No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Functional change in work and occupation

Functional change in work and occupation in an industrial society (first broadcast February 5th, 1959)

"Work seems to be a nasty compulsion that everyone naturally tries to avoid. Even for the Protestant/Puritan ethics, in which Max Weber saw the basis of the capitalist-industrial conception of a profession, work and profession are still a burden. Early Protestants conceived of a dichotomy between (1) ordered, meaningful labor and (2) chaotic, unbridled laziness. Today, for individual self-image and government policy, a third alternative has been pushed between the alternatives of labor and laziness, which is enshrined in the ambiguous term (3) leisure. That would make us think that the uncomfortable, compulsive nature of work is more apparent than ever: Work and profession turn out to be annoying restrictions on the allowed laziness of free time.
When you ask workers if they are satisfied with their work, most say that they are indeed satisfied with their work and would rather do no other work. Should we conclude from this that the presumption that no one likes to work is incorrect? What their statement means, we cannot deduce from it. What moves workers to affirm their positive job satisfaction? There are several possible answers.

The conservative theory advocated by Elton Mayo and Peter Drucker says that the positive self-image of industrial workers corresponds to the objective work situation. This would be provided by the social labor network, which help individuals to develop and earn money. The person who says he is not happy with his work would then be an outsider, a psychologically defective deviant, who must be convinced of a "more reasonable" positive attitude. This theory may sound naive, but it has some prestige in both public opinion and academia. This can be explained: developed societies are mobile societies in which people can develop themselves through their work. A sustainable economy with rising wages also binds the individual with his consumption wishes and consumption options to the profession.

Yet the conservative theory is demonstrably incorrect. If it were correct, then employee satisfaction should extend beyond work and, for example, to working conditions. But this is not the case. In the same companies where the majority of workers say they are satisfied with their work, 40 to 70 percent believe that the salary is bad, only a third do not fear losing the job, and only between 10 and 20 percent believe that promotion in their work is possible. In the same companies where the majority of employees indicate that they do not want to do any work other than their current job, more than two-thirds indicate that it is difficult to find another job. If there was that opportunity, more than two-thirds would take it.

If we are looking for an explanation for the difference between job satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the conditions of work, we can turn to George Friedman's The Future of Work, which is based on Marx's concept of the alienation of work. But that dog just doesn't hunt: not all labour is alienating.

A third theory is historical in nature: the function of current labor is understood as the result of historical function changes. Since the beginning of Industrialization, we have experienced stages of development of labour: the first extends to the Industrial Revolution; until then, working at home was the life content of a craftsman. The harmony between profession and life was subsequently broken: factory labor no longer had creative possibilities. The worker earned meager wages for repetitive work as an accomplice to an industrial production process. In a third period there were unions, better wages and working conditions. The shortening of working time meant that consumption became central to man, while labor became a necessary evil. Work no longer brought much satisfaction. Helmut Schelsky and David Riesman worked from this theory.

But their distinction between forced labour/occupation and leisure/consumption, in which real life only begins after leaving the factory, is misleading. The person who renounces freedom in one area (work) soon finds himself in a world where he/she is also unfree in leisure and consumption. The chance of freedom diminishes if the separation of work and leisure becomes a social principle. Free choice of work and profession influences the consumption possibilities of the individual through income, time schedule and prestige. For many today, work is a welcome change from difficult leisure time. To find a profession that one can support is still a commandment of self-preservation through self-respect. In the past, people worked almost their entire vigilant life. The work was hard and hard and they earned little. There was often no question of self-development. Work and leisure are now in balance. Man needs the opportunity to develop through doing. The profession offers this possibility in the first instance. If people can find a profession of their choice, people can not only be satisfied with their work, but they can enjoy doing it."