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Informality and employment relationships in small firms : humour, ambiguity and straight-talking.

Mallett, O. and Wapshott, R. (2014) 'Informality and employment relationships in small firms : humour, ambiguity and straight-talking.', British journal of management., 25 (1). pp. 118-132.


This paper presents in-depth qualitative research on three small professional service firms whose owner-managers sought to introduce greater degrees of formality in their firms’ working practices and employment relationships. We focus on humour as an ambiguous medium of informality, yet viewed by owner-managers as a tool at their disposal. However, while early studies of humour in small and medium-sized enterprises support such a functionalist view, our findings indicate its significant limitations. We argue that humour obscures but does not resolve disjunctive interests and it remains stubbornly ambiguous and resistant to attempts to functionalize it. Our findings contribute to studies of humour in small and medium-sized enterprises by challenging its utility as a means of managerial control or employee resistance. They also contribute to studies of employment relationships by exploring humour's potentially disruptive influence within the formality–informality span, especially as small and medium-sized enterprises seek greater degrees of formalization, with implications for how those relationships are conducted and (re)negotiated on an ongoing basis.

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Publisher statement:This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Mallett, O. and Wapshott, R. (2014), Informality and Employment Relationships in Small Firms: Humour, Ambiguity and Straight-talking. British Journal of Management, 25 (1): 118–132, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Record Created:31 Aug 2012 09:20
Last Modified:06 Jul 2014 00:30

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