Major tendencies in the 21st century such as intensifying levels of globalisation, increasing levels of multiculturalism in workplaces, increasing threats of international terrorism, rapid innovations in information technology and others have direct and indirect implications on various processes in society, and their analysis from sociological viewpoint is necessary in order to assess these implications in a holistic manner.
Changes in the nature of work include increasing level of informality of organisational culture, increasing popularity of alternative working patterns and decline of popularity of lifelong employment for a single organisation have great potential to contribute to human well-being in various levels.
Theoretical perspectives to sociology can be divided into three categories: functionalism, conflict and interactionist. Benefits of changing nature of work to human well-being can be effectively explained through the lenses of each of these perspectives.
Changing nature of work related to increasing popularity of alternative working patterns such as part-time, flexitime, telecommuting, job sharing and compressed workweek have a great potential to improve the levels of work-life balance for many people.
Sociology studies rationale behind human behaviour, and from this perspective rationale behind increasing numbers of people preferring engagement in alternative working patterns can be explained as the willingness to improve the levels of their work-life balance.
Businesses can reduce the levels of operational costs by adopting alternative working patterns and this relates to conflict perspective in sociology to a certain extent. In other words, the conflict perspective to sociology and related theories which are mainly derived from teachings of Karl Marx focus on competition between various groups for resources, as well as, power and influence. According to this approach, cost reduction by businesses achieved by adoption of alternative working patterns can be used as a source of competitive advantage to compete with other businesses in the global marketplace.
Decline of popularity of lifetime employment as another aspect of changing nature of work. Specifically, known as “an implicit long-term employment contract that ends at mandatory retirement for the regular workforce” (Kambayashi and Kato, 2011, p.217), the concept of lifetime employment is becoming less relevant in modern marketplace at a global scale.
Decline of relevance of a lifetime employment for a single organisation is even starker in private sector and this is caused by more frequent downsizing practices partially caused by changes in external marketplace for the organisation, as well as, internal inefficiencies.
The tendency of declining popularity of lifetime employment has positive and negative implications to the levels of human well-being. On the positive side, the experience of working for multiple organisations during the career might further improve career prospects of employees with positive tangible and intangible implications.
However, on the negative side, the lack of job security caused by this tendency might cause stress for employees related to the loss of job, and this tendency may even increase the levels of unemployment in society.
Increasing level of informality of organisational culture has been found as another direction of a change in the nature of work. Corporate culture in organisations becoming more informal opposes functionalism or systems approach to sociology. Specifically, functionalism approach to sociology advocates the maintenance of status quo in relation to processes in society , and increasing level of informality of organisational culture may be associated with significant threat to the status quo in society.
Benefits to human well-being of this change in the nature of work in micro-sociology level include quality interpersonal relations in organisations and less stress that can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction.
In macro-sociology level, on the other hand, increasing level of informality of organisational culture can encourage creativity in employees in developing new products and services, creating competitive edge for the business in addition to increasing flexibility of the business to adapt to changes in external environment. This change benefits human well-being through resulting in financial gains for companies with positive implications on the level of national economy and standard of life of people.
Interactionist approach to sociology concentrates on specific details of situations involving interactions between people and this approach can be used in order to assess positive implications of increasing level of informality of organisational culture on human well-being in a greater level of depth.
From this perspective, higher level of informality in organisations can eliminate or diminish management – employee communication barriers leading to more quality interactions with highly positive implications on personal and organisational levels.
Nevertheless, informal organisational culture might have certain disadvantages as well such as misinterpretation of communication message due to the unclear organisational hierarchy, and such culture may prove to be counter-productive in terms of implementing organisational changes.
Impact of the changing nature of work on sociological imagination of employees as another aspect of the issues that needs to be addressed. Sociological imagination relates to the quality of mind that allows the relevant individual to appreciate connection between personal issues and social structures in an adequate manner. In other words, distinctive traits of modern social structures are associated with increasing levels of informality, higher levels of connectivity, diminishing role and impact of barriers between different social classes etc., and these realities need to be taken into account when assessing implications of changing nature of work for employees.
Kambayashi, R. & Kato, T. (2011) “The Japanese Employment System after the Bubble Burst: New Evidence” in Japan’s Bubble, Deflation, and Long-Term Stagnation editors Hamada, K., Kashyap, A.K. & Weinstein, D.E.