What is work, and how do people feel about the work they do? These questions may be answered from several perspectives Obviously, some jobs are more meaningful than others, and some individuals are more easily satisfied than others. Some people live to work, while others simply work to live. In any case, people clearly have strong feelings about what they do on the job and about the people with whom they work. What is work, and what functions does it serve in today’s society?
Work has a variety of meanings in contemporary society. Often we think of work as paid employment—the exchange of services for money. Although this definition may suffice in a technical sense, it does not adequately describe why work is necessary. Perhaps work could be more meaningfully defined as an activity that produces something of value for other people. This definition broadens the scope of work and emphasizes the social context in which the wage-effort bargain transpires. It clearly recognizes that work has purpose—it is productive. Of course, this is not to say that work is necessarily interesting or rewarding or satisfying. On the contrary, many jobs are dull, repetitive, and stressful. Even so, the activities performed do have utility for society at large. One of the challenges of management is to discover ways of transforming necessary yet distasteful jobs into more meaningful situations that are more satisfying and rewarding for individuals and that still contribute to organizational productivity and effectiveness.
Why work activities are important from an organization’s viewpoint. Without work there is no product or service to provide. But why is work important to individuals? What functions does it serve? Below are some functions of work.
Work serves a rather obvious economic function. In exchange for labor, individuals receive necessary income with which to support themselves and their families. But people work for many reasons beyond simple economic necessity.
Work also serves several social functions. The workplace provides opportunities for meeting new people and developing friendships. Many people spend more time at work with their co-workers than they spend at home with their own families.
Provides Social Status in Community.
Work also provides a source of social status in the community. One’s occupation is a clue to how one is regarded on the basis of standards of importance prescribed by the community. For instance, in the CEO of a company or statutory organization is generally accorded greater status than a janitor in the same organization. In China, on the other hand, great status is ascribed to peasants and people from the working class, whereas managers are not so significantly differentiated from those they manage.
In Japan, status is first a function of the company you work for and how well-known it is, and then the position you hold. It is important to note here that the status associated with the work we perform often transcends the boundaries of our organization. A corporate Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or a university Vice Chancellor may have a great deal of status in the community at large because of his position in the organization. Hence, the work we do can simultaneously represent a source of social differentiation and a source of social integration.
Important Source of identity and self-esteem for some.
Work can be an important source of identity and self-esteem and, for some, a means for Self-actualization. It provides a sense of purpose for individuals and clarifies their value or contribution to society. As Freud noted long ago, “Work has a greater effect than any other technique of living in binding the individual more closely to reality; in his work he is at least securely attached to a part of reality, the human community.” Work contributes to self-esteem in at least two ways.
- First, it provides individuals with an opportunity to demonstrate competence or mastery over themselves and their environment. Individuals discover that they can actually do something.
- Second, work reassures individuals that they are carrying out activities that produce something of value to others—that they have something significant to offer. Without this, the individual feels that he has little to contribute and is thus of little value to society.
It is clear that that work serves several useful purposes from an individual’s standpoint. It provides a degree of economic self-sufficiency, social interchange, social status, self-esteem, and identity. without this, individuals often experience sensations of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and normlessness—a condition called alienation. In work, individuals have the possibility of finding some meaning in their day-to-day activities—if, of course, their work is sufficiently challenging. When employees are not involved in their jobs because the work is not challenging enough, they usually see no reason to apply themselves, which, of course, jeopardizes productivity and organizational effectiveness. This self-evident truth has given rise to a general concern among managers about declining productivity and work values. In fact, concern about this situation has caused many managers to take a renewed interest in how the behavioral sciences can help them solve many of the problems of people at work.
The Changing Workplace
It has often been said that the only constant in life is change, and nowhere is this truer than in the workplace. Companies face a variety of changes and challenges that will have a profound impact on organizational dynamics and performance. In fact, in many ways these changes and challenges will determine who will survive and prosper into the next century and who will not. Among these challenges are the following:
The Challenge of International Competition
This situation changed abruptly as companies in Asia and Western Europe developed more sophisticated products and marketing systems and gained significant market shares in home electronics, automobiles, medical equipment, telecommunications, and shipbuilding, to name a few areas. As a result, most companies in the western world like US, Great Britain and others lost considerable market share —and profitability. In the 1990s and into the new millennium, the lowering of trade barriers and acceptance of trade agreements led corporations to seek less expensive labor overseas. In populous countries in Asia like India, China and etc This led to lower costs and the ability to offer products at more competitive prices, but also led to a drop in manufacturing in industries like steel production, a drop in manufacturing of products like iPhones, and the relocation of call centers from the U.S. to India.
In short, many firms in the developed west lost their industrial competitiveness; that is, they lost their capacity to compete effectively in global markets, or they chose to locate in foreign countries as a way to broaden their reach and become more competitive. While traditional jobs have shifted to developing countries, countries like the United States and Canada have transformed their economies by incorporating more technology and automation as well as having a greater proportion of the workforce in the service sectors. It is anticipated that the coming decades will continue to bring disruption to traditional workplace skills that will result in challenging workers to continually evolve their skills.
Finally, the number of products that were invented in the western countries but are now primarily manufactured overseas has increased dramatically—advances in technology are helping the United States regain the top spot in world manufacturing. There had been a significant decline in manufacturing sector as less expensive labor in markets like India and China led companies to locate factories there.
The major reasons for this are: advanced manufacturing capabilities require fewer “line workers,” and having products produced near their major markets reduces transport and time to market.
The Challenge of New Technologies
Although it is common to think of “high tech” as applying only to the aerospace and telecommunications industries, advanced technologies can be found throughout most industries. For example, most of us are familiar with the explosive growth in computing. Both hardware and software change so rapidly that it is difficult for many companies to keep up. Personal computers are being replaced by cell phones that are now faster and more powerful than their predecessors. Cloud computing and access to big data and applications transform data into useful information that is increasingly complex and increasingly user friendly.
Technological changes also can be seen in the increased use of robotics, expert systems, and computer integrated manufacturing systems, which have changed the way many products are manufactured today. Such changes affect not only production efficiency and product quality but also the nature of jobs. In many industries, the first-line supervisors are disappearing and being replaced by self-managing work teams who assume responsibility for production scheduling, quality control, and even performance appraisals. All of these technological changes require managers who are capable of effectively implementing technological change in the workplace—managers who can adapt to the technological imperative while still maintaining and developing the organization’s human resources.
The Challenge of Increased Quality
The challenge of industrial competitiveness incorporates several interrelated factors, including an appropriate product mix, manufacturing efficiency, effective cost controls, investment in research and development, and so forth. Not to be ignored in this pursuit is the quest for increased quality control of the products and services offered in the marketplace. Total Quality Management (TQM) is a term often used to describe comprehensive efforts to monitor and improve all aspects of quality within a firm.
Quality is also a major reason for the success of many Japanese products in Western countries. Simply put, if companies are going to compete, renewed efforts must be devoted to enhanced quality assurance. This, too, is a management challenge. How can managers get employees to care about the products they produce or the services they offer? In this book, we will consider both the issue of quality control (what is it?) and mechanisms of ensuring improved product quality (how do we get it?)
Moreover, quality control includes several organizational issues. For instance, how can managers get parties who are traditionally independently associated with a product to work together to build a better product? That is, how can they get the design staff, manufacturing engineers, workers, suppliers—and potential customers—to come together and cooperate in developing and manufacturing a superior product
A major hurdle in the pursuit of industrial competitiveness is the traditional adversarial relationship between management and workers. Whether a company is unionized or not, there are situations in which the average employee simply sees no reason to increase output or to improve the quality of existing outputs. Frequently, the company’s reward system restricts, rather than increases, performance. At other times, rewards encourage employees to increase quantity at the expense of quality. Furthermore, US companies often view their workforce as a variable expense (in contrast to Japan, where the workforce is viewed as a fixed expense) and lay workers off when they are not needed for short-run activities. As a result, returning the favor, employees see little reason to be committed or loyal to their employers. Turnover and absenteeism rates are often unreasonably high, further eroding performance efficiency and effectiveness. If companies are to succeed in an increasingly turbulent environment, managers must discover better ways to develop and motivate employees. A company’s human resources often represent its biggest single asset, and failing to properly nurture this asset leads to suboptimal return on an organization’s resources. Part of solving this problem involves knowing and understanding today’s employees
The Challenge of Managing a Diverse Workforce.
Historically, the US economy has been dominated by white males. They have filled the vast majority of managerial positions and many of the more important blue-collar jobs, becoming skilled craftsmen. Traditionally, women filled lower-paying clerical positions and often left the workforce to raise their families.
Minorities of both genders found considerable barriers to entering the labor market at the higher (and higher paying) levels. Now, things are changing, and the pace of this change is accelerating. Among other changes, the twenty-first century will also bring major changes in terms of workforce demographics. There is changes in gender, race, and age.
In general, there are more women in positions of responsibility in both the public and private sectors and more opportunities for minorities. Some predict that the coming labor shortage will cause many companies to try to retain older workers for longer periods of time, beyond the traditional retirement age. Additionally, the belief that mentally or physically challenged individuals can play productive roles at work is increasing.
The Challenge of Ethical Behavior.
Finally, the future will bring a renewed concern with maintaining high standards of ethical behavior in
business transactions and in the workplace. Many executives and social scientists see unethical behavior as a cancer working on the fabric of society both in business and beyond. Many are concerned that we face a crisis of ethics in the West that is undermining our competitive strength. This crisis involves business, government, customers, and employees. Especially worrisome is unethical behavior among employees at all levels of the organization. For example, recent reports found that employees and vendors accounted for a higher percentage of thefts than did retail customers
In addition, there are reports of illegal and unethical behavior by big corporate businesses—pension scandals in which disreputable executives gamble on risky business ventures with employee retirement funds, companies that expose their workers to hazardous working conditions, and blatant favoritism in hiring and promotion practices. Although such practices occur throughout the world, their presence nonetheless serves to remind us of the challenges being faced..
This challenge is especially difficult because standards for what constitutes ethical behavior lie in a “gray zone” where clear-cut right-or-wrong answers may not always exist. For example, if you were a sales representative for an American company abroad and your foreign competitors used bribes to get business, what would you do? In the United States such behavior is illegal, yet it is perfectly acceptable in other countries. What is ethical here? Similarly, in many countries women are systematically discriminated against in the workplace; it is felt that their place is in the home. In the United States, again, this practice is illegal. If you ran an American company in one of these countries, would you hire women in important positions? If you did, your company might be isolated in the larger business community, and you might lose business. If you did not, you might be violating what most Americans believe to be fair business practices.
Effective managers must know how to deal with ethical issues in their everyday work lives; therefore, understanding the role of ethics in decision-making, the exercise of power, performance appraisals and reward systems, and so forth are important at workplace.
Source: Book Organizational Behavior which is you can Download for free at https://openstax.org/details/books/organizational-behavior.