A Descriptive and Theoretical Study of the Nature of Clerical Work at a Mental Health Facility

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Rodney Chesser


Department secretaries, Work life, Professional-organization conflict, Control function, Power in Organizations, Role conflict

Subject Categories

Business Administration, Management, and Operations


This is a study about clerical workers. It is about a particular group of clerical workers who work in a state mental facility. These clerical workers are neither private secretaries nor pool typists; they are department secretaries. And the departments they work for consist of teams of clinical professionals that carry out the therapeutic functions of the facility. This study had the objective of mapping out the vista of the clerical worker's perspective of their work lives. The research techniques consistent with this question were depth interviewing supported by participant observation and document analysis.

At this mental health facility, Central, the clerical workers serve as a link and buffer in the professional-organization conflict. Informally, the clerical workers' role has been expanded to buffer the professionals from bureaucratic demands and to link the administration with the source of numbers and information that it needs to secure legitimacy and funding from the state government. This role for the clerical workers contains both problems, low status, low pay, and no legitimate authority, and opportunities, for growth, responsibility and autonomy. These discrepancies cause role conflict for the clerical workers strong enough to mobilize them to formulate influence strategies to solve their problems and promote their opportunities. The strategies take two forms; a collective effort, a quasi-official Secretaries Group, and promotes the clerical workers' issues on an organizational level and interpersonal influence strategies that enhance their position in the departments. They use tactics derived on the basis of power they have built up through mutually beneficial relationships with clinical staff on their department in general, and with their supervisor in specific.

Each of these portions of the clerical workers' perspective has implications for the formulation of concepts in formal theories, or for practical applications in the management and organizational design of effective and efficient organizations. This study gains insights and direction for further research in the following areas: (1) The nature of the occupation of clerical work--specifically in the category of department secretaries; (2) The control function in organizations; (3) The Professional-Organization Conflict; (4) Power in Organizations; (5) Supervision.


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