Workplace Temporalities: Volume 17

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(18 chapters)
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The introduction to Volume 17 of Research in the Sociology of Work: Workplace Temporalities, reviews prior literature and issues in the studies of time at work. It provides a brief summary of the chapters in this volume and addresses some of the major themes, particularly those with which sociologists might be unfamiliar, since this volume is, quite deliberately, interdisciplinary. The chapters in this volume demonstrate the complexities of workplace temporalities in the new economy and suggest that incorporating inquiry about time will inform understanding not only of the contemporary workplace, but also of social life more broadly.

The centrality of time to the quality and experience of our lives has led scholars from a variety of disciplines to consider its social origins, including temporal differences among social collectives. Consistent across their accounts is the acknowledgment that time is co-constructed by people via their communicative interactions and formalized through the use of symbols. The goal of this chapter is to build on these extant socio-historical accounts – which explain temporal commodification, construction, and compression in Western, industrialized organizations – to offer a perspective that is grounded in communication and premised on human agency. Specifically, it takes a chronemic approach to interrogating time in the workplace, exploring how time is a symbolic construction emergent through human interaction. It examines McGrath and Kelly's (1986) model of social entrainment as relevant to the interactional bases of time, and utilizes it and structuration theory to consider the mediation and interpenetration of four oft-cited practices in the emergence of a Westernized time orientation: industrial capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, the mechanized clock, and standardized time zones. Surrounded by contemporary workplace discussions on managing the demands of personal–professional times, this analysis employs themes of temporal commodification, construction, and compression to explore the influence of these socio-historical developments in shaping norms about the time and timing of work.

Workplace temporalities are being reshaped under globalization. Some scholars argue that work time is becoming more flexible, de-territorializing, and even disappearing. I provide an alternative picture of what is happening to work time by focusing on the customer service call center industry in India. Through case studies of three firms, and interviews with 80 employees, managers, and officials, I show how this industry involves a “reversal” of work time in which organizations and their employees shift their schedules entirely to the night. Rather than liberation from time, workers experience a hyper-management, rigidification, and re-territorialization of temporalities. This temporal order pervades both the physical and virtual tasks of the job, and has consequences for workers’ health, families, future careers, and the wider community of New Delhi. I argue that this trend is prompted by capital mobility within the information economy, expansion of the service sector, and global inequalities of time, and is reflective of an emerging stratification of employment temporalities across lines of the Global North and South.

Previous research suggests that teams pace their change either internally to coincide with the midpoint, deadline, or task phases, or externally by entraining to exogenous pacers. Other research suggests that teams adapt to random environmental shocks. This paper investigates if, how, and when endogenous, exogenous, and random pacers affect the patterns of change in groups. We studied five software development teams during a turbulent two-year period. Our case studies and supporting analyses suggest that teams perform a “dance of entrainment”—simultaneously creating multiple rhythms and choreographing their activities to mesh with different pacers at different times.

This chapter draws from psychological and organizational research to develop a conceptual model of individual temporality in the workplace. We begin by outlining several general cognitive and motivational aspects of human temporal processing, emphasizing its reliance on (a) contextual cues for temporal perception and (b) cognitive reference points for temporal evaluation. We then discuss how an individual's personal life context combines with the organizational context to shape how individuals situate their time at work through: (1) the adoption of socially constructed temporal schemas of the future; (2) the creation of personal work plans and schedules that segment and allocate one's own time looking forward; and (3) the selection of temporal referents associated with realizing specific, valued outcomes and events. Together, these elements shape how individuals perceive and evaluate their time at work and link personal time use to the broader goals of the organization.

Polychronicity is the extent to which people prefer to be engaged in two or more tasks simultaneously. Relationships between polychronicity and four variables were examined in data from four samples totaling 1,173 participants. Only one statistically significant relationship occurred between polychronicity and propensity for creativity after controlling for other variables. Consistent significant relationships were found, however, between polychronicity and orientation to change (positive), tolerance for ambiguity (positive), and organizational attractiveness (positive or negative depending on whether the organization demonstrated a high or low level of polychronicity, respectively). Concatenated replications reproduced each of these three relationships in at least two samples.

In the information and communication technology (ICT) industry, and particularly in the software sector, knowledge change, the development of expertise and the construction of professionalism are crucial factors for understanding institutional patterns related to professionalization. This paper draws upon research on professionalization in the ICT industry conducted in Germany to explore how time regimes regarding innovation, qualification requirements, and working time regulations are linked to the structuration of expertise in different organizational settings and correspond to particular and contextual professionalism. Project deadlines play a crucial role in the structuration of expertise as common pattern for IT and telecommunication firms, whereas ongoing education and quality standards integrated into management systems serve to stabilize professionalism in large IT enterprises.

Little is known about temporal trends in the intensification of work in America, or its determinants. This study analyzed two representative samples of the American labor force, and found that the pace of work increased significantly between 1977 and 1997. In a decomposition analysis, two-thirds of the increase in work intensification was attributable to objective economic changes, in particular job complexity and the length of work schedules. Future research should further explore the role of technology in quickening the pace of work, but not ignore the possibility that the demands of family life also affect perceptions of work intensification.

Using classic and contemporary perspectives on work, this paper examines how and why extrinsic and intrinsic job rewards, work–life conflict, and flexible hours are related to mismatches between actual and preferred hours of work. We find that making raises, bonuses, and promotions contingent on job performance has little effect on actual or preferred work hours. Discretionary effort, as signaled by higher actual and preferred hours, is more common when people find their work meaningful. Work-to-life conflict, in contrast, generates a desire for fewer hours because people who report it prefer average hours but work many. Offering men flexible hours can partially offset that problem by increasing their appetite for work.

A theoretical economic model is developed to explain the disparities in flexible work scheduling observed across firms, workplaces, sectors, and time periods. Given heterogeneity in firms’ costs, the supply of flextime is determined by firms’ costs of enacting versus not adopting it. The innovative practice would be adopted if it generates net unit labor cost savings. If it is cost neutral, the extent to which the supply of flextime falls short of worker demand for it depends on the extent to which employers must accommodate employee preferences for more time sovereignty and are induced by policy incentives to switch to flexible scheduling.

We expand the concept of time in the workplace by examining the different ways that time is discussed and the different meanings attached to time. Drawing upon observation, informal discussions, and focus groups, we examine worker discourse about clock time, work time, and family time, and argue that the meaning attached to each is related to workers’ ability to exercise some control over time. Using survey data collected from shift workers, we illustrate the connection between time and control by examining the predictors of job satisfaction and work–family conflict.

To explain job hours in four health-care occupations – physicians, nurses, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and nursing assistants, this paper focuses on three sets of factors: class and gender, job conditions and commitment, and family situation. We find that class counts, whether understood in terms of occupation or earnings. Gender shapes hours, but more as a characteristic of occupations than of individuals. Job conditions that explain hours vary, depending on occupational grouping. Families also matter – children, but not spouses, shape the work hours of nurses; spouses, but not children, shape work hours for the other three occupations.

Time pressures in paid work and household labor have intensified in recent decades because of the increase in dual-earner families and long and nonstandard employment hours. This analysis uses U.S. time-diary data from 1998 to 2000 to investigate the association of employment and household multitasking. Results indicate that mothers do more multitasking than fathers and the gender gap in household labor is largest for the most intense type of multitasking: combining housework and child care. In addition, mothers employed for long hours spend more time multitasking than mothers employed 35–40h per week. It appears that motivations for multitasking are heterogeneous: some multitasking is done out of convenience, whereas other multitaskings are a strategy used to manage too much work in too little time.

Both declining job security and the need for dual careers constitute two complicating factors in the lives of middle-class American families. Rarely, however, are these two phenomena investigated simultaneously. Drawing on both survey and in-depth interview data of a sample of middle-class couples in upstate New York, we document the pervasiveness of couple-level job insecurity, and the extents at-risk couples anticipate job loss and employers prepare workers for job termination. We argue that the new middle-class job insecurity is effectively doubled for dual-earner couples, reshaping the temporalities of career development across the life course.

In recent years the Minneapolis (Minnesota) Public Schools have displaced over 1,800 teachers and professional staff. While there is an extensive job loss literature, there is no information available on the adjustments encountered by displaced teachers. Survey data were obtained from a random sample of teachers and licensed staff who were downsized from 2000–2001 through 2003–2004. The majority of downsized teachers reported difficulty in finding another teaching position, in large part because many of them were laid-off during the summer after other districts had completed their hiring. Continuing lay-offs have cut deeper into the seniority roster, exacerbating job insecurity tension for downsizing survivors.

The past few decades has seen the proliferation of “family-friendly” policies incorporated into the workplace to promote the recruitment and retention of women for whom time to take care of families and elders has been primary. Despite the increase of women in high-level professions, many organizations have cultures that still do not support work-life integration. We propose a paradigmatic shift from family-friendly policy development and solutions focused on compliance transactions – to what we call “strategic organizational development and transformational change.” We take the argument one step further and suggest three powerful organization intervention strategies to build the culture's capacity to accomplish the business strategy, while weaving work-life integration into the DNA of the 24/7 culture.

This chapter draws on recent literature in I/O psychology, management and sociology to posit a relationship between organizational structure and temporal structure and develops the construct of layered-task time. Layered-task time is similar to polychronic time (P-time) in the inclusion of simultaneous, multiple tasks but includes additional dimensions of fragmentation, contamination and constraint. The chapter links the development of this new time and its resultant time-sense to variation in the degree to which organizations are hierarchical and centralized and develops propositions about these relationships. The chapter contributes to the growing literature on workplace temporalities in the contemporary economy.

DOI
10.1016/S0277-2833(2007)17
Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-0-7623-1268-9
eISBN
978-1-84950-384-6
Book series ISSN
0277-2833