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30-04-2020 | Original Paper | Issue 4/2021

Journal of Business Ethics 4/2021

Public Sector Organizational Failure: A Study of Collective Denial in the UK National Health Service

Journal:
Journal of Business Ethics > Issue 4/2021
Authors:
Jane Hendy, Danielle A. Tucker
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Abstract

This paper argues that public sector organizational failure may be best understood from a perspective of collective denial. The rise of this phenomenon is examined using testimony from a Public Inquiry into the downfall of a UK hospital, where falling organizational standards led to unethical decision making and an unacceptable number of patient deaths. In this paper, we show how collective denial, over time, became a process that resided within the fabric of organizational life. To explore the organizational processes associated with collective denial, and how and why it occurs, we identify the influence of a ‘narrative of silence.’ This narrative allows ever more serious failings to be justified as organizational members lose contact with reality entering a downward spiral with no recovery. The combined impact of assumptions about leadership capability, enculturated professional identities, and organizational loyalty create an environment where a narrative of silence can develop.

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