Best Buy has ended its Result Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, which famously allowed employees to telecommute, working in the office on a set schedule, or have the flexibility to do both. Evaluations were based solely on job performance, with no consideration of attendance. Best Buy’s policy change follows a similar change at Yahoo, where CEO Marissa Meyer no longer allows staff to work from home.
Executives at both companies cite a need to improve competitiveness, and they argue that requiring employees to come to the office will enhance collaboration and innovation. Erin Kelly, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, is skeptical. She argues that ROWE is not to blame for the companies’ struggles:
“I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other problems those organizations are facing in the broader market,” Kelly told the Star Tribune.
Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, similarly disputes research claims that required attendance improves innovation among employees.
[M]uch of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.
Best Buy and Yahoo are calling for all hands on deck, but do all hands need to be on deck at the same time?
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.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, Sociologist Stephanie Coontz argues that claims about the end of men greatly exaggerate the change in the distribution of power that has taken place over the last half century.
Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men. The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.
Yes, things have changed. For example, women’s real wages have been rising for decades, while the real wages of men have fallen. Yet, this hardly makes women the “richer sex.” Women started from a much lower base. Furthermore, “….the median wages of female managers are just 73 percent of what male managers earn. And although women have significantly increased their representation among high earners in America over the past half-century, only 4 percent of the C.E.O.’s in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female.”
The ‘70s and ‘80s saw a reduction in job segregation by gender, especially in middle-class occupations. But, as sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman explain, this reduction in segregation slowed during the subsequent decades. And, some fields even became more segregated. In 1980, 64% of social workers were women; today, the figure has risen to 81%.
Further, many who note the rise of women often cite that, today, women earn almost 60% of all college degrees. Yet, women are still concentrated in traditionally female areas of study.
According to the N.Y.U. sociologist Paula England, a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, most women, despite earning higher grades, seem to be educating themselves for occupations that systematically pay less. Even women’s greater educational achievement stems partly from continuing gender inequities. Women get a smaller payoff than men for earning a high school degree, but a bigger payoff for completing college. This is not because of their higher grade point averages, the economist Christopher Dougherty concludes, but because women seem to need more education simply to counteract the impact of traditional job discrimination and traditional female career choices.
The decline of men has also been exaggerated. As Coontz notes, rates of domestic violence have halved since 1993, and rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70%. Husbands have also doubled their share of housework.
Yet, just like women, men also face an obstacle: over-investment in their gender identity.
Just as the feminine mystique discouraged women in the 1950s and 1960s from improving their education or job prospects, on the assumption that a man would always provide for them, the masculine mystique encourages men to neglect their own self-improvement on the assumption that sooner or later their ‘manliness’ will be rewarded.
Boys who engage in “girlie” activities are often bullied and ostracized, and men who take an active role in childcare and housework are more likely to be harassed at work.
Contrary to the fears of some pundits, the ascent of women does not portend the end of men. It offers a new beginning for both. But women’s progress by itself is not a panacea for America’s inequities. The closer we get to achieving equality of opportunity between the sexes, the more clearly we can see that the next major obstacle to improving the well-being of most men and women is the growing socioeconomic inequality within each sex.
At the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, researchers presented their on-going research to colleagues in the field. This week, several news sources have covered sociologists’ findings about how events in the lifecourse (like getting married, divorced, or having kids) are related to health issues.
Medical News Today reports on a study by Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, finding that moms who work full-time are healthier at age 40 than are other mothers. Particularly concerning is that the least healthy mothers at age 40 are those who are persistently unemployed or in and out of work, not by choice. Consistent work, these findings suggest, may be good for women’s health.
Co-author Adrianne Frech, Assistant Sociology Professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, told the press, work is good for both physical and mental health, for many reasons:
“It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy.”
“They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage,” she added.
NBC News details research conducted by Michael McFarland, Mark Hayward, and Dustin Brown exploring how marriage is related to biological risk factors, such as high blood pressure. They found that women who were continuously married for longer periods of time had fewer cardiovascular risks, whereas women with experiences of divorce or widowhood had increased risk factors.
For women, the researchers found, the longer the marriage, the fewer cardiovascular risk factors. The effect was significant but modest, McFarland said, with every 10 years of continuous marriage associated with a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk.
But when marriage is disrupted, it can be hard on the health. Women who were continuously married had a 40 percent lower count of metabolic risk factors than women who experienced two episodes or divorce or widowhood, the researchers found.
Finally, Deseret News picked up on research presented by Corinne Reczek, Tetyana Pudroyska, and Debra Umberson (also highlighted on Citings&Sightings). Their research found that being in a long-term marriage was associated with more alcohol consumption for women (compared to divorced or recently widowed women). In an interesting contrast, however, married men drink less than other men.
Our survey results show that continuously divorced and recently widowed women consume fewer drinks that continuously married women,” they wrote. “Our qualitative results suggest this occurs because men introduce and prompt women’s drinking and because divorced women lose the influence of men’s alcohol use” when the marriage fails.
As these studies indicate, it is essential to consider how social factors may be related to health outcomes, and sociologists are well positioned to contribute cutting-edge research on these issues.
Over at NPR’s Planet Money Blog, reporter Lam Thuy Vo takes a quick look at some of the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor to look at how women’s role in the economy (at least, on the employment side) has changed since 1972—coincidentally, the year the House and Senate both passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have mandated equal pay for equal work, but was not ratified by the states within the federal 10-year deadline.
Despite lacking legal backup in the fight against sex discrimination, women have certainly made strides in workforce participation in these forty years. They’ve gone from just 36.1% of the American workforce in 1972 to almost an even split at 49.3% in 2012. Vo further breaks out the gender division in workers across sectors for an interesting look at changing economies. It’s certainly worth a visit to look at not only how women’s roles in certain job categories have changed, but also how the proportion of those jobs in the American economy as a whole have changed in just four decades.
Kudos to University of Illinois sociologist and Council on Contemporary Families head Barbara Risman for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, more likely) for CNN.com in an insightful commentary about why it is that the so-called Mommy Wars are a distraction—and how they’re keeping us from truly addressing work-life balance in the United States.
In her short piece, Risman points out just four of the many contradictions between society’s values and actions that put the lie to the valorization of care-giving, using research from sociology and beyond to demonstrate that post-war workplaces don’t (and, quite possibly, can’t) serve millenial families. In one particularly telling example, Risman writes:
Sociologist Mirra Komarovsky pointed out these contradictions back in 1953. She argued back then that if society truly believed caretaking was an important and difficult job, nursery school teachers would rate a salary at least equal to the beginning salary of a street cleaner. Not much has changed since then. As Stephanie Coontz, a historian and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, told me: “It’s time for politicians to stop competing over the women’s votes and start competing over who has the best programs to support all parents, whatever their employment status or their gender.”
She concludes with a succinct call to action: “Let’s call a truce on the fictional mommy wars and start a war on workplaces that don’t allow mommies and daddies to live full lives, on the job and at home.”
Multitasking is taking a bigger toll on working mothers than on working fathers, confirms a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The authors suggest the key to the difference in stress may lie in which tasks each group is juggling. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the parents all spent nearly equal hours doing paid work, but the women were spending about nine more hours each week multitasking. In addition, that maternal multitasking often involved juggling housework and childcare.
The story for dads was a bit different, the Times wrote:
Multitasking by fathers was far less likely to involve child care, the study found, and unlike moms, dads tended to report they were more focused when in charge of their kids. Researchers said this jibes with much research showing that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage with their children in “interactive activities” that are “more pleasurable than routine child care tasks.” When mothers had child care duties, they were more likely to take the kids along on errands, drive them to activities or supervise their homework, the study found.
“This helps explain why women feel more burdened than men,” lead author Shira Offer, an assistant professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Time. “It’s related not just to amount but to their experience when they multitask.”
Barbara Schneider, study co-author and a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, also told the Los Angeles Times article that the families studied were not necessarily “typical American families”:
Participants in the 500 Family Study may not be representative of American families economically, educationally or by ethnicity, Schneider acknowledged. But by focusing on some of the busiest parents, she said, the study underscores the disproportionate emotional toll that multitasking may be taking on women as they shoulder a wider range of responsibilities in the family.
The take-away from the study, according to Time‘s interview with study author Offer:
Dads, pitch in more (without being asked!). Employers and policy-makers, make that possible by understanding that it’s not only mom who should transport the kids to day care and school or stay home with a sick child.
In an op-ed published in the Raleigh-based paper, theNewsobserver, sociology Ph.D student Amanda Gengler provides insight into what is at stake in the current political struggle in Wisconsin. To do so Gengler draws upon her experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned her master’s degree.
As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 10 years ago, every month a few dollars of my stipend went to pay dues to the TAA; a unique union that represents and protects graduate employees working in the UW-System. In return, I worked under a contract that ensured full health care benefits and basic dental care (with no out-of-pocket premiums), and tuition remission (without which my education would not have been possible) as well as other fair labor protections.
Now, even after each subsequent renegotiation of the rights for Wisconsin’s graduate employees has resulted in more and more concessions, current Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to remove the TAA’s collective bargaining rights altogether. This would make it impossible to fight for any of these protections, all of which could be immediately revoked.
Graduate students are not alone in seeing this as an attack on the education system.
Under the rallying cry “Hands off our Teachers,” undergraduates have taken to the streets in recent days alongside their graduate student instructors.
Gengler cautions us to not see this as an isolated threat directed at the University system.
Wisconsin’s 3,000 graduate student workers are but one of the many constituencies that will be directly harmed by the state government’s attack on unions and workers’ rights. As Wisconsin’s unions offer up economic concessions in terms of pay and premiums, only to be completely rebuffed by state lawmakers, it is clear that this issue is not about the budget: it is about ending workers’ collective bargaining rights.
The op-ed serves as a call for all workers and unions to pay close attention to what is occurring in Wisconsin. While the situation appears bleak, Gengler leaves us with a statement of resolve:
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have those rights know what they are worth, and the thousands who continue to flood Madison’s streets make it clear that the right to fight is one thing they will not concede.
In February’s issue of Wired (now available online), Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh helps us understand the life of a prostitute in New York City and how the trade has been transformed by advances in technology.
While Venkatesh’s initial goal was to examine how the gentrification of Times Square and other areas of New York City would impact the sex trade, he quickly found himself documenting the rise of a new type of sex worker.
The economies of big cities have been reshaped by a demand for high-end entertainment, cuisine, and “wellness” goods. In the process, “dating,” “massage,” “escort,” and “dancing” have replaced hustling and streetwalking. A luxury brand has been born.
The shift has resulted in an increase in both the price of, and level of respect for, prostitutes. Technology has played a large part in this as it allows clients to find companionship without resorting to driving the streets.
The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue.
Most exciting about this short piece was the amount of information conveyed in about ½ a page of writing through the use of a wide array of supplemental graphics. A map is used to show the movement of sex workers to trendier, more upscale districts in Manhattan. And a compilation of images, statistics, and well-chosen quotes demonstrate the divide between types of sex work, as well as the infusion of technology into the escort services. For instance, Facebook is quickly becoming a medium for advertising adult-services and a BlackBerry phone has come to symbolize a professional (and disease-free) status.
In a recent article in the New York Times, economics professor Nancy Folbre helps us understand why men have not only experienced greater job loss during the current recession but have also continued to suffer during the economic recovery.
As Folbre explains, the higher job loss does not come without historical precedence.
The Great Recession has sometimes been dubbed the Mancession because it drove unemployment among men higher than unemployment among women. Because men tend to work in more cyclical industries than women, they have historically lost more jobs on the downturn and gained more on the upturn.
However, the current upturn, has not followed this trend due to the decline in the jobs that men usually fill.
For example, men constitute more than 71 percent of the work force in manufacturing but less than 25 percent of the workers in health and education services…These two employment categories were similar in size in 2000, but manufacturing employment has failed to rise, even in non-recession years. Employment in health and education, in contrast, has risen slowly, but steadily.
The question than becomes, why aren’t more men moving to jobs traditionally occupied by women? Holbre turns to Stanford sociologists Maria Charles and David B. Grusky’s book Occupational Ghettos who illustrate how “gender segregation is a remarkably persistent and complex phenomenon shaped by deep cultural beliefs.” Or to put it more simply, men don’t want the jobs that are thought of as being ‘for women’.
With nursing and home health being projected to grow the most rapidly between now and 2018 and manufacturing jobs continuing to be outsourced to overseas locations, it appears it might be time for men to trade in the work boots for some tasteful loafers.