The damaging effects of employment have been discussed for many years. Marx
identified several possible forms of alienation. Laborers can be alienated
from the product of their labor (Marx, 1963 trans.). They can also be alienated
from the process of production, making work external from their nature and
not improving their abilities. In Marx's view capitalists abuse the power
of ownership to alienate laborers from their work.
Seeman (1975) notes six varieties of alienation:
* powerlessness -- sense of little control over events
* meaningless -- sense of incomprehensibility of personal and social affairs
* normlessness -- use of socially unapproved means for the achievement of
* cultural estrangement --- rejection of commonly held values and standards
* self-estrangement -- engagement in activities not intrinsically rewarding
* social isolation -- sense of exclusion or rejection
Seeman argues that powerlessness and self-estrangement are the two most
common forms in work. Most work has been via surveys of individual attitudes
and feelings toward work. Most surveys report generally high levels of satisfaction
and morale but high variation across occupations and work levels. High satisfaction
tends to be associated with intrinsic interest of work, level of control,
level of pay and economic security, and opportunities for social interaction
(Special Task Force, 1973).
Work and personality measures has best been done by Kohn and associates
(Kohn and Schooler 1983). They found that "men in self-directed jobs
become less authoritarian, less self-deprecatory, less fatalistic, and less
conformist in their ideas while becoming more self-confident and more responsible
to standards of morality (Spenner, 1988, p. 75). Work does seem to have
an effect on personality (and vice versa).
The impact of these alienation forces also extends beyond work into family
and social life. Companies rarely assess or compensate for the negative
psychological impact of work, and these costs are often born by society
Relentlessness and Alienation
Coleman (1974) notes that "corporate actors" rather than individual
actors are becoming the dominant force in society. Corporate interests tend
to be much more narrow, intense, refined, and more single-minded than with
individuals. Participants within these corporate actors become constrained
by their positions and cannot act outside the narrow goals of the organization.
Ultimately individuals lose power to these corporate actors. In a sense
this represents the ultimate form of alienation (Scott p. 339). "In
today's more complex world, power lost by one person may not be gained by
any similar person but absorbed by a corporate actors and employed in pursuit
of its specialized purposes" (Scott p. 339).