Through the expanding work opportunities and increasingly progressive employment practices, modern industrial economies appear to embrace a more equitable and worker-oriented global job market. Nevertheless, a closer inspection of the contemporary job market tendencies paints a conflicting picture, where the long-standing practices of scientific management at the core of industrial-capitalist economies contrast with the present-day workplace concerns. Along similar lines, it seems that the future of work will still likely be driven by this managerial perspective in a workplace landscape characterized by sophisticated class structures and an increased role of personal agency.
From Marx’s perspective, in industrial capitalist societies, employers’ financial gain directly depends on the output of their workers, which, in turn, produces co-dependent class structures that are antagonistic in nature (Sweet & Meiksins, 2022). In other words, to gain the maximum possible profit, employers often tend to limit wages for their workers to push them to the limits of their labor capacity to achieve maximum potential productivity. In fact, as Sweet and Meiksins (2022) further argue, this class antagonism is one of the cornerstones of the capitalistic doctrine that propelled modern industrialization, known as scientific management. This managerial philosophy supports the proposition that workers are chaotic and indolent, which is why it is essential to deploy a top-down organizational hierarchy to control the labor force. As the authors note, this managerial structure is not only present within typical modern industrial workforce environments but can be found in other employment sectors, often in innovative and sophisticated forms. Considering that prosperous societies tend to be capitalistically organized, it appears that for industries new and old to propel further growth, this managerial method continues to be a guiding organizational form.
Ironically, this management perspective underscores how social structures intersect with cultural ideals at a workplace, or more importantly, how the latter influences the division of labor and workplace opportunities. Indeed, social structures do not exist separately from culture, and they often co-regulate each other as societies tend to create institutions that correspond to their cultural norms. Conversely, changes in cultural attitudes on the function of work can reflect on the social organization of workplaces. As Sweet and Meiksins (2022) suggest, a cultural shift towards egalitarian values is reflected in flexible work arrangements, work-life balance, employment adaptability, and higher equality of opportunities for previously excluded minorities. As the authors further argue, there are now professions in the service and public sectors from which ethnical/racial minority members and women were previously completely absent. However, the authors confront this progress, stating that evidence suggests that minorities still experience disproportionately high levels of job insecurity, limiting their capacity to have control and resources to direct the course of their employment. Hence, as capitalist societies and cultures become more egalitarian, the labor-capitalist conflict will likely shift towards the conflict of personal agency against social divisions.
In fact, as observations provided by Sweet and Meiksins (2022) suggest, all six workers (Mike, Meg, Tammy, Emily, Rain, and Kavita) the authors considered exemplify the increased role of personal agency in the modern workplace. In other words, the practical application of individual agency is a defining motive in the contemporary job market despite societal constraints. The authors note, “People do not just have careers – they forge them” (p. 87). Personally, my current efforts to change my profession from a sub teacher at an elementary school to a school psychologist through obtaining a degree are a testament to the potential of personal agency.
In summary, interpolating the modern capitalistic tendencies, it appears that the future of work will be described by the prevalence of personal agency, despite complex social structures and the antagonistic nature of the labor-capitalist relationship. As the cultural landscape increasingly incorporates egalitarian principles into class structures, the future workplace could anticipate a higher degree of equality of employment opportunities among these classes. This incorporation would signal an enhanced role of personal agency in shaping one’s work experience, enabling individuals to express the greater capacity and autonomy to direct available opportunities and resources for their needs.
Sweet, S., & Meiksins, P. (2020). Changing Contours of Work: Jobs and Opportunities in the New Economy (4th ed.). Sage Publishing.