational culture, let us have a look at different types of formal powers-
6 Types of Power
1. Reward Power
Reward power comes from an individual’s ability to give rewards or appreciation to someone else. Reward is a positive motivation for the employees. It is conveyed by rewarding the employees for compliance with the wishes of the organization. Giving bonuses, promotions, and raises are examples of these kinds of rewards. This gives positive reinforcement and helps in incentivizing the employees as incentives. This helps in fostering creativity and a sense of positive competition. Employees working in such an environment like to continue working in that.
2. Coercive Power
By threatening others individual gains the power of coercive power. The individual on whom this power is used faces the fear of being demoted, losing a job, or losing a bonus which makes them work hard to prevent such a situation. This coercive power helps in setting the expectations of an employee high. Employee perceives coercive power as destructive and such employees seek alternate employment. Such organizations also face different negative consequences like high employee turnover.
3. Legitimate Power
Legitimate power is exercised by the one who has the position of power in an organization. When the employees recognize the authority of a certain individual, we see legitimate power. This power is exercised if the individual wants the employees to excel with creativity, automation, and innovation. It refers to leading by example. Leaders should demonstrate the importance of specific activities by sharing the reasons why those activities are important.
4. Expert Power
Expert power is used when an expert with knowledge, skills and experience is wielding his power. This power can be developed through either education, training, or experience. It heavily influences others in the workplace or social groups. An example of expert power is a software developer who is skilled in his field and others turn to him for advice. A doctor is also an excellent example of expert power.
5. Informational Power
Informational power is based on the ability of an individual or an organization to hold information and use it to influence others or manipulate others. People with informational power can use it by selectively sharing the information or withholding the information unless necessary. As per the book freakonomics, the people who have amazing informational power in the real world are real estate agents. These agents withhold the true rate of properties until necessary and may manipulate the rates to influence buyers and sellers.
6. Referent Power
Referent power is based on an individual’s charisma and his own ability to inspire others. Referent power is more personal in nature because it depends on the personal qualities of the individual. A simple example is a religious leader, who through his spiritual or religious ideologies guides others. Similarly, celebrities also have referent power due to which their brand value rises.
Some of the notable characteristics of coercive powers are
1. Top-Down communication
In a coercive setup, an organization always channelizes communication through the top-down structure of hierarchy. The managers, supervisors, or seniors set the projects, goals, and resources. With strong decision-making skills, the leader sets the expectations and goals. The top-down flow of communication from the leader to the rest of the team downwards.
2. Single Input Source
In a coercive organizational structure, tho top authorities are responsible for making all decisions and orders. All the ideas flow from the top brass. Ideas and opinions from others are not taken in coercive leadership.
3. Use of Threats
Threats are very common in coercive power since it is authoritative. The threats could be implied indirect coercion or direct, and employees face the negative consequences when do not follow any order or instruction.
4. Dictatorial Control
The ones who follow coercive power are the ones who dictate all the terms. The working environment could turn toxic for the employees under such authoritative leadership. The force compliance under one’s formal authority is the reason for lower job satisfaction.
5. Cast Iron Structure
If the workers cannot achieve the goals set by the managers, they have to face some punishments. There is a loss of effective functioning in an environment that lacks independence and flexibility.
6. Rules and Policies
A coercive manager will ensure that his/her employees comply with his set practices and standard procedures. The authority could also be shown by creating its own rules.
Type of Coercive Behavior
This kind of behavior is perceived by the employee, whether it is real or not. This hidden kind of coercive behavior includes emotional abuse and gaslighting. This is hard to understand and manipulative.
An open coercive behavior is conspicuous and direct. A person suffering from this type of behavior of a manager or supervisor can take legal action against someone.
Forms of Coercive Power
Some of the coercive powers are mentioned below.
1. Use of Threats
This is one of the most common types of coercive power. In this, the influencing agents use the threat of using force against an individual to gain compliance from the targets.
Managers on the targets use this type of coercive power to achieve their goals through the fear of being demoted. This power is gained by threatening others if they cannot achieve the desired results. An individual could be demoted, and this fear drives them towards the set goals.
3. Loss of bonuses or commissions
Coercive power threatens you can threaten an employee to deprive them of the potential rewards or commissions they receive. The fear of losing the benefits or annual bonus compensation might drive them to achieve the goals set by the managers.
With some binding contracts in place, an employee is not allowed to work freely. In some countries, employers have the power to enforce certain trade restraints of area and period after an individual leaves the organization.
5. Loss of Privileges
Employees of an organization receive benefits that are non-cash compensations. This helps an organization in retaining its workforce. Some benefits like parking perks, insurance schemes, etc may face even immediate dismissal.
6. Suspension or Termination
This is a very drastic type of coercive power in which an employee is threatened to be terminated or suspended if he/she cannot achieve the desired results.
Advantages of Coercive Power
There are some scenarios under which coercive power tends to be effective and useful. It is useful when an employee is late or defiant or takes time off too much. Coercive power is then used to threaten the employee to improve his attitude. Companies with their own set of rules and regulations can use coercive power to threaten their employees to follow their rules. It is also helpful for a manager to prevent harassment in the workplace. Any threat of termination or lawsuit will help refrain employees from getting involved in harassment activities. In a brief some of the situations when it can be useful are-
- Enforcing standard procedure
- Correcting unruly behaviors
- Controlling workplace harassment
- Motivating the staff
Hence, coercive power holds several advantages, some of which are most crucial are-
1. Resolving insubordination
A key advantage of coercive power is resolving insubordination issues. Coercion helps an employer when the employee is always late or is slacking all the time. This helps an employer threaten his/her employee to work better or face the consequences.
2. Preventing harassment and discrimination
To make the employees follow the company’s rules and regulations, threats like termination or suspension could be used to get the desired results.
Disadvantages of Coercive Power
Everything has a bad side attached to it, and so does coercion.
1. Lowers job satisfaction
People feel like being under the thumb of their superiors in coercive power.
2. Backlash threat
There is always the fear of retaliation from the employees.
3. Close supervision is needed
Managers who can keep a close eye on everything can only benefit from coercive power.
4. Only works if used sparingly
This is not beneficial for the long term.
5. Doesn’t work if you cannot carry out the threat
Coercive power is invalid if the individual fails to carry out the steps he committed to.
6. Reduces innovation
There is a saying that coercion smothers innovation; this saying stands true here too.
7. Legal Limits of Coercive Power
Coercive power for sure holds several advantages for any manager and for the organization that applies it but what needs to be kept in mind is that there are certain laws that help in regulating how employers treat their employees. The civil rights act prohibits any mistreatment of employees by /her employer. The offensive conduct and harassment may be based on color, religion, sex, age, etc., which are all punishable under the law.
Non Coercive Power
Non coercive power is the ability to influence others without the use of threat or force. It can be known as soft power or persuasive power. The best way to implement this power is by setting positive examples and guiding the individual toward his goals. If you want to build relationships with employees and do not want conflicts, then you should use non-coercive power. For example: using charisma, expertise, rewards or incentives, you can guide individuals towards specific goals without the use of coercion.
In the end, it is clear that coercive power enjoys certain advantages in punishing the employees if everything doesn’t go according to plan, but one thing that must be realized is that it should be used as the last resort to get things done because it has several disadvantages attached to it too.
- Coercive power in business is the power that individuals in authority, like managers, use to threaten their employees with punishments if directions or orders are not followed to get the desired results.
- Coercive power could be severe or mild and is usually tailored depending on the circumstances.
- The most important thing that needs to be kept in mind is that anyone using this must be able and willing to follow through with the threats that are made to the employees.
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