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Demanding Work

Demanding Work: The Paradox of Job Quality in the Affluent Economy

Francis Green
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Demanding Work
    Book Description:

    Since the early 1980s, a vast number of jobs have been created in the affluent economies of the industrialized world. Many workers are doing more skilled and fulfilling jobs, and getting paid more for their trouble. Yet it is often alleged that the quality of work life has deteriorated, with a substantial and rising proportion of jobs providing low wages and little security, or requiring unusually hard and stressful effort.

    In this unique and authoritative formal account of changing job quality, economist Francis Green highlights contrasting trends, using quantitative indicators drawn from public opinion surveys and administrative data. In most affluent countries average pay levels have risen along with economic growth, a major exception being the United States. Skill requirements have increased, potentially meaning a more fulfilling time at work. Set against these beneficial trends, however, are increases in inequality, a strong intensification of work effort, diminished job satisfaction, and less employee influence over daily work tasks. Using an interdisciplinary approach, Demanding Work shows how aspects of job quality are related, and how changes in the quality of work life stem from technological change and transformations in the politico-economic environment. The book concludes by discussing what individuals, firms, unions, and governments can do to counter declining job quality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4943-7
    Subjects: Business, Sociology, Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface: The Quest for “More and Better Jobs”
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  7. One Assessing Job Quality in the Affluent Economy
    (pp. 1-23)

    Work is no mere passing show for a contemplative community of social scientists. Almost everyone gets to do it. Work itself is a major and defining part of most people’s lives. It takes up a large proportion of their time on this earth, and profoundly molds their life-experiences. Writers about work are also their own subjects.

    In the affluent economies of the industrialized world, life at work in the early twenty-first century has evolved in a curious and intriguing way. Workers have, with significant exceptions, been taking home increasing wages, exercising more acute mental skills, enjoying safer and more pleasant...

  8. Two The Quality of Work Life in the “Knowledge Economy”
    (pp. 24-43)

    Among all forms of recent social and economic change, the development of the “knowledge economy” is the transformation which has, apparently, the rosiest implications for the quality of work life in the modern era. According to this model of the modern industrialized world, knowledge and information have become the main drivers of competitive advantage and the route to securing high economic growth. Underlying the shift from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy has been the revolution in information and communication technologies, which has facilitated enormous changes in the way companies relate to their markets, and how they communicate among themselves...

  9. Three Late Twentieth-Century Trends in Work Effort
    (pp. 44-65)

    In the last two decades, despite improved living standards, commentators in industrialized countries have increasingly noted and deplored a sense of increasing work pressure. While the exact nature of this increasing work pressure appears to vary from one account to another, the issue is frequently linked to ill health, either metaphorically or literally (as an “epidemic of stress”). A culture of long hours at work came to be dubbed the new “British disease,” elevating the problem to a status usually accorded to only the most treasured of scapegoats.¹ Long hours for men, in particular, came to be seen as a...

  10. Four Accounting for Work Intensification
    (pp. 66-93)

    In the 1970s there was reason to expect that in the coming decades the quality of work life might improve, and in particular that for many people throughout the noncommunist industrialized world their work might become more fulfilling, less intense, less onerous, and of shorter duration. For two decades or more, hours of work had been decreasing and workers were getting more holidays; manual work had been steadily giving way to the traditionally more highly regarded nonmanual jobs; women were becoming more completely integrated into the paid workforce, leading to many households no longer being reliant on a male “breadwinner’s...

  11. Five The Workers’ Discretion
    (pp. 94-110)

    One of the distinctive aspects of job contracts is that they are imprecise. In settlement of a contract, wages or other remuneration are exchanged for work; but how much work, and exactly what kind, is usually complex, uncertain, and subject to contestable norms. This imprecision means that employers must manage the labor process: they must instruct their employees what to do and try to ensure compliance. Yet there always remains part of the work planning to which each individual employee contributes, and part of its execution which the employee can influence. This latitude over the manner of performance of work,...

  12. Six The Wages of Nations
    (pp. 111-125)

    Are the jobs being generated and sustained in modern industrial capitalism paying better wages than they used to? To an economist, it is obvious that the wage rate is a key indication of a job’s quality. Surprisingly, some of the discourse among social scientists and policy makers about the quality of work life takes place without even a passing reference to pay. The mystery of the missing wage rate in this debate might have a mundane origin in semantics—perhaps some prefer to use the phrase “quality of work life” to refer just to its intrinsic aspects. Of greater concern...

  13. Seven Workers’ Risk
    (pp. 126-149)

    Those writers who dress the present and future world of work in the cloak of despair, or even just of pessimism and protest, are apt to underestimate the awfulness of the past. Such is the case with popular perceptions about the risks surrounding modern work life.

    There is no doubting the baleful effects of uncertainty. Confidence in the continuity of and progress of employment is a core element in the quality of work life. For most workers, a job is neither a daily tradable commodity, nor a comprehensive detailed labor contract, but a peculiar exchange relationship of variable and uncertain...

  14. Eight Workers’ Well-Being
    (pp. 150-169)

    If recent decades of material affluence have been an age of progress in the achievement of higher living standards—as far as the industrialized world is concerned—one might expect there to have been also a step toward fulfillment and greater well-being in this central area of life. Does not economic growth bring along with it a better quality of working life?

    It should be possible to answer this question with some confidence regarding the present era. The major ingredients of job quality—skill, effort, autonomy, pay, and security—are now all more open to measurement and scrutiny than in...

  15. Nine Summary and Implications for Policy on the Quality of Work Life
    (pp. 170-184)

    Tracing the evolution of job quality in modern capitalism is no simple matter; nor should one expect to find any unidirectional changes indicating unambiguous betterment or deterioration in the experiences of workers. As was argued in chapter 1, an interdisciplinary understanding of the concept of job quality is called for, which points to several features that are, according to the theories of both economics and other social sciences, important aspects of job quality. This book has focused on five central aspects of job quality: skill, work effort, personal discretion, pay, and security. If these features are changing in opposing ways,...

  16. Data Set Appendix
    (pp. 185-192)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 193-202)
  18. References
    (pp. 203-218)
  19. Index of Names
    (pp. 219-222)
  20. General Index
    (pp. 223-225)