Human development in the changing workplace

Subject Business Topic human development in the changing workplace
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A Framework for Exploring Time Pressures and the Balancing of Work and Home

During the second half of the quarter, we shift our emphasis from changes in the workplace to changing time pressures and changing relationships between work and home. The required text by Darrah, Freeman, and English-Lueck provides themes for our weekly forum discussions. The supplementary sources included under Readings deal with specific issues that relate to these themes.

A recurring theme in Busier than ever! is that busyness is a pervasive quality in contemporary American lives. It grows, in part, out of “a new instrumentalism” and a general “intensification of performance standards.” It is also an outcome of increasingly interrelated demands of workplace, community, and home. While individuals and families strive to separate work and home, workplace demands frequently encroach on family life and family issues frequently impact work. Darrah et al. contend that relationships between work and home are reciprocal, complex, and subtle. They found that their informants brought models of efficiency, productivity, and interpersonal relationships from work into their family lives, and brought assumptions, behaviors, and values from family and community life into the workplace. Moreover, busyness applies not only to people’s behaviors; it includes “private, internal work occurring in the consciousness of individuals.”

While Darrah et al. sought culturally diverse families that included members who worked in different economic sectors, they made no effort to recruit a representative sample of American families. They tried to describe a range of different strategies for managing and integrating work and home, but also remind us that the burdens and rewards of busyness are unevenly distributed and that family strategies vary more widely across American society. The authors warn against the common temptation to generalize about “the family” and to think of families’ experiences in fixed or universal terms. They argue that one of the biggest obstacles to our ability to grasp the nature and meaning of the busyness of families is the common tendency to think of families “as timeless, essential forms.”

In their last chapter, Darrah et al. write, “The radical separation of work and family in America, so taken for granted by the post-World War II generation, may prove to be an exception to their close relationship in most societies.” While many of us are troubled by the sense that boundaries between work and family have only recently begun to blur, there is much evidence to suggest that clear boundaries were largely absent in earlier periods of American history (see Week 10 Readings). While we may view the workplace as the antithesis of the home and see ourselves struggling to balance “conflicting” commitments, Darrah et al. argue that this perception misplaces the source of our troubles.

Suggested Topics for Your Wiki Contribution

Darrah et al. contend that busyness transcends work and family. In their view, it is inherent to the lives that middle-class Silicon Valley families choose to live. This view conflicts with the common belief that busyness is a product of intensified time-pressures imposed by work. Review the research of other scholars (e.g. Week 9, Jarvis) to assess the relative merits of these two perspectives.

Most of the families described by Darrah et al. include adult members who seem to be employed in relatively permanent jobs. In some employment sectors, growing numbers of workers are employed in temporary jobs. Permanent jobs and temporary jobs have been associated with different kinds of time-pressures, life stressors, and work-life conflicts (e.g. Week 6 readings). Explore the growth of temp work in a particular employment sector. How has it affected workers’ well-being and family relationships?

Darrah et al. argue that busyness is a style of behavior AND a form of consciousness. They would probably agree with E.P. Thompson’s view that people’s “inward notation of time” is shaped by largely invisible economic, social, and cultural forces (Week 8 reading). Use Thompson’s article and related readings to describe how consciousness of time has changed historically in relationship to new forms of “work discipline.”

Among the published work cited by Darrah et al. are books by Arlie Hochschild (The Time Bind) and Juliet Schor (The Overworked American). Hochschild and Schor both did pioneering research on the ways Americans “choose” between time at work and time at home. Compare and contrast these different authors’ accounts of the conditions that shape this choice.

One of the dilemmas regularly faced by Darrah’s families is a “surfeit of alternatives from which to choose.” It seems that people often complicate their lives and may work against their better interests by trying to hold on to too many options. A 2008 article in the New York Times reports on research by Dan Ariely of MIT on this tendency (Week 9 reading). The article includes links to two of Ariely’s publications. Some of his other publications are available at his MIT website:
Read Ariely’s published work. How would he explain the “surfeit of alternatives” and the felt need to keep options open?

Busyness as characterized by Darrah et al. is central to the experiences of the 14 families described in the book, but it may not be present in the same form in other American families. Look for journal articles or other research literature that deals with issues of “balancing” work and home in American families that differ by level of income, class, ethnicity, race, and other social categories. Critically assess the applicability of Darrah’s concept of pervasive busyness to a wider spectrum of American families.

Darrah’s ideas about a new “instrumentalism” and an “intensification of performance standards” may apply as much to the lives of children as to the lives of their parents. This is suggested by the growth of private after-school tutorial services that aim to improve children’s school performance, the proliferation of other child-oriented “enrichment” activities, and public concern about “overscheduled kids." Compare some of the recent popular and academic literature that reports on the "overscheduling" of children's activities. How do different authors characterize and explain this phenomenon? Critically assess each author''s evidence, arguments, and conclusions.

Darrah et al. use participant-observation as the basis of their qualitative study of 14 middle-class Silicon Valley families. While the small size of this group ensured that any effort to gain a representative sample of families was bound to be “meaningless,” it enabled the authors to gain deep insight into the life of each family. Other researchers who investigate relationships between time-pressures and the balancing of work and family life make painstaking efforts to develop representative samples, survey large numbers of families, and use quantitative data analysis to discover patterns and causes. With reference to specific studies on some aspect of families’ efforts to integrate work and home discuss how researchers’ different methodological approaches led them to similar and/or different conclusions.

Because they allow themselves to become so absorbed by the challenges of dealing with commonplace, everyday busyness, the people described by Darrah et al. often fail to notice the fundamental societal changes that condition how, why, and when they are busy. They sometimes come to believe that they determine their own busyness. With reference to supplemental sources included under Readings and/or other sources discovered on your own, thoughtfully discuss how this “false consciousness” develops.

According to Darrah et al. some of the families in Busier than ever! give extraordinary importance to ordinary activities. They even take inordinate pride in their busyness, as if it represented their accomplishment or worth. Is this pride of busyness evident outside Darrah’s small group of families? How is it demonstrated in other research literature?

Darrah’s case studies suggest that the growing use of new information and communication technologies can be a mixed blessing for individuals and families. Read and report on other research that examines how the use of such technologies have affected the negotiation and perception of boundaries between work and home. Relate this other research to Darrah’s findings.

Darrah et al., Hochschild, and others who research contemporary family life note the growing application of concepts and behaviors associated with work to the home. Parents may “outsource” childcare, “delegate” housekeeping tasks to paid workers, or use “firewalls” to limit family members’ intrusions into each other’s personal spheres. Compare different researchers’ views of this change. What are their key points of dis/agreement?

Guidelines for Researching and Writing Your Wiki Entry

You must base your wiki entry on at least three sources that are NOT part of the assigned weekly readings. Your sources may include recommended readings posted in the weekly folders under Readings, peer-reviewed journal articles that you find on your own, or credible and substantive online sources. I also encourage you to draw on the assigned weekly readings, but these won't count toward the minimum of three new sources required for your wiki entry. A key purpose of the wiki is to increase our collective knowledge of topics relevant to the course by contributing what we've learned independently to a common pool of knowledge.

You will write a report on what you learned from your sources and post the report as your wiki entry. Don't just summarize the information; critically evaluate its merits. Don't just tell us what other authors say; give us your perspective. Don't just express your "opinion;" develop a reasonable argument that supports your viewpoint. In some ways, you can treat this assignment like you would treat writing a critical essay. However, the wiki format allows you to be more creative in your presentation and readily share what you learned with others.

Your wiki entry should be about 1,000 words in length. Be sure to carefully cite and document your sources. I encourage you to incorporate links to external websites, other wiki pages, images, and other features.
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