For many companies, the past decade has been marked by a sense of turbulence and redefinition. The growing role of information technologies and service businesses has prompted companies to reconsider how they are structured and even what business they are in. These changes have also affected how people work, what skills they need, and what kind of careers they expect. One critical change in how people work, argues Larry Hirschhorn, is that they are expected to bring more of themselves psychologically to the job. To facilitate this change, it is necessary to create a new culture of authority—one in which superiors acknowledge their dependence on subordinates, subordinates can challenge superiors, and both are able to show their vulnerability.
The first chapters of this book examine the covert processes by which people caught between the old and new culture of authority neither suppress nor express their feelings. Feelings are activated but not directed toward useful work. The case studies of this process are instructive and moving. The book then explores how organizations can create a culture of openness in which people become more psychologically present. In part, the process entails an understanding of the changes taking place in how we experience our own identity at work and that of "others" in society at large. To do this, the book suggests, we need a social policy of forgiveness and second chances.
In this revealing study, Larry Hirschhorn examines the rituals, or social defenses, organizations develop to cope with change. Using extended ease studies from offices, factories, and social services, he describes why these often irrational practices that fragment and injure individuals within the workplace exist, how they operate, and how they can be reshaped to enhance people's work experience.
Human skill and judgment are needed now more than ever to effectively run today's complex computerized production systems. In this thought-provoking study of work, worker, and machine in the postindustrial age, Hirschhorn points out that factories will become places of learning where the worker must be able to diagnose and solve an array of problems generated by error-prone machine systems.
With numerous examples he shows that the new technology can fail in unexpected ways and that human judgment has become increasingly important. The new technology also blurs the line between managing and working, requiring workers—craftsmen, machine operators, or engineers—to become generalists who will have to deal with unstructured and open-ended problems. Hirschhorn links theory to the shop floor, examining such issues as the role of unions and the economics of the job shop and describes a new type of factory setting where supervisors are teachers and workers are organized into teams paid according to how much they have learned.