Charles H. Woolbert Research Awardee Dr. Kathleen Krone
Krone was recently awarded the prestigious Charles H. Woolbert Research Award
from the National Communication Association for a paper she co-authored with
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Alumini Dr. Erika L. Kirby. Their article 'The
Policy Exists but You Can't Really Use It:'Communication and the Structuration
of Work-Family Policies,” published in the Journal of Applied Communication
earned the award for its continued conceptual and theoretical significance to
the field of Communication Studies. Dr. Krone was kind enough to answer a few
questions about the project and the award:
What initially inspired the article?
teaching a graduate seminar that included an introduction to structuration
theory. At the time the theory had
gained visibility among organizational communication scholars but very few had
actually chosen it as a guiding theoretical framework for research. Erika Kirby was enrolled in that course. She had earned her Masters’ in communication
at the University of Minnesota and her advisor had been Scott Poole, a major
scholar in organizational communication who also had written on the subject of
structuration theory. Erika had exposure
to the theory through Scott and through my seminar and it became the guiding
theory for her dissertation. We had
discussed everyday interaction around organizational policies as an interesting
subject for research. I believe Erika
also happened to be expecting her first child during the dissertation process
and the subject of work-family policies and their uses was very salient to her
and her husband. Linda Gallant, another
earlier doctoral advisee, studied employee talk about EEO policies and how
differences in interpretation across majority and minority group members
complicated the implementation of these policies. Linda did not use structuration theory; took
a more rhetorical approach instead, but these two projects were completed
within the same 3-5 year period of time.
When did the translational potential of the
piece become apparent?
Braithwaite held an NCA leadership position and the association decided to
begin a translational publication outlet that became what now is known as
Communication Currents. She knew of
Erika’s dissertation and invited us to submit a translational essay as a prototype
for how these translational essays should appear and read. In addition, the subject of work-family/life
are of great concern to many people who want and need to work but who also
value having a life! Erika’s
dissertation also spoke to the importance of having a supportive supervisor to
making these policies work well. The
Kirby & Krone article directs
attention to the importance of co-worker communication, so if organizations are
serious about their support for work and family/life, we learned that the
quality of communication on the part of both supervisors and co-workers about
the use of these policies becomes very important.
Considering the continued popularity of
the article, are there any changes or amendments that you would make if you
could go back?
work and my own work has taken a more critical turn over the years. If I were to make any changes in the article
or approach a similar project again, I might emphasize my current understanding
that when organizations are required by law to offer certain policies, these
policies often are written and implemented in ways that best serve the legal
needs of the organization (i.e., help protect the organization against formal
complaints and lawsuits). Assuming that
these policies exist mainly to benefit employees now seems a bit politically
innocent to me!
Why do you think researchers and
readers find the article interesting?
many people have experienced the complications associated with wanting and
needing to rely on these policies and the realities of making them work well in
practice. Even today when the subject
comes up in conversations people will complain about how the organization they
work for (or used to work for!) paid lip service to work-life issues, but did
not really care. So, these policies and
their use becomes an interesting site of contradiction to talk about and work
through and around. I also think there
is some growing awareness of how much more support there is for
work-family/life by corporations operating outside the U. S. Organizations located in many northern
European countries, for example, offer far more generous benefits related to
work and life than do those located in the U. S.
What advice or recommendations would
you give future scholars seeking to make similar contributions to the field?
advise a future scholar to begin with an important and socially/politically
consequential problem and then locate a promising theory or two that will help
him/her learn more about that problem and also make an important difference in
the everyday lives of people. In my
experience the process of bringing practice to theory first and then theory back
to practice produces the most interesting projects and the most socially useful
social theoretical developments.