What do you understand by the concept of employment?

Essay by sdibUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, October 2006

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The Oxford English dictionary of Sociology defines employment as the action of employing, the sate of being employed or a persons work or profession (G. Marshall 1999) Although this broad definition is just an opinion it does give a rational explanation for the concept of employment and ensures that the concept is applicable to work within the private and public sphere. With time and the process of industrialization, an increasing division has been established between the public and private sphere. Men, because of their employment have spent more time in the public realm whereas women have come to be associated with 'domestic' values such as childcare and maintaining the home (A. Giddens 2001) Until recently sociologists have studied women's employment as outside the home but did not consider that the various domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and maintaining the home is work the same as any other kind of employment, Ann Oakley 1974 (see A.Giddens


If I continue to look at the concept of employment but take a much narrower definition then this could define employment as conventionally working for pay within the environment they find themselves (T. Watson 1987) However this definition can be disputed as it excludes people (mainly women) who provide unpaid work, A. Kuper and J. Kuper 1996 (see A.Giddens 2001)

Sociologists often ignore these precise and essentially economic definitions of employment in favour for the more general notion of work, which has a different wider meaning (G. Marshall 1999) Employment is just one kind of work, although it is commonly the kind that is recognized. A housewife could do copious amounts of unpaid work within the home yet according to some sociologists not be employed. This is certainly work but not employment and the distinction is very important (Abercrombie and ward 2000)

In conclusion I agree with the view of Grint 1991 (see M Haralambos and M.Holborm 2000) he sees employment as a type of work, but not the only type. Whether other activities are seen as work depends upon whose interpretation of the activity carries more weight.

2. Discuss the key characteristics of the employment relationship within modern industrialised societies?

There has been a great amount of literature written on the employment relationship in pre-industrial and modern industrial societies. Before industrialisation, according to fox 1995 (see T. Watson 2003) work was carried out on a basis that differs from what we would take as normal today. Hard work was done because survival demanded it. There was also little separation from the home and the workplace. The notion of working for an employer would have been unheard of. Fox points out that this did not mean that the rich did not exploit the poor. However, there was a commitment from both sides of the master - servant relationship, which is quite lacking in the employment relationship in modern industrial societies.

By contrast, a prime feature of modern industrial societies today is that a large majority of the employed population work in factories, offices or shops as opposed to agriculture (A. Giddens 2001)

The employment relationship is one of the most basic elements of modern social structures. Workers are paid wages or salaries to bring them to the workplace to produce goods and services for sale. Therefore there are labour markets that facilitate certain contracts between employers and employees (N.Abercrombie and A.Warde 2003)

By a contract I mean the an implicit one, whereby a tacit agreement is made between the two parties with regard to what will be given by each and what each will take from the relationship (T.Watson 2003) This central idea is supported by the work of Schein 1978 (see T.Watson 2003) and his theory of the psychological contract.

The contract being 'psychological' in that the terms remain implicit; they are not written down anywhere unlike a formal contract. The contract is formed around what the employee will give in the way of effort and contribution in exchange for hygiene and motivational factors. These expectations are mutual between both

parties however there is a certain link with power within the organisation, as the employer and the employee do not have the same amount of power. Inevitably the power rests with those who own the means of production. This has been defined as the asymmetrical power balance B. Lyton and Turnull 1997 (see lecture notes L.McArdle 2003)

This underlying conflict of interest is emphasised in the work of Baldamus 1961 (see T. Watson 2003) where he pointed out that because wages are a large cost to a firm and also one of the sole motivators to an employee, it creates an antagonistic relationship; that of the wage effort bargain. This relates to what is another key characteristic of the employment relationship; that of the wage effort bargain. This is the expectation about what employees think they should be paid fairly for the work they have carried out and the level of pay that employers can afford think the worker should be paid. Related to this idea is Bravermans 1947 (see N. Abercrombie and A. Warde 2000) this is the idea that degree of skill autonomy that a worker has over their job directly affects the level of wage they can bargain for.

In conclusion, he importance of social and economical factors of employment upon our economy is somewhat under estimated. Employment no only has positive effects for business and the economy; it also gives the individual social aspects to their everyday life. There is a great amount of status and importance attached to a job - we all strive in education and employment to continuously develop and further ourselves.

3. Discuss the reasons for the economic and social importance of employment in society.

There is great deal of social and economical importance attached to employment. Various sociological thinkers have their own views on the meanings and functions of employment. I will these in more detail.

An interesting book on this topic is Adrian Furnham 'The protestant work ethic' In this book he explores other writers conflicting opinions on the social importance of employment and unemployment within society.

He identifies employment as being 'more than just a means to an end' and that it serves functions other than economical ones within society. We work for money, which allows us to use ours kills and energies. However, work not only provides us with monetary rewards it also gives structure to peoples lives e.g. Leisure time is defined as those activities which people persue for pleasure and which are not necessary part of their employment (T. Watson 2003)

Fineman 1987 (see A. Furnham 2003) claim that work is portrayed as being central to everyday life, even more important than leisure time. He also develops the idea of intrinsic satisfaction and believes that work is 'valuable and rewarding as much as, even more than, what it buys',

Others have attempted to list more crucial factors contributing to the importance of employment. Fagin and Little 1984 (see A. Furnham 1990) noted several functions of employment. I will briefly explain a few of these functions.

Firstly, employment is a factor that structures time into regular, predictable time periods involved with rest, refreshment and actual work. This provides a framework within which people can become marginally happy. Secondly, he defines employment as providing a source of income and control:

'Work means putting our self in the hands of employers during working hours so long as it provides sufficient money to ensure oneself of independence outside the work place'

We can continue to look at the discussion by looking at Jahoda 1982 (see A Furnham 1990) She has attempted to study the effects of un-employment on individuals and by seeing how the deprivations have developed benefits of employment. For example, Jahoda agrees with Fagin and Little in that work structures time, however the loss of time structure can be somewhat disorientating. It is not surprising that she found the un-employed were less organized and reported more depressive symptoms than the employed.

A person's job is also an important indicator of their social status in society - hence the often amusing debates over job titles. Therefore an un-employed person has lost their employment status and hence identity.

Employment can also have a great impact on economical factors within society.

One of the government's main objectives is to sustain un-employment to a level that is both politically, economically and socially acceptable (I. Worthington and C. Britton 2003)

The level of un-employment in our economy has changed over time as has the occupational structure. The number of economically active has risen by 1 million between 1986 and 1997 to 27.9 million. This was the effect of more women joining the labour market (N. Abercrombie and A. Warde 2000) This is excellent for our economy as the more people working means more taxes and insurance paid to support the public sector such as health care and education. Also, the more people in aid employment directly effects demand as the more disposable income we have to spend o goods and services, the demand for that good or service will increase. This corresponds to an increased need for production therefore creating more jobs. Our economy would not be as vibrant if business couldn't exist due to high un-employment. This added t the fact that if there were a high level of un-employment the state would have to pay out more in term of benefits, this could then in turn create a dependency state.

The relationship between the importance employment and economical factors is that of a continuous relationship. Money from one employment transfers from one job to employ people in other jobs. This trickle down effect is through the consumption of goods and services.

Another economical factor is that of wage inflation. For example, if employees seek higher wages because of rising prices in order to maintain living standards. Where firms agree to such wage increase, business can either pass this on to the consumer in the form of higher prices or absorb the cost themselves. Should this process occur n the economy the result may be a wage spiral, where wage increases push up prices which pushes u wage increases which further push up prices and so on. From competitive point of view, such occurrence could cause great disasters for our economy.