Coercive Power in the Workplace

In the workplace there is often a pecking order of power and authority that has to be followed. Power is defined as possession of control or authority over others. Those that are in positions of power in the workplace have to understand the amount of influence that they hold and must make an effort to not use coercive power to take advantage of those that are below them in title and prestige. Power is often necessary in the workplace to ensure that business operations are performed at a high level, but there is a fine line between using power effectively and abusing it. Power should only be used as a positive tool in the workplace and should not be used to elicit fear or coercion in any capacity.

Types of Power in the Workplace

Power that is used positively in the workplace is often identified as legitimate or reward power. Legitimate power refers to the management position that uses influence to keep employees on task and oversee business operations. Using this authority to evaluate productivity is necessary. Reward power is a type of power that is given to an employee as an incentive. This means that you offer incentives as a way to motivate and get more productivity.

What is Coercive Power?

This type of power in the workplace is the opposite of reward power and involves threatening punishment or taking something away if directions are not followed. This type of power can be laid back or severe, but in some cases it is necessary to getting the ideal outcome out of employees. Many employees do not respond as effectively to reward power and only offer maximum effort when coercive power is in play. Coercive power can be used effectively, but there needs to be a balance and some limitations put in place.


If some employees are simply not responding to any other type of power or actions, there might be no other alternative to coercive power beyond dismissal. This means that if an employee is constantly late to work or not being as productive as expected, you may have to threaten loss of wages as way to get the employee to make a change in their work behavior. Coercive power can sometimes be harsh, but it is often the final attempt to get an employee to listen. It can be an effective tool in the workplace if used sparingly and not abused.

Understanding the Types of Power

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.