A few problems facing many workers

I have not updated this blog in a long time, mostly because I write for other blogs and do social media for others, leaving me to be a bit lazy updating my social media. But today I had one of those epiphanies that deserve a short essay post.

Today, while talking to students, I reflected on a not so new trend, but upon reflection I was able to put together strands and convergences I had not considered before:  having to work many jobs or have your fingers in many different pots in order to survive causes the same problems and frighten side effects as Taylorism and Neo-Taylorism, harming the workers, production, and “growth” in industry. Since 2007, hiring part-time or seasonal workers, while eliminating full-time jobs have been on the rise. We are finally seeing a little bit of a decrease in this trend, since February 2016, but it’s still a serious reality.

full-time-vs-part-time-16-plus-since-2007
Mislinski, Jill

I normally reflect on this reality regarding our economy in relation to, or from the standpoint of my own part-time work schedule; God knows I don’t work “part-time,” I work overtime (at least in hours logged in), as I have to work multiple part-time jobs to survive. My story is not a new or a surprising one for many Americans. Right now, I have 3 part-time jobs working for 5 different entities in total, volunteering for one additional entity (helping professional development).  Further, like many of my students, I am attending school to earn credentials, which I hope will allow me to work in a field offering full-time opportunities, or at least allowing me to work full-time for myself.

Because I am not a full-time worker, I don’t receive help on things like health insurance. And because adjunct instructors are not seen as independent contractors, although we are treated that way, I cannot claim much on my taxes for deductions, even though I use all my own resources to do the work.  This leaves me in a quandary regarding work-life balance, finances, and the whole 9 yards.

But this reality, the reality of having one’s hands in so many pots, is not only experienced by the part-time workforce,  having our hands in many pots exists for full-time workers as well. While getting to know my new students, I was informed by several students how their full-time jobs required them to do more than one job description. This reality was hit home rather seriously when one of my students explained how diverse these tasks were: he functioned as a mechanic for small engines, played an administrative role for his company, and also drove trucks. Talk about diverse job descriptions!

When my ex-husband and I left for our RV adventure, it was partly because we were burned out – me from working so many part-time jobs and him from having to do the work of multiple positions that were closed in order to save the company money – thus doing the job of 3 people.

What occurred to me today is that we have taken a turn away from Taylorism and neo-Taylorism; the pendulum has swung in the other direction, but the irony is this: the problems that Taylorism created among workers, are the same problems we are having today, even though the system is entirely different – many of the symptoms remain.

Taylorism is management of working and production that was devised through the study of efficiency in human production (Fordism looking more and machines and mass production). Under Taylorism, workers were divided up into categories that optimize production, and each person in each group would perform a specialized, repetitive task in order to speed up production. This also ensured that each worker became an expert in the task he or she was performing. Being an expert, in theory, eliminated waste of time and thereby expanded profit. However, the problem with this became evident fairly quickly: people became bored. They became so bored that they stopped paying attention to what they were doing, repetition becoming automatic. And this actually harmed production: accidents, not being observant about the quality of work being performed, and finding diversions on the job. Motivation tanked and this, in effect, harmed production bottom lines. Worse, this absolute specialization made it so that if the right-hand failed, the left-handed know what to do about it. This is a big problem with such extreme specialization.

Further, instead of seeing workers as people, workers were seen as cogs in a wheel that could be easily exchanged as they “broke down.” This approach to workers’ worth causes high anxiety and increasing mental health issues among American workers. Thus, this approach toward replacing tired/ burnt out workers and the view of workers as disposable togs is also an expensive proposition, especially when you consider how much money it costs to replace a worker: train that worker, get the new worker acclimated to the company culture, and so on and so forth.

So now to my epiphanies: reflecting on myself and others I know, those of us having to have our hands in so many pots whether we are part-time or full-time workers creates, oddly enough, the same drawbacks as Taylorism and Neo-Taylorism:

Having so much on my plate is overwhelming, so it takes me more time to get things done. The more I think about everything I have to do, the more overwhelming it is, the more stressful it is, and the more I want to retreat.

Stress of having to be excellent in every single task that is required of me makes me feel sick.  This stress just overwhelms me, causes anxiety, and I can’t get things done as well as I need to.

The bottom line is the burnout effect and the feeling that one is simply a cog in the wheel quite literally impacts every aspect of one’s life, personal and professional, as well as one’s health. So we have a different paradigm, generalists rather than absolute specialists, but we have the same problems. So the question is how do we fix this?

The key is to pay attention to workers as people, and to help workers have better work-life balance, and this goes for full and part-time working conditions. Which really is not a surprising conclusion. And in each case a good medium needs to be strapped, and the worker needs to feel they are valued. As a part-time worker, although I appreciate the companies I work for, my loyalty is absolutely split. It has to be, that’s just the way of life, as I cannot commit absolutely to one company since I work for several. As Crowley et. al. (2010) argue: “A withdrawal of loyalty is indeed apparent among contractors who have opted out of a traditional employment relationship.” Although “opted out” implies a firm choice of the worker, and I would argue that the part-time paradigm is not always a choice but a market reality, the results regarding loyalty is the same. Further, when full-time workers are asked to play multiple roles in order to keep their full-time status, they also start to lose loyalty to their company as it becomes apparent that their company is not really worried about their wellbeing.

“The image that emerges from the last quarter of the twentieth century for all employees is one of increased organizational flexibility at the expense of employee well-being” (Crowley et. al., 2010).

I am reminded of that wonderful episode of Roseanne, where she calls it quits:

Some Articles for your consideration:

  • Neo-Taylorism at Work: Occupational Change in the Post-Fordist Era Author(s): Martha Crowley, Daniel Tope, Lindsey Joyce Chamberlain, Randy Hodson Source: Social Problems, Vol. 57, No. 3 (August 2010), pp. 421-447 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sp.2010.57.3.421 .

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