New economy – but old work?

Work today takes place in a completely new framework. It is not only becoming more flexible and self-determined, but also more insecure, believes US sociologist Richard Sennett. He believes that the new flexibility destroys the old securities of working life and demands a new distribution.

Torn apart life

The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman went one step further in his thinking. Our lives are torn apart into different life projects that have nothing to do with each other. The many people in the low-wage sector who do more than one job to make a living bear witness to this statement. For Baumann, work is no longer an ethical basis for human beings, as its rules are constantly being redefined.

Modern working as a burden

Decades ago, the social psychologist Erich Fromm already assumed that the disintegration of old structures and the new forms of work were an imposition on people. For many people, this imposition leads to exhaustion. Even though they are working fewer and fewer hours in the automated age and even though, objectively speaking, working conditions have never been as good as they are today, he believes that employees are experiencing more stress than ever before.

New forms of work – new identity?

Although working hours have become less, the demands have increased at the same time. In earlier times people worked hard to be able to afford something later. Today, with the expectation of retirement of the baby boomers, this “later” has become uncertain. People no longer believe in future rewards – in the form of pensions – for a busy life. Against the background of an ageing population, a secure pension seems highly unlikely. The question is simply: who is going to pay for it? That is why more and more people are looking for a job that makes them happy and gives them meaning – in the expectation that they will be able to continue doing so beyond retirement age.

Self-optimization to the point of exhaustion?

The search for meaning inevitably leads to a compulsion for self-optimization. Employees not only provide their labour, but also have to market themselves and discipline themselves – in other words, optimise. The numerous agencies that advise applicants for job interviews and professional self-discovery bear witness to this thesis. Workers are not a small cog in the production process, but like entrepreneurs who constantly have to fear that they will not be able to live up to the high expectations. The sociologists Hans J. Pongratz and Günter Voß refer to this connection as “labour entrepreneur“.

Work 4.0 – Digitisation has once again changed the world of work

Flexible forms of work destroy old structures and securities. At the same time, employees should become better, optimise themselves so that they can compete for meaningful work. Work 4.0 has once again inspired the change in work. With the advent of new technologies, the world of work is changing continuously and massively.

Can this dilemma be solved on a social level instead of by the individuals themselves?

The worker has responded to all previous revolutions of work with personal adaptation. In a new and disruptive economy, is not the adaptation of the social system absolutely necessary? Does it make sense to continue old models of work in a new model of economy? Production processes today are taking place in a completely new framework, the digital transformation is in full swing. In this model of productions that are virtual and run by robots, is it absolutely necessary to work for money?

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