The Transformation of Work: Volume 10


Table of contents

(15 chapters)

This study examines the reasons behind managerial resistance to change, particularly in instances where innovative work practices have been imposed. An increased need for firms to develop flexible production systems, become quality oriented and manufacture more quickly has resulted in work re-organization. This shift from Fordism to a form of mass customization has involved not only technological and organizational changes in the workplace, but has also restructured much of managerial work. Instead of a pre-occupation with operational efficiency, managers are now required to coordinate activities designed to promote a more effective use of human resources. Drawing evidence from case studies, we describe the responses by managers to these changes in an industry undergoing intense competitive pressure. Initial implementation of new practices is often followed by modification to those practices that protect managerial interests. It becomes apparent that what is rational for the firm often might be irrational for managers, hence the reason why many changes are resisted by managers. We conclude with a discussion of ambiguous evaluation procedures that further compound managerial uncertainty as unprecedented economic volatility continues to plague firms in this industry.

Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, the study of organizations and occupations, although linked, in principle, as subfields, have become, in practice, increasingly disconnected. Organizational theory has tended to concentrate on higher level theorizing about the design and operation of governance structures while research on occupations has continued to be informed by more contextually sensitive investigations of occupational interaction in concrete work situations. Drawing on a study of how resource recycling practices spread across colleges and universities, we argue for re-uniting the study of occupations and organizations through a focus on what we call the structuration of work. We track how the rationalization of recycling practices through system wide social movements and professional associations enabled the emergence of a new occupation of recycling coordinators in the field of higher education. We use the case of resource recycling in colleges and universities to illustrate how field-level processes and lower-level occupational actions in organizations are mutually constitutive and shape the social organization of work.

This qualitative analysis of interviews with over 100 executives studies the boundaries excluding most women from the most lucrative and powerful jobs in the financial services industry. This chapter examines the roles of technical knowledge and social capital in the highest levels in financial services firms. Although technical expertise is necessary for reaching midlevels, promotion to the highest levels requires that the executive can cultivate interfirm business networks to generate business, or make rain. The networks are male-dominated; women face particular challenges in permeating these networks and making them pay. To elicit men's trust and to get their business, unusually successful female executives adopt stereotyped, sexualized strategies that help their individual careers yet also reinforce the symbolic boundary excluding most women from top positions in financial services. The chapter also examines changes in these strategies over time. Compared to the stereotyped roles for female managers Kanter identified over 20 years ago, stereotypes of successful women today may be loosening, allowing female finance executives a bit more freedom in how they establish business relationships.

Drawing on interviews with more than 80 scientists on two university campuses, we create a typology that offers insights into how transformations in the nature and locus of life science innovation influence academic careers and work practices. Our analyses suggest that a strong outcome of increased academic concern with research commercialization is the appearance of new fault lines among faculty, between faculty and students, and even between scientists' interests and those of their institutions. We argue that life science commercialization is driven by a mix of new funding opportunities, changing institutional mandates for universities, and novel research technologies that bring basic research and product development into much closer contact. The rise of patenting and commercially motivated technology transfer on U.S. campuses stands to alter faculty work practices and relationships, while transforming the criteria by which success is determined and rewards are allocated. Through close analysis of interviews with four researchers who typify a range of academic responses to commercialism, we demonstrate emerging patterns of conflict and agreement in faculty responses to commercial opportunities in the life sciences.

The wide use of self-managing teams is creating a “new division of labor” where team members are expected to learn tasks beyond their own in order to perform cross-functionally. Interviews with members of four service-oriented, mixed-sex self-managing teams revealed that while teams recognized and discussed the importance of learning each others' job tasks, barriers to fully cross-functional task sharing emerged when sex segregated occupations were brought together. Although cross-training and cross-functionality are generally seen as central to the greater efficiency and effectiveness expectations for teams, full reallocation of work tasks was impeded as men in technical professions resisted taking on less-skilled, feminized clerical and relational work. We propose that for self-managing teams to become truly cross-functional, organizations should take into account gender (as well as class) biases that can present an obstacle to task integration in teams, particularly when masculine and feminine - highskilled and low-skilled - occupations are combined.

In recent years firms have pursued efforts at workplace innovation, which often imply a greater degree of decision-making autonomy for production workers. Although much research has emerged on the performance effects of these innovation programs, there has been little empirical research on how workplace innovation may affect the self images of the workers involved - that is, their conceptions of the firm and of their position within it. This article addresses the question of whether and to what extent changes in the workplace have led workers to adopt new attitudes toward their firms, their work, and toward initiatives of workplace restructuring. Growing out of earlier research on German automobile plants, this study presents evidence from interviews, surveys and observation collected from production workers (N = 329) in two German plants where innovative team systems were widely used. The results suggest that where team systems have achieved a fuller and more far reaching transformation of work relations, workers do experience their jobs in a different light. Working conditions seem to improve and opportunities for the exercise of responsibility increase, yet without evidence of increased performance pressures. Equally important, although workers in “transformed” work sites appreciate the new organization of work, they show little tendency to align their interests with those of management. The research, which calls for further explorations along these lines, suggests that in the German case at least, increased worker participation may go hand in hand with worker solidarity and a critical consciousness of the large corporation.

This case study of a worker-owned factory in Mexico illustrates the distinct character of the cooperativist division of labor, bringing into question the tendency to equate cooperativism with de-differentiation. An analysis of this practical alternative shows how workers' participatory culture shapes the politics and relations in production at the shopfloor, transforming the vertical and horizontal division of labor. The conflictive and dynamic character of workers' participation not only limits oligarchic and authoritarian tendencies at the organization, but also sustains a balance between two apparently contradictory goals: to uphold efficiency and a more humane work environment. For the workers, the enterprise becomes a tool at their service, playing an educational and nutritional role. In the process it also reduces the division of labor in society.

Based on forty interviews with physicians who chose to work a reduced-hours career track, this paper explores the perceived consequences of this career track on career progression and satisfaction. Our study suggests that for this population, a reduced-hours career path is a strategy developed primarily on the individual physician's initiative, informally negotiated with the organization, and dependent upon factors such as relationships with supervisors and peers. The physicians believed that the non-standard and informal ways in which these alternative career paths were created lead to a flexible working situation. However, they also acknowledged that reduced-hours careers also resulted in less career mobility. In contrast to other research on the relationship between lack of standardized, formal workplace policies and career stigmatization, these physicians did not describe a relationship between these two factors. Instead, participation in tasks and activities defined as normative to the profession was a key factor affecting career mobility.

This article investigates labour flexibility in the Australian hotel industry. It identifies the different forms of labour used and attempts to provide a theoretical framework that accounts for changes in the pattern of hotel labour utilisation. In the hotel context, decisions concerning the allocation of tasks and labour are made at departmental level through a process of departmentalization where different forms of labour are utilized. The aim is to restructure the supply, effort, timing and intensity of work on a 'just in time' basis. The article suggests that the reorganization of hotel labour markets cannot be explained by a straightforward core-periphery model, rather, the flexibilisation of hotel labour reflects attempts to restructure working time, payment systems and labour costs in the context of broader cost minimization strategies. The implications of the findings at the level of public policy are discussed.

Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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