Tag Archives: labor

No Rest for the Weary

first step to success

Photo by CJ via Flickr CC.

College students are tired of sleeping, according to a BBC interview with Catherine M. Coveney. She’s a British sociologist who recently explored the sleeping practices and subjective sleep experiences of two notoriously sleep-deprived groups: shift workers and college students. After conducting 25 semi-structured interviews with individuals dispossessed of rest, she concludes that our social context impacts how we understand the meaning of sleep and how we manage our sleeping schedules as a result.

The hospital-based doctors, nurses, police officers, call center employees, and other shift workers Coveney interviewed describe actively managing their sleep schedules around work patterns, finding childcare, and spending time with their partner. It is something that is constantly at the back of their mind. To illustrate why they view “broken sleep” as part and parcel of the job, Coveney explains how sleeplessness is built-in to the work structure:

There are some occupations where nothing is sanctioned…. The two nurses that I spoke to, they had to work waking nights. So even on their break, they weren’t allowed to go to sleep during the night. That’s not to say it didn’t occasionally happen, but that it was not a sanctioned practice. That was something that was seen as going against the rules of their profession.

On the surface, the sleep patterns of the college students look identical to the shift workers: “They did describe a kind of similar pattern; they did describe taking naps during the day, having a shorter sleep at night, having a two hour nap the next day.” Yet because they see sleep as an  “expendable luxury,” they don’t view their own erratic sleep as “broken.” According to Coveney, for the college students,

…it was more flexible, it was more their choice, so in a sense they were customizing their sleep patterns to fit around their social activities…. I suppose it was seen as disposable in a sense, they could cut back on sleep if they chose to, they could indulge in sleep if they chose to.

Although both groups thought of sleep in functional terms—the necessary amount determined by what was needed to get them through what they had to do the next day—Coveney reports, “None of the students I spoke to said they would prioritize a night in bed because they thought they hadn’t had enough sleep. If there was something else they wanted to do, they‘d do that. And they’d catch up later, they’d sleep longer the next day, they’d take a nap…. Some of them did go as far as to say if they could get rid of their need for sleep, it would give them much more time to do other things.” Even the value of sleep depends on supply and demand.

To learn who else is getting more sleep than you are, check out these TSP classics on the gender sleep gap and on segmented sleep.

Reproducing Reality in Fantasy-Land: Online Gaming and Offline Behaviors

Photo by Eduardo Hulshof, Flickr CC.

Photo by Eduardo Hulshof, Flickr CC.

Ubisoft has been trying to find out what makes its gamers tick. Nick Yee, a researcher fronting the company’s internal “Daedalus Project,” now has a new book, The Proteus Paradox, bringing together some of the major findings from the years of interviewing and observing gamers. Perhaps most interesting, as Bryan Alexander points out in Reason, is that, no matter how otherworldly the games might be, players tend to import their offline behavior and attitudes.

For instance, Yee explains in a chapter called “The Labor of Fun,” many gamers come to see gaming as a second job, demanding hours of boring drudgery contributing to fleeting achievements. Some even exploit other gamers to do the “grinding” work of leveling-up and repay it with racism toward those willing to do the work.

Gender figures interestingly, too:

Proteus outlines how male players denigrate, harass, and drive off female players. But Yee offers two twists to this sadly familiar story. First, women report wanting to play for the same reasons men do—achievement, social interaction, and immersion—going against essentialist expectations of gender behavior difference. And second, MMOs [massively multiplayer online games] offer a pedagogical benefit of sorts to male gamers who play under female avatars.

Males do this switching with some frequency… mostly to enjoy the eye candy of an attractive female avatar displayed in a game’s third-person perspective. That gaze is then reversed, as it were, as other players ogle the same avatar from their avatar’s perspectives. It’s a surprising opportunity to experience the kinds of sexual harassment that real-world women know to well.

Love, death, and helping others all come into play. “For all the criticisms that can be made of gamers’ behavior,” Alexander writes after reading Yee’s book, “these worlds are not bleak places entirely devoid of pleasure and fellow-feeling.” Between levels, it seems, some Putnam, Goffman, and Addams have snuck into the online realm.

For more in the Reason series on gaming, click here. For more on race in gaming, check out “The Whiteness of Warcraft,” here on TSP.

Halfway There

Photo by Jeremy Richardson, via flickr.com.

Photo by Jeremy Richardson, via flickr.com.

In light of recent media buzz over research on how much sex husbands may or may not be “getting” for helping with the housework, the question of an equal-gender split of chores is back on the table (or maybe just stuffed it behind some bills and takeout menus on the counter).

Academic work on this topic often wanders into big, macro-level thinking about gender roles and social structures, but a recent article in The Atlantic pushes us to think about this issue in terms of the small, everyday choices that make home better for everyone. Alexandra Bradner outlines the problem for heterosexual families:

Because no one can afford to fully replace themselves at home while they are at the office… working mothers have famously picked up the slack for both partners, subsidizing our market with their free labor… this means that mothers are important, in all of the ways in which socially conservative forces routinely note. But it could also mean that [they] are exploited… to do more than their fair share of the family’s work, all without compensation.

Bradner offers three possible explanations for this problem:

  1. Men don’t see the work that needs to be done
  2. Men see what needs to be done, but don’t think they can do it as easily or effectively as their wives can
  3. Men’s workplace structures won’t let them take the extra time to do their share of the chores

Instead of arguing for a large-scale overhaul of “women’s responsibilities” or workplace regulations, Bradner addresses all three issues with one simple suggestion: Men should ask their partners, “Do I do half the laundry? Do I change half the diapers?” Then, couples can make conscious choices about work distribution.

When husbands and colleagues come through with these “small acts of heroism,” splitting the work, Bradner, agues we get closer to a society that cares about caring for people:

It’s not, exclusively, a conversation for and among women. This is a conversation about families and about babies and their care, which makes it a conversation about kindness, responsiveness, and our nation’s collective future.

Slow Down to Pick Up the Pace

Photo by Adam Lynch via flickr.com

Photo by Adam Lynch via flickr.com

It seems like there’s never enough time: today’s workplaces demand efficiency and getting more done in less time. Workers cut down on breaks, vacation, and precious sleep. Luckily, Tony Schwartz brings good news in his op-ed for the New York Times:

A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

In a country where “more than 50 percent [of workers] assume they’ll work during their vacations,” “an average of 9.2 vacation days [go] unused,” and “sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity,” these midday renewals offer much needed relief. Schwartz cites study after study showing everything from a full night’s sleep improving basketball performance to naps improving memory test results and alertness and reaction time among air traffic controllers. Another study found:

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.

Next time you find yourself joking about needing a nap, pull up that carpet square, kindergarten style. Those kids know what they’re up to.

Supersize and Unionize

Photo by jemsweb via flickr.com

Fast food jobs are notorious for their low pay and negligible benefits. In an article for the New York Times, Steven Greenhouse explains that a group of fast food workers and union organizers have launched a campaign to unionize workers in New York City’s fast food industry called Fast Food Forward. The campaign is the largest effort to unionize fast food workers the United States has ever seen. Efforts to unionize these workers have been undertaken before, but never on this scale. The movement is not focusing of one franchise or chain, but instead includes many workers from popular chains around the city, including McDonalds, Dominos, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s.

The Fast Food Forward campaign hopes to increase wages and union recognition while reducing income inequality by unionizing these low-wage workers. Sociologist Ruth Milkman, of the City University of New York, says it’ll be no easy task, explaining that very few efforts have been in this direction in the past because of its perceived difficulty. She explains, “These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore.” Milkman is optimistic, however, New York City’s deep history of unionizing might help this movement find its footing.

A lot rests on the success or failure of this campaign. Right now, NYC has tens of thousands of fast food workers and nearly all of them are paid wages that place them below the poverty line (their median wage is $9 per hour, which means even if they work full time, which many can’t even if they’d like to, they’d earn just $18,500 a year, with sparse benefits). Because fast food pay is so low, many workers must also seek public assistance, and that means taxpayers (including the workers themselves) have to pick up the slack for multinational corporations. Unionization might be a first step in fiscal relief for thousands of households—and the government.

America’s (Corporate) Game

Photo by pj_vanf via flickr.com

The Twitterverse and blogosphere exploded after NFL replacement referees blew a call on Monday Night Football, costing the Green Bay Packers a victory. Even President Obama piped up on Tuesday, encouraging a swift end to the labor dispute between the NFL and its regular referees. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times agrees that we should all be paying attention to the unfolding drama, but argues that we might be missing the point:

Most news coverage of this labor dispute focuses on the ineptitude of the fill-in referees; this week there will be a lot of hand-wringing over the flagrantly bad call that turned a Green Bay interception into a game-winning Seattle touchdown, as if by alchemy. Occasionally you’ll read that the disagreement has something to do with retirement pay. But it’s really about much more.

It’s about employers’ assault on the very concept of retirement security. It’s about employers’ willingness to resort to strong-arm tactics with workers, because they believe that in today’s environment unions can be pushed around (they’re not wrong). You ignore this labor dispute at your peril, because the same treatment is waiting for you.

One issue at the heart of the conflict is the NFL’s goal to end the referees’ pension plan and move to a 401(k)-style plan, which Hiltzik notes is not unique among U.S. employers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has argued that defined-benefit plans are a thing of the past — even he doesn’t have one, he told an interviewer recently, as though financially he’s in the same boat as any other league employee.

This is as pure an expression as you’ll find of the race to the bottom in corporate treatment of employees. Industry’s shift from defined-benefit retirement plans to 401(k) plans has helped to destroy retirement security for millions of Americans by shifting pension risk from employer to employee, exposing the latter to financial market meltdowns like those that occurred in 2000 and 2008.

It’s true that employers coast-to-coast have tried to put a bullet in the heart of the defined-benefit plan. The union representing 45,000 Verizon workers gave up on such coverage for new employees to settle a 15-month contract dispute.

But why anyone should sympathize with the desire of the NFL, one of the most successful business enterprises in history, to do so, much less admire its efforts, isn’t so clear. If you have one of these disappearing retirement plans today, don’t be surprised to hear your employer lament, “even the NFL can’t afford them” tomorrow.

Another common trend is an increase in the use of lockouts as a means of resolving labor disputes.

Lockouts have become more widespread generally: A recent survey by Bloomberg BNA found that as a percentage of U.S. work stoppages, lockouts had increased to 8.07% last year, the highest ratio on record, from less than 3% in 1991. In other words, work stoppages of all kinds have declined by 75% in that period — but more of them are initiated by employers.

The reasons are obvious. “Lockouts put pressure on the employees because nobody can collect a paycheck,” said William B. Gould IV, a former attorney for the National Labor Relations Board and a professor emeritus at Stanford Law School. “In a lot of major disputes, particularly in sports, it’s the weapon du jour.” Think about that the next time someone tells you that unions have too much power.

While the spotlight is sure to remain on the ire of fans and players alike toward the botched calls by replacement refs, America’s Game may be showing us more about business as usual in the United States than we would like to see.

It’s been said that football simply replicates the rough and tumble of the real world, and in this case, sadly, the observation is too true.

No Solutions in He Said/She Said

Class Participation

University of Illinois at Chicago’s Barbara Risman recently told CNN readers that there are two types of sexual harassment.  The first is usually easy to spot.  “A really detestable (usually) man gives his (usually) female subordinate employee or student an ultimatum: Put out or lose some opportunity, be it a grade, a job or a promotion.”  As Risman explains, this type of harassment was commonplace during the era of Don Draper and Roger Sterling, but we’ve come a long way since then.

But then there is the other kind of sexual harassment, the behavior that makes the workplace uncomfortable, that creates an environment that is hostile to women in general, or just to one person because of her (or his) sex, gender, race or ethnicity. Everyone agrees that workplaces ought not to differentiate between actors simply because of their sex, gender, race or ethnicity. But beyond that, when sex and gender are involved, we often get into a “he said/she said” dialogue. For example, he believed the jokes were simply funny and created a more friendly setting; she believed they were offensive and created an us (the boys) versus them (her or her and other women) organizational climate where she was always going to be outside the loop, outside informal conversations and social networks that mattered.

If we look at sexual harassment in terms of he said/she said, though, Riseman argues that there will never be a solution.  We can’t deny that many people meet their partners in the workplace.  Yet, we also can’t deny that we live in a world where power is not equally shared and where workplaces are not integrated by sex.  In fact, integration by sex has stalled; more women are getting degrees, but they are remaining in traditionally female-dominated fields.  According to Riseman, this may be because of the workplace cultures that include sexual innuendo and sexual harassment.

I don’t have an easy answer, but I do know we’ll never solve the problem by trying to figure out what he said or she said. Instead, we have to decide what, as a society, we want to be acceptable or not in our workplaces and schools and then enforce the norms with legal penalties. Here’s a first volley: It should be illegal for men (or women) to make sexual overtures to their subordinates. End of story. Power always gets in the way of easily saying no. But more than that, if we want workplaces that do not privilege the men who have previously dominated the social space, we need to change the culture in which sexual banter objectifies women and turns them into the “other,” and take seriously the claims by women that men harass them.

Because, as Riseman eloquently notes, “The more subtle kind of sexual harassment has consequences not only for the individual woman who finally complains, but for all of us, by sustaining a culture where the powerful positions in many occupations, including politics, remain dominated by men.”

 

 

mommy’s – and daddy’s – time out

Swedish Dads, Skansen

The New York Times features an in-depth look at paternity leave in Sweden:

From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.

In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.

“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” …“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

Of course, these policies are not without controversy and do come at a price. Sociologists, along with several other social scientists, weigh in:

The least enthusiastic [about paternity leave], in fact, are often mothers. In a 2003 survey by the Social Insurance Agency, the most commonly cited reason for not taking more paternity leave, after finances, was mother’s preference, said Ann-Zofie Duvander, a sociologist at Stockholm University who worked at the agency at the time.

Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going.

“There are remarkably few complaints,” said Linda Haas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University currently at the University of Goteborg. With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.”

Despite the challenges that Sweden’s extended parental leave may present for some employers, the trend doesn’t shows signs of slowing:

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

Check out the rest of the article.

unintended consequences of immigration

Video of the International Workers Day march in MinneapolisThe San Bernadino Sun recently reported on Louisiana State University sociologist Edward Shihadeh’s recently published research on the effect of Latino immigration on black labor market participation:

to farm or not to farm?


Iowa Round BalesAgriculture Online reports results from the Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers conducted by Extension Sociology at Iowa State University.

The latest [survey] indicates concerns are growing surrounding the passage of farms to the next generation. In the 2008 poll, 42% of farmers responding said they were planning on retiring in the next 5 years, and among those, 56% said they had identified a successor, according to J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., leader of a team of ISU Extension sociologists administering the poll.

The survey explores what the farmers think motivates their children to take on the family farm:

“The 735 farmers who were over 55 — approaching retirement age — had 350 children who farmed, a proportion (48%) that represents less than half of the number that will be needed to replace the current generation of farmers as they retire,” he adds.

Of those saying the younger generation planned to take the reins of the farm, reasons like quality of life and love of farming topped the list of motivations.

“Following in importance were quality of life considerations and having grown up wanting to farm. Seventy-two percent of farmers rated these factors as having been important or very important criteria in their children’s decisions to farm,” Arbuckle says. “Ability to be their own boss (68%), desire to stay close to home (56%), desire to carry on family tradition (55%), and family ability to help get them started (55%) were also rated as important or very important by a majority of Farm Poll participants.”

Why are members of the next generation planning on other careers instead of returning to the farm? Arbuckle says income opportunities elsewhere comprised the top motivator, while industry entrance hurdles like input costs, high land rents and excessive overall financial risk topped the list of drivers toward other careers.

“In contrast to the factors influencing the decision to farm, most of the reasons that were rated as most important in the choice of a non-farm career were economic,” Arbuckle says.

“On the whole, results suggest that for those individuals who chose farming as their career, cultural and lifestyle factors were the predominant reasons underlying that choice. Whether regarding their own decisions to farm, or their children”s decisions, love of farming and quality of life issues were fundamental,” he continues. “On the other hand, for those children who did not choose to farm, parents’ assessments clearly point to economic factors as the most important decision criteria, whether in the form of economic barriers to farm entry or better income opportunities elsewhere.”

Check out the site for “The Farm Poll” for great summary reports of surveys dating back to 1982.