Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview

2
Electronic Work and the white-Collar Employee

Dennis Chamot Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO


ABSTRACT

This chapter addresses concerns that organized labor has about the introduction of white-collar technology. In terms of employment prospects, advanced office technology currently threatens employment for middle managers and clerical workers and eventually will do so for professionals as well. Given the increasingly high unemployment in the past decade, labor growth in new industries and occupations may not compensate for the labor reductions that are associated with new technology. In terms of job quality, use of white-collar technology can lead to deskilling and rationalization of work, increased stress associated with poor ergonomics, computer pacing of work, job speed-ups, excessive monitoring of work by computers, and the exploitation of workers who work from home using computers and telecommunications equipment. These concerns about job security and working conditions result from choices made by equipment and software designers and by managers. Many of the problems, however, can be avoided if employees are actively involved in early stages of the change process.

The technological transformation of white-collar work is occurring within a context of rapid change in all areas of employment. Computers, microchips and new communications technologies are having profound effects on how work is done in factories, warehouses, retail outlets, and virtually every other type of employment facility in the United States.

The last few years have seen the introduction of a growing array of new office technologies based upon small computers and complex communications systems. Their effects on office workers are only beginning to be felt.

To properly analyze these effects, I find it useful to subdivide the white- collar workforce into three categories:

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