Cognitive Dissonance Theory The American Work Place, A Modern Day Indenturement

Posted by in Communication, Derivations, Theory

One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch.

“Just the thing to quench my thirst,” said he.

Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a ne, two, three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.  -Aesop

The current day American worker is enslaved to their debt, sustenance and economic frailty—unable to or unwilling too leave from abusive, poor, underpaid, exploitative or demoralizing working conditions in large part due to the overall American socio-economic situation left in the wake of the banking, corporate and government’s inability to continue staging and cloaking of their failures, thus poising Americans for an economy crashing under its own weight and crushing the individuals whose faith had helped to build it.

As Americans bellowed for reform and the end to a war that felt so far removed from their own life’s the political culture singed as the weakened threads that created comfort and feelings of confidence, support and economic foundation in their country snapped bringing their America closer to rock bottom. Snapping threads dangling over economic depression dropped too quick for any anticipation from a chaotic political culture and economic shift from what was the livelihood, sustenance, and jobs that Americans so proudly prospered from at the doors of posh mansions and over priced and ill-appraised real estate were to in the period of 12-months cease to exist. In September 2008 the America they saw as strong, superior, and economically sound and savvy was unable to conceal the breaking strands and thinning threads, which suspended Americans above what they saw as the rest of the world. The differences were about to be diffused, the world markets toppling and Americans living as countless others, in countries beyond their borders—no food, depleting resources and no way of generating income. This is the world Americans were introduced to after the election of 2008 and with it other problems arose.  Let’s look at the Americans who were able to keep their jobs in a corporate culture looking to trim any appendages, which would still allow them to live on. Unemployment soared and few and scattered part-time entry-level jobs were scavenged by former Directors, chiefs, managers and individuals with higher education degrees.

Waddell and McKeena (2008) found an increase in cognitive dissonance for working managers of whom extra working hours were expected and their work-life-balance resulting in an alteration of states of compromise, avoidance, self-justification, and confusion as they negotiate their claims of choice and control in their own lives. This dissonance exists for the working person in America today as can be inferred from a November 2010 national telephone survey of Employed Adults by Rasmussen Reports, which found that 72% of working adults say they have been working at their current employer more than five years and 51% believe that they will have a better opportunity for advancement within their current organization and according to data from a Gallup’s April 2010 survey one in five Americans fear losing their job in the next 12 months.

The April 2010 Gallup’s survey also indicates that only 42% of American workers believe that they are “Very, somewhat or likely” to find another job as good as the one they have and 44% indicate that if they lost their jobs they would only be able to go for about a month before encountering hardship.  The high job insecurity and feelings of uncertainty about finding a new job place American workers in destitute working situations from which they are only able to realign their feelings and attitudes about to continue in working conditions that are stressful, uncertain and often negative detrimental to their well being.

The negative sentiments and economic uncertainty is not only limited to the American worker under a company but also to the entrepreneurs and small business owners who according to survey data from July 2010 collected by Gallup place 47% of those owners as indicating they “now plan to never retire until forced to do so for health reasons.” Like-it-or-not many Americans feel bound to their jobs and many try very hard to have success with their business, visit for more information.

The like-it-or-not feelings and attitudes of Americans in regards to their job situations is not reflective of complacency or the lack of desire but it is linked to their large economic stress, job insecurity and the doubts of being able to find a better job. The hours and days pass behind office walls, drive through windows, cashier stations and lines of public insisting on service and these workers look to justify their situation and find the need to compromise and self-justify their behaviors and continued subservience to their employers. The thoughts of adjustment, compromises and self-justification are the collateral efforts of the mind and body’s attempt to reduce the dissonance or friction experienced between the attitude and the actual behavior of the individual. The American worker changes their tune from “I don’t like my job,” “this job is below me,” and “I hate it here” to “I’m here by choice” or “It’s not a bad place – it has it’s ups and downs like all places” in order to satisfy a psychological need. This attitude adjustment or reducing of friction is formally recognized as cognitive dissonance theory as mentioned, in Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes and Contexts, by Miller is the 1957 work of Leon Festinger.

Cognitive dissonance theory as observed by Festinger describes the decisions people make and the actions to minimize the amount of contradictory beliefs they have in their head. Miller states, “When a person is forced to believe two things that don’t match up, they experience extreme emotional discomfort unit they can fix their belief system – they experience dissonance.”

Furthermore, it is noted that the need of the individuals for consistency between their attitudes and behaviors is key in understanding the implications of Festinger’s theory and that individuals typically keep consistency by exposing themselves to messages consistent with their attitude.

In A First Look at Communication Theory Em Griffin describes that Festinger considered the human need to avoid dissonance as basic as the need for safety or the need to satisfy hunger. The magnitude of dissonance felt by individual’s increases the more importance the issue has and the greater the discrepancy between behavior and belief are (Griffin 2008).

According to Griffin, Festinger’s third hypothesis is “Minimal justification for action induces a shift in attitude” which can describe what is occurring in the American workplace with employees.  Applying cognitive dissonance theory and Festinger’s third hypothesis to the current American workers situation the public can understand that the best way to stimulate employees to work longer and harder is to get them to work. Festinger elaborates that the following condition must exist: With reduced wages and benefits already in place to compensate for the employees hard work the employer and the economy only need to highlight the high unemployment numbers, layoffs, downsizing and surplus of job applicants for the employee to work harder. Just enough reward will elicit overt compliance (Griffin 2008).

The Rasmussen’s Employment Index for November 2010 indicates that twenty-eight percent of working Americans say they are worried about losing their jobs and seventy-six percent of workers now say they are happy with their current jobs. While the percentage of workers worried about a job loss remains high and even higher number of workers feels happy we can infer from Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory that the reason for this higher percentage is related to the psychological need to lessen the amount of dissonance between their actual feelings and the behavior they are tied to continue with. The need for self-justification and compromise limits the real feelings of the American worker and indexes the adjustment occurring as explained by cognitive dissonance theory. Consider Gallup‘s findings for September 2010, which say that 88% of Americans the present time is a bad time for find a quality job.  With these staggering statistics it is not hard to accept the theoretical implications to explain why even in negative and tough working conditions Americans bind themselves to their jobs and attempt to provide justification for their continued employment and shift to their “like-it-or-not” but I am here making the best of it attitude.

In 1972 Daryl Bem criticized Festinger’s theory and proposed self-perception theory as an alternative explanation to the results found by Festinger. Bem contends that people do not take their attitudes into consideration and let alone if they are in conflict and attributed the behavioral response as inferring their attitudes from their behaviors and that others respond because of a salient or external behavior.

Cognition of the theoretical implications of cognitive dissonance to the American worker allows them to be aware of the potential downfalls of their reasoning and emotional responses to the situations they must endure. Being able to fully distinguish real satisfaction from a modified compromising attitude is part of the process in self-educating, denial is a step that must first be acknowledged and the truth of the matter accepted so that growth, understanding and evolution take place. Understanding of the theoretical progression also allows the employee to be discerning to workplace propaganda that may be used to thwart request for pay increase, workload reduction, work time requirements or benefit increases. The fear created by the economy and the risk of being on unemployment can be debilitating leading to worker submission.


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