Work and Organizational Psychology: An Introduction with Attitude

By Christine E. Doyle | Go to book overview
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What's it all about…? (Introduction to work and organizational psychology)

May you live in interesting times.

Chinese curse


Defining work

Benjamin Franklin once wrote memorably that there are only two certainties in life-death and taxes. It is arguable whether he ought to have added work to this duo. The fact that he didn't probably has something to do with the difficulty of characterizing what work is. One thing is clear; our attitudes to work have always been ambivalent. The Christian Bible gave work as one of the punishments visited on humanity following expulsion from Paradise. For centuries the less pleasant forms of work were delegated to slaves and peasants. Part of the attraction of being rich and powerful has been that you don't necessarily have to work and that you can get others to do it for you. Perhaps because work was such an unpleasant necessity, it was elevated to a virtue. Medieval monks made work part of their discipline, either as a form of "mortifying the flesh" or for the "glory of God". This may be the source of the "Protestant Work Ethic" (Furnham, 1990; Weber, 1958), which perhaps reached its peak when prosperity through hard work was regarded as evidence that the person was predestined to be "saved" from damnation. And there lies the paradox. Work may be a necessary evil, but for most of us, work is a powerful source of our personal and social identities irrespective of whether we enjoy it, whether we are paid for it, or whether those identities are thereby enhanced or undermined.

Have a look at Exercise 1.1 opposite. If you spent any time at all thinking about the questions in Exercise 1.1, you will have realized that work and our attitudes towards it are not as straightforward as you might have first thought. According to Porteous (1997, pp. 4-5), "work is normally conceived as involving some element of giving away control of the way one can distribute one's time and effort to someone else in exchange for money or its equivalent". However, he acknowledges that this definition is too narrow. I once did a study in which 100 people were asked what were the most

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