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Manufacturing Discontent: The Labor Process, Job Insecurity and the Making of “Good” and “Bad” Workers

Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-211-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-210-9

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 15 October 2020

Abstract

Labor process research has documented a shift in the nature of control – from techniques that aim to limit worker discretion to consent-oriented controls that are believed to generate greater effort by increasing intrinsic rewards or bonding employees to managers and/or the firm. Over the past several decades, however, growing pressure to increase profits has prompted firms to adopt cost-cutting strategies that have eroded job security, relationships with management and commitment to organizational goals. This study investigates how a changing labor process and rising job insecurity shape workers’ orientations toward work, managers and the firm, and in turn influence workplace behavior. Analyses of content-coded data on 212 work groups confirms that discretion-limiting controls (supervision, technology and rules) are associated with more negative orientations and/or reductions in effort (with variations across distinct forms of control), while investment in workers’ human capital (but not involvement of workers in decision-making) has the reverse effect – ­generating more positive orientations toward work, managers and the firm, and (in turn) promoting discretionary work effort and limiting covert effort restriction. Implications of insecurity are more complex. Both layoffs and temporary employment reduce commitment to the organization, but layoffs generate conflict with management without reducing effort, whereas temporary employment limits effort without producing conflict. We illuminate underlying processes with evidence from the qualitative case studies.

Keywords

Citation

Crowley, M., Payne, J. and Kennedy, E. (2020), "Manufacturing Discontent: The Labor Process, Job Insecurity and the Making of “Good” and “Bad” Workers", Gorman, E.H. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 221-247. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0277-283320200000034013

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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