California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 22, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
In the previous chapter, we focused on the insider versus the outsider and, trying to fit into changing worlds by analyzing individual dimensions of style and preference. In this chapter, we address the problem of figuring out where you fit in. This presents, by the way, an interesting dilemma -- and through no fault of yours!
Many of the same business organizations that consider graduates arrogant (and there are quite a few we've talked to) have a minor character flaw themselves. They, and the authors of most books on how to get jobs, refuse to discuss what you are expected to do in most of their jobs. They always say, "Well, what can you do?" and you're supposed to guess where the bull's eye is and then try to hit it. Cute.
You've spent the better part of four or more years studying history, English, math, geography, sociology, literature, anthropology, and every other disciplinary hurdle in the university catalog; and out of that you're supposed to be able to tell what you would do if you decided to become a:
-- food and beverage analyst
-- oil and water appraiser
-- broker's floor representative
-- fire assistant (so maybe you build fires?)
-- graphic art technician
-- manager of credit card operations
-- continuity writer (you write continuities, of course.)
-- manager, chicken ranch
We chose these titles at random, well, almost at random, from the Department of Labor publication. So, if you're a little confused at this point, you're sane. And if you dutifully turn to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (1992) or similar publications you'll discover they list crossword puzzle makers, post, copy writer, and screen writing all together, just as if you could say -- "OK, I'll be a post. Where do I get the job?" Go ahead, walk into a Placement Office and tell them you've carefully perused the literature and you'd like to be a post when you graduate.
And try calling a personnel department to ask, "What does a manager of credit card operations do?" That'll get you nowhere fast. You see, everybody knows what a manager of credit card operations does. She does what Carolyn Creditavich does. And why are you asking about her job, anyway?
Corporations are closed systems. As such they have a tendency to guard their boundaries carefully. You, the job seeker are an invading organism; and their natural response is to close ranks at the point of invasion until you prove a necessary and worthwhile transplant. (Remember what we said about in-groups and out-groups?)
The corporate immune system tends to be concentrated in telephone operators, receptionists, and personnel departments, who form the first line of defense. One of their latent functions (a function not really apparent to the eye or formally acknowledged (Merton, 1957), is to prevent non-system information, material or people from gumming up the system operations. That means you only get past these checkpoints if you fit a designated space in the system, and one that's vacant, at that.
One of the primary mechanisms through which people are filtered into the organizational system is job titles. The organization sends job titles to personnel (who presumably has job descriptions to match) for people it needs. Personnel then filters applicants and sends the ones who fit off to the appropriate slots. The catch is that when you visit a personnel department, they usually ask, "What job do you want?" They do not take kindly to the response "What have you got?" especially if you're past the stage of sweeping floors and acting as a junior go-fer.
Of the many books we've encountered, Burdette Bostwick's Finding the Job You've Always Wanted (1977) is the only one that gives some insight into job responsibilities. It's a limited list; but added to his list of resume language, it's a good start. Bostwick (1977:209) also offers an explanation for industry's position in this cold war:
"Job responsibilities usually are not listed in books on seeking employment. Among the reasons for this are the following: You are expected to know the responsibilities of the job for which you are applying. Listing unfamiliar responsibilities in your resume may catch you in your own trap during the interview. The use of such ready-made material might result in a mechanical write-up. The abridgement of the material negates its value."
Mr. Bostwick, being the wonderful man he undoubtedly is, goes on to overcome these arguments and list typical job responsibilities. This could be a first step towards a PEPPER Treaty (Pact for Employment and Professional Planning and Early Recognizance) between industry and graduates. We highly recommend that you read these sections in Bostwick's book.
Several of the job search books have sections which will help you identify your skills. That's an important first step. Many social psychology theories could help you with that process; but that's enough of a task for a book in itself. Besides, most of the job search books so popular today cover the values clarification and skills identification process well enough.
We are going to concentrate on the fit between the skills you have identified and their likely matches in the world of work. This is an unwarranted act of temerity that we'd omit like all the other authors if we had any sense. The following list of skill clusters has been drawn mostly from our experience and field research, with bits of things from Department of Labor publications here and there, various other scraps of paper, and well worn books lying scattered all about us. We've made only a very limited list here. Until we finish our other book, you'll have to build your own list. We suggest you do what we've done. Gather items wherever you go and add them until you're satisfied. Look in want ads, placement agencies, the Outlook, books on job search, supermarket bulletin boards, company organs, trade publications, etc. And most of all, listen to people.
Human Relations Skills
Getting Along with People
--adapt responses to different personality traits
--adapt responses to different cultural traits
--value differences in personality
--value differences in personal, physical appearance
--converse on topics of broad interest
--listen to complaints
--evaluate complaints and identify cause
--mediate between antagonists
--offer emotional support
Dealing with People under Stress
--offer emotional assurance
--listen and/or observe the situation
-------analyze the situation
-------identify possible courses of action
-------accept inability to act
--function as a source of information
--function in authoritative role
--offer rational explanation to counteract stress
--plan organizational links between personnel
--guide group development of performance criteria
--negotiate performance criteria with individuals
--set mutual performance goals with individuals
--re-negotiate performance goals
--write performance goals
Meeting or Greeting People in a Formal Capacity
--notice details in appearance and presenting behavior
--ability to converse on broad range of general topics
--ability to choose relevant questions on basis of minimal input
--reflect through responses that I have hear what was said
--reflect interest through further questioning
--summarize important details of meeting before breaking contact
-------set performance criteria
-------compare performance to performance criteria
-------isolate performance components below standard
--make judgments from quantifiable data
-------decide which data are applicable
--make judgments in the absence of quantifiable data
-------identify plausible indicators
--state problems in simplest form
--identify component parts of problem
--determine whether problem fits known patterns
--identify relevant variables
--collect information or data
--analyze information or data
--break tasks down into component parts
-------allow for time lag with interdependent tasks
--determine requisite communication channels
--set quality control
--accurate use of vocabulary
--command of technical vocabulary
--ability to explain abstract ideas in simple written English
--ability to write professional explanations for non-professionals
--ability to find exact word to convey desired meaning
--ability to organize report into standard format
--ability to write clearly developed paragraphs
--ability to compose simple business letters without supervision
--ability to summarize relevant literature for inclusion in research or report
--ability to summarize statistical and tabular results
--creative use of language
-------ability to organize materials to build climax
Time Management Skills
--ability to work quickly to high speed
--ability to work with deliberation over time-consuming tasks
--ability to distribute work components effectively over available time
--ability to work continuously at key task over long time span to meet deadline
--ability to gauge time lines for deadlines
--ability to function on team under stress
--ability to extract portion of essential task I can completein isolation for maximum efficiency
--ability to design, organize, and implement entire project by myself
--ability to coordinate team efforts under pressure of deadline
--ability to coordinate team plans to maximize input of each team member
--can work with close tolerance or wide tolerance limits according to demands of work situation
--can comfortably reorganize work patterns to coordinate with team
--can tolerate work in highly structured setting (or enjoy)
--enjoy work with minimal supervision (or can tolerate)
--willing (or delighted) to tackle vaguely stated problems with poorly defined parameters
--able to discern essential parameters of complex problems
--enjoy work within closely defined parameters
Consider carefully the method we used in developing the skills clusters. We broke each skill into component parts that we could identify by actual behaviors.
Develop a cluster of skills for helping. You may steal from our list, as long as you show creativity in organizing what you steal.
1) What kind of helping do you have in mind? Helping little old ladies across the street? Helping a corporation choose the best car for its fleet? Helping students complete this exercise?
2) What skills do you need to provide that help?
--------- Helping little old lady: identify possible alternative meanings (listening skill) -- the little old lady may not want to cross the street!
--------- Helping the corporation: identify the corporation's needs (i.e., collect information or data, identify relevant variables, analyze the information or data, draw conclusions -- see what a nice long list you have?) We took this from the Problem Solving Skills.
--------- Helping students: Consider alternative meanings within context of situation, where are they confused? Look for patterns that may emerge throughout the situation, where are they confused? Submit your interpretation of what you have heard for verification from students that you have in fact understood conscious intent, where are you confused? (See Listening Skill)
The problem in approaching actual jobs with your list of identified skills is that most jobs can be manipulated to use most of these skills to advantage. Chances are that whatever job you take you will arrange the work pattern to show off your skills, at least you will if you've read this book carefully. For some extra help on how to do this, you might read Adele Scheele's Skills for Success (1977).
Let's assume that the following are the skills you enjoy using most, and then go to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (1992) and see if we can dream up a job.
Your favorite skills clusters:
(Chosen from our list)
-------making judgments in the absence of quantifiable data
-------command of technical vocabulary
-------ability to summarize relevant literature for inclusion in research or report
--ability to read non-verbal clues
-------examine facial expression for congruence with voice tone, verbal content, and body language
A lawyer, or a paralegal assistant could certainly utilize these skills effectively. Legal situations are often ambiguous with no quantifiable data. Lawyers must coordinate research time with filing deadlines and other court appearances and coordinate research assistants and other lawyers who work with them. Paralegals would have to coordinate with lawyers and other staff. Both are engaged in the writing of technical briefs and in summarizing relevant arguments from precedent cases. In legal interviewing (for the paralegal) and cross examination (for the lawyer) the ability to examine non-verbal clues for congruence with verbal responses would be useful. Thus, these skills in this order are ideal for a lawyer and paralegal.
Now watch this fancy footwork.
A systems analyst could equally well exploit these skills. In systems analysis, whole human systems must be considered; and humans are quantifiable only with great difficulty. So, the ability to make decisions in the absence of quantifiable data is imperative. The very nature of systems analysis is to discover interdependencies and to coordinate tasks. Systems analysts must prepare technical reports, and will probably want to summarize related literature for inclusion in their reports at least occasionally. Systems analysts should certainly be alert to non-verbal clues from the people in the systems. Often it is through non-verbal clues that we can see past superficial barriers. So these skills, in this order of preference would be ideal for a systems analyst.
On the other hand, these skills would be just right for a social worker. As social workers try to fit available programs and benefits to those who need them, they must continuously make judgments in the absence of quantifiable data. Moreover, social workers are often called upon to organize programs of assistance with several interdependent offices and agencies and coordinate the efforts of all to see what the best possible assistance is rendered to clients. Social workers must be able to decipher the intricate technical language of legal qualification for aid, and must write reports in which such language is commonplace. For advancement, they must present professional papers, which require a review of the relevant literature. And it is, of course, imperative that a social worker be sensitive to non-verbal clues. Clients are often loathe to express their problems fully, sometimes are not even consciously aware of the problems. The social worker must rely on non-verbal clues as essential information to the unconscious motives and concerns of clients.
Now, we could choose an entire different set of skills and proceed to show their ideal fit to these three very different occupations. Obviously, the key lies in the fact that people shape their jobs to fit their preferred skills. This is the main reason that job descriptions don't help all that much. Your job is not what the job description says it is. It's some mix between the job description, your personality, your preferred skills, and how close it comes to the job description will depend on management philosophy and the number of tasks and criteria of performance which are critical to major company functions. In other words, if your job description says you screw bolts, you'll have little latitude to change and/or shape the job. There's only so much you can do with bolts and nuts. But if the job description says you perform liaison between departments, and if the management philosophy allows independent work with minimal supervision, you'll have lots of latitude to shape the job.
Choose a set of skills, any set you prefer. Now write a brief explanation for why those skills would be ideal for a lawyer or paralegal, a systems analyst, or a social worker. Apply the same skills to each of these professions.
1) In order to do this exercise you really ought to know what a lawyer does, what a systems analyst does, and what a social worker does. We will summarize these professions briefly.
Lawyer-- Some tasks in which lawyers engage:
--analyzing the facts of a case
--listening to a client to get the data to analyze
--listening to the opposing side and witnesses to get additional data for comparison
--comparing case to legal precedent: other cases in the past
--choosing the facts that will most effectively persuade
--making clear and persuasive speeches
--writing clear and persuasive arguments
Systems Analyst -- Some tasks in which system analysts engage:
--enters strange organizations to observe
--makes strangers at ease in her presence
--observes entire operation of department or division as unobtrusively as possible
--analyzes component parts of system from observation of operations
--evaluates system for effectiveness of component parts
--considers alternative operations for ineffective component parts
--presents results diplomatically to organization
--makes persuasive arguments for adoption of most effectivesystem
listens effectively to operations personnel to ascertain accuracy of observation
Social Worker -- Some tasks in which social workers engage:
--interprets confusing government regulations
--listens to clients to analyze problems
--seeks other data to substantiate problem
--considers alternative contexts relevant to problem (such as family in addition to client)
--effectively uses channels through complex bureaucratic system
--carefully records transactions with client fully enough to permit someone else to help client
--establish rapport with client to install confidence
--develops a high tolerance for frustration
2) We're going to take one skill from our list and apply it for you. You get to do the rest. Here's the skill we picked from Listening and Hearing Skills -- Repeat variation of what was said that ascertain that I have heard correctly.
Applied to Lawyer: Must repeat facts as she has heard them from client. If she gets the facts wrong the client may go to jail. Also must repeat for clarification in cross-examination.
Applied to Systems Analyst: Must repeat explanation of procedures as she has heard them from operations personnel to be sure she knows how they see the system.
Applied to Social Worker: Must repeat facts as she has heard them from client. Client in state of emotional distress often makes confusing statements.
Okay, your turn.
These are hard times. Maybe you won't have much real choice. May be like Barbara Garson (1975:179), you're going to jump for job if you get any job:
I got the job! I broke into a grin. I got the job! I don't have to fill out any more applications. I don't have to take any more tests or go to any agency. I grinned and grinned, completely forgetting that neither Barbara Garcon nor Barbara Kilstein wanted a job as a straight typist. I got the job!
Even if you're willing to take the first job they offer; they're probably not going to want you if they think you're desperate and would "marry just anyone to get married" Remember that old cliche? Whether you feel it nor not, your chances will be better if you play it cool.
Interviewing the Company
Weinstein (1983:20) observed: "Mastering the interview process is as important as mastering your job. Like it or not, most of us are interviewed at key junctures of our lives." He (1983:120) also adds: ". . . look upon the interview as a performance. In a brief period of time, your task is to build an airtight case for yourself. Make every moment count, don't waste words, and do your best to drive home the impression that you're the greatest thing to come along since ice cream."
Interviewers expect you to ask questions about the company. Those questions are important so that you can decide whether you in fact are willing to work for this company, and because they are a representative sample of your ability to weigh the situation and make a decision.
So let's decide what you want from a company.
--compensation? (weekly? monthly okay? hourly? or would you prefer salaried? overtime?)
--what salary range? (no idea? -- check some of the suggestions from the section on Student Expectations) --benefits? (health insurance?, sick leave? dental care?)
--management philosophy? (flexible hours? close supervision? considerable independence -- work on your own? [limits here on creativity and innovation], loosely structured organization?[limits here on defining responsibilities] executive incentive plans? stock options?, continuing education programs?, promotional policy?)
--company's position in industry?(market share? plans to increase? explanation for any questions you may have from annual report?, proposed expansions?)
--specific job for which you are applying?(job description? to whom would you report? major responsibilities? number of subordinates? promotional opportunities? opportunities to learn other phases of business?)
You should rank the items of most importance to you in selecting the company you choose to work for. Add any items not covered by our list that are important to you.
Now let's consider what the company wants from you. Most corporations, government agencies, whatever, large or small, want loyalty. Most employers also want you to have the capacity to make a decision -- particularly the decision of whether or not you know how to do what you are trying to do to company standards. That may seem elementary; but it's not. Be able to compare your effort on a given task to some standard of acceptability the company has offered you. If you meet the standard, go ahead with the task. If not, get help. Knowing what you do and don't know how to do to company standards is essential.
We say "company standards" because that's really what counts. If you grew up hearing, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well," now's the time to forget it. On some tasks there's a wide tolerance range -- they simply aren't critical to the organization's main functions. If you spend large portions of your time perfecting such tasks, you may well be wasting your and the company's time. And by refusing to perform such tasks until you can perform them perfectly, you may be forcing someone else to spend precious moments at what you could indeed assume responsibility for. Standards of performance must be negotiated.
Corporations also want people who will assume responsibility, show an interest in operations other than those in the immediate province of their job, and learn many facets of the business. This orientation presumes that the applicant is at least as interested in other corporate characteristics as he/she is in money.
How do you put all this information together and pose reasonable questions in an interview? First, follow the Rule of Positive Choice. Whatever you ask, ask it in a positive manner, and be sure it leaves the interviewer adequate room for a positive response. Even if a corporation is going to declare bankruptcy the next day, the interviewer represents that corporation and should present it in a positive light.
Second, follow the Rule of the Genuine Question: ask only questions to which you genuinely want an answer. In an interview, if you are nervous, it's going to be hard to listen to answers in which you're not interested. And the ability to listen is a prized talent. Besides, nothing is more annoying to a skilled interviewer than obvious attempts to get him off guard by asking lots of irrelevant questions to show how brilliant you are. You'll come off as conceited and lose in the end.
Third, ask questions you know how to relate to the company's concern first. Then ask questions about compensation. That's standard interviewing technique. Ask questions first about which you and the interviewee can share common concerns, then proceed to more sensitive questions last. In other words, your first question should not be: "How much will you pay me?" In an interview analysis with unstructured interviews (i.e., where you get to ask questions as well as answer them) it is presumed that those issues which are mentioned first are of primary importance. You don't want to leave the impression that salary is the most important issue, even if, at the moment, it is. These suggestions are based on theories of effective persuasion.
Choose any job objective. Assume that you have been invited for an interview. Prepare five questions you could ask the interviewer. Follow the Rule of Positive Choice and the Rule of the Genuine Question. If this exercise is done in the workshop, exchange questions and practice listening to the answers. If the exercise is not done in the workshop, get a friend to help you practice listening. Give evidence that you have been listening by commenting on some piece of information in the answer.
1) For the questions you prepare: The questions should show that you have done some homework on the company. So go find an annual report and find out what business the company is in -- what its main products are -- what its annual growth rate is, etc. so you can ask well informed questions.
2) Ask questions which indicate a broad interest in the company and its future, such as what opportunities are there for growth, rather than questions limited to the specific job.
3) If you have strong community interests ask questions about how they would fit with the company's community relations program (this indicates a broad, well rounded person, which companies like).
4) Save till last questions about salaries and benefits -- (this is based on theories of effective persuasion).
Finding Information About the Company
If you're going to interview the company, it would be nice if you had some information upon which to base your questions. The Well-Informed Question is just as important as the Positive Question. The Well-Informed Question shows that you are sincerely interested in the company and the job. This is your chance to demonstrate "loyalty" to the company through genuine interest before you get the job.
Now, where do you find this information? Most large companies are publicly held. That means they sold stock in the company to the public. They have stockholders to keep happy and government regulations to abide by -- so they publish annual reports which they distribute to their stockholders, and to stockbrokers, and to some libraries. Check you college library and placement office -- if you can't find annual reports there, try your local stockbroker or University libraries -- especially the School of Management. This is a great resource to rummage through if intellectual curiosity is one of your character flaws. However, if it's information you are after, start by sticking to one company. Annual reports are often kept on reserve, so you may have to ask a librarian for them -- that is a goodness. Reserve librarians are well-informed about their materials and can help you find what you need. Annual reports aren't always easy to find.
Let's say, for example, that you really enjoy fashion and clothing and are curious about a job as a buyer for Broadway Stores because you've heard good things about their training program and seen their recruitment brochure at the Placement Office. Now you want to find out more about the company, so you look for its annual report. Oops! No such animal exists. Broadway Stores doesn't publish an annual report.
Now what do you do? Well, if you were lucky enough, as we were, to be at the UCLA library when you started the search, you would find a cross-reference in the card catalog to Carter-Hawley-Hale. It turns out that Broadway Stores is a subsidiary owned by Carter-Hawley-Hale, a retail conglomerate. Carter-Hawley-Hale publishes an annual report with brief summaries on each of its subsidiaries. In these days of continuous mergers and growing conglomerates, tracking down information on a single company will take all the ingenuity and creativity we have discussed before.
Now that you have finally found an annual report -- what are you going to do with it? There it sits all glossy and colorful with lots of pretty pictures and all those numbers! What does it all mean?
First, let's look at the pictures. That's not too painful. Many corporations include pictures of people in their annual reports, sometimes a few, sometimes many. We can apply the tools of sociological analysis using the pictures as data. How many minority members appear in the pictures compared to the number of whites? How many women compared to that of the white males? (You can use comparisons of clothing, setting, and relative positioning of people to make some educated guesses about status -- titles help too). Now, what does all this tell you about the company and whether or not you want to work there? (Caution: Compare several major firms in the same industry and check out trends, some major firms with strong affirmative action programs are just beginning to take affirmative action with the pictures in their annual reports).
Next we'll look at the words and we'll get to the numbers later on. First, one copy of one annual report for one year is not enough. You'll need a whole raft of them going back several years to get a feel for trends. Where has the company been and where is it going? This is the place to apply those content analysis skills you learned in a previous chapter. Read through several years. Look at what the company predicted it would do ten years ago. Now flip through the next several years and see if they reached that goal. If they did, or surpassed it, they will brag about it in bright bold print. If they didn't, somewhere you may find a footnote discussing the problem of changing economic trends and government regulations. Remember the Rule of Positive Choice? Companies use this when writing their annual reports -- so you'll have to be a sociological detective to sort out successes from failures and determine which noteworthy achievements represent a corporate direction in which you are interested.
Now for the numbers. Hold on -- don't panic!! They're not as forbidding as they seem. Accounting and finance courses will teach you financial ratio analysis when you are ready for it. It's elementary. Sociology courses will teach you how to read and interpret all that data in all its social context and substantive meaning. Here we will give you a brief look at some numbers and what they mean.
The number we will look at is called "Earnings per Share" or EPS. EPS is widely considered to be the best possible indicator of company performance. Now, how can you use it? A simple way is to look at how the number changes from year to year. Is it growing? Good - growing companies have lots of new jobs. Is it declining? Be careful; find out why. A job in a company that is shrinking could be shaky, dead-end proposition. How much is it growing? (Percent per year is good to know -- some companies compute it for when it looks good and they want to show it off. Sometimes you'll have to compute it yourself -- you can learn how in a statistics course).
Now, how high is up? Now that you've got the growth rate, what does it mean? Is it good enough? Remember inflation and slowing growth in GNP. You need some basis for comparison to determine what's good.
The standard practice is to compare company performance with industry averages. Let's look at some real and some made up data. (The industry averages are real, the company data is pure fiction, we made it up).
|Year||Aerospace Industry Average||Moonflights, Inc.||Hawk Fighter Planes||Rack & Pinion Guidance Devices|
|1968||$ 6.66||$15.69||$7.49||$ 4.50|
|1969||$ 3.98||$12.19||$8.56||$ 4.80|
|1970||$ 2.65||$ 7.31||$8.25||$ 5.00|
|1971||$ 2.64||$ 3.89||$8.89||$ 5.50|
|1972||$ 4.16||$ 2.10||$5.98||$ 6.30|
|1973||$ 7.14||$ 1.98||$3.51||$ 7.87|
|1974||$ 7.84||$ 1.25||$1.50||$ 8.94|
|1975||$ 7.28||$ .85||$1.89||$10.56|
|1976||$ 8.76||($ .50)||$2.00||$12.80|
The data on EPS show that Moonflights Incorporated was earning more than twice the industry average in 1968, the year we first set foot on the moon. Since then, however, government support for flights to the moon has declined. This contributed to the decline in profitability for the aerospace industry as a whole, but it was devastating for Moonlights, Inc., which never recovered from its long slide into oblivion. For two successive years, in 1976 and 1977 Moonflights has reported a loss. It does not looks as if we will be going to the moon again for a while; and the prospects for improving Moonflights' earnings profile appear dim. We wouldn't recommend taking that job.
Hawk Fighter Planes, on the other hand, maintained stable earnings, higher than the industry averages, through the end of 1971, while the rest of the industry was experiencing a decline. However, with the approaching end of the war in Vietnam, the bottom fell out of the of the fighter plane market and earnings declined precipitously through 1975 while the rest of the industry was getting back on its feet. Hawk Fighter Planes held on, however, and recent developments in the Middle East may prove to turn the picture around. Caution in taking this job.
The Alienated Worker and the Dual Labor Market
Since the advent of scientific management, organizations have sought improved efficiency through specialization. Complex tasks were broken down into the smallest possible components and workers were trained to specialize in these small component tasks (remember Durkheim's concept, the division of labor?). This has been one of the prime culprits blamed for the alienation of workers. Only the managing generalists ever saw production as a whole.
Today, business has begun an important swing back toward a unified concept of production (Davis and Trist, 1974). Researchers in sociotechnical systems have long urged that output would improve if workers were in touch with a larger segment, if not the whole, of production. A factory with an assemblyline is a technical system for production; and the people that work in the factory form a social system. The combination of people and machines and techniques working together forms a sociotechnical system.
Workers, themselves, particularly in production lines, may agree that their work is boring and dehumanizing (Garcon, 1975; Levison, 1974; Davis and Trist, 1974). Michael Piore (1974) diagnoses the problem as one of a dual labor market, which is divided into primary and secondary sector jobs. The secondary sector jobs are those with poor working conditions. There are few opportunities for promotion (short career paths), and often work is performed under oppressive conditions (time clocks and assembly lines).
Needless to say, conditions such as these do not inspire loyalty in workers. Why, then, do they persist? The answer lies partially in the fact that many factories are still operating on the turn of the century principles of scientific management. Workers are essentially interchangeable parts. There is a large supply of unskilled labor in conditions of high unemployment. There is little motivation for industry to change.
Blue-collar male workers did have the highest increase in wages, but they have a long way to go in many non-unionized factories to satisfactory working conditions. Experiments have been conducted successfully in giving workers the opportunity to work on many segments of production, to see the process through from start to finish. The most often adopted improvement is that of permitting workers to rotate every few hours to different task segments.
Hopefully, none of you will encounter the alienation of this sector of the dual labor market. You are more likely to encounter the alienation associated with limited career paths. Not only are the promotional opportunities fewer at lower sectors of the job market, but salaries are also held within a more limited range.
As the computer has gained importance in industry applications, there has been a tendency to routinize and delimit many jobs so that they can fit easily into the data processing component of the operation. Accountants, who formerly kept books, organized data and made decisions, now find themselves routinely feeding numbers into a computer which does all the organization and routes the data through decision branches.
A decision branch is a point in a program where a conditional statement appears: If Mr. Later has paid his bill, route data to "file". If Mr. Later has not paid his bill, route data to "billing." Through the use of decision branches, computers can make decisions if, and only if, all the conditions have been included in the program. For example, if Mr. Later has called to say he's suing us, and does not intend to pay his bill the decision branch above is useless. The computer would just keep routing the data to "billing." (Which may be why he's suing us).
Enlightened computer specialists understand that humans are important components in their systems, and have begun to decry such routinization as we describe. This is actually poor utilization of the computer. Good utilization, as it develops, will create new and versatile jobs for humans that interact with the data processing system. But, as we pointed out before, the humans who fill these new, interesting jobs probably won't be the same ones who lost their old interesting jobs before the computer.
When you consider working for a company, ask about data processing plans. Has your job objective been affected? Are there any plans that might affect it in the near future? How does your job interface with data processing? These are factors which will affect the routinization of your job in the '90's.
A Mini-Max Problem -- Up the Organization May Not Be the Way to Go
First of all, mini-max means taking the course which will maximize gains and minimize your loss; assumes that problem entails risk. Worker satisfaction has implications far beyond the individual worker. Society depends on the gross national product (GNP) for economic growth. As the GNP grows, society prospers. Recent trends show a drop in the growth rate of the GNP. Practically, this means that the rate of increase in productivity is slowing. This puts the U.S. at a disadvantage in the world market where many countries are experiencing higher growth rates in GNP. For most of this century, growth in productivity has been tied to the mechanization of industry. A person with an automatic wood-carving machine can produce more three-prong, two-slot widgets per hour than a person who has to hack them out of tree trunks with a stone axe. Industries which are "capital intensive" are highly mechanized with high rates of production per worker. Industries which are "labor intensive", like agriculture used to be, are less mechanized -- and each worker produces less. Now, even agriculture is becoming automated with machines to harvest fruits and vegetables from fields. We are reaching the limits of the contribution of mechanization can make to increase productivity. In the future, increases in productivity (a prime source of growth in GNP) will be smaller and will have to come from other sources.
One explanation for the comparatively slow U.S. rate of growth in GNP is that we are closer to the limits of technological improvements in production. It is estimated that we will realize only incremental increases in productivity through technological developments. This means that most of the growth rate in the GNP will be achieved through increased worker productivity. And this is where the alienated worker becomes a social problem for the '80's and '90's.
If the U.S. is to maintain a healthy position in world markets, ways must be found to assure that workers will continue to be productive. At this point, we must address the social issue: Do satisfied workers produce more? The answer is ambiguous at best. The early Hawthorne studies (Homans, 1950) showed that worker productivity in the bank wiring group increased, presumably because of the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect states that productivity will increase if the company makes any changes in the work environment, as the workers respond to recognition. However, social control still regulated productivity within limits established by group norms.
Workers commonly establish social norms to control output level. Research has failed to show that increased satisfaction on the job will add more than small incremental improvements in productivity. Thus, the problem is a one of mini-max. How can we maximize workers' satisfaction, a humanitarian goal, while minimizing rise in labor costs?
The risk lies in the fact that we actually know very little about the effects of satisfaction on productivity. According to McGregor (1960), some managers believe that most people dislike work (Theory X), and others believe that most people like work, that they do so naturally (Theory Y). Under theory X, we might reason that if workers are satisfied, they may just lay back and enjoy. Under theory Y, we might assume that since people really want to work, they will produce more when the work environment is satisfying. Which theory is right? That's the catch. For most people, both are right. Sometimes we like to work; and sometimes we don't.
How will job satisfaction affect you? That depends on your work style. You may be more satisfied in a flexible environment that lets you work independently. But you may find it frustrating to keep up your production levels in that environment. For job success, you'll need to assess what management philosophy will tolerate, and what's effective for you as an individual. Again, you'll find that you actually have considerable control in creating an appropriate job mix for you within the context of company policy.
By the way, this particular decision cluster -- of the job satisfaction and motivation to work mixture -- plays a major role in entrepreneurial decisions, too. Many successful entrepreneurs we've talked to recount experiences like this: "I was incredibly successful at insurance sales. But I discovered to my dismay that I didn't work. I'd go out and make a big sale, put the money in my pocket, and then kind of kick back and enjoy. By the end of the month when the bills came due, I'd rush out again. And then wouldn't work again until I ran out or bills came due. I decided pretty quickly that I'd better get into something more disciplined."
Another good example was when one headline flashed "Disc jockey plays Paycheck tune 2 1/2 hours." The article described: "A country music disc jockey who said he was 'fed up' locked himself in his studio and played 'Take this job and shove it' at varying speeds until police escorted him out." This is certainly another good example of job dissatisfaction.
Related to job satisfaction and worker alienation is "job burnout." Some believe that job burnout is caused by fierce competition and increasing pressures in the work place. According to Arbrams (1986), "although specific statistics about burn out victims are not available, the problem's growing prevalence is reflected in surveys of some 6,000 executives in more than 100 corporations across the country." He (1986) also adds: ". . . Its victims often have several key qualities in common: They are high achievers who work hard, face heavy pressures and, perhaps, most important, feel their abilities and efforts are not fully appreciated." Jobs commonly associated with burnout are air traffic controllers, nurses and doctors, teachers, psychologists, garment industry buyers, stock traders, social workers, truck drivers, insurance executives, lawyers, and so forth (Battan, 1985:43).
Find the mix that works for you. And consider in planning this mix, what really translates to job satisfaction for you. One of the big areas of concern is career paths and promotional opportunities. Most people like to feel they are going somewhere. We forget, "they also serve who only stand and wait." (Milton).
There can be many advantages to careers whose specialized nature dictates a natural limit to the career path. For example, at some point in the career, teachers must give up the primary function of teaching if they choose the next promotion; engineers must give up the primary function of solving detailed problems if the move into management. Do the teachers, engineers, and countless others who choose not to climb up the organization really experience less satisfaction than those who do? That will depend on their individual value mix in job satisfaction.
A specialized career path with nowhere up to go may offer considerable satisfaction in:
--sense of security in task performance
--satisfaction in task performance
--minimal stress in competition for promotion
--name recognition in specialty
Chances are that there will be many decision branches along the way. At each point, you'll need to examine the many factors which contribute to your satisfaction level. How much of what are you willing to give up to gain what? The answer is different not only for different people, but for the same person at different times. Look back at Exercise 9-1. As you went up the career path, did you like fewer and fewer of the tasks involved? That's important data about yourself. Be sure you take it into account.
Chapter 9 has dealt with the fit between the individual and the organization. None of us wants to lose our identity to a plastic corporate image of the "organization man". Yet that is what many of us fear will happen as we pursue career paths.
We have illustrated in this chapter the variety of ways in which individuals can shape the skills they most enjoy using to a variety of different occupations. And the latitude for fit you find will depend also on the individual organization you choose to work for. Thus, we have devoted considerable attention on well-planned choices for a workplace. Finally, we considered the problem of alienation, particularly as it applies to the dead-end career path and to the ascent up a career path that provides a poor fit.
EPS data for Rack and Pinion Guidance Device for the same period show the company below industry averages in 1968, but experiencing steady and accelerating growth throughout the period. Not only did Rack and Pinion weather the storm that hit the rest of the industry in the early 70's, but this company is now well above the industry average for earnings. Their steady growth throughout the period indicates a company well diversified to offset economic downturns as well as a company clearly in touch with a growing market. A good place to look for a job if you are into racks and pinions.
You wake up growling. Mornings should be abolished. Neither people nor cats should dare to cross your path before 10 am. So where do you fit in a job market that expects you to be cheerful at 8 am? How good are you at fitting into the career world? Enter a T for True and an F for False.
|-----||1. Most organizations are delighted to help new college graduates decide what they can do and where they might fit into the organization.||-----|
|-----||2. Job search books almost always tell you what jobs you can get and what kinds of responsibilities you'll have in each job.||-----|
|-----||3. Each job requires a particular set of skills and talents which have little applicability to any other job||-----|
|-----||4. In the Occupational Outlook Handbook the extensive development of tasks and responsibilities associated with each job makes finding a job to match your skills and personality really easy.||-----|
|-----||5. When you go on a job interview you should ask the interviewer for a copy of the company's annual report.||-----|
|-----||6. It sets a good tone on a job interview if you bring up the question of salary and benefits right at the start.||-----|
|-----||7. A job is a job is a job. The job will stay approximately the same no matter who fills it.||-----|
|-----||8. Earnings per share (EPS) is what you look at when you're planning to invest in a company, not when you're planning to work for it.||-----|
|-----||9. Annual reports are so well presented that you can ignore the data and just read the company's summaries of progress.||-----|
|-----||10. Research shows that satisfied workers produce more.||-----|
|-----||11. There are not advantages to dead-end career paths||-----|
|-----||12. Job satisfaction involves pretty much the same factors for everyone.||-----|