The nature and impact of the 'new work culture' on 'white collar' workers in the UK, 1997-2010

Holbeche, Linda Susan (2012). The nature and impact of the 'new work culture' on 'white collar' workers in the UK, 1997-2010. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the argument that in the UK since the mid-1990s there has emerged a neo-liberal 'new work culture', characteristic of Anglo-American forms of capitalism, and examines the drivers behind it. These drivers, or political choices, have led to changing organisational forms, restructurings and increasing use of contingent labour as businesses pursue competitive advantage and labour flexibility. The 'new work culture' is characterised by individualised employment relationships: by managerialism, performativity, growing work intensification and ongoing change. It is not restricted to private sector organisations and has spread to all parts of the UK economy.

This thesis uses Braverman's book Labor and Monopoly Capitalism: the Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (1974) and Sennett's The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006) as points of reference to examine what has been argued to be the degradation of work under capitalism at the turn of the 21st century. It takes an historical perspective to examine evidence for Braverman's contention that capitalist ideology becomes a material force in the machines and procedures of work, and that progress in advanced technological societies has been achieved through ongoing commodification and intensification of work resulting in worker alienation.

Survey and qualitative data are used to explore the role of Human Resource Management (HRM) as an instrument of Capital, and the impact of the new work culture on UK white collar workers since the late 1990s. Connections are made between post-modern HRM, in the form of 'high-commitment' practices, and the subordination of workers, turning them into the 'willing slaves' described by Bunting (2004). The concept of psychological contract is used as a framework for analysis. Evidence is found of worker alienation characterised by loss of a sense of job security, long working hours, lack of work-life balance and loss of meaning and autonomy at work.

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