In his book, the corrosion of character Richard Sennet portrays a disturbing and desolate picture of today’s economy. By presenting anecdotes about individuals working in what he refers to as the ‘New Economy’, he discusses about the personal consequences of work which has become part of the new capitalism. He argues that people have become disoriented because of certain concepts such as flexibility, change, decentralization and control, flextime and teamwork, which are appearing to create new opportunities for the fulfillment of workers, but In the real sense it creates modern forms of oppression and ultimately undermining the workers' emotions and their psychological well being. The above named concepts make the workers to be more committed and loyal to their work. This ultimately compromises their character traits leading to decline of the values and personal traits that are acceptable in our society. However, Sennet does not propose any solution to this problem but urges individuals to rely on their various communities to build their identity.
The Economy is portrayed as the new type of ‘flexible capitalism’ that is increasingly having unpleasant effects on the ability of employees to find cohesion and narrative in their lives. With the numerous job relocations and even having less work predictability, employees have found it difficult to believe that the work they do on a daily basis is a cumulative experience that would place them in a better position to face new challenges in a better way and new levels of accomplishment. This lack of meaning that has been brought up by the ‘new economy ‘ has ended up creating characteristics and reactions that deny or challenges our concept of life happiness. Sennet takes us through a journey that eventually ends at personal character decay, he explains character to be, that which is articulated through loyalty and mutual dedication. In this paper, I will discuss sennet views on work in regard to whether it is making it difficult for workers to enjoy life and also outline his ideas that he uses to support his arguments.
The first example that Sennet gives in his book is about an American by the name Enrico. He portrays him as a character who has not yet faced the bureaucratic change that is taking over. Enrico spends his whole life fulfilling an incarnation of the American Dream. He is focused on saving money for his children's education with the hope that they will get an education and move closer to what America promises those who work hard. Richard Sennet believes that this culture of saving for future happiness has been caused by the structures that Enrico’s work lies. Enrico knows very well how long his job would last and it is for this predictability that he is enabled to plan for long-term goals. His son, Rico on the other hand is living a life with no long-term obligations, he knows that he will be receiving a regular paycheck that will be keeping him going. Rico has entered the work realm during a time when the bureaucratic structure has given way to less restrictive work. Rico is a good example of the new generation employees who survives by moving across the network as needed.
Decentralization and control
Another issue that Sennet highlights that leads to the corrosion of character is through decentralization and control. He explains that the new organization which has been caused by the new economy decentralizes power whereby people of lower ranks are given more control over their own activities in the organization structure. Sennet further explains that the modern information technology has caused unprecedented control over the employees. His key observation is that the previous forms of control that involved pyramid hierarchies have been replaced by the formless domination of information technology in the New Economy. The new information systems enable the top management to have a clear picture of the whole organization's network, which gives the workers less room to hide.
However, Sennet neglects the significant characteristic that comes with the implementation of information technology in our new economy: strengthening people’s informal networks . Though technology has reinforced to a large extent the supervision of an organization, it has also availed formidable tools to bypass control and to enhance dissemination of information in any organization. For instance, through the use of emails, questions are asked, information is traded and even oppositions are formed through numerous informal e-mail exchanges. One might argue that the email exchanges are much controlled in any organization but there is no way the companies would control all of it. If sennet wrote his book in this century of rapid use of social media like Facebook and twitter he would to some extent consider the impact of information technology in the corrosion of character.
Sennet believes that flextime was introduced into the economy in order to accommodate women in the job market by allowing them the opportunity to work part time and full time parenting. He argues that flextime has recently turned into a vital element of our new economy. He explains that flextime operates nowadays in different forms, the simplest one being whereby a worker puts in a full work week and determine when he or she would be at the office or factory. This is a privilege to the modern employee, since they allow more space for flexible scheduling. However, if flextime is the employee reward then it puts that worker in the organizations intimate grip. For instance, take the flextime schedule of working at home by an employee, this privilege to the employee causes a lot of fear to their employers. Their employers fear that they will consequently lose control over their absent employees and feel that their employees who stay at home would abuse their freedom. It is for this reason that the employer starts exercising a host of controls and restrictions in order to regulate the actual work process. The employees are then required to phone their respective offices regularly and the intranet excessive controls used to monitor the absent workers.
While flextime has granted employees more freedom, increased mobility, a variety of choices and a boost to their self-determination, it has not yet delivered. In its place, it has created a society and a working environment without stability, full of uncertainty and risk. All of this, Richard sennet believes that it denies workers the highly important sense of self and a boundary of reference by which to define their lives. However, he is optimistic that there is a possibility of a brighter future if people establish themselves in line with the notion of the community. He is quoted in his book saying ‘
If a change occurs, it happens on the ground, between persons speaking out of inner need, rather than through mass uprisings. What political programs follow from those inner needs, I simply do not know. But I do know a regime which provides human beings no deep reasons to care about one another cannot long preserve its legitimacy' (p. 148).
Surprisingly, examining the data from a report , Australia at work (ACIRRT 1999) confirmed Sennets argument on flextime and in general the corrosion of character as a result of the personal consequences of work.
Work ethics and Teamwork
Work ethics are whereby workers depth of experience is usually challenged. Sennet argues that work ethics emphasizes on self-discipline and the value of deferred gratification. He furthers explains that delayed gratification eventually loses value, therefore, in an institution that is changing so fast, it becomes absurd to work hard and be devoted to an employer who only thinks of selling up then moving on. According to him teamwork is a group practice of crushing superficiality. He denies people's belief that teamwork would be able to bring the hard working man back to the community and therefore be a valuable practice.
Commitment to marriage, children and mortgages requires one to be having a secure flow of income. Predictable work is very essential in planning our lives and to fulfill our commitments. However, this is becoming very challenging especially for employees whose lives are determined by their employer’s whims. It appears that the modern worker has two main feelings: their best feeling being a sense of insecurity, while their worst being a sense of betrayal. The book corrosion of character has clearly explained its views on why the new Capitalism has adverse effects on the personal character and relations of individuals. It shows that the modern promise of lifelong loyalty between workers and their employers is now long gone. Richard sennet explained that a ‘career’ was to originally meant to refer to a carriage road and when applied to the context of work, it is a clear path ahead and we can no longer rely on that. He estimates that any individual is anticipated to change into 11 jobs in their typical working life. During these changes, friendship and social ties assume a ‘fugitive quality’.
As Sennet notes, unstable workplaces results into unstable homes and societies. He insists on people dropping the long-term sacrifices that prevent them from living their lives currently happily. One should not sacrifice too much nor commit oneself too much to the job they do in order to be faithful to the work ethics to that organization. Employees should be able to draw the line between reward and luck since lack of doing it would make them modern slaves to their jobs which consequently would lead to wreckage of families, friendships and social ties at large. Therefore, though Richard Sennet argument about the consequences of new capitalism on the personal characters of employees is prone to massive debates, I believe that his explanations on how flexibility, work ethics, flextime and adaptability affects the topic under discussion makes sense and can be applied as a guide to our day to day working life.
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