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The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work

by Joanne B. Ciulla

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Joanne B. Ciulla, a noted scholar in Leadership and Ethics, examines why so many people today have let their jobs take over their lives. Technology was supposed to free us from work, but instead we work longer hours-often tethered to the office at home by cell phones and e-mail. People still look to work for



Joanne B. Ciulla, a noted scholar in Leadership and Ethics, examines why so many people today have let their jobs take over their lives. Technology was supposed to free us from work, but instead we work longer hours-often tethered to the office at home by cell phones and e-mail. People still look to work for self-fulfillment, community, and identity, but these things may be increasingly difficult to find in today's workplace. Gone is the social contract where employees and employers shared a sense of mutual loyalty, yet many of us still sacrifice personal time for jobs that we could lose at the drop of a stock price. Tracing the evolution of the meaning of work from Aesop to Dilbert, and critically examining the past 100 years of management practices, Ciulla asks questions that we often willfully ignore at our own peril.

*When you are on your deathbed, will you wish you had spent more time at the office?

*Why do we define ourselves by our jobs rather than by other activities we do outside of work?

*What can employers and employees promise each other in today's business environment?

Provocative and entertaining, The Working Life challenges us to think about the meaning of work and its impact on our lives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderfully readable tour through the history of ideas about work, as human nature or human condition; as curse or blessing; as a calling by God or expression of the inner self."
-- Michael W. Munley, Philadelphia Inquirer

"None of my guests on World of Ideas stimulated more response from viewers than Joanne Ciulla."
--Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television, Inc.

Review of The Working Life

Work: Almost all of us do it, and hardly any of us enjoy it.

You don't have to look far to find examples of our general disdain for the 9-to-5. From movies to TV to the funny pages (see Scott Adams's Dilbert books), our culture is rife with expressions of scorn for having to go to work.

But why do we hold work in such contempt? Why do we dread Monday mornings? Alternatively, why are some of us self-proclaimed workaholics who can't get enough of being in the office? What are the roots of the work ethic that dominates our society?

The Working Life: The Promise And Betrayal Of Modern Work, a fascinating and thought-provoking book, attempts to answer some of these questions. Author Joanne B. Ciulla, an academic who is an expert on work issues, explores the philosophical, psychological, and political issues that prompt us to perceive work the way we do.

From early-millennium laborers to today's white-collar drones, The Working Life presents a comprehensive history of work, drawing on such disciplines as literature and philosophy. Looking back over history, it becomes clear that work has pretty much always been scorned. But the nature of work and the relationship between employees and employers have changed drastically.

Ciulla argues that most of us hate work simply because working is something we absolutely have to do in order to survive. We need food, clothing, and shelter and have to earn money somehow in order to attain these things. Although the working life of an early-21st-century laborer is markedly different from that of a 14th-century serf or an 18th-century indentured servant, most of us still abhor the fact that we have no choice but to hold a steady, paying job. Even though most of us now have the freedom to choose what kind of work we want to do, there are the inevitable difficulties of having little control over much of what happens when we're on the job. Plus, there is the stress of spending most of our days away from our homes, families, and friends while trying to please the boss. It all amounts to a recipe for misery. From not liking our jobs to not liking our bosses, a day at the office offers plenty of fodder for complaint.

But Ciulla contrasts these typical negative attitudes toward work with some of the positive psychological associations of working. Some of us absolutely love our jobs and even go so far as to derive the essence of our identity from our professions. There is the social phenomenon of asking someone what he or she does for a living when we first meet him or her—just one indication, says Ciulla, of the importance society places on the work we do. In turn, that societal importance has a profound effect on our perceptions of ourselves. Ciulla explores this prominence of work within the social hierarchy and asks challenging questions of the reader: Do you think of yourself as a mother, a husband, a doctor, or a painter? If you're retired, why do you make a point of telling someone you meet what you used to do?

Ciulla finds that the advent of the work ethic was an extremely important factor in shaping the cultural impression of work. She traces its roots to explain that "The ancients saw work as a necessity and a curse. The medieval Catholic Church bestowed on work a simple dignity; the Renaissance humanist gave it glamour. But the Protestants endowed work with the quest for meaning, identity, and signs of salvation. The notion of work as something beyond mere labor, as work-plus, indeed as a calling, highlighted its personal and existential qualities."

This explanation of the history of the role of work in various societies is captivating. Ciulla's thorough research and philosophical ponderings will prompt all readers, whether farmers, shopkeepers, or consultants, to question why they feel the way they do about work, and why they work the way they do. A great off-the-clock read, The Working Life: The Promise And Betrayal Of Modern Work will challenge the way you look at how you work, why you work, and what work means to you.

Emily Burg

Emily Burg is a correspondent covering Internet stocks for worldlyinvestor.com, a financial web site dedicated to bringing investment opportunities to savvy investors.

Library Journal
Ciulla (Univ. of Richmond) has written a stimulating and thought-provoking book that traces the philosophical and cultural conceptions of work and workers over the years while providing a critical survey of management theories and practices. She explores relationships among various kinds of work, the roles of consumption and leisure, and beliefs about what constitutes meaningful work, a meaningful life, and happiness. She points to Scott Adams's Dilbert cartoons as " probably the best and most accurate critique of what many today think about work" and to labor unions as "the most important innovation in the relationship between employer and employee...because they address the imbalance of power between the two parties." Today, the pressures of our consumption-driven, global economy frequently lead to the compromise of individuals' "higher" values when making decisions affecting the overall quality of their lives. This well-written examination of the meanings of work and life challenges that compromise. Highly recommended for academics and the general public.--Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology at Alfred Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

The Crown Publishing Group
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5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are Saying About This

Elmer Johnson
Professor Ciulla is that rare moral philosopher who is steeped in the humanities and social sciences. Without that immersion, she could not have written this provocative history of the changing workplace. In the closing chapters, she asks us to reflect on our strange culture, in which most of life is organized around work and consumption and in which leisure is reduced to passive amusement. It is an unsettling book.
— (Elmer Johnson, President, Aspen Institute)
Warren Bennis
The Working Life is an important book, a serious and thoughtful book, a book I've been waiting for for a long time. It's about the meaning of where we spend most of our day: at work. Ciulla has written a treatise with profound implications not only about work, but about how we live our lives. Frankly, the book pulls no punches, forces you to examine your own life, and is uncompromisingly creative.
— (Warren Bennis, author of On Becoming a Leader)
Bill Moyers
Her ideas reverberate; she makes you think.
—(Bill Moyers)
James MacGregor Burns
A truly brilliant, innovative, and human analysis that will reshape our thinking about the hours we spend at work, by one of the nation's foremost scholars of ethical leadership. This book is bound to change your view of your own work—and the nation's.
—(James MacGregor Burns)

Meet the Author

JOANNE B. CIULLA holds the Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. A former visiting scholar at Oxford and fellow at Harvard and the Wharton School, she has degrees from Temple University and the universities of Delaware and Maryland, and she has taught at Boston University and La Salle. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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