This is the second in a series about contemporary work stress in today's society.
Q: What are additional characteristics and trends in today's workforce?
A: Further trends and characteristics in today's workforce will be determined by international economic competition, including regional coalitions such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Thus, bilingual workers who understand political and economic systems of nations who trade with the U.S. might spend part of their careers abroad or communicating with persons from other countries.
As organizations reduce permanent workers, increase part-time and temporary employees, and outsource or subcontract tasks, some workers are working several jobs. In part-time jobs, there are seldom benefits or employee identification with that organization.
As workplaces change frequently and downsize permanent work forces, more workers are assuming responsibility for managing their own careers. In the eras of long-term employees, the workplaces and managers assumed that responsibility. Workers were retrained or reassigned to new jobs within the company. There was an implicit understanding worker loyalty would be rewarded with retention and employer loyalty in return.
These contemporary trends mean employees have to keep up their responsibilities and also work harder and longer to stay competitive. There is then less time for family, friends and leisure. Employment uncertainties and skill deficiencies combine to create that pressure.
As a result of advanced technology and international connections among companies, there has been an increase in the educational requirements for some occupations. Advanced technology has eliminated some semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Middle management positions that processed data have been eliminated by computers that monitor and control tasks.
An example of such change is the auto industry. Much of the work is done by robots, which are regulated by computers, which are then programmed and operated by humans. Factories that have advanced technology need fewer workers and still increase productivity. Technology has necessitated those employees operating companies today learn more and handle more responsibility. Occupations available for those persons who can't read, write and perform basic math skills are becoming scarce.
Since future workers frequently will not stay in specific jobs in the same company for extended periods of time, workers will have several jobs in their lifetimes and frequently engage in retraining. Some workers might have to move from country to country to find work. Such mobility can causes feelings of rootlessness and culture shock. Nations might need to adapt their education systems and support systems to accommodate given numbers of immigrants and temporary residents crossing national boundaries.
The demographics of workplaces are driving more companies to accommodate families. Suggestions include day-care services, flexible work schedules and telecommunicating from home for some workers.
In 2011, the Australian Council of Trade Unions surveyed 42,000 workers. The survey revealed while workplaces are less physically demanding, work hours have increased and there are new types of stress.
Workers in casual jobs are afraid they will lose shifts if they don't work more. Companies are boosting productivity through unpaid work and pressure on workers. Overtime for longer hours earns no extra pay.
The 2011 Australian census of more than 42,000 workers recorded the following data:
* 73 percent of workers are regularly contacted outside work hours about their jobs.
* 61 percent work more hours than they are paid for.
* 47 percent receive no compensation for extra hours.
* 58 percent have paid for work-related expenses and not been compensated.
In Australia, there are three groups of workers with problems: women 45 to 54 years of age working full-time and caring for children and parents; men 45 to 64 who are told they are too old for permanent jobs; workers younger than 25 years facing labor market and financial stress due to insecure jobs or lack of permanent jobs.
Electronic monitoring is increasing in modern business. There are both pros and cons to using electronic monitoring. Possible negative effects include electronically paced work, reduced involvement, less task variety, less task clarity, reduced peer social support, reduced supervisor support, fear of losing one's job, routine work activities and lack of worker control over tasks.
On the positive side, when electronic monitoring is used to collect meaningful feedback in a timely fashion, and is not evaluative, it can enhance goal setting, motivation and information necessary to improve job performance. Monitoring also can provide a basis for accountability and fair work standards that influence job motivation and job satisfaction.
Conditions for successful electronic monitoring include these measurements have value to the worker and activities being monitored, be from a verifiable and accurate source, provide positive feedback, provide information that is timely, provide cues to proper work behavior, and have reasonable standards. Standards should include employee input.
* Next week's discussion will focus on trends causing work stress in society today.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State
University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.