The Structuring of Work in Organizations: Volume 47

Cover of The Structuring of Work in Organizations
Subject:

Table of contents

(19 chapters)
click here to view access options
click here to view access options
click here to view access options
Abstract

In this paper, we call for renewed attention to the structure and structuring of work within and between organizations. We argue that a multi-level approach, with jobs as a core analytic construct, is a way to draw connections among economic sociology, organizational sociology, the sociology of work and occupations, labor studies and stratification and address the important problems of both increasing inequality and declining economic productivity.

Part I: Tasks and Jobs as Building Blocks

Abstract

Jobs fundamentally influence and are influenced by individuals, organizations, and societies. However, jobs themselves are largely conceptualized in an atomized and disembodied way. They are understood as being designed, altered, and dissolved and bringing their consequences one at a time. I advance an alternative view of jobs as a system of ties that span jobs, organizations, and the environment beyond organizational boundaries. These ties create Gordian Knots that hold jobs in place and explain how they change. I illustrate the model with case study evidence and propose an agenda for research on jobs as organizational systems.

Abstract

Idiosyncratic jobs occur when formal job duties match the abilities or interests of a specific person. New duties can accrue or be negotiated to match an existing employee or a potential hire. Idiosyncratic jobs can help organizations deal with changing contexts, and influence organizational goals and structure. They can affect job holders’ careers and organizational job structures. The evolutionary accumulation of idiosyncratic jobs can potentially generate unplanned organizational learning. Promising research frontiers include links to work on job crafting, I-Deals, negotiated joining, and ecologies of jobs. Deeper exploration of these domains can advance core theories of job design and organizational transformation and inform normative theory on organizational use of idiosyncratic jobs without falling into cronyism, inefficiency, or injustice.

Abstract

Business schools offer a unique window into the making of corporate morals since they bring together future executives at formative moments in their professional lives. This paper relies on an analysis of faculty’s teaching tasks at the Harvard Business School to better understand the making of corporate morals. More specifically, it builds on a coding of teaching notes used by faculty members to highlight the importance of silence in promoting a form of moral relativism. This moral relativism constitutes, I argue, a powerful ideology – one that primes business leaders not to vilify any moral stand. In such a context, almost anything can be labeled “moral” and few behaviors can be deemed “immoral.”

Part II: Occupational and Professional Boundaries

Abstract

Sociologists have paid little attention to what people mean when they call themselves “professionals” in their everyday talk. Typically, when occupations lack the characteristics of self-control associated with the established professions, such talk is dismissed as desire for greater status. An ethnography of speaking conducted among several technicians’ occupations suggests that dismissing talk of professionalism may have been premature. The results of this study indicate that among technicians, professional talk highlights dynamics of respect, collaboration, and expertise crucial to the horizontal divisions of labor that are common in postindustrial workplaces, but have very little to do with the desire for occupational power.

Abstract

Faced with institutional demands, organizations often create departments whose work is divorced from technical imperatives. This paper examines workers in one such department: Human Resources. Analysis of HR’s recent history and evidence from an ethnographic study of HR work highlight the institutional origins of conflict between HR’s established “compliance police” role and the “business partner” expectations of line managers. The paper outlines a theory of how organizational responses to institutional complexity contribute to persistent tension in HR and other heteronomous occupations.

Part III: Structure as Constraint

Abstract

We show how organizational forms shape job structures, specifically the variety and types of jobs employees hold, extending previous research on job structures in four ways. First, the social codes associated with wineries’ generalist and specialist forms constrain the number of jobs and functional areas delineated by job titles. Second, form-based constraints are weakened by institutional rules that impose categorical distinctions on organizations. Third, these constraints are stronger when there is more consensus around forms. Fourth, these constraints are contingent on the legitimacy and resources of organizations of varying ages and sizes.

Abstract

People centrally located within networks enjoy a variety of benefits. Why some people achieve such advantage while others do not is not well understood. Using a novel dataset that maps the workflow network among software engineers at a Fortune 500 technology company, I trace the evolution of the position of 804 new entrants to the firm over a period of three years. Findings paint a consistent picture as to the determinants of position in this network: one’s team and one’s job at time of entry, rather than intellectual or social endowment, play the strongest roles in determining one’s subsequent centrality and autonomy.

Abstract

Scholars have studied how entrepreneurs acquire resources but have not examined how resources may be bundled with constraints, which can threaten entrepreneurial autonomy. Organizational sponsors, such as incubators and accelerators, provide entrepreneurs with resources, but how do entrepreneurs sustain autonomy while seeking resources and support? We studied five entrepreneurial firms in a business incubator over a six-month period. While benefitting from incubator resources, entrepreneurs also experienced unexpected constraints, including mentor role conflict, gatekeeper control, and affiliation dissonance. By showing how entrepreneurs unbundled the incubator’s resources from constraints, we explain how entrepreneurs manage the tension between acquiring resources and preserving autonomy.

Part IV: Changing and Perpetuating Structures

Abstract

This paper posits that legal avoidance – employers’ search for forms of employment to which labor and employment laws do not apply – is an important driver of the restructuring of work. It examines three examples of restructuring that enable employers to avoid legal liability and compliance costs: the classification of workers as independent contractors; the use of part-time and variable-schedule work; and employers’ deskilling of jobs and reliance on vulnerable workers. None of these strategies is itself unlawful, but their impact is to limit workers’ legal protections and weaken the law itself. Employers may also experience unintended consequences of restructuring.

Abstract

This paper explores organizational restructuring in corporate law firms. We review recent changes in law firms’ business models and structures, specifically as they relate to the externalization of work – or the unbundling of work and its placement with outside entities, which redefines the division of labor and the nature of the employment relationship. We draw from the extensive scholarship on the legal profession to raise empirical and theoretical implications of market-driven change to the careers of lawyers as well as the shifting patterns of stratification within corporate firms and the profession at large.

Abstract

In this paper, we argue that work should be recognized as “commons.” We call for a new approach to how managers define their role and responsibility regarding the problem of work flexibility and of its societal implications. We argue that, in the global and digitized economy, it is in the best interest of all the company’s stakeholders that managers choose combinations of work arrangements and human resource policies considering the externalities of these decisions. Managers’ responsibility spans to the costs and risks that the broader social system of organizational stakeholders will bear because of their decisions. When labor market institutions are “thin,” it is management’s responsibility to contribute structuring and shaping them, so that the interests of workers, independent of the work arrangements, are considered.

Abstract

Organizations that adopt new practices employ managers to make decisions about how to materialize these practices. I examine how these managers move between the meanings and resources found in extra-local and local realms. I find that managers’ practices shift over time from adapting BPR practices to inhabiting BPR as an idea. Managers’ approaches are shaped by each organization’s history of efforts to introduce extra-local ideas. Rather than adapting BPR practices, managers draw on change tools, techniques, and methods that have worked in the organization and integrate BPR work into ongoing interactions, activities, and language in the local context.

Cover of The Structuring of Work in Organizations
DOI
10.1108/S0733-558X201647
Publication date
2016-08-17
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Organizations
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78635-436-5
eISBN
978-1-78635-435-8
Book series ISSN
0733-558X