Workers Attempts To Survive Work Essay, Research Paper
WORKERS ATTEMPTS TO SURVIVE WORK INTRODUCTION Alienation is a factor that appears in the workplace. It can be looked at from two different perspectives. Karl Marx sees it as an objective state whereas Robert Blauner looks at it as a subjective state. Marx believes that all workers will unavoidably experience feelings of alienation. This is because employees feel degraded and dehumanised doing what they are doing. They take an instrumental orientation to work as a means to an end and therefore feel they cannot be themselves at work (as they are being paid to do a task, they feel they have to be someone else). It is this state of mind that causes people to have a sense of alienation. He goes on to say that labour is not voluntary but forced. As we have to work, we have no choice as we want to satisfy external needs outside work. These needs cause satisfaction, not the work itself. The work is the sacrifice. Marx’s states the real output of labour is the physical expression of the effort that has been undertaken and this then is an object of external existence which becomes alien. This appears to me to have been said to support the rest of his theory. What is apparent, is there is a strong aversion to capitalism. Everything he says leads back to capitalism. Capitalist workers would not only be unavoidable victims of alienation but would be in denial also, as they would state in a false consciousness that their work was satisfying and fulfilling. It is for this reason that the Marxist way was ‘beyond empirical investigations’ (Noon and Blyton 1997) which appears to me to be Marx’s way of covering his theory. In response to Marx’s arguments, if employees could work in an area specifically suited to their interests, satisfaction would be more prominent and alienation would disappear. Blauner on the other hand argues that alienation is not an inevitability caused by capitalism but a ‘general syndrome made up of a number of objective conditions and subjective feeling-states, which emerge from certain relationships between workers and the socio-technical settings of employment” (Noon and Blyton 1997). Blauner recognises four states of alienation: POWERLESSNESS, MEANINGLESS, ISOLATION AND SELF ESTRANGEMENT. “There are at least four modes of industrial powerlessness which have preoccupied writers on the ’social question’.” These are:1. The separation from ownership of the means of production and the finished products.2. The inability to influence general managerial policies.3. The lack of control over the conditions of employment and4. The lack of control over the immediate work process.” (Blauner 1964) This links in some ways with Marx’s argument concerning the Intrinsic and Extrinsic meaning of work, which in a lot of ways I agree with. He sees powerlessness as a state where the employee is controlled and manipulated either by others or by technology, and they cannot change this situation. Meaningless work is another contributor to alienation because people lose motivation very easily if they lack an understanding of the whole work process or how their work contributes to this. i.e. if people don’t understand the reasons for doing something, they are less keen to do it. Isolation is fairly self-explanatory. The employee feels no sense of belonging and can’t or won’t identify with the company or its goals. This I perceive as being the strongest alienator of all the states. If a person feels isolated, the feeling of being alone and not belonging is very soul destroying. Lastly if the employee gains no sense of identity or personal fulfilment from the work, and this means the work is not considered a worthwhile activity, the employee is known to be ’self-estranged’. This in many ways is similar to the meaningless state.(Blauner 1964) Blauner has criticised Marx’s work and has been accused of trivialising ‘by conceptualising it in subjective terms’ (Watson 1987). Personally I believe Blauner’s work and the ideas put forward are much more realistic and seem more practically evident in the workplace. Blauner attempts to show that different employees have different alienation programmes. He goes on to assess whether certain types of production technology produced greater alienation than others. Based on Blauner’s principles, I would assume this is true. An employee will feel more powerless if they are controlled by a greater degree of technology and will therefore be more alienated. However, Blauner states this is not the case. He believes greater automation will free workers from monotonous assembly lines resulting in reduced alienation. SUVIVAL TECHNIQUES Blauner has successfully broken down alienation into its components which are variable and hence comparable. The employee behaviour pattern is very complex and can be interpreted in several ways and this is due to alienation being a relative concept, rather than being absolute. Reactions by employees can vary and we can see these taking several different forms which are invariably their attempts to ’survive work’. (Noon and Blyton 1997). MAKING OUT Making out is the first of the five forms. We can see from Michael Burawoy’s primary research of employees working in an engine plant, that employees have a system of informal behaviour. They play games, and they find loopholes and dodges in order to re-assert some control over their day but whilst still meeting targets. The games enable employees to gain higher earnings by manipulating the incentive systems. However, this is not why they do this. There are deeper incentives including passing the time, boredom relief, relief of fatigue and also social reasons. Workers manipulate rules to suit them, but they do not break them. Burawoy believes by doing this they are conforming to management rules. Another industrial sociologist by the name of Katz, appears to agree. ‘Katz sees the existence of informal structures as a means whereby formal authority wins’.(Salaman 1986). It is almost a reluctant acceptance, or the workers way of saying ‘we’ll do it but we are not happy about it.’ Hyman 1987 highlights tensions between Control and Consent. Should management control and direct employees to ensure the production and performance targets are met or do they try to enlist the skill and co-operation of employees in meeting those targets, i.e. imposing systems of close supervision to ensure management objectives are complied with, as opposed to providing space and freedom for the employees.(Noon and Blyton 1997). Katz argues that within work organisations “There is always some degree of autonomy – some areas where control is not applied. There is therefore scope for the development of various informal patterns: some patterns lessen the boredom of workers and in other ways helps to get work done (sic), others are contrary to the goals of the organisation ” (Salaman 1986). If management take a direct control stance, they will have greater compliance from their employees but at the cost of some loss of commitment. If on the other hand they give the employees a degree of responsible autonomy, you have the reverse. A solution to this is to apply direct control to the unskilled, easily replaceable employee and give a little more autonomy to the skilled worker. If the employees feel they are disposable there will be little commitment to the organisation. Managers feel they have to hide their dependency on the workforce because the more skilled employees may believe they are indispensable. Responsible autonomy is seen by some as a ploy by managers to cover up this dependency. Buroway explains there are advantages in the making of games for the employees and management. He states the day to day adaptations of workers create their own ideological effects that become focal elements in the operation of ‘capitalist control’. (Buroway 1985). In other words, the workers enjoy the games and management are happy seeing the resultant co-operation. Collusion and Collectivity are both factors that assist co-operation and make the workplace run smoothly. Too much collusion however can be counter productive and management can find they have problems as employees gang up, stick together and bully the organisation. Of course the workforce could be split up using performance incentives for individual employees but this would result in setting employees against each other and co- operation would plummet. Like everything else, it is about balance and this must be achieved for profitable production. It appears that Burawoy has a very optimistic view of making out. Although he is highlighting some advantages gained from it, it is after all rebellion. It would be very interesting to see if similar findings were gained from a workplace predominantly of women (e.g. textiles plant). FIDDLING When looking at workplace fiddles, we refer to Mars as this research has been taken the furthest. There are many ways to fiddle in the workplace including tax evasion, theft from the workplace, telephone calls from the office, bumping up expense claims, or using materials and equipment from the workplace for personal repairs or financial gain. Mars believe people fiddle for many more reasons than financial gain which is proved by the fact that in many cases, the small financial gain seems not to justify the risk of a large penalty. So we look farther afield for an answer. After establishing the reasons are not extrinsic, they must be intrinsic. These reasons appear to me to be the feelings of unhappiness or boredom in the workplace. Other ideas are peer pressure from workmates or revenge against the organisation, demonstrating an unhappiness or non-acceptance of the rules. Four categories have been identified – Hawkes work alone, there is no-one looking over their shoulder. Often these people will work for themselves and therefore, fiddling is easy. Donkeys have to be a little more sly as they have rules and regulations imposed upon them and are supervised. They would have to watch their backs. Wolves, as the name suggests, work in packs and they use this to evade the supervision and to get around the rules. The group itself imposes certain legislation on what can and cannot be done. The last category are Vultures who work on their own, can be mobile, but have some kind of group support giving them information but expecting the group etiquette to be followed. (Noon and Blyton 1997) The Wolves and Vultures could be seen as a kind of Mafia within an organisation. Many managers know that fiddling goes on but turn a blind eye as long as the employees don’t get too greedy. It is tolerated for many different reasons within different types of organisations. Fiddling may be hard to prove for managers especially with a colluding work force and trade unions ready to back them up. One reason or explanation for it being allowed is that it may be the responsibility of senor staff to prohibit this activity and therefore if it were discovered, their own jobs would be on the line. However, it may be the ‘mole on the lawn’ scenario, where if one aspect is stamped out, another appears in a different area.
A difficulty managers have to deal with is if they tolerate it at first, then try to stamp it out later it would cause co-operation problems within the workforce and so it is probably a fairly cheap way of keeping the staff happy. As I said earlier, the financial gain in doing this is usually minimal so it may not be viable in many organisations to police this fiddling. However, a common strategy that seems to work is catching someone every once in a while and making an example of them. This could be argued on the other hand to increase the excitement of the fiddling and in Mars view, would make it more appealing to the worker. I am not convinced that the majority of fiddling is to suppress boredom or ’survive work’, although a substantial percentage of fiddlers will be motivated for reasons of peer and group acceptance, especially fairly new employees. Without suggesting people deliberately conspire to fiddle for financial reasons, I think an opportunist streak dominates people and with the opportunity to acquire some extra income paired with an environment where it is accepted, the temptation is too much for many to resist. JOKING Joking is basically an antagonism between two people where petty jokes are made at a person’s expense. Experience has shown that this would be initiated by one person and aimed at another with this ‘love-hate’ relationship or as Radcliffe-Brown 1952 (Noon and Blyton 1997) puts it – “permitted disrespect.” Each person permits the other to make jokes at their expense and is allowed to respond in a similar manner. The primary role is prevention and reduction of antagonism and the ‘joking relationship’ helps to reduce the intrinsic antagonisms caused by work roles. Difference of interest and status are negotiated through playful insults and teasing (Noon and Blyton 1997). In work situations of status difference, the sub-ordinate worker may use playful humour to ’score points’ off their superior worker in order to secretly regain some pride. This is even more effective in front of other employees because it is a two-way game of which it is underwritten and expected, that the second party will not respond seriously. A reaction in this way would more probably than not end the joking relationship. This behaviour is used to safely vent anger or frustration caused by any one or number of people in the workplace. The humour is capable of covering up mistakes in the workplace and prevents humilation. “Joking at work is a way of challenging authority structures. In other words, jokes are an expression of the informal triumphing over the formal” according to Douglas 1975 (Noon and Blyton 1997). There is a difference between this joking between pairs and that of bullying or sabotage. The jokes can soon turn into snide comments which fall outside the boundaries of humour, aimed at ‘egging you on’ or implying that you are doing something wrong. I believe humour in the workplace is ultimately a way of suppressing boredom and is what all five elements of Blauner’s model is about – suppressing boredom. Talking, fun and fooling around in some situations can be the only way of “Psychological Survival” (Salaman 1973) and could be considered a form of escapism but we shall look at this later. Humour and joking can be used to suppress alienation by increasing collusion with workmates. If you are laughing, you are having fun and the day is an enjoyable one. There is a different side to humour – entertainment. We have looked at making fun of each other initially, but another aspect is embarrassing people. This is entertaining to watch as the reactions are so varied. This is perhaps the motives of the classic “Jeering Builder”, trying to get a reaction from a passing female. This again is taking advantage of the “joking relationship”. SABOTAGE There are two categories. Firstly, temporary frustration and secondly, an attempt to gain control. Temporary frustration is when we do something in anger. This momentary lapse could be described as a mild form of rebellion to make a point. The management in an organisation would not be too concerned with this behaviour as long as it did not become a regular occurrence. What they will not stand for and are highly averse to is an attempt to gain control, which is recognised as a direct challenge to authority. Many writers talk about people acting stupidly or lazily and refer to them as saboteurs. In my opinion, for a person or group of people to be saboteurs, they must have malicious intent and must have conspired to perform the act. However, if we look at the wider meaning of the word, you might say somebody was a saboteur if they were cutting corners at work and making things easier for themselves. An example of this would be in a warehouse where mixed products are being sorted. Rather than trying to locate where a product belongs, they instead render it a damaged product and throw it away. It is easier to find the waste bin than the location for the product to be stored. Sabotage is also used to amuse and entertain bored workers or workers who are fatigued. In factories, engineers would purposely snap blades and drill bits off machines they worked on because it was less dull to change the parts of the machine, than continue cutting or drilling. (Buchanan and Huczynski 1997) We can see that sabotage, although extremely destructive, can be used very effectively by employees in a number of ways and for different reasons. The risks attached to it are high as it is seen as a shameful act of vandalism and would not generally be tolerated by an organisation. ESCAPING There are two types of escaping as we know it, physical and mental. Physical escape is fairly noticeable as the person is not where they should be. People may leave jobs due to unhappiness related to many things (pay, promotion, opportunities, co-workers etc.) People will also take voluntary absences for relief of pressures and frustrations at work. Escaping however is not necessarily escaping from the organisation. It is sometimes purely from the workplace. Workers may walk up a length of a warehouse and back to get a pallet truck when they were fully aware that there was one available nearer. Employees will create meaningless jobs that they make out ’should be done’ in order to escape their mundane tasks. Mental withdrawal on the other hand is generally harder to notice and the only way of studying it would be to survey employees and ask how often they escape from work in a ‘mental’ respect. Mental withdrawal generally is a state of daydreaming due to the monotony of some job. People may be more than able to carry out their tasks whilst their minds are in a totally different plane. Physical and mental escaping can co-exist when people daydream about escaping from their workplace to better places. They dream of better jobs, working conditions, pay and many other things and then implement them. Mental escaping can also be in the form of willed tenacity, sticking to what they are doing to ensure a better future for themselves or often their children. Many people seem to have a strong pride in sticking to their jobs purely for the benefit of their offspring. This form of escapism is the only survival method we have looked at that is fairly passive. The management of organisations are not alerted to it for this reason and is as I discussed earlier, almost undetectable. CONCLUSION There is no doubt that alienation exists in the workplace and the degree experienced depends on several factors. There are a variety of aspects that cause the feeling of alienation. In lay-persons terms I believe a worker must have an understanding of what and why he is doing what he is doing. They must feel important to the work process and their opinions must be valued. Most importantly of all, that person must feel at home, welcome and accepted in the workplace. I believe if these factors existed, alienation in the workplace would disappear. I find it hard to believe, contrary to Blauner’s opinion, that the introduction of certain types of production technology decreased alienation. The introduction of technology would surely lead to increased feelings of powerlessness and meaningless. On the assumption of this technology replacing men, feelings of isolation may be an issue also. However my argument is not water-tight. In Blauner’s defence, the words chosen were “Certain types of Production Technology” (Blauner 1964) We have looked at five methods of ’surviving work’, each of which produce different results for the worker and reactions from the management. Making out is, within certain boundaries, harmonious and beneficial for both parties – employees and employers. It helps workers to fight fatigue and boredom, whilst they are reservedly consenting to the rules of the management. It is difficult to say for sure why people fiddle, although there is no doubt it goes on. Mars writes that people fiddle for reasons of excitement, hitting back at the management, and other intrinsic reasons but he believes any extrinsic reasons (e.g. financial gain) to be in a minority. I believe financial gain plays more of a part in workers’ motives than Mars suggests. Humour is an integral part of feeling good. Incorporating jokes and promoting good relations will suppress each division of Blauner’s alienation model, especially any isolation, resulting in a feeling of acceptance and harmony. One must appreciate however the ‘joking relationship’ can be misused to manipulate people. Although temporary frustration will always be an element of the workplace as everyone has to let off steam, it is the other element of sabotage which involves an ‘attempt to gain control’ which is the most relevant in this case. There are three reasons for this type of sabotage – revenge/antagonism, amusement and laziness. This is the most destructive of all the survival techniques and for this reason is the least tolerated. In contrast, the survival technique that management can do nothing about, is mental escapism, where a worker simply day dreams whilst carrying out the task instructed. This is the most common state undertaken by workers. The processes we have looked at, in their own ways all reduce what is referred to as alienation. Whether employees consent to the rules of management or resist, people need to deal with certain situations in certain ways. For every action there is a re- action and if that reaction was not effective in its purpose, its use would cease to continue. These reactions seem to be the most prominent methods of suppressing alienation, although there may be more. It is not possible to label any of the five behavioural patterns as consenting or resisting the organisations rules. The only determinate of this is the severity of the behaviour and the interpretation of such behaviour by management. BIBLIOGRAPHY R. Blauner (1964) “Alienation and Freedom: the factory worker and his industry”. Chicago. University of Chicago Press. T.J. Watson: Sociology Work and Industry, Routledge 1987 Salaman G (1986) “Working” Tavistock, London. Salaman G (1973) “People and Organisations” Longman. Open University Press. Mike Noon, Paul Blyton (1997) “The Realities of Work” Macmillian Press Ltd. D.Buchanan, A.Huczynski (1997)”Organisational Behavior; an introductory text” Prentece Hall Europe, Hartfordshire