In early June, it came to light that last October, Walt Disney World Orlando eliminated the jobs of 250 data systems employees. The move made national news not because so many workers became jobless, but because Disney offered a severance bonus to employees who remained with the firm long enough to train the young immigrant workers who would assume their tasks.
The heartlessness of this move left workers and consumers reeling. A former Disney employee told a reporter for the New York Times, “It was so humiliating to train someone else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.” Outrage spread across news and social media, fueled by dismay that a company so closely associated with wholesome family entertainment would betray its workers in this way.
Many observers lamented loopholes in the H-1B visa program used to secure the replacement workers’ entry to the US, and endorsed reforms that would reduce impacts on American workers. Relatively few seem to grasp that Disney’s moves are rooted not in policy loopholes or corporate malfeasance, but instead are part and parcel of capitalism. Outsourcing, layoffs and swiftly severed ties – this is what capitalism looks like. As Karl Marx pointed out in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, workers, who under capitalism “must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The “increasing improvement” of production methods “ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” Manual workers confronted this reality decades ago, as plants in the United States closed and production moved overseas to take advantage of lower-cost labor. Increasingly, professional workers are also feeling the pain of displacement. And there is only more to come.
Lucas (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
By Ben A. Rissing and Emilio J. Castilla
Immigration reform has returned to the forefront of U.S. political debate as a result of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive order. Yet, proposed immigration reform measures have not attended to the process by which immigrant applicants are assessed – And many aspects of U.S. immigrant evaluation systems are opaque and discretionary.
In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, we examine the first stage of one such work authorization process, the labor certification program, which is required for the granting of most employment-based green cards in the United States. We find that there is substantial variation in approval outcomes associated with foreign workers’ country of citizenship. Specifically, while 90.5 percent of workers from Asia are approved by government agents, only 66.8 percent of foreign workers from Latin America are approved. These disparities exist even after controlling for salary, job title, job skill level requirement, location, industry, and prior visa. However, when applications are evaluated with detailed employment-relevant information obtained through government application audits, we find that approvals are equally likely for immigrant workers from the vast majority of citizenship groups. Read More
[Ed note: This is the 13th of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]
I organized the panel on “The Future of Organizational Sociology” at the 2014 American Sociological Association annual meeting, which inspired the present virtual panel. The motivation for the original session arose when, in quick succession, I had to update the syllabus for my graduate course on organizations and design a comprehensive examination reading list in the field. Both tasks force the instructor to take stock of recent developments in a field and try to make sense of them for students. Contemplating the work published over roughly the last two decades, I found myself puzzled about what to include. On the one hand, there were active research conversations that seemed to be taking place almost entirely among management faculty and in management journals—and thus arguably outside the disciplinary boundaries of sociology—such as the one on “institutional logics.” On the other hand, there was no shortage of sociological research involving organizations in some way, but most of it seemed better classified under (and was often clearly intended to speak to) another subfield of the discipline such as sociology of work, economic sociology, or social movements.
Work that could be uniquely identified as “organizational sociology” seemed to have largely disappeared.
What happened? Historically, organizational sociology operated at a relatively high level of abstraction. The goal was to understand and explain the structures and practices of complex organizations of all kinds, across multiple spheres of social life—not only business organizations, but also government agencies, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, even voluntary organizations. To be sure, in practice the empirical focus was on businesses and, to a lesser extent, public agencies. Still, there was an underlying assumption that it was possible and worthwhile to identify general concepts, principles, and processes that applied to all types of organizations. As Dick Scott has pointed out, there were always dual intellectual and practical aims, but they dovetailed in supporting the study of “what is” and “what works” across organizations in general. Today, it seems there are few sociologists (and even fewer graduate students) who are interested in developing or extending abstract concepts and theories about why organizations in general exhibit certain structures and practices, or which ones work best from the organization’s point of view. The broad pattern is the same in both sociology departments and business schools, although the institutional details differ.
In recent months, General Motors has received scathing critique for its handling of a design flaw affecting multiple Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn models produced over several years. At issue is a faulty ignition switch that, if jostled, cuts power to the engine, deactivating airbags and other features of affected vehicles. The problem was brought to light by Florida engineer Mark Hood, who discovered that newer ignitions with the same part number differed from the original design and required significantly more force to turn.
Subsequent investigation has determined that G.M. approved a new ignition switch design in 2006 and quietly implemented it without recalling vehicles subject to ignition failure. Inquiries by a federal agency, Congress and the media have revealed that G.M. has been aware of problems with the switch design for more than a decade but hid them from outsiders. The company now admits it has known about the problem since 2001, has acknowledged at least thirteen deaths related to the flaw, and has recalled millions of vehicles.
It’s an old question, really, but an important one — are managerial practices and work design responsible for the behavior of employees? Or does worker engagement and behavior come down to individual personalities, with responsibility thus resting primarily with workers? And what are the impacts on a firm’s financial success?
These questions received newfound attention with the publication of a study conducted by the Gallup organization, based on deceptively interesting survey data. Interesting, because they mirror critical concepts we sociologists of work use in our research. Deceptive, because the report stands as a textbook example of the kind of shallow reasoning that results when analysts proceed without concepts such as power, organizational design, and the normative climate fostered by management.
The report, titled “State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders ” uses data collected from individuals and their employers to show that a variety of factors that Gallup terms “employee engagement” enhance productivity, profitability and customer ratings while reducing accidents, theft, absenteeism, turnover and defects.
New research by management scholars on workplace flirting is getting quite a bit of media attention. You might have rolled your eyes at the topic, thinking that nothing serious can be learned about the workplace by studying flirtatious women.
A study of flirting at work may reveal a lot about workplace gender inequality. In fact, the behavior may be telling of underlying problems that are not “sexual” in content.
First, the study (read a summary of the study here). The authors surveyed about 300 employed female attorneys in 38 Southeastern U.S. law firms. Female attorneys reported on, among other things: their strategic flirting (engaging in socio-sexual behaviors with the intent of attaining a desirable outcome); daily mistreatment (the frequency with which they were treated rudely, excluded from a work activity, or as not-smart or inferior); and the femininity or masculinity of their law firm (the extent to which their firm could be characterized by terms such as “assertiveness, forcefulness, and masculinity” versus “compassion, and warmth”).
Over the last few months, in various parts of the country, several scholars have been invited to critique and discuss fellow OOW members Kevin Stainback and Don Tomaskovic-Devey’s new book, Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2012.
This panel brings together a few of these scholars’ voices in an attempt to kick start a conversation about occupational sex and race segregation and, in many cases to move forward with more research.
You will want to read OOW member and Work in Progress blog editorial board member Steve Vallas’ summary below.
The book is the first major study use EEO-1 data to examine the nature and consequences of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (CRA) over time. The book is painstaking in its use of data, but also careful and creative in its application of theory (largely, social closure theory). Major findings emerge in the book, some of which confirm existing assumptions about corporate policy, and others that are highly counter-intuitive. The book has generated much debate in the few months since its publication, and seems destined to provide a touchstone in this field now and for the foreseeable future.
John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell. 2012. The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Innovation in the sense of product design is a popular research topic today, because there is a lot of money in that. Innovation, however, in the deeper sense of new actors—new types of people, new organizational forms—is not even much on the research radar screen of contemporary social scientists, even though “speciation” (to use the biologists’ term for this) lies at the heart of historical change over the longue durée, both in biological evolution and in human history. Social science—meaning mostly economics, political science and sociology—is very good at understanding selection, both at the micro level of individual choice and at the macro level of institutional regulation and lock-in. But novelty, especially of actors but also of alternatives, has first to enter from off the stage of our collective imaginary for our existing theories to be able to go to work. Our analytical shears for trimming are sharp, but the life forces that push up novelty to be trimmed tend to escape our attention, much less our understanding. If this book accomplishes anything, we at least hope to put the research topic of speciation—the emergence of new organizational forms and people—on our collective agenda.
Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam. Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her. When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women. And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.
I recently read an article that I’m recommending to all of my colleagues and will adopt for my graduate seminar next year. It’s Robin Ely and Debra E. Meyerson’s “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms.” It is methodologically exciting—they performed a case study of two offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and analyzed case data of published work on men doing “dangerous” work (e.g., miners, wild land firefighters, military service). It is also theoretically provocative—they theorize that organizations can “disrupt conventional masculinity’s masculine elements” (page 5). Organizations, they conclude, have the capacity to change deeply rooted work cultures; namely, organizations can both “do” and “undo” gender at work. In their case, an organization initiative on one of the oil rigs designed to increase safety, had the unexpected effect of allowing men to “de-masculinize” their behaviors—to openly admit and share responsibility for mistakes, to work for the collective, to express their feelings, and reduce the typical need to express “toughness” common among men doing dangerous work. They actually found that the new organizational initiative reduced men’s need to compete or otherwise affirm their masculine credentials.