A Pilot Study of the Experience of Modern Working Life in Two Contrasting Occupations: Productivity Increase or Unsustainable Intensification of Work?

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Michael Paul Bittman, University of New England, Sydney, Australia
It is ironic, given that the distinctive feature of capitalism is that capacity to labour is sold and bought in units of time, that in advanced capitalist economies many workers have no fixed hours of work. In the 21st century, much wage-labour takes place under circumstances that resembles a sub-contract. Under this newer system of organization, employees (singly or as part of a team) are given a task to complete by a fixed deadline. Instead of relying on Bundy clocks and stop-watches, and job cards detailing how many 10,000thsof minute it takes to complete each Therblig (the 18 motions that compose a task), employee accountability is provided by the performance in achieving outcomes.

The retreat from the direct control that characterised early part of the 20thcentury is profound shift. Curiously, this leaves both management and workers unsure of their productivity per hour because they have no record of the time spent. There is a substantial literature which demonstrates that the weekly estimates gathered by the standard labour force surveys have systematic biases. Moreover, the classic paper-and-pencil time-diary used by many official statistical organisations around the world, which ought to provide more precise measure, lack detail about employment related tasks. This lack of detail seems to derive from two sources. Firstly, because attempts to measure the time spent in employment-related tasks justifiably engenders resistance, which may also explain why management has abandoned it in favour of ‘performance indicators’. Secondly, recalling everything that happens in the course a working day places a considerable reporting burden on respondents. Consequently, these diaries yield  start and finish times, and breaks at work but hardly any more information.

This paper reports on pilot study using Smartphones (in combination with random time sampling and a technique Tom Juster called ‘the intensive hour’). A significant advantage of thiese techniques is that it gathers only a small sample of any individuals use of time, protecting them against any potentially self-incriminating consequences but, nevertheless, yieldis a detailed but robust estimate of how the typical worker, in this sub-occupation, spends their time. The preliminary findings from this study, show that the technique reveals how many hours these workers devote to their jobs, how often their multi-task, what days of the week and what times a day they do their job tasks, as well as the extent to which they feel under time pressure, have manageable job demands and feel secure in their jobs. I believe this study has wider implications because of the spread of occupational settings employees are managed by targeted outcomes (performance indicators) but are given apparent autonomy over how these targets are met.