The attitude towards labour

First insertion on Heterodox Gazette Sam de Wolff: 30 december 2013

E.A. Bakkum is a blogger for the Sociaal Consultatiekantoor. He loves to reflect on the labour movement.

When a portal derives its name from Sam de Wolff, it has the moral obligation to elaborate on job satisfaction and the pleasures of work. In the present column both concepts are related to the so-called attitude towards labour. Here the discussion is presented, which has been published by the Leninist sociologist Rudhard Stollberg in his book Soziologie der Arbeit (acquired at the second-hand bookshop Helle Panke)1. The analysis is placed in the context of the Leninist science. There are also some references to the contents of previous columns about this theme.

The framework for the concept pleasure of work has been presented in a previous column, which illustrates the theme with the ideas of Hendrik de Man, Frank Deppe and Monika Sie Dhian Ho. The determining factors for the stimulation of the pleasure of labour are discussed, as well as the development of the pleasure of labour under the influence of the technological and social progress. The contents is mainly qualitative, and maintains a general character. On the other hand, the argument of Stollberg presents empirical results, which have been collected in large-scale sociological research projects.

The character of labour

It is clear that the empirical study requires the choice of an analytical paradigm. Notably the aspects must be identified, which determine the character of labour. Work is done in a social environment. For instance, in the mentioned column about the pleasure of work De Man distinguishes between the concrete contents of the job, the organization of the activities, and the society as a whole. Stollberg uses a similar scheme. He distinguishes between the contents of the job, the worker's collective, the enterprise, and the society. So here the organization is split in the department or team, and the enterprise as a whole.

Stollberg follows De Man, Deppe and Sie Dhian Ho, and states that the character of labour experiences a continuous change. Especially the technological progress and the corresponding rationalizations lead to new production processes. The society can influence these developments, and for instance try to reduce the physically exhausting activities as much as possible. New production processes often require a different type of organization. It is desirable that a reorganization makes the character of labour more humane and attractive. This contributes to the pleasure of work.

Stollberg uses the pleasure of work as an empirical variable, and not as a variable, which can be explained in a sociological manner. Incidentally, he prefers the term job satisfaction, in imitation of the English literature. The final goal of Stollberg is to discover the ethics of labour, which fits best with the human nature, and which therefore is most productive. The job satisfaction is merely a part of the complete ethics of labour, which is propagated by the socially dominant ethics or morals.

The approach of Stollberg is somewhat different from the common ideas about the factor labour, and this makes his book worth reading. Notably he rejects the idea in the labour economics, that the wage is the determining factor for the supply of labour. A previous column describes this idea, which stems from the theory of marginal utility, that workers are motivated by the purely material reward. It fits well within the picture of the hedonistic and greedy man, that is called the homo economicus. But the sociology interprets man in a broader social environment.

The attitude towards labour

In fact Stollberg wants to develop especially a measuring-scale, so that the ideal ethics of labour can be measured in a quantitative manner. He calls the measuring-scale the attitude towards labour, which for convenience will be represented by the symbol Ψ in the remainder of the column. In a previous column it is stated, that the common sociological instruments allow to measure the human behaviours and attitudes. Thanks to the variable Ψ an index value can be attributed to the interactions of an individual in his or her work. Although Stollberg is not explicit about it, apparently Ψ is expressed on an ordinal scale. All presented applications in the book belong to this type of scaling.

The index Ψ for the attitude towards labour is composed of 19 separate indices. Each of these indices consists of a question and the corresponding set of answers. Some examples of questions are:

Each question is accompanied by several answers, ranging in number from two to four. The valuation of the attitude towards labour depends on the chosen answer by the worker, which obviously merely concerns the subject of the question. The choice is made to restrict the values of each of the 19 indices to the interval between -5 and 5. According as the answer expresses a worst attitude towards labour, the valuation of the answer will be lower (and vice versa).

Now a valuation must be given for each possible answer. In the sociology it is common to determine the valuation (which is actually a weighing-factor) by means of a group of experts. This method has also been applied for the composed index Ψ. Thus the value Ψ of a worker is the sum of the valuations of the answers, which the worker gives in response to the 19 questions. It turns out that the total value of Ψ will always lie between the two boundaries -54.5 and 73.1. The lowest value expresses a miserable attitude towards labour, and the highest value an ideal attitude.

Stollberg distinguishes between the subjective Ψ and the objective Ψ index. In the subjective index the worker answers to questions by himself, whereas in the objective index his leader gives his opinion about the worker. Furthermore note, that the index Ψ itself expresses a somewhat subjective view. For instance, the experts attach a positive value to the existence of long-term engagements of workers within the enterprise. They believe, that a worker, who changes jobs, damages his enterprise and thus the society. Therefore a mobile worker will add a negative value to his total Ψ.

It is evident, that the character of work will affect the attitude towards labour. The presented description of Ψ shows, that some questions concern the behaviour, and others the mental state, say attitude. Apparently the index Ψ is a combination of the behaviour and the attitude (in the German language: Verhältnis = Verhalten + Einstellungen). The behaviour and the attitudes are caused by the individual needs and desires2. The attitudes are formed in a subjective process of mental digestion, and include convictions, values, feelings, knowledge and motivation.

Table 1: The four motives of work
 performance motivecontact motiveincome motivesocial motive
need:developmentintimacyexistential securitysense
relation to:the selfothersnaturesociety

The motivation for work can be split in four factors, which correspond to the four factors in the character of labour. Table 1 summarizes these four work motives. The reader may observe that several aspects return, which are also mentioned in the table of De Man with regard to the pleasure of work and the disutility of work3. The performance motive is stimulated by the contents of the job. For instance the individual can satisfy his longing for knowledge, and prove his skills. The contact motive consists of, for instance, the desire to cooperate, but also competition. The income motive and social motive are self-evident.

The motives emerge from the needs and from the desire to satisfy them. The individual can only find satisfaction, when the work situation is just, transparent, offers perspectives, and a certain harmony. Some of the work motives are mainly conditional for the job satisfaction. These are the environmental factors, such as the organization within the enterprise4. Other work motives, notably the job contents, can contribute to a positive evaluation.

Empirical results of job satisfaction

In the book of Stollberg a large number of indicators (indices) is defined. It is obvious that this column is particularly interested in the indicator, that measures the job satisfaction5. The measuring-scale uses five values, namely very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied, and very satisfied. The applications of Stollberg require an ordinal scale. For the sake of convenience the indicator is represented by Θ, and the five values are transformed into respectively 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. That does not affect the ordering of the measured results. The figure 1 shows the distribution of values for Θ in a study among 732 workers6. The vertical axis displays the fraction of workers, which belongs to the corresponding class of satisfaction. It is evident, that a large majority is satisfied with their work.

Graph of job satisfaction
Figure 1: Job satisfaction of workers

Now Stollberg wants to analyze how the indicator Θ correlates with the index Ψ. Therefore three classes of the attitude towards labour are defined: bad, average, and good. However, here the problem is, that in general women have a worse score for Ψ than men. The cause is the rather busy life, that women have in their households. That has a negative effect on their work. But it would not be just to place women in the class of bad Ψ, merely due to this effect. Therefore Stollberg formulates different criteria for men and women.

The group with the worst Ψ consists of all men with Ψ between -54.5 and 39.9, and of all women with Ψ between -54.4 and 32.4. The group with an average Ψ consists of all men with Ψ between 39.9 and 55.0, and of all women with Ψ between 32.4 and 45.0. The men with Ψ between 55.0 and 73.1, and the women with Ψ between 45.0 and 73.1 belong to the group with a good Ψ. The boundaries between the groups are chosen in such a manner, that all groups have approximately the same size.

The figure 2 shows for the study among the 732 workers, how the job satisfaction for the three Ψ groups correlates with the job satisfaction for all workers. Now the vertical axis measures the ratio of the fraction with the concerned Ψ and the fraction from the figure 1 7. It is clear, that the workers with a good Ψ are fairly satisfied, whereas on the other hand the workers with the worst Ψ are often dissatisfied. However, here an intriguing effect is observed. Namely, the relative satisfaction does not rise or fall continuously. The group with a good Ψ has a trough for Θ=3, and the group with a bad Ψ has a trough for Θ=2 8.

Graph of job satisfaction for various  Psi
Figure 2: fraction for three Ψ-groups

Stollberg proposes a fascinating explanation for this effect. Apparently some workers with a good Ψ have such high ambitions, that yet they become dissatisfied. Due to their high expectations they are incited to be creative an to search for improvements. They develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Conversely, some workers with a bad Ψ are still satisfied. This is not a well-reflected satisfaction, but the acceptance of their unpleasant attitude towards labour, which results in passive resignation. The double peak structure of the Θ distribution shows, that apparently various qualities of job satisfaction exist.

In the ideal situation work must actually be accompanied by a certain amount of stress. Dissatisfaction with the existing situation is also a challenge. Stollberg believes, that instead of Θ it would be better to use an index, which measures the possibilities for development and for meaningful activities. He proposes to call that index the satisfaction of labour. It is clear, that this index of satisfaction is a rather complicated sociological variable. On the other hand, there is the danger to enter a blind alley, when the policy for the labour market focuses merely on the index Θ. Then the human potential is not fully explored. The same message can implicitely be found in the scheme for the pleasure of work and disutility according to De Man, and in the table 1 of the present column.

Stollberg analyzes the results of two large empirical studies, which have been done in 1967 and 1977 among a group of workers in the GDR. He states, that in this period the job satisfaction has diminished. Apparently the workers raise their expectations with respect to their jobs. This development is accompanied by an increased desire for leisure time.

Other empirical results

The sociologists see a high value of the index Ψ as the ideal situation. Therefore they want to determine the factors, which yield a positive contribution to Ψ. They can measure this by labelling various factors with an indicator, and by subsequently computing the so-called correlation coefficient9 of that indicator and the index Ψ. The value of this coefficient, commonly represented by the symbol r, varies between -1 and 1. A value of -1 implies, that the two variables have a perfect negative relation, whereas a value of +1 corresponds to a perfect positive relation. In the case r=0 the two variables are apparently unrelated.

Stollberg performs several correlation computations, and here uses the two large empirical studies, which have been conducted in 1967 and 1977 among a group of workers. For instance, the interviews show a positive correlation between the participation in political-social activities and a good Ψ. The correlation coefficient is r=0.69. A special type of activity is the participation in the so-called innovator movement (in the German language Neuerer). This is a kind of entrepreneurial activism, where the workers do suggestions for the enrichment of the work and for the improvement of the work intensity. For this participation the correlation coefficient is r=0.46.

Furthermore, the interest for the enterprise shows a positive correlation with Ψ (r=0.45). The age also is positively correlated, with r=0.38. The same can be said about the level of education, with r=0.31. It has been previously stated, that also the male gender has a positive correlation with Ψ. The zeal of the worker has a positive correlation with the objective Ψ (r=0.40). Most of the other correlation coefficients are smaller. For instance, monotonous activities have a negative correlation with Ψ (r = -0.23). Incidentally, it must be remarked, that sometimes the correlations follow in a self-evident manner from the definition of Ψ. For instance, an active involvement in the enterprise increases the values in some of the 19 composing indicators of Ψ.

In the modern economics the income motive plays an important role. The labour supply of the workers is almost entirely coupled to the wage level. Thus it is interesting to analyze the correlation between the income motive and Ψ. Now the experts, who have defined Ψ, have attached a negative value to the income motive in two of the composing indicators. Workers, who prefer an interesting or useful job, get more points than workers, who are motivated by their wage. In this respect Ψ represents an ideology, or a bias. Yet Ψ could still have a positive correlation with the income motive, namely when the workers with a strong income motive have high scores on the 17 other indicators. But Stollberg states on p.107 of his book, that the wage level doesn not correlate with Ψ.

Stollberg even states on p.118, that the performance at work does not correlate with the incitations of income! And on p.121 and further he shows in several tables, that the income is merely one of the motivating favctors for work, besides various other motives. On the other hand he must admit, that in the enterprises the wage level is a popular subject of discussion. He suspects that the workers project their general dissatisfaction in a one-sided manner on the wage. Moreover, the wage level is a concrete number, whereas it is difficult to value the other working conditions. Incidentally, he does not principally reject the use of the income as a means to incite the workers.

Thanks to the two studies in 1967 and 1977 it is possible to analyze the trends in time. On p.110 of his book Stollberg states, that both the objective and the subjective Ψ remain approximately the same during that period. It is true, that changes occur in the 19 composing indicators, but all those changes approximately compensate each other. For instance, the number of highly active workers in social organizations (party, trade union, youth association etcetera) develops in a positive manner, from 39% to 53%.

The contacts in the labour collective (team) belong to the mentioned other motives for work. About 90% of the workers enjoys the company of their colleagues. They are a potential source for assistance. And during the mentioned period the workers increasingly make friends at work (from 33% to 44%). In the following it will be explained, that the Leninist paradigm values the cohesion in the collective. The workers ought to find their reward primarily in social factors. For instance, Stollberg proposes to reward excellent performances within the various professional groups by means of honour and praise10.

The Leninist paradigm

In the preceding paragraphs it has been tried to present the study of Stollberg in a neutral manner. Fortunately, he does not engage in the bragging polemics, which are so common among Leninist scientists. Yet Stollberg does take an ideological stance, and that aspect of his work will be discussed in the present paragraph. First, the Leninist ideology will be briefly described. In a previous column two fundamental hypotheses have been mentioned, which form the foundation of the supposed superiority of the Leninist paradigm. They are

It is curious, that the Leninist scientists do not try to analyze these two hypotheses and to test their validity. They are simply presumed as an uncontested truth.

Ideas that deviate from the Leninist paradigm are published only in order to polemize against them. The Leninist state does not provide for the financial means to study and analyze those opposing fields of science, let alone that positive articles can be published. This attitude towards opposing ideas limits the Leninist science, and forces it into the role of a creed. Indeed the Leninist professional literature has some resemblance with for instance the papal encyclical letters. It is obvious that even in such a restricted situation interesting research can still be done, and this portal presents several examples. But in the end the Leninist concept stifles the serious science.

Photo of sculptures by R. Hahne
Figure 3: Sculpture by
  Ruthild Hahne (Berlijn)

The state expects that scientists and researchers contribute directly to the improvement of the economic productivity, except for the party ideologists. Therefore the research aims at practical applications. Truly fundamental sciences can hardly be found in the Leninist states, as far as your columnist knows. Also the book of Stollberg is written for practical purposes, as a handbook for labour sociologists and chief executives.

Stollberg believes that in the western capitalism the factor labour suffers from alienation, economic coercion and unemployment. Those faults form an insurmountable obstacle for the development of the worker. Only in the Leninist system the workers obtain the possibility for self-realization. Thanks to the Leninist democracy11 the workers can participate in the planning and the management of the enterprises. Stollberg keeps stressing, that the workers are the true owners of the enterprises. They have their fate in their own hands, and therefore they are a subject instead of an object, like in capitalism. In his view the situation of the workers in the Leninist system is fundamentally different and of a higher quality than the situation of their companions in capitalism.

The special situation of the workers affects their development. They develop a Leninist personality. Note, that this type of person has a good Ψ (Stollberg must have been disappointed, that Ψ remained the same during the period between 1967 and 1977). Before it has already been mentioned, that the worker's collective is important. Stollberg states, that she is the primary place for political agitation and social control. The leader of the collective must dispose of exceptional political-moral qualities, and convey them.

On p.113 Stollberg states that in various sociological studies the general satisfaction of the people is determined notably by their work, family, the living conditions, and health. The order of these four domains varies, depending on the study. However, Leninism defends the hypothesis, that ultimately the work will become the primary need for the people. Stollberg also shares this remarkable view. The labour changes the history, and in the work the individual grows. Work integrates man in society. Here the reader may recognize a quite dogmatic version of the historic materialism12.

Now the reader will understand why Stollberg is sceptical with regard to the income motive. The work is no longer a burden, which causes feelings of displeasure, but it is on the contrary desired. It is true that Stollberg acknowledges that for instance monotonous work will be harmful, but he is confident that the Leninist ethics of work offers a sufficient compensation. He summons all workers to develop a belanced structure of motivations. The character of work must be improved in order to stimulate the change in that direction. The reader will probably not be surprised, that Stollberg views the wage level merely as an expression of the productivity of the concerned worker, and that the wage must not affect the individual status. All labour is socially necessary. And in Leninism the divisive social conflicts have been eliminated. Therefore all classes can mutually converge.

In the previous column, which is mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, your columnist had already criticized the credibility of the Leninist paradigm. He is planning to elaborate on this criticism in future columns, among others with empirical data from sociological studies. Nevertheless, the work of Stollberg does show, that the neoclassical idea of the wage level as the only motive for workers is also too simple. Leisure time is not by definition more valuable or more satisfying than working-time.

  1. See Soziologie der Arbeit (1988, Verlag Die Wirtschaft) by R. Stollberg. Stollberg has died recently, in august 2013. The book was published shortly before the collapse of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. The second-hand bookshop Helle Panke is established in Berlin, and it has a large and diverse collection of books, published in the GDR. (back)
  2. The column about the historical materialism mentions in passing the causal chain, which is proposed by the Leninist philosopher Archangelski. The chain starts with the social relations and ends with the moral principles. The attitude is located between those ends. (back)
  3. Incidentally, there is also a clear relation with the work of Sie Dhian Ho. She believes that an optimal policy must adress four factors: existential security, decent work, emancipation, and social cohesion. These four factors are clearly present in the work motives of Stollberg. (back)
  4. Yet this type of motives leads to numerous consequences. For instance, in the column about the marginal disutility of labour it is assumed, that labour can to a certain extent be a pleasing activity. The present column makes that statement somewhat more credible. For, thanks to the social motive merely the occupation of a job can already bring satisfaction. This is even true, when the weekly working-time is just a few hours. Someone could even feel good by merely being present in the enterprise. The hedonistic wage theory also shows, that the organization of the enterprise contributes to the satisfaction. This theory is explained in a previous column about external effects. (back)
  5. Perhaps the job satisfaction is expressed best in a poem. A. van Collem is the undisputed bard of pleasure in work. He writes in paragraph XXII of Nieuwe liederen der gemeenschap (p.52): And yet in those miserable people, appear / Will my sound on a light ring of arms, / I will emancipate those, who pine away there, / In their nasty atmosphere of stench. / I will open the eyes of those men, / They will deliberate with each other / About the right way to destroy this carcass / So that it will finally collapse. / I am the pleasure, I am the bringer of joy, / Humanity always sang what I sang to her, / I am of all colours, mixer of colours, / I am the origin of all wisdom. / I am communism (EB: Leninism), am the weapon, / which allows man to conquer himself, / I will raise the smallest of you all from the dust / And transform into a singing child of man. (back)
  6. See p.186 and further in Soziologie der Arbeit. (back)
  7. In other words, let f(Θ) be the distribution function of the job satisfaction for all workers, with ΣΘ=15 f(Θ) = 1. Then the three variables, shown in the figure 2, are f(Θ, Ψ = good) / f(Θ), f(Θ, Ψ = average) / f(Θ) and f(Θ, Ψ = bad) / f(Θ). (back)
  8. Stollberg displays this trend in a schematic manner in the figure 3 on p.191 of Soziologie der Arbeit, but unfortunately he does not explain the underlying computations. The figure 2 of this column is an attempt to present the scheme of Stollberg in a quantitative manner. For this purpose your columnist has performed some manipulations on the empirical data in the table 23 on p.196 of Soziologie der Arbeit, and hopes that these resemble the underlying computations of Stollberg. (back)
  9. Suppose that a group of N workers has been interviewed, and two index-values have been measured for each worker, namely xn and yn, with n = 1, ..., N. Then the correlation coefficient is defined by r = A / √(B×C), with A = Σn=1N (xnx) × (yny), B = Σn=1N (xnx)² en C = Σn=1N (yny)². Here x and y are the averagesΣn=1N xn / n and Σn=1N yn / n. See for instance p.555 in Understanding business statistics (1994, Richard D. Irwin, Inc.) by J.E. Hanke and A.G. Reitsch, or any other book about statistics. Incidentally, the favourite book of your columnist Managerial economics (1992, Macmillan Publishing Company) by Paul Keat and Philip Young does not address this theme, except for a footnote. (back)
  10. In the column about power as an economic factor it is described how Dick Pels also wants to base the income structure on honour and fame. The personal status within one's own group is the crucial reward. It is remarkable, that the liberal Pels agrees with this aspect of the Leninist system. (back)
  11. In almost all places where the column uses the term Leninist, Stollberg prefers the term socialist. Your columnist fundamentally disagrees here, because the overwhelming majority of socialists is not a Leninist. (back)
  12. See again the column about the historic materialism. Although also Herman Gorter is more dogmatic than is justified, his text are a relief in comparison with the heavy preachy tone of the Leninist authors. But even in the Netherlands the down-to-earth attitude was sometimes replaced by a Leninist exaltation. Thus Jef Last writes in the poem Tsjeljabynsk of his volume Twee werelden (p.14): They will travel over the light roads / work in light halls with their machines. / They will find in their life every blessing / of comradeship on their way. / They will be people, they can read / they are open to any joy / From drab shy inhabitants of the steppe they transformed into / the smiths of their fate. / The slaves of the steppe became human / the slaves of the sorrow became free / the mass of humans break through their old boundaries / like the river breaks his crust of ice in May. / Nothing was so poor as their miserable lives / nothing will be so rich as their new day / the communism (EB: Leninism) has emancipated them / it has given them strength and hope / and as the symbol of labour it is woven / hammer and sickle in the red flag! This was written in the time, that the cruel rule of Stalin copleted its first decade. (back)