The Changing Nature of Work
The traditional view of work assumes that one’s job consists of a certain set of tasks that need to be performed or a work-survival-status-life paradigm (Cascio, 1995). But this view is rapidly becoming outmoded. Global competition means that workers in the United States are competing for jobs with workers in the same industries in France, Russia,
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Taiwan, China, Poland, Argentina, and the rest of the world (Avolio & Sosik, 1999).
The globalization of work has also resulted in massive changes in both the number and type of jobs available to U. S. workers and in the skills these jobs require (Avolio & Sosik, 1999; Gephart,
2002) . For example, between 1987 and 1994 more than 7 million permanent layoffs were announced in the United States (Cascio, 1995). At that time, these layoffs were not due to companies losing money; indeed, 81% of the companies that downsized during this period were profitable during that year. Rather, layoffs occurred mostly because of competition, productivity, relocation of operations, mergers and acquisitions, infusion of new technology, or plant obsolescence. Even though many laid-off workers found new jobs, the new positions invariably involve drastic pay cuts, resulting in downward mobility. Of course, we have a whole new perspective arising with the recent economic
recession. Researchers should be able to examine factors that “disappear” as a function of the economic downturn and its effect on psychological resiliency and well-being.
What do these types of changes mean? In short, a fundamental redefinition of the nature of work has occurred. Whereas traditional organizational careers consisted of meeting the needs of the organization, now the emphasis is on occupational flexibility and learning (Eby, Butts, & Lockwood, 2003; Hall & Mirvis, 1995; Sullivan, 1999). Organizations must respond rapidly to market conditions that change quickly. Managers must use flexible styles of leadership depending on the situation, with an emphasis on being able to bring out employees’ creativity and best efforts. Workers must assume more autonomy and decision-making authority, must have a variety of technical skills, and must be proactive and open to experience (Eby et al., 2003). There is an increasing need for training and development in order to maintain workers’ competencies and fulfillment. Furthermore, employees are requiring that their talents and abilities have added value for both organizations and themselves (Liebold & Voepel, 2006). Everyone must learn continually to stay current with the latest technology and newest skills.
In the past two decades, dramatic growth in the need for occupational flexibility is observed in an increase in telework or telecommuting, that is, working remotely, outside of the typical office environment (Bailey & Kurland, 2002; Harpaz,
2002) . Overall, telework has resulted in improved productivity, organizational loyalty, and job satisfaction (Bailey et al., 2002). However, there are disadvantages such as a sense of isolation and a lack of separation between work and home, among others (Harpaz, 2002). More research is needed as to why such employees work away from the office.
As the nature of work has changed, so has the nature of the workforce. The median age of the workforce has steadily increased and is expected to reach 41.40 years by the year 2012 (Toossi,
2004) . We are witnessing the “graying of the workforce.” The “older worker” in the labor market is considered to be aged 50 or 55 and above. In organizations the threshold is at 40 or 45, where “old” refers to obsolete knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Kooij, De Lange, Jansen, & Dikkers, 2008). Persons aged 55 and over are expected to comprise 60% of the projected increase in the labor force in general (U. S. Census Bureau, 2004). Now that we have entered the 21st century, the aging workforce and the increasingly complex, technologically based workplace are here to stay. We must change the way we think about organizations, attend to the needs of older workers, and reassess our basic conceptions of what a job entails.