work, subjective experience of

work, subjective experience of
In contrast to the relatively stable ideologies which constitute a work ethic , sociology also looks at the way work is actually experienced by individuals and groups. This includes orientations to work, attitudes in the job, job motivations, and job satisfaction . Though work is highly gendered, and is carried out as domestic as well as industrial labour, the former was largely invisible until recently and the literature on these topics deals almost exclusively with the subjective experience of paid employment.
The study of orientations to work has developed only recently and is especially associated with research carried out in the late 1960s and 1970s by John H. Goldthorpe, David Lockwood, and their colleagues and students. Logically, however, it deserves priority, being concerned with the values, purposes, expectations, and sentiments the workers bring to the work situation. In The Affluent Worker (1968) Goldthorpe and Lockwood distinguish three ideal-typical orientations to work. Employees with an instrumental orientation see work as a means to an end (the need to acquire income); have a primarily calculating attitude to the employing organization; and do not carry their work experiences and relationships over into other aspects of their lives. By contrast, the solidaristic orientation to work is characterized by an involvement in the task as an end in itself; high job satisfaction and strong identification with the work-group (against the employer); and the carrying over of work relationships and loyalties into an ‘occupational community’ outside the workplace. Finally, the bureaucratic orientation defines work as a service to the organization, in return for incremental and secure wages; embodies a relationship of trust between employer and employee; pursues status advancement as a central life interest; and carries over self-concepts and social aspirations formed at work into non-work activities and relationships.’s Manufacturing Consent (1979) is a fascinating and much-discussed attempt to link the literature on orientations to work to the Marxist discussion of the labour process .
Past experience is important in developing work orientations. Workers who possess few skills or are stigmatized and discriminated against have little, if any, choice of job. Typically, their work orientations will reflect a vicious circle: the range of insecure, low-paid, and unattractive jobs available reinforces a fatalistic outlook, which is inimical to building up any long-term identification with a particular employer. Where workers have a genuine choice, work orientations will affect the kind of labour-force that is attracted to particular kinds of job. Research findings confirm the commonsense expectation that workers balance out the advantages and disadvantages of jobs according to their personal priorities and self-perceptions, as when they choose (for example) the cosiness of a small-firm working environment, despite the lower rates of pay and poorer fringe benefits characteristic of small-firm employment. The dedicated choice of historically relatively low-paid caring occupations (such as nursing), precisely because of the intrinsic moral satisfaction they offer, provides another example of the importance of work orientation. In contrast, workers with so-called instrumental orientations deliberately accept the boredom of high-paid though intrinsically monotonous jobs (such as assembly-line work), in return for the enhanced leisure and consumption which it makes possible. It has been suggested that such values brought to the workplace will be affected by the system of social stratification within the labour-market. Formidable methodological problems arise, however, in disentangling work orientations from the whole complex of subjective perceptions connected with a job or occupation.
Job-related attitudes have been the subject of research for a much longer time, largely because of the preoccupation of industrial sociology with in-plant factors. Studies have sought, not altogether successfully, to show that attitudes vary with such factors as type of occupation, size of firm, and management style. A great deal of this work has relied on attitude scaling, and has sought to standardize and measure common dimensions underlying the complexities of workers' perceptions of their jobs, which can then be used to compare different groups or to contrast attitudes characteristic of particular situations. One familiar such study is Robert Blauner's attempt to decompose alienation (in its original Marxist usage not an attitude at all) into a number of components such as isolation and meaninglessness to show that these vary with the level of technology . Such work has been extensively criticized, both for its implication that the agreeableness or otherwise of a job lies in the task itself rather than in the mind of the worker, and for the assumption that formal scaling can measure in a valid way all the complex factors which shape the subjective experience of industrial work. The literature on work orientations, for all its faults, provided a refreshing critique of attitude research, as did a switch to the greater use of ethnography in the sociology of work.
Work-motivation studies, of which there have been many since the Human Relations Movement , tend to reflect managerial preoccupations with discovering what goes on in the worker's mind and in this way securing greater commitment to the task. A major stimulus was the failure of incentive systems of wage payment and the fact that workers appeared to be acting irrationally by restricting their output below the level at which they could, in theory, maximize their short-term money earnings. Motivation in most cases turned out to consist of more than short-term instrumentalism and, among other things, to be affected by management's likely response to workers earning more than the average wage because of the incentive pricing of jobs.
Job satisfaction is also a term primarily associated with managerial interest in securing high productivity and a committed workforce. Satisfaction is a notion which raises acute methodological problems. Not to be satisfied with one's work might be seen as an admission of personal failure in many Western societies, and the earliest, rather unsophisticated studies found that a very high proportion of workers claimed to be contented. However, when the components of job satisfaction are disentangled, it becomes clear that the criteria by which satisfaction is judged vary widely. A particularly well-known distinction is between the extrinsic satisfactions of a job (notably wages, hours, and conditions), and the intrinsic or expressive satisfactions that might also be attached to it, such as opportunities for creativity, sociability, promotion, and social mobility.
Taken as a whole, the literature tends to suggest that intrinsic satisfactions are mostly found among professional and middle-class jobs requiring education and training, which also offer good extrinsic rewards. In contrast very many low-paid industrial jobs available to poorly qualified workers also offer little in the way of intrinsic satisfaction. See also housework ; industry, sociology of ; task-orientation versus time-orientation distinction.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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