May 2012 Archives

Much has been written about the changing nature of work, but frequently overlooked is the more fundamental question of what is work in a conceptual sense. This is a troubling oversight because unstated definitions of work shape research and practice. As an example, mainstream economic thought implicitly sees work as a lousy activity tolerated only to obtain goods, services, and leisure that provide utility. Early economists saw work as a painful physical or mental exertion while modern economists are more likely to simply assume that whatever the actual nature of work, leisure is more desirable. In either case, work itself is assumed to reduce utility. So why work? To be able to obtain goods, services, and leisure.

As the Presidential election campaigns heat up, we are likely to see increased political conversations by employees. Unfortunately, while corporations and other organizations have free speech rights, employees do not. In fact, in at least two recent cases, employees have been fired for the simple expressive act of liking someone on Facebook, such as the employees fired by a local sheriff after they "liked" the Facebook page of his political rival. And while speech-related conflicts are perhaps as old as employment itself, the explosion of social media has created new opportunities for expression, such as liking, following, tweeting, or blogging, and therefore has increased the need for protecting employee speech.

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About this Blog

Whither Work? is a blog about work created by John Budd. I am a professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and the author of several books including The Thought of Work. Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWBudd.