To kindle interest in discovering contemporary worlds of work and occupations and in the hope of building more accurate and nuanced images of jobs, organizations, economies and people’s lives, the Academy of Management Discoveries announces a special issue devoted to the changing nature of work.
No one disputes that the structure of Western economies has shifted away from one based primarily on manufacturing to one increasingly dominated by services and the professions, broadly construed. Many also claim that the nature and structure of organizations, jobs, and careers have also changed substantially (e.g., Evans, Kunda, & Barley, 1994; Hall, 1996; Rousseau, 1997). As the author of a recent article in New York magazine noted: “The traditional compact between employers and employees is slowly fading away, and with it, a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of relating to others and regarding oneself that generally comes with a reasonably predictable professional life” (Senior, 2015:1). Yet, with a few exceptions. organizational scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to studying how work, occupations, and careers are changing (Barley and Kunda, 2001).
The dearth of research on work and occupations in organization studies is particularly troublesome, because we have long known that the structures of organizations are largely defined by work that they do and not simply by the properties of the markets and environments in which they operate. Organizational theory was not always so disinterested in work and occupations. Until roughly the early 1970s, organizational theory was tightly integrated with detailed field studies of the work of managers (Dalton 1950), factory workers (Rothlisberger and Dickson 1939, Wa1ker and Guest 1952, Blauner 1964), craftspersons (Stinchcombe 1959, Haas 1974), miners (Trist and Bamforth 1951, Gouldner 1950), scientists (Marcson 1960, Kornhauser 1962), engineers (Ritti, 1971) physicians (Becker et al. 1961, Freidson 1970), clerks (Lockwood 1958, Blau 1955) and other occupations that staffed the enterprises of the mid-20th century.
Although there has been a growing interest in defining new forms of organizing — for instance, network organizations (Powell 1990), heterarchies (Stark 1999), distributed organizations (Hinds and Kiesler 2002) and hybrid organizations (Battilana and Lee, 2014) — almost none of these studies provide even a brief glimpse of what the people who work in those “new” organizations actually do. Even the work activities of engineers, financiers, data analysts, and the large variety of computer-related occupations have been understudied, despite the fact that they are widely held to be essential to whatever the “new economy” is becoming. A cynic might argue that organizational theorists and strategists are now writing about how we organize (and should organize) activities about which we know almost nothing.
The nature of the employment contract has also changed for many people, thereby altering the structure of people’s work-lives (Evans, Kunda, & Barley 2004). Many people now work in jobs with only temporary contracts or in jobs where they are employed by what are essentially employment agencies and are contracted out to employers. Others are entrepreneurs by necessity. A key question is: How do these new types of work and employment arrangements affect how work gets done, the quality of the work that gets done, people’s attitudes towards their work, and their sense of their identity? How are the dynamics of power, communication, innovation, and learning altered when individuals do not regularly work in an office with colleagues or work in contexts with others who have more stable employment contracts than they do? Further, how do entities like O-Desk and Elance change the face of work and how people think about the role of work in their lives? Are our models of employee-organization relationships (e.g., models of job satisfaction and job engagement) outdated and non-generalizable because they are based on research that was done in circumstances when workers had more permanent relationships with their employers and not mediated and temporary ones? In sum, we are looking for empirical work that can help us, as a field, to understand how these changes in the structure and nature of work may have systematically affected people’s attitudes and behaviors at (or about) work or even altered the variables that we need to be thinking about.
The nature of careers has also changed (Greenhaus & Kossek, 2104; Hall, 1996). We know that job tenure is declining and that people switch jobs more frequently. The need to switch jobs may mean more career interruptions and more career switching; topics we need to know more about. We also know that because of distributed communication technologies many people now work in the early morning and early evening in order to coordinate with colleagues in distant countries and time zones. What does moving toward a 24/7 economy that requires more virtual and intercultural communication mean for people’s lives and their experience of work and what does it mean for the organization (e.g., for teamwork and knowledge transfer, for the development of routines, and for learning)?
In the meantime, new technologies have spawned a host of new occupations, particularly those that have arisen around computational technologies and the internet: for instance, systems administrators, web designers, network engineers. Such occupations have attracted relatively little attention. Nor, is it just new occupations that are being overlooked. We know precious little about whether and, if so, how “traditional jobs” have changed. Given advances in automation, lean production and the reshaping of markets, what factory operatives do today is certainly nothing like what they did 50 years ago (Zuboff 1988, Vallas and Beck 1996). Researchers, however, have all but ceased studying factory work, even in those countries to which manufacturing has migrated. We often assume that we know what health care workers do, because heath occupations have garnered more attention than most types of work. Yet, given the rapid advance of medical technologies (Barley 1990, Edmondson et al. 2001), the shift to various forms of managed care (Scott et al. 2000), and the consolidation of health care systems into large conglomerates, the work of doctors, nurses, and medical support occupations has likely also changed. The microelectronic infrastructure has altered work in publishing, music production, film and even academia. We are well aware that many traditional jobs have disappeared over the last several decades, but we know far too little about what the people who once held those jobs do now and what happened to their lives when the jobs left. What we do know points to a less than happy picture that poses incredibly challenging problems for the structure of society (Osterman 1999, Kalleberg 2011).
AMD welcomes research using all types of methodologies to this special issue. We are interested in developing the field’s understanding new types of employment relationships including contracting, the brokering of tasks through internet mediated labor markets, and the work lives of those who have become self-employed. We are also curious about new types of careers and their structure and meaning. We welcome ethnographic and other types of qualitative research, especially studies that can help us conceptualize new occupations that are archetypical of “new economies” We also welcome quantitative studies that shed light on the larger patterns of the changing nature of work and employment that qualitative research might not be capable of illuminating.
Regardless of topic and method, we expect contributions to the special issue to be empirical. We cannot accept theoretical papers. We are also not interested in reiterations of statistical and demographic trends that are already well documented by labor economists and students of industrial relations. We are seeking evidence that will help us make better sense of the worlds of work and employment that we have entered.
Stephen Barley, Beth Bechky and Frances Milliken will serve as co-editors of the special issue. A special editorial board composed of scholars known for their expertise in areas relevant to the changing nature of work, occupations, and organizations will work with the editors. Collectively, the board will be able to handle a wide range of methods from the ethnographic, to the historical, to the quantitative. We have no disciplinary preference and welcome papers from management scholars, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, historians, economists, political scientists, and data scientists.
AMD will accept manuscripts for the special issue beginning September 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015. No manuscripts should be submitted before or after those dates. We anticipate publishing the special issue in late 2016.
To submit a manuscript, first make sure you have a Word file from which the title page and all author-identifying references have been removed. Then go to the website http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/AMD/ and follow the directions. Under Manuscript Type select Special Issue: Changing Nature of Work from the drop down menu. Manuscripts should be formatted according to the AMD Style Guide. The AMD website provides Information for Contributors to help you prepare and submit papers to AMD.
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