Draft for Tällberg Conference 1985-09-29. The sources used for this statement are D Yankelovich et al, Society at Work , B Ekman et al, Dignity at Work , and H Zetterberg et al, The Invisible Contract . The common denominator in these sources is Pehr Gyllenhammar's initiative.
By Hans L Zetterberg
1. Mankind's work is never done. At every moment there is an endless number of new and old tasks. There is always a more efficient way of doing things. There is always a more humane way of doing things. There is always room for more helpfulness, for more song and dance, for more knowledge, for more worship.
Society never runs out of tasks. But we may organize things so poorly that many things are left undone and many people are left unemployed. Today there are crying needs for basic facilities and improved conditions throughout the globe – and 500 million people are unemployed.
We need a society of activity.
2. More humanistic values should be enacted at the workplace. It is common to design jobs that meet economic and technological imperatives. The worker is reduced to a budget entry in an economic scheme or a cog in a machine-dominated process.
Technological and economic values loom large in business, industrial, and administrative elites. They assume much less importance among the rank and file, where familistic, humanistic, or expressive values are more common. The latter values, however, do not have the same powerful spokesmen in enterprises and bureaucracies, as do economic and technological values: so they lose out. Work becomes organized according to economic and technological criteria, but is to be performed by people with familistic, humanistic, or expressive values.
This leads to a mismatch and to a slackening of the motivation to work. We face an unplanned, counterproductive consequence of applying economic and technological criteria in a thoughtless way.
A good case can be made for giving priority to humanistic values. They put a thinking, feeling, and responsible human being, nay, a whole person, ahead of technological and economic schemes. Economic and technical rationality usually allow for many more than one single optimal solution. Innovative job designs can, with little damage to economy and technology, allow for the enactment of humanistic values.
There is always a more humane solution to a technical and/or economic problem!
3. Work gets the major rhythm of man's life. The rhythm of work can be organized by the seasons, by the days of the week, by the hours of the day, by the stages in one's life cycle. But a rhythm there must be. Work therefore must be a pattern, not haphazard, scattered events.
Regular work is a vital factor. It is not an accident that heart atacks and other trauma often arise during vacation or at the onset of too early or abrupt retirement. Without the regular rhythm that work provides, the body chemistry changes, mental acuity deteriorates, and the phrase "you lose what you don't use" becomes a reality.
The pattern of work may vary from time to time. No free society should impose the same pattern on everyone. Work from 8 to 5 for everyone must be abandoned as an ideal, and be replaced by a multitude of interlocking work patterns. But a pattern it must be, for each and everyone.
4. Work must fit basic psychological needs. The pattern of our work should be invigorating, not dulling.
Our ancestors evolved into the present species over millions of years, when the conditions for survival were entirely different. They adapted gradually to an environment which changed very slowly. And it was the slowness of the change that made adaptation possible. With the industrial revolution, about two centuries ago, the rate of change began to increase drastically. And in the electronic era, just a few decades old, the rate of change keeps accelerating.
In striking contrast, the human brain and body have remained essentially the same over several thousand years.
Today's demands for the workplace, while generally psychological rather than physical in nature, trigger the same bodily stress responses that served our ancestors by making them "fit for fight." Any situation perceived as a threat or challenge requiring effort, takes signals from the brain to the adrenal medulla, which responds with an output of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These "stress hormones" make the body fit for "fight or flight." In the event that the situation induces feelings of distress and helplessness the brain sends messages also to the adrenal cortex, which secretes another stress hormone, cortisol, which plays an important part in the body's defense.
Jobs should be designed to reduce not stress per se but distress – the feelings of helplessness and of "giving up" that are likely to occur when people experience that events and outcomes are independent of their actions. Helplessness is accompanied by an outflow of stress hormones, particularly cortisol.
The key is to design jobs that enhance positive challenge: effort, determination, and involvement. There is, of course, no simple formula for successful coping. However, a number of studies support the view that personal control and influence are important "buffering" factors, helping workers to achieve a state of effort without distress. Demands are experienced as a stimulus rather than a burden. Under such conditions, the balance between stress hormones is changed: adrenaline increases whereas the cortisol-producing system remains at rest. This means that the total load on the body, the "cost of achievement," will be lower.
5. Work gives us social contacts. The growing numbers of singles, of one-parent families, of widows or widowers, of divorces, is a recent but growing demographic trend. And for many of these individuals the workplace is a major, if not the only, source of social contact. For many married couples, too, the workplace has become an important field for social interaction. Many jobs last longer than marriages and longer than the child-raising period in our lives.
In work surveys many of the employees interviewed attest time and again to the significance they attach to their relations with coworkers: they are often motivated to do a job right so that they will not shift the burden onto their fellow workers rather than from management, they often rate the sense of fellowship with coworkers, of mutual caring and concern, as one of the major assets of their jobs.
Apart from obvious monetary and material rewards, and besides the sense of identity and fulfillment a job can provide, the long-term unemployed also suffer the loss of a sense of belonging – a profound bereavement for the social animals that we are. A bereavement that, in the worst cases of unemployment, may be lifelong.
The widespread fear of being without a job exists at a deeply human level, for while the economic losses of unemployment can be compensated by social assistance, nothing of the sort can make good the human losses to someone out of work and, consequently, without the companionship of a job, in every sense of the word.
6. Labor should be organized to create capital for all. Work creates riches. Work leads to an accumulation of capital, a substantial capital if work is married to technology, knowledge, and marketing.
Capital accumulation is used for savings, capital costs, developments, and investments. The remainder belongs to those who have done the work: it is their pay and bonuses.
Work is often organized so that the value of the work effort accrues more to the employer and top management than to the ordinary coworker. This is applicable in public authorities as well as in enterprises, irrespective of whether they are owned by private individuals, by the state, by cooperatives, or trade unions. Governments with a socialist bent can in different ways limit an employer's private accumulation of wealth. But it always seems to be management that receives the best workplaces, the highest salaries, better company cars, the generous allowances, company-paid business trips, more flexible working hours, and more splendid funerals and memorials. This is true of capitalist countries and it also holds true in all the countries in this world that call themselves socialist.
Work produces such excessive inequality where it is wrongly organized that different categories of coworkers are motivated to strive in opposite directions. This is common in old-fashioned profit-oriented hierarchical organizations. Management is rewarded for maintaining and increasing productivity and for keeping costs within a budget. Those who belong to management are promoted if they succeed in this. This is usually not the case for lower strata employees. They know that if they increase productivity the result will be detrimental to at least some of their numbers. To cut down on delays, on the size of work groups, to skip coffee breaks usually means that there will be less overtime available and that management will take the next opportunity that presents itself to make cutbacks in the work force. The conflict is built into the way work is traditionally organized, and is not caused by laziness or industriousness on the part of one group or another.
Work should be so organized that the riches it creates is shared fairly by all.
7. Job rights should be citizenship rights. The history of democracy and of the welfare state is the history of rights on the march.
Rights are granted to different population groups through usage and legislation. In our society many rights are accorded to every individual: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom to choose a profession or occupation, freedom to choose one's place of residence, freedom to emigrate, the right not to be detained in arrest for an unlimited time without arraignment, etc. Contemporary citizens regard these civil rights as just about self-evident. An acquaintance with history reveals, however, that these rights are rather fragile and recently acquired treasures.
Other rights are not granted to everyone but only to special groups, those who are entitled to them. Thus citizens 18 years of age or older are entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, and citizens 67 years of age or older are entitled to old-age pensions (social security).
In recent years a number of special rights have been coupled with job-holding. By legislation, there are pension rights, which are based on the number of years one has worked and on income from work. Another is the right to receive income through the national health insurance plan when one is unable to work because of illness or disability; the amount of the payments is determined by one's regular salary or income. In recent years we have seen the emergence of many rights to adult education, particularly vocational education and retraining, which can be exercised only by jobholders.
Employed citizens enjoy all kinds of rights and are first-ranking members of society. Unemployed citizens are second-class members of society: at most, they enjoy civil rights. This group includes retired persons, minors, and a more or less large segment of individuals between the ages of 18 and 65. The third-ranking members of society are the "guest workers" who have work but lack citizenship; because of language difficulties such a worker often seems to have considerable problems in exercising work-connected rights. The fourth-ranking member of society is the unemployed guest worker; he has almost no rights at all.
Employment thus becomes the true symbol of full membership in society.
Europe differs from the Americas and from the Far East in attacking more rights and privileges to the job, rather than to citizenship.
We fully believe in the rights secured by
European workers. But they should be citizenship rights, not job rights. By
trying them to the job we encourage discrimination and what Ralp Dahrendorf
calls "the class structure of employment":
Some have more work than they can cope with; many have jobs, often with the opportunity to work overtime; some are left with nothing but unemployment benefits, or even social security. A very crude model of the class structure of employment is: ten percent working class at the top, eighty percent job class in the middle, ten percent unemployed class at the bottom. In a more detailed analysis, one would have to distinguish, within the large middle category, the self-employed (whose lives are not dissimilar from those of the "working class" at the top), those in public service (a large new category which is the source of much protest and some innovation), those at the margin who are worried that they might fall into the unemployed class, and others. But in our context the important point is that the unemployed are not a random group. They are in fact defined 'out' by those who are 'in'. There is something deliberate about the distribution of work in modern societies.
Moreover, by linking essential rights to the job rather than to citizenship we become clumsily dependent on the existing job structure. The goals "Make jobs secure" and "Safeguard employment" strive to save and secure everything that is tied to a job today without questioning whether it really belongs to a job.
The economic crisis of the 1970s showed how heavily we had come to depend on right-laden jobs. It used to be considered self-evident that business and industry would aim at producing a maximum of products and services for domestic and export markets as efficiently and cheaply as possible. During the 70s we learned that this was not the case, particularly in industries that employed large labor force. So many fundamental values had become tied to jobs that maintaining employment levels was given a higher priority than efficient production. In some cases we were forced to buttress inferior jobs in inefficient, expensive, and scarcely competitive production – jobs that also most often entailed poor human qualities - rather than invest in humane jobs in efficient, competitive production.
Governments, employers, trade unions, and other interested parties have cause to review their outlook on work. So much in today's society has been pinned onto one hook, a job. Could not much of it be safely transferred to other areas of society? This calls for further analysis and reorganization work. Every interested group ought to ask themselves: of all that today is tied to work how much do we consider actually must be bound up with a job? In times like these when unemployment is high and pressures for shorter working hours are mounting, many rights could more appropriately be tied to citizenship rather than work.
8. Redefining the goal of full employment. The Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations includes mention of the right to work. Many nations have in turn proclaimed that their goal is "Work for Everyone." The major political parties, both right– and left-wing, of the Western democracies, have long included full employment in their platforms.
But no one has succeeded in reaching this goal, except on rare occasions and in certain regions. High (and often rising) unemployment is the rule rather than the exception in industrial democracies. Politicians are profoundly embarrassed about this grave and unexpected failure.
According to traditional thinking, full employment means that all who desire it and have the intellectual and/or physical capacities to manage it should be offered a paid five-day work week of 35-40 hours. Traditional thinking also has it that downturns in the economy are temporary deviations and that a return to a "normal" situation of full, or nearly full employment always can occur.
The Western world seems unlikely to achieve this state of affairs, at least in the near future, i e, during the present generation.
This does not mean that we should content ourselves with current unemployment statistics. They are altogether too high. We of course have the greatest sympathy for the most tragic victims of unemployment, youth and the long-term unemployed.
However, full employment as defined above is not something intrinsically valuable that must be pursued at any price. A job is one among several other means of creating a rich, satisfying life. This is what the real goal should be.
There is moreover nothing sacred about the idea of a 40-hour workweek as a basic description of an ordinary job in the formal economy. This simply happened to be the norm in most countries of the West between the middle to the end of the '40s, when "full employment" became the prevailing goal of economic policy. This goal continued in ascendancy during the following 25 years. Today we can see that this view of full-time work was largely derived from the great demand for labor and labor time during the extraordinary and long-lasting upturn of the post-war years. But the plateau of a 40-hour workweek would turn out to be a short interlude in a historical perspective, which manifests a long-term trend toward shorter working hours.
What, then, should be the objective of our labor policies? It cannot be to give the individual a lifelong guarantee of a 40-hours workweek irrespective of the costs and without regard to other avenues of attaining a full and rich life available to him. There are, however, more modest guarantees that society could and should give him.
Combating long-term unemployment is a most urgent problem, and absolutely no one should have to endure lifelong unemployment. Guarantees of employment should, first of all, be given to the youth of a nation in order to provide them with employment credentials later in life. The state could further guarantee each citizen a specified number of years of employment (for example, 20 or 30 years), and the choice of schematizing these years either in long periods of part-time work or shorter intervals of full-time work.
The state should, in other words, guarantee that everyone be employable even if it ceases to promise that everyone will always have a job. It would be like telling young people: "We will teach you to drive, we will see to it that you get a driver's license, we will see to it that you get a lot of driving practice and many good roads and highways. But we cannot promise that we will provide you with a car throughout your adult life. You'll have to arrange that on your own."
We readily admit that the arrangement proposed above would add to insecurity on the labor market in some respects, but we believe that it could lead to substantial gains in terms of the well-being of several groups. Research has shown that the parents of small children in our type of society live under a lot of pressure. Many of them would welcome an arrangement that would give them greater flexibility in relation to the labor market. Many middle-aged persons would welcome assistance in getting retraining for other jobs or simply a chance to take a break from working life for a while.
We are not at all arguing for unemployment as a means of economic policy. As we have seen, a job is so much more than an economic transaction – it gives life a rhythm, opportunities for social contacts, value and personal fulfillment, among other non-monetary rewards - that any policy for unemployment is unacceptable. But we do see the desirability of a freer structuring of work and more limited guarantees of employment. It would bring relief to groups that are now coping under a great deal of pressure, it would encourage mobility between jobs, and it would give young people a chance to break into the labor market.
9. Governments' taxation of work is exploitation of workers In the beginning of the century capital was taxed somewhat, but there was no tax on labor. Today governments exploit work more than capital exploits work.
The invention of the withholding tax – put into effect in the 40s and in most advanced countries - has greatly damaged work. The same is true for the payroll tax paid by employers – which advanced countries began to use extensively in the 50s and 60s. Both these taxes increase the price of work. (By contrast the introduction of the Value Added Tax in the 60s and 70s was more neutral to work: this tax hits primarily consumption, not production.) From the viewpoint of the taxes they incur, capital is relatively cheap in comparison to labor. It is no accident that in such a system wealth is won through real estate, stock market and like transactions that require much capital but little labor.
The relation between taxes on capital and taxes on work must become the focus of a new debate. Most Western nations tax work far too heavily to sustain employment. Jobs are priced out of the market. Rationalizations are primarily made to cut down on the work force and only secondarily to increase production.
One cannot achieve a balance between taxation of work and taxation of capital merely by raising taxes on capital. Capital is international: in each country the tax on capital must be maintained at a level comparable to those in other countries. For most Western countries, the only option left is to lower taxes on work.
10. Create task teams. Since it is usually very difficult to lower taxes that have already been enacted, we must create new, untaxed forms of work, more or less like the work done within and by a family. Let us call the new forms "task teams", lightly regulated, largely untaxed form of partnerships, limited in number and in geographical scope.
The number of individuals in a task team ought not to exceed ten. Research has disclosed that there is much solidarity at workplaces with ten or fewer employees. They are easily managed; everyone can keep informed about what everyone else is doing. Mankind formed teams like these thousands of years ago to hunt, fish, and work the soil. It is significant that in today's team sports such as football and hockey the active members in a team are limited to between six and eleven individuals.
One ought to be able to form a task team by submitting a simple application. Each team would be assigned a number for use in reporting value added tax. It would be exempt from employer's payroll tax and withholding income tax, but would be required to pay a value added tax on their transactions and an income tax – but only on interest and earnings on capital. It would be required to restrict its activities to a unit of local government such as a municipality or county. Should it desire to operate on a national or international scale it would have to form a regular company and be taxed accordingly. An individual should be permitted to be on only one team at a time; he forfeits his place on the team if he takes regular employment or becomes an owner in a company or other business form.
A task team would be able to take on many service tasks, such as care of the aged, baby-sitting, security, and forest clearance. It would boost small local enterprises: small-scale farming, bakeries, auto repairs, etc. Task teams could be contracted to look after public facilities: public pools, sports areas, day nurseries. Some hospital functions could be taken over by staff that resigns from its formal jobs and forms a task team. Some industrial workers could similarly form a team and carry out their work on contract.
In the past the family constituted a task team, but family structure has changed and today a family can consist of a childless couple, a couple with children, or be a one-parent family with children. The families can no longer function as viable unit of work. We need the task team to replace it.
It would be natural for young people to get their first work experience in a task team, as they once did by working in the family unit. It would be natural for task teams to absorb the unemployed and support them while they are in between conventional jobs.
The task team, in effect, amounts to a legalization (registration) and encouragement of the "good part" of the informal economy.