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How Important Is Technology and Work Design?

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Autor:   •  February 11, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  2,862 Words (12 Pages)  •  109 Views

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The word technology itself covers an expansive range of different things. However, technology has been divided in two, where Alan Fox distinguished material technology from social technology. Material technology can be simply defined as ‘tools, machinery, and equipment that can be seen, touched, and heard’, whereas, social technology can be defined as ‘the methods which order the behaviour and relationships of people in systematic, purposive ways through structures of coordination, control, motivation, and reward’ (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013: p. 81). In the business context, technology is often referred to as the independent variable that affects things such as job design and quality of working life, the dependent variables in this case. Quality of working life can be defined as ‘an individual’s overall assessment of satisfaction with their job, working conditions, pay, colleagues, management style, organisation culture, work-life balance, and training, development, and career opportunities’ (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013: p. 17). In this essay I’m going to present arguments for and against as to whether technology and the classical systems, Taylorism and Fordism, have led to the provision of a better quality of working life for individuals. Briefly these arguments for and against technology in this essay include the introduction of non-standard work, the theory of ‘technological determinism’ and the notion of ‘technological unemployment. The arguments against the classical systems in this essay include the use of Taylorism principles in the workplace and the very work-intense nature of these systems.

Classical systems such as Taylorism and Fordism were developed in the early 20th century. These classical systems changed the way goods and services were produced in the workplace forever. The principles and methods used in the Taylorist and Fordist systems have dramatically altered the work process through the introduction of greater amounts of regulation and rigidity which has, in turn, had very important consequences for the skill content of jobs (Noon, Blyton and Morrell, 2013: p. 150).

The classical system of Taylorism otherwise known as ‘scientific management’ was introduced by Frederick Winslow Taylor. His system was based on and guided by efficiency. This was because of his own experience of being an engineer which led him to believe that there was indeed an optimum way of performing any job, which he also referred to as the ‘one best way’. He discovered this ‘one best way’ of performing any task through the application of rigorous scientific testing which involved breaking down every activity into its smallest components and then systematically analyzing each step. Taylor argued that ‘no activity was too complex or too mundane to be subjected to this scientific analysis’ (Noon, Blyton and Morrell, 2013: p. 145). Having now discovered the ‘one best way’ of performing a task, the job was then to allocate different tasks to employees, attempting to fit the right worker to each task. The employee should have the requisite skills, acquired through systematic training to enable them to complete the task at hand, and no more than those required by the job (Thompson and McHugh, 2009).

The classical system of Fordism was introduced by Henry Ford. Henry Ford’s contribution was in adapting Taylorist principles to a factory setting and to allow for the mass production of standardised products. Ford established a production method using a moving assembly line, linear work sequencing, interdependence of tasks and specialised machinery (Noon, Blyton and Morrell, 2013). It has been argued that Fordism is as a result distinguishable from Taylorism in that it includes a type of work organisation designed specifically for very efficient mass production (Wood, 1989).

The first reason as to why the use of technology increases the quality of working life for individuals in the workplace compared to classical systems such as Taylorism and Fordism is because of the introduction and development of non-standard work as a result of developing technology. Non-standard work can be simply defined as ‘employment that does not involve a fixed schedule at the same physical location for an extended time’ (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013: p. 84). The main reason that non-standard work is generally preferred by the majority of people is because of its flexible and varied nature, allowing workers to work from home or somewhere else of their own comfort. Meaning employees subsequently feel like they have much more freedom compared to if they had no choice but to be in a fixed physical location to work every day (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). Thus increasing employees’ job satisfaction, subsequently meaning their quality of working life is enhanced. An example of how technology has allowed workers to work in non-standard ways, without actually determining the nature of jobs, is teleworking. Teleworking allows workers to communicate with one another via technology such as instant messaging and videoconferencing (Thompson and McHugh, 2009). The growing use of teleworking has allowed more people to participate in homeworking as some people have other commitments such as young children that they need to look after, that requires them to be at home. So teleworking has meant that ‘for some, working from home may create new career opportunities’ (Evans, 1993 p. 37), thus providing a better quality of working life for those individuals through greater employment. Further reasons as to why non-standard work is generally preferred by most people includes the fact that it’s often better paid, you are free from direct management supervision and it also gives you a lifestyle that constitutes a better work-life balance as it allows work to be combined with personal and family interests more easily (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). The last point is supported by Baruch where he states that ‘teleworking is a mode of flexible work, which helps the distinction between work and private life to fade away’ (Baruch, 2009: p. 46). These three further benefits from participating in non-standard work also provide a better quality of working life for workers. However, results from studies on teleworking have shown that teleworking can actually have the opposite effect on quality of working life and actually lead to a decrease in it for workers. One reason for this decrease that has been found in some workers is due to the strict surveillance managers sometimes implement when using teleworking (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013)

However, even though modern technology is designed to aid us generally in the workplace, this does not always happen in reality. The use of technology in the workplace can lead to what is called ‘technological determinism’ and can therefore limit the variety of

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