Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 1 May 2000



Cooper, C. (2000), "Introduction", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 15 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


About the AuthorCary Cooper is BUPA Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the Manchester School of Management. He is the President of the British Academy of Management, President of Institute of Welfare Officers and President of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress (ISIS). He has been a temporary Adviser to two UN bodies, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organisation. He is a member of a number of professional bodies: The British Psychological Society (Fellow), The American Psychological Association, The American Psychosomatic Society, The British Academy of Management (Fellow), The International Association of Applied Psychology, The Royal Society of Arts (Fellow), Royal Society of Medicine (Fellow), Royal Society of Health (Fellow), American Academy of Management (Fellow) and Companion of the Institute of Management. Professor Cooper's areas of research include occupational stress, women at work, dual career families and the balance of work and family life. He is currently Honorary Professor of Psychology at the University of Manchester, and Visiting Professor at Heriot-Watt University, the University of Sheffield and the University of Exeter.

The old adage that "change is here to stay" epitomizes the workplace over the last half century (Cooper, 1998a). The 1960s embraced changed and new technology, with the then British Prime Minister proclaiming that the "white heat of technology" was about to transform our lives, producing a "leisure age" of 20-hour working weeks. This was followed by the 1970s, a period of industrial strife, conflict and retrenchment. The workplace became the battle ground between employers and workers, between the middle and working classes, and between liberal and conservative thinking (Cooper, 1998b).

In most developed countries, the 1980s were described as the decade of the "enterprise culture", with people working longer and harder to achieve individual success and material rewards. We had globalisation, privatisation, process re-engineering, mergers and acquisitions, strategic alliances, joint ventures and the like, transforming workplaces into hot-house, free market environments. In the short term, this entrepreneurial period improved economic competitiveness in international markets in the countries that embraced it. But as strains began to appear, the concept of "burnout" joined "junk bonds", "software packages" and "e-mail" in the modern business vocabulary (Cooper, 1998a). Nevertheless, work was carried out essentially the same way as before; it was still business as usual in large or growing medium-sized organisations in US Inc., UK plc, Germany GmBH, and so on (Cooper and Jackson, 1997). By the end of the 1980s, and into the early 1990s, a major restructuring of work, as we have never known it since the Industrial Revolution, was beginning to take place. The early years of the decade were dominated by the effects of recession and efforts to get out of it. Organisations throughout the UK and the Western world, dramatically "downsized", "delayered", "flattened", and "rightsized". Whatever euphemism you care to use, the hard reality experienced by many was year-on-year job loss, constant restructuring and substantial organisational change. Now many organisations are smaller, with fewer people doing more and feeling much less secure. New technology, rather than being our saviour, has added the burden of electronic overload as well as accelerating the pace of work as a greater speed of response (e.g. faxes, e-mails) becomes the standard business expectation. Also, at the same time, as more and more companies adopted a global perspective, organisations and the individuals they employ are finding that success in the global arena requires fundamental changes in their corporate structures as well as individual competencies. Just as organisations are re-engineering themselves to be more flexible and adaptive, individuals are expected to be open to continual change and life-long learning. Workers will be expected to diagnose their abilities, know where to get appropriate training in deficient skills, know how to network, be able to market themselves to organisations professionally, and tolerate ambiguity and insecurity. The flexible workforce

As more organisations continue to experiment with "outsource", "market-test" (in the case of the public sector), utilise "interim management" and the like, many more of us will be selling our services to organisations on a freelance or short-term contract basis. We are creating a corporate culture of blue collar, white collar, managerial and professional temps - in a phrase, a "contingent workforce".

In predicting the nature of future of corporate life, many (Cooper and Jackson, 1997) argue that most organisations will have only a small core of full-time, permanent employees, working from a conventional office. They will buy most of the skills they need on a contract basis, either from individuals working at home and linked to the company by computers and modems (teleworking), or by hiring people on short-term contracts to do specific jobs or to carry out specific projects. In this way companies will be able to maintain the flexibility they need to cope with a rapidly changing world (Handy, 1994; Makin et al., 1996).

This has led to what employers refer to euphemistically as "the flexible workforce", although in family friendly terms it is anything but flexible. The psychological contract between employer and employee in terms of "reasonably permanent employment for work well done" is truly being undermined, as more and more employees no longer regard their employment as secure and many more are engaged in part-time working. Indeed, in an ISR (1995) survey of 400 companies in 17 countries employing over 8 million workers throughout Europe, the employment security of workers significantly declined between 1985 and 1995: UK, from 70 per cent in 1985 to 48 per cent in 1995; Germany, from 83 to 55 per cent; France, from 64 to 50 per cent; The Netherlands, from 73 to 61 per cent; Belgium, from 60 to 54 per cent; and Italy from 62 to 57 per cent.

It could be argued that there is nothing inherently wrong with this trend, but two recent Quality of Working Life surveys by the Institute of Management and UMIST (which annually surveys a cohort of 5,000 British managers), found some disturbing results (Worrall and Cooper, 1997, 1998, 1999). In 1997, 1998 and 1999, over 60 per cent of this national sample of managers had undergone a major restructuring over the last 12 months involving major downsizing and outsourcing. The consequences of this change, even among an occupational group (i.e. middle and senior managers) supposedly in control of events, were that nearly two out of three experienced increased job insecurity, lowered morale, and the erosion of motivation and loyalty.

Most of these changes involved downsizing, cost reduction, delayering and outsourcing. Yet, the perception was that although inevitably these changes led to an increase in profitability and productivity, decision making was slower and, more importantly, the organisation was deemed to have lost the right mix of human resource skills and experience in the process.

In addition, the impact on working patterns was penal, both from a business point of view and in terms of managers' outside lives. This was partly due not only to more work being imposed on the metaphorical "backs of fewer managers", but also to "presenteeism", the need for managers to demonstrate commitment by working longer and unsocial hours - behaviour which they felt (possibly falsely) would protect them from the next wave of redundancies. It was found, in the 1997, 1998 and 1999 surveys, that over three out of four managers in the UK regularly worked more than their contracted hours each week, with over 50 per cent reporting working often or always every evening and over one third always or often working over the weekends. What is even more worrying is that in the 1999 survey, 56 per cent felt these excessive hours adversely affected their morale, 68 per cent their productivity, 71 per cent their health and a troubling 72 per cent their relationship with their partner/spouse and 86 per cent their relationship with their children.

This trend toward a long hours' culture and intrinsic job insecurity is also having an effect on the family as more and more two-earner families/couples emerged in a climate which was anything but "family friendly". The BT Forum's report, on the Cost of Communication Breakdown (Walker, 1996), found that the proportion of people living in one parent families in the UK, for example, increased four-fold between the early 1960s and mid 1990s; with that, over three million children and young people are currently growing up in step-families as we enter the new millennium. This is in no small measure partly a result of a "long working hours" culture in most public and private sector organisations. Consequences of changing the psychological contract at work

Sparrow and Cooper (1998) stipulate four issues of the changing employment relationships at work:

  1. 1.

    what we want out of work and how we maintain individuality in a world where we face a choice between more intense employment or no employment at all;

  2. 2.

    our relationships with other individuals in a work process that can be altered in terms of social interactions, time patterns and geographical locations;

  3. 3.

    the co-operative and competitive links between different internal and external constituents of the organisation in their new more flexible forms; and

  4. 4.

    the relationships between key stakeholders and institutions such as governments, unions, and managers.

In addition to the changing relationship at work, there are a number of consequences in the way we work. First, as more and more people work from their home, whether part-time or on a short-term contract, we will be increasingly creating "virtual organisations". The big corporate question here is: how will this virtual organisation of the future manage this dispersed workforce, with communication difficulties already apparent in existing organisational structures (Worrall and Cooper, 1999)? Second, with two out of three families/couples two-earner or dual career, how will working from home affect the delicate balance between home and work or indeed the roles between men and women? Indeed, with employers increasingly looking for and recruiting "flexible workers", will not women be preferred to men given their history of flexibility? For example, in the UK, there are currently five times as many women working part-time than men, and although twice as many men are now working part-time than a decade ago, women are historically more experienced at discontinuous career patterns, flowing in and out of the labour market, working part-time and on short-term contracts (Cooper and Lewis, 1998). Third, since the Industrial Revolution, many white-collar, managerial and professional workers have not experienced high levels of job insecurity, even many blue-collar workers who were laid off in heavy manufacturing industries of the past were frequently re-employed when times got better. The question that society has to ask itself is: can human beings cope with permanent job insecurity, without the safety and security of organisational structures, which in the past provided training, development and careers? The European survey by ISR (1995) provided some cause for concern in this regard, showing the UK with the worst decline in employee satisfaction in terms of employment security of any of its competitors, from 70 per cent satisfaction levels in 1985 to 47 per cent by 1995; at a time when UK Plc has been moving faster towards a contingent workforce than all of its European counterparts.

Will this trend towards stable insecurity, freelance working and virtual organisations continue? And, more importantly, can organisations, virtual or otherwise, continue to demand commitment from employees they do not commit to?

The purpose of this special issue is to explore work in the new millennium. A number of distinguished academics have been asked to highlight their views about the nature and implications of the next millennium working environments, particularly those over the next 20-30 years.

Paul Sparrow explores new employee behaviours, work designs and forms of work organizations in the future. Roy Payne reflects on Maslow's ideas in his 1965 book Eupsychian Management, in an effort to see if we are creating organizations that encourage self-actualisation of people. Marc Schabracq and Cary Cooper explore the interface between work and stress, and examine the implications of "lean and mean" organizations. They highlight the benefit and problems of "the flexible workforce", and finally, Adrian Furnham makes predictions about the future of work in 2020 in terms of teleworking, electronic tele-cottages and the implications of work for the few rather than the many.

We all hope that this special issue will raise questions which need to be explored, both conceptual and empirically, over the coming years.

Cary L. CooperGuest Editor


Cooper, C.L. (1998a), "The psychological implications of the changing nature of work", RSA Journal, Vol. 1, pp. 71-84.

Cooper, C.L. (1998b), "The changing psychological contract at work", Work and Stress, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 97-100.

Cooper, C.L. and Jackson, S. (1997), Creating Tomorrow's Organizations: A Handbook for Future Research in Organizational Behaviour, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

Cooper, C.L. and Lewis, S. (1998), Balancing your Career, Family and Life, Kogan Page, London.

Handy, C. (1994), The Empty Raincoat, Hutchinson, London.

ISR (1995), Employee Satisfaction: Tracking European Trends, ISR, London.

Makin, P.J., Cooper, C.L. and Cox, C.J. (1996), Organizations and the Psychological Contract, British Psychological Society, London

Sparrow, P.R. and Cooper, C.L. (1998), "New organizational forms: the strategic relevance of future psychological contract scenarios", Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 356-71.

Walker, J. (1996), The Cost of Communication Breakdown, BT Forum, London.

Worrall, L. and Cooper, C.L. (1997), Quality of Working Life Survey, Institute of Management, London.

Worrall, L. and Cooper, C.L. (1998), Quality of Working Life Survey, Institute of Management, London.

Worrall, L. and Cooper, C.L. (1999), Quality of Working Life Survey, Institute of Management, London.

Some of this material was taken from Professor Cooper's RSA Lecture and is reproduced with permission from the RSA Journal, Vol. CXLVI, No.5484, 1(4), 1998, and from his article in the European Business Journal, 1999, pp 115-118.

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