The New Knowledge Workers
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This important series makes a signi! cant contribution to the development of management thought. This ! eld has expanded dramatically in recent years and the series provides an invaluable forum for the publication of high quality work in management science, human resource management, organizational behaviour, marketing, management information systems, operations management, business ethics, strategic management and international management. The main emphasis of the series is on the development and application of new original ideas. International in its approach, it will include some of the best theoretical and empirical work from both well-established researchers and the new generation of scholars...
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NEW HORIZONS IN MANAGEMENT
Series Editor: Cary L. Cooper, CBE, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and
Health, Lancaster University, UK
This important series makes a signi cant contribution to the development of management
thought. This eld has expanded dramatically in recent years and the series provides an
invaluable forum for the publication of high quality work in management science, human
resource management, organizational behaviour, marketing, management information
systems, operations management, business ethics, strategic management and international
The main emphasis of the series is on the development and application of new original
ideas. International in its approach, it will include some of the best theoretical and empirical
work from both well-established researchers and the new generation of scholars.
Titles in the series include:
Women on Corporate Boards of Directors
International Research and Practice
Edited by Susan Vinnicombe, Val Singh, Ronald J. Burke, Diana Bilimoria and
Handbook of Managerial Behavior and Occupational Health
Edited by Alexander-Stamatios G. Antoniou, Cary L. Cooper, George P. Chrousos, Charles
D. Spielberger and Michael William Eysenck
Workplace Psychological Health
Current Research and Practice
Paula Brough, Michael O’Driscoll, Thomas Kalliath, Cary L. Cooper and Steven A.Y.
Research Companion to Corruption in Organizations
Edited by Ronald J. Burke and Cary L. Cooper
Self-Management and Leadership Development
Edited by Ronald J. Burke and Mitchell G. Rothstein
Handbook of Employee Engagement
Perspectives, Issues, Research and Practice
Edited by Simon Albrecht
Human Resource Management in Small Business
Achieving Peak Performance
Edited by Cary L. Cooper and Ronald J. Burke
Research Handbook in Comparative Employment Relations
Edited by Michael Barry and Adrian Wilkinson
Psychological Ownership and the Organizational Context
Theory, Research Evidence and Application
John L. Pierce and Iiro Jussila
Handbook of Stress in the Occupations
Edited by Janice Langan-Fox and Cary L. Cooper
The New Knowledge Workers
The New Knowledge
Kozminski University, Poland
NEW HORIZONS IN MANAGEMENT
Cheltenham, UK • Northampton, MA, USA
© Dariusz Jemielniak 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
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mechanical or photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior
permission of the publisher.
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1 Outline of the research project 1
High-tech companies 1
The high-tech industry in Poland and the US 2
The research area 5
2 Work 11
The history of the meaning of work 11
The contemporary approach to work 13
3 Knowledge-intensive organizations 16
The meaning of the “knowledge-intensive company” 16
The IT revolution 20
4 Knowledge workers 24
Professional roles 25
White-collar workers 28
5 Research methods and the organizations studied 42
Research metaphors 46
Research methods 47
The research problem 49
Characteristics of the organizations under study 51
6 Modern bureaucracies 53
Bureaucracy in the high-tech environment 58
7 High time in high-tech 66
Work time 66
Outsourcing and time poverty 66
8 Trust in knowledge work 88
Distrust in high-tech 89
Trust as a network base 97
vi The new knowledge workers
Trust capital 101
9 Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work 105
Boredom vs. fun 105
Job security 116
Knowledge exchange 120
Motivation and identity of knowledge workers 126
10 Summary 134
The era of ideology 134
Managing creative work: X = Y? 136
This book would not have been possible without encouragement and
help from many people and organizations. I am particularly grateful to
Patricia Craig, Neil Fligstein and Davydd J. Greenwood, who believed in
this project and invited me for research visits, allowing me to gather the
eld material used in the study. A friendly environment magically created
by Bruce Petschek made writing the book up a pure pleasure. So did the
constant support from Joanna Jemielniak. Institutional help from Cornell
University (Department of Anthropology and Mario Einaudi Center),
Harvard University (Center for European Studies) and the University of
California, Berkeley (Institute for Research on Labor and Employment)
opened many doors that would otherwise have remained shut. Two sab-
batical leaves, generously given by Kozminski University, gave me a rare
luxury of focusing mainly on research. I am also grateful to Davydd J.
Greenwood, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, Paweł Krzyworzeka, Dominika Latusek
and Anna Woźniak, for their remarks, comments and suggestions for revi-
sions of the early drafts of the book. Also, the presented study and publi-
cation were possible thanks to nancing from a research grant in 2007–09
from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education.
The results of the research were originally presented in Polish in a
monograph Praca oparta na wiedzy in 2008 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa
Akademickie i Profesjonalne). The current book is a revised and updated
version of that publication.
1. Outline of the research project
This book describes the organizational practices in the knowledge worker
workplace and focuses on employees in the high-tech industry, or, to be
exact, the IT industry (in some cases engineers developing the latest hard-
ware, but mostly programmers). Even though it uses the word “work”
more often than “labor”, in line with other publications on the subject
(this careful avoidance in the literature is most interesting and could be
a topic of a separate study in itself), it describes broadly the current pro-
letarianization of knowledge-intensive professions, using the example of
The programming industry, quite surprisingly, is rather di cult to
de ne. It encompasses both companies that o er sophisticated solutions
(i.e. complex IT systems to target speci c problems of organizations) and
also other companies developing ready-made software to be sold on the
mass market or quasi-mass market, usually without the possibility of
The degree of innovation in the programming market can also vary
widely. Some companies focus on technological breakthroughs and the
development of new solutions, but, there are also others that do repeti-
tive implementations of ready-made IT systems, using commonly known
tools, or o er simple IT services, specializing in cost-e ectiveness, sales
and marketing (particularly in the server-hosting market).
The typical division of the IT industry into hardware, software and
services is very often blurred – many manufacturers of the latest equip-
ment will also develop software and implement solutions; software pro-
ducers successfully enter the hardware and services market; and service
companies will o er software and hardware under their own brand
This confusion is increased by the lack of a consistent, coherent and
precise business terminology. It can be di cult to nd clear criteria to clas-
sify companies speci cally within the high-tech industry. According to the
Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms, “high-tech stock” is simply
(Downes and Goodman, 2006)
2 The new knowledge workers
“Stock of companies involved in high-technology elds (computers, inter-
net related businesses, semiconductors, biotechnology, robotics, electronics).
Successful high-tech stocks have above-average earnings growth and therefore
typically very volatile stock prices.”
In this sense, the industry is very broad in its scope. On other hand, the
AeA1 de nition, compiled in 2002 for use in statistical analysis, covers
only three areas of the basic operation. In AeA’s own words (AeA, 2002),
it includes “high-tech manufacturing, communications services”, and soft-
ware and computer-related services. It does not include broad categories
if the high-tech portion does not represent a clear majority. Also, AeA’s
de nition does not include many “related” industries, such as biotechnol-
ogy, engineering services, and research and testing services.
Krzysztof Klincewicz (2006), in his analysis of the lack of precise typolo-
gies, points out that in the literature there are three distinctive approaches
to de ning the high-tech industry. It is based on:
the analysis of the social potential, in which the major criterion is the
quantitative ratio of the employed engineers and scientists to the rest
of the employees;
the nancial indicators, in which the criterion is the ratio of the
R&D expenditure to the value of sales; and
the assessment of the degree of technological and IT advancements
with respect to others within the industry.
Because this book focuses on the social issues related to critical man-
agement studies, the most important of these approaches is the rst.
However, it should be noticed that the organizations studied, both Polish
and American, do meet all three criteria of a high-tech company.2 All have
been involved in creative work as well, that is, the development of their
own software (and in one case their own hardware too) and implementa-
tions that are based mainly on their own ideas, though of course also using
ready-made tools and modules for that process.
THE HIGH-TECH INDUSTRY IN POLAND AND
This book is the result of a qualitative research project lasting several
years but includes also some basic quantitative information relating to
high-tech industry in Poland and the US that should better present a
general picture of the studied industry. Such data constitute the back-
ground that in uences the employment situation and the human relations
Outline of the research project
Management Quality control
Source: QPracy.pl (2008).
Figure 1.1 Composition of IT industry job advertisements in Poland
and organizational practices within high-tech companies. Such quantita-
tive data are not however a key element in the study here presented, as it
focuses primarily on the social aspects of knowledge-intensive work. Most
of the eld data are drawn from the years just before the nancial crisis of
2008, since 2009–11 may not have been fully representative.
According to the IT market research agency DiS (Anam, 2008), 100
of the top Polish companies spent over US$2 billion on IT in 2007; ve
years earlier (2002) that gure was US$1.5 billion. The value of the IT
industry was estimated by DiS in 2007 to be nearly US$8 billion. Similarly,
according to analysts at PMR Ltd the value of the industry amounted to
US$8 billion in 2007 and was estimated to exceed US$7 billion in 2008
(PMR, 2008). In 2007, even though the currency crisis in the US blurred
the picture, growth was signi cant, reaching between 11 and 20 per cent
(Frydrychowicz, 2008). 2009 was the rst year in the last 20 that the value of
the Polish IT market decreased by roughly 10 per cent (Maciejewski, 2010).
The shortage of IT specialists in Poland was estimated at about 10 000
in 2008, and according to the infopraca.pl website, 10 per cent of the total
job ads were for IT specialists (QPracy.pl, 2008), 30 per cent of them pro-
grammers (Figure 1.1). Both in Poland and worldwide, IT specialists are
among the best-paid of professionals, together with managers, nanciers
and marketing specialists (ComputerWorld, 2008).
4 The new knowledge workers
Table 1.1 Numbers of new jobs in high-tech in the US
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
87 400 139 000 91 400 77 000 −245 600
Source: TechAmerica’s Education Foundation (2008, 2010).
A parallel situation exists in the US: salaries in the new-technology
sector are higher by 87 per cent than the general company average
(TechAmerica’s Education Foundation, 2008). American new technol-
ogy industry employed 1.6 per cent more people in 2007 than in 2006
(TechAmerica’s Education Foundation, 2008), and the largest increase
took place in the programming sector, with 82 000 new employees. The
number of high-tech employees amounted to 5.9 million in total (with
no major change in 2008). These employment dynamics decreased in
2006 (Table 1.1), but still remained high. Unemployment in the high-tech
industry in the US was low and did not exceed 2 per cent in 2007. The
year 2009 brought a signi cant decline of 245 600 jobs, but the 4 per cent
decline was still lower than the 5 per cent in the private sector as a whole
(TechAmerica’s Education Foundation, 2010).
In 2008, in the software services industry in particular, there was an
increase of 86 200 posts. In 2009, after ve consecutive years of growth,
there was a decline of 20 700 jobs. It should be noted, though, that the
fourth quarter of 2009 revealed a 10 100 in employment growth in this
industry, signaling a possible change from the downturn (TechAmerica’s
Education Foundation, 2010).
Before the crisis, venture capital investments in the industry in 2007 in
the US increased by 6 per cent and amounted to almost US$17 billion
(TechAmerica’s Education Foundation, 2008). High-tech companies’
investment in R&D, according to the same report, also rose by 6 per cent
over the previous year and amounted to US$74.9 billion in 2006.
The shortage of IT specialists in the US was one of the main reasons
behind the increase on the limit of H-1B visas (for temporary, non-
immigrant workers) made by the American Congress in 1999–2003 –
195 000 at the peak (Goodsell, 2007). Though the limit has gone down
since 2004, it remains at 65 000 annually.
It is thus clear that in both Poland and the US, high-tech industry is large
and important, and that it operates under conditions of a constant need
for highly quali ed labor. The last circumstance produces a most interest-
ing situation: programmers in many companies, both in Poland and in
the US, have potentially, thanks to these conditions, a most favorable
Outline of the research project
professional and organizational position – making their workplace a very
interesting subject for qualitative analysis, since they are among the few
who can challenge managerial domination.
THE RESEARCH AREA
The general research area of this book is the knowledge worker workplace
in high-tech companies; speci cally, it is a case study of Poland and the
Through a qualitative analysis of conceptual terms used by the social
actors in the studied companies (as already mentioned, a precise descrip-
tion of the research methods is o ered separately in Chapter 5), this book
addresses a question: to what extent does work organization among
knowledge workers have a democratic character? Even though manage-
rial literature often points to, and even recommends, an egalitarian and
democratic approach to that group of employees (Amar, 2002; Horibe,
1999; Newell et al., 2002), other research ndings attest that the reality
of work in high-tech companies, and in the high-tech workplace in par-
ticular, is quite di erent (Hochschild, 1997; Kunda, 1992; Perlow, 2003).
That contradiction is the rationale for this project which aims to describe
the workplace of knowledge workers in high-tech companies in detail and
demonstrate its practical conditions on the basis of research “grounded”
in eld studies (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). This book approaches the task
not by the use of some preconceptualized theoretical model, but through
the study of these social phenomena, which are particularly important
in the eyes of the population studied. The project focuses on perceptions
of formalities and hierarchies, IT project schedules, the issue of trust in
the high-tech workplace, and selected aspects of HRM and employee
The comparative analysis of the workplace in Polish and American
companies does make a lot of sense. The US is the birthplace of IT and
unquestionably a leader still in many high-tech areas, including program-
ming. American universities are at the top of computer science depart-
ments’ rankings, especially when measured by graduates’ salaries. Find
the majority of the computers worldwide are equipped with software (both
applications and whole operational systems) developed in the US.
Poles, on the other hand, frequently win prestigious international
programming competitions (including for example the TopCoder com-
petition, the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, the
Google Code Jam, the Microsoft Imagine Cup and the like); and the
University of Warsaw has led the TopCoder.com3 rank for several years,
6 The new knowledge workers
and as of now (June 2011) is outranked only by Tsingua University and
Tokyo University. Two other Polish universities have positions higher
than the highest-ranked American one (currently MIT, although Carnegie
Mellon for several years was higher). Polish programmers’ aptitude and
skills are unquestionable. For example, in the 2008 TopCoder edition, of
the 49 participants, eight were Poles (PAIiIZ, 2008). Entry to this contest
is restricted to beginners and the competition is one of the most prestigious
in the world; its results have indeed greatly in uenced Google’s decision
to open a research center in Poland (Bielewicz et al., 2006). There are
about 150 other research centers in Poland, apart from Google’s, and they
were established by for example Credit Suisse, General Electric, IBM,
Motorola, Intel and Siemens. The total investment value of these centers
was estimated at €5 billion in 2006 (Nowaczyk, 2008). Also, in 2010 pres-
tigious student internships at Microsoft in Redmont were dominated by
Poles – as much as one-third of all intern are from Polish computer science
Despite this phenomenon, Polish companies currently can hardly
be considered as leading any of the IT markets worldwide. Individual
players enjoy local successes, and some international recognition – the
development of such rms as Comarch, Sygnity and ADB is impressive,
and the international expansion of Young Digital Planet or Gadu-Gadu
obviously gives hope for change. Some companies slowly grow into rec-
ognition, for example Techland in 2009 was ranked at number 58 in the
UK in the Develop 100 ranking of game producers, selling more games
than for example a former star of this industry, Blizzard Entertainment.
Also, Asseco (the biggest Polish IT company) is gradually going up the
European rankings: for example in 2008 it was ranked number ve in the
“Top 100 European Software Vendors” (by Tru e Capital), with rev-
enues of €430 million and as of now (June 2011) holds eighth position in
the ranking, with 2009 revenues of 702 million euros.
Still, at present, there is an obvious disparity between the success of
individual programmers in Poland, and Polish IT companies en masse.
Also, no single o -the-shelf computer program originating in Poland has
become a blockbuster.
According to some authors, improvement is only a matter of time. On
18 October 2006 two representatives of venture capital funds in Poland
(Tomasz Czechowicz from MCI and Dariusz Wiatr from Hexagon
Capital) made a public bet on whether by the end of 2008 a glo-
bally successful high-tech company would be established in the country
(Domaszewicz, 2006). The chosen criteria were interesting: a presence
either among the three popular European brands or within the top three
European companies with respect to number of clients or market share.
Outline of the research project
Possibly because of the global crisis the positive scenario did not come
about. What makes matters worse for Polish companies in the long run,
though, is that there are relatively few IT solutions developed in the Polish
market that are also o ered internationally. The success of Polish high-
tech giants still relies mainly either on the sale of Western solutions with
only small modi cations, or else on copying these solutions and/or adjust-
ing them to local conditions.
Even the biggest success of a Polish IT rm is only recent, i.e. the game
The Witcher, and it is not overwhelming. CD Projekt produced the game,
and within the rst three months sold 600 000 copies. The game is dis-
tributed worldwide, and won awards in the industry magazines in 2007
(inter alia “Best PC RPG” by IGN, “PC RPG of the Year” by GameSpy,
“Editor’s Award” by PC Gamer, and others). Despite that success, in
absolute terms, the game still lags behind the worldwide bestsellers. The
Witcher II is in production, but even if it is more successful than the rst
version it will not dramatically change the picture.
One should be aware that in the computer entertainment industry, the
market leaders are those rms that can produce not one best-selling title
annually but a handful of them. In the year The Witcher premièred, CD
Projekt’s gross pro t amounted to US$3 million. Over a similar period,
the market leader Electronic Arts made a gross pro t of US$1.8 billion.
This is not to deny the success of CD Projekt of course, but at present it
is di cult to say it is competing with the market leader in the computer
games market. Moreover, other producers from both central and eastern
Europe can show similar, if not bigger, achievements, for example,
Croteam from Croatia (publisher of the Serious Sam game series). Still,
with the Witcher 2 première in 2011 and very favorable reviews, there is
a chance that CD Projekt will make sure Polish IT companies have had
niche successes – other examples being Ivo Software (a multipurpose
speech synthesis system) and Psiloc (cellphone software). There are also
others, more e ective in getting outsourcing orders – a good example
here is Rinf from Wrocław, the company established by a few former
BP programmers, who now get contracts from Nokia, Siemens, Asseco
or Comarch and have even opened a branch o ce in Silicon Valley.
Nevertheless, global success is still missing, for many reasons. The rst of
these is the lack of a “business angel” type of nancing, and the relatively
small saturation by venture capital funds, while the second is the aver-
sion of those entrepreneurs who have succeeded when investing their own
capital in other ventures. In comparison, the German European Founders
fund was established following the success of the Samwers brothers, who
developed Jamba! (a big player in the cellphone software application
development market) and have so far successfully invested in services as
8 The new knowledge workers
popular as, for example, LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com iLove.com, and
the Polish Naszaklasa.pl.
Behind the failure of Polish companies to achieve a big break globally
there lie also the disastrously poor support given by the government to the
use of IT in the economy, the weak development of internet access and its
high costs,5 a small basic market and the poor command of English among
Poles, to mention just a few factors. Luck has also played an important
On the other hand, the success of neighbors from our region is striking.
A team of programmers from Estonia was capable of developing Skype –
the most popular program for oral conversations on the internet, bought
at the price of US$2.6 billion by eBay in 2005 then sold to Microsoft for
US$8.5 billion in 2011. A team of Russian programmers created one of
the most popular families of antivirus software used for broadly de ned
securities (Kaspersky); a Czech company produced AVG, one of ve
most popular antivirus programs; a team of programmers from Moldova
originated The Bat!, a commercial email client alternative to Microsoft
Outlook. These are just a few of the many examples.
It is not the purpose of this book to analyze the reasons for the lack
of success of Polish o -the-shelf software producers, even if they are just
organizational ones. However, the phenomenon does make Polish high-
tech companies look like an interesting research subject. Consequently,
the analysis of the Polish software producers’ workplace, its organiza-
tional practices and the perceptions of the employees is potentially impor-
tant, especially in comparison with American companies. Study of both
the similarities and the di erences among knowledge-intensive organiza-
tions in both countries can play a part in furthering understanding of their
speci cs, and in producing a clear, precise analysis of the changes occur-
ring in the workplace of knowledge worker worldwide.
For the purpose of this e ort, the American portion of the research
relies mostly on East Cost organizations and is accompanied by a series of
interviews in di erent companies in similar locations, plus also a Silicon
Valley start-up.6 Interestingly, the Silicon Valley start-up turned out to be
the most di cult to gain access to, and I was not able to conduct observa-
tions there – thus the material from this company is quite limited and relies
on only six interviews.
Still, Silicon Valley was not chosen as a main research area for this
study for other reasons also. Numerous publications prove that the
region is an exceptional social phenomenon (Saxenian, 1994), with a
very speci c work culture and management (English-Lueck, 2002) and
with a habitat not seen elsewhere so far, that favor is the development
of IT companies (Lee et al., 2000). Thanks to a cluster type of company
Outline of the research project
development in that region (quite important for knowledge-intensive
organizational development – see for example Nogalski and Grzybowski,
2007; Nogalski and Kowalczyk, 2008), and also to the active operations
of a few of the most prestigious technical universities in the world, by
collaborating closely with the largest latest-technology corporations an
exceptional organizational environment and workplace for knowledge
workers has been created (Bresnahan and Gambardella, 2004), with its
own speci c life cycle and development processes (Huggins and Izushi,
2007). Silicon Valley has also one of the highest concentrations of knowl-
edge workers in the US: out of every 1000 employees in the private sector
there, 286 work for high-tech companies (TechAmerica’s Education
Even though wide generalizations are not the purpose of this book, and
the six organizations studied are not claimed to be the most representative
of the whole industry, the uniqueness of Silicon Valley makes it especially
di cult to use in international comparisons.
The whole research project was carried out over ve years (2004–08), in
two Polish7 companies based in Warsaw (PLOneos and PLSantos) and in
three American companies (USVisualprog, USHuncor and USVird). The
visits to the US took place in 2004–05, while the author was a Fulbright
visiting scholar at Cornell University, Ithaca (NY), and in 2007–08, during
a semester visiting research stay at Harvard University and a semester vis-
iting research stay at the University of California, Berkeley.
The analysis is based on long-term, non-participant observations at
PLOneos (four months) and USVisualprog ( ve months), and on inter-
views conducted at those rms. Research done in PLSantos, USHuncor
and USVird was of a supplemental nature and was based on interviews
with programmers and managers. In total 89 interviews were con-
ducted. Auxiliary quantitative research was done during the observations,
through a chronometric analysis of behavioral patterns at the workplace
in PLOneos and USVisualprog and through mini-surveys.
The main part of the analysis focuses on knowledge-intensive work-
places’ similarities to one another, irrespective of country, size or region.
Individualities and di erences are described less often and then are clearly
emphasized. Organizational actors are not perceived as “dopes of their
culture” and their nationality and national culture background is treated
more as a discursive resource they draw from than as a xed given-identity
label (Barinaga, 2007).
Whenever in the text “both organizations” are mentioned, the refer-
ence is to PLOneos and USVisualprog. In turn, whenever the term “all
of the studied organizations” is used, the research ndings apply to both
the research material gathered during observations and the interviews
10 The new knowledge workers
completed in all ve companies. The organizations studied are described
in detail in Chapter 5, in the section. “The Research Problem”.
As the subject of this book is work in knowledge-intensive companies
and organizational relations at the knowledge workers’ workplace, it
is necessary to discuss that basic terminology. The next three chapters,
Chapters 2, 3, and 4, describe the work-related issues, the knowledge
companies, and the term “knowledge workers” in the context of the soci-
ology and management literature on employees. Chapter 5 describes the
research methods and the methodological assumptions for this project.
The Chapter 6 refers to the contemporary bureaucracy and starts the pres-
entation of the research ndings. Chapters 7, 8 and 9 cover the topics of
trust in IT projects, and of the selectively chosen (as being important for
the interlocutors) elements of HRM and motivation in knowledge work.
Chapter 10, the last, summarizes the project through an interpretation of
ideological control and the position of observed management practices in
the classic dichotomy of the Theory X and Theory Y approaches.
1. AeA, formerly known as the American Electronics Association, merged into TechAmerica
(www.itaa.org) in 2009. Even before this merger it was the largest American organization
in the electronics industry, with a membership of 2500 organizations, employing over
1.8m people in total. It was established in 1943, and its main activities are the develop-
ment of industry analysis, lobbying and the collective representation of its members.
2. A more detailed description of the companies studied, as well as a section on research
methods, are included in Chapter 5.
3. Available at: http://www.topcoder.com/stat?c=school_avg_rating (accessed 16 May
4. As reported on http://www.emetro.pl/emetro/1,82493,7848960,Co_trzeci_praktykant_w_
Microsoft_pochodzi_z_Polski.html (accessed 15 June 2010).
5. In the Global Information Technology 2010–2011 rankings of “Networked Readiness”,
compiled by the World Economic Forum in cooperation with INSEAD, Poland was
at 62, just below South Africa, and above Trinidad and Tobago. Among all European
countries, Poland outstripped only Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia. The higher
positions in the rankings were occupied for example by Colombia, Vietnam and Oman –
hardly regarded, at least in Poland, as being signi cantly more developed countries. The
full ranking is available on the internet at: http://www.weforum.org (accessed July 2010).
6. A more detailed description of the organizations analyzed is given in the Chapter 5.
7. The names of all the studied companies are ctitious, as are the interlocutors’ crypton-
yms. Some details insigni cant for the analysis have been changed, to disallow compa-
nies’ identi cation, in line with the rules of the ethics of anthropology (Madison, 2005).
THE HISTORY OF THE MEANING OF WORK
The precise classi cation of activities as “work” is relatively di cult.
In modern times, without discussion, the use of the term assumes paid
activity. Even though the literature attempts to increase the scope of that
concept (for example by bringing up the issue of housework or chores
done by children as being work as well, or by referring also to purely
voluntary activities), the lack of market and contractual assessments of
such activities results in a distortion of the meaning and in problems with
de ning the activity (Knights and Willmott, 1999). Hence, only when an
activity is valuated can it be unanimously classi ed as work, and that is the
meaning used here.
Social perception of work is very much dependent on culture. Historically,
in Western culture, work used to be seen often in negative terms. For the
ancient Greeks, work meant a curse, which should be avoided at all cost
by using slaves. Even though farmers were treated with respect, work for
money was perceived as unworthy of free men (and perceived as a speci c
form of slavery). Ancient philosophers like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle
believed that manual work had a disastrous e ect upon one’s spirit and
body and made one incapable of serious philosophical discussion, and
even more so of taking any public service post (Applebaum, 1995). Work
was also treated with suspicion in the Roman Republic even though free
citizens often held various paid jobs, and there was also a system of public
work for the poor (Temin, 2004).
The Hebrews, on the other hand, believed that work was nothing to be
ashamed of – they even described sacred activities as “the work of God”.
Many of the biblical Jewish leaders are described in scenes where they
do manual work. However, even for the Hebrews, work was an obvious
nuisance, though necessary for redemption (Knights and Willmott, 1999).
Early Christianity took the same stand, emphasizing additionally the
purifying e ect of work. The common practice in the monasteries was
the cycle of prayer–rest–work. The last was even treated as a variation of
prayer, through activities. That role also served for the Christian theo-
rists; for example, according to Saint Augustine, work was a necessary
12 The new knowledge workers
means for forging one’s character and a way to gain salvation (Benz,
1966). Yet work remained still just a type of morti cation, a light kind
of body torture helping to clarify the spirit. In line with that philosophy,
in the Middle Ages the professions possessing a creative character (i.e.,
that developed something new) were appreciated. A farmer, a bricklayer,
a tailor or a cobbler by nature of their activities followed God’s work,
whereas a merchant or a banker who did not create anything did not
deserve similar respect. Poverty was seen as a virtue as well (Le Go ,
The contemporary good perception of nancial success in Western
culture only developed along with the Protestant movement. Luther
introduced the issue of “calling” into the work discourse and argued that
everyone should aim to do the tasks that they have been created to do. He
dismissed the idea of work as dignifying su ering, pointing to its creative
and positive aspect. Calvin, on the other hand, assumed that nancial
success was the visible manifestation of the God’s blessing. He broke with
the Christian attachment to poverty. He perceived a merchant profession
as worthy of just as much respect as the manufacturing professions, or
even more. Individually accomplished success started to be linked to the
virtues of spirit – the character of the work itself lost its meaning, and
more importance was given to its economic e ect. Although attributing
a direct link between salvation and material success to Protestant ideol-
ogy would be an oversimpli cation, the Protestant “capitalist spirit” has
survived and resulted in the modern, positive picture of work (M. Weber,
2001), and its full integration into the capitalist system.
During the Enlightenment period, Thomas Hobbes in his acclaimed
Leviathan expressed the belief that everyone should work; in that way the
social contract was ful lled and citizens’ rights were justi ed (Hobbes,
2008). Voltaire expressed his opinions in the same spirit, stating that work
made life tolerable, and resembled a garden, in which everyone had their
own way of gardening (Voltaire, 2005).
The contemporary understanding of work arrived with the Industrial
Revolution. In fact, it was studies of the phenomenon that laid the
foundation of the new scienti c discipline known today as sociology:
all three of its “founding fathers”, namely Weber, Durkeim and Marx,
devoted an important part of their work to this issue. Weber analyzed,
inter alia, those loose dependencies between Protestant ethics and the
social perception of work mentioned earlier. On the other hand, con-
sideration for professional specialization and social fairness, i.e. organic
solidarity in contemporary societies, were all-important in Durkeim’s
publications (Merton, 1994). Thanks to the development of civiliza-
tion and dependencies between people, everybody could be tted to an
occupation and fairly paid proportionally to their aptitude – on condi-
tion, however, that they respected both the economic and the moral
order (Durkheim, 1999).
Similarly, work was a central subject of Marx’s writings. He noticed that
even though real work distribution and cooperation increases economic
e ectiveness in general, simultaneously it leads to the alienation of manual
workers from the goods they produce. Moreover, according to Marx, the
bourgeois system would lead inevitably to the exploitation of the manual
workers (Marx, 1992). Every capitalist had to aim to maximize the value
of output over the basic productivity of the employed they people (which
was equal to the cost of their employment). Separation of the means of
production from their ownership resulted in an excess exploitation of
workers, “surplus value”. The next step, according to Marx, should be
the attempt to eliminate the class system and any di erences between the
bourgeoisie and the working class employed by them. For Marx, work
was undisputedly and unequivocally a positive activity, and was the basic
di erentiator of humans from the animals.
THE CONTEMPORARY APPROACH TO WORK
The issue of work has been the subject of modern authors as well, like
Hannan Arendt (1958). She showed that work was a main type of human
activity. She was worried in particular about technological progress, at
least the part in which technology leads to objecti cation and deskilling of
manual workers, and hence to the disappearance of basic human qualities
in the pro t race.
One of the contemporary thinkers who took a stand on the issue of
work was Pope John Paul II. He devoted the separate encyclical Laborem
exercens (1981) to that issue, expressing his conviction, on behalf of the
whole Catholic Church, that “work is a basic dimension of humans being
on Earth”. He described technological progress unequivocally as positive,
pointing however to the possible dangers it implied for work (less jobs,
objecti cation of manual workers, etc.). He very clearly objected to the
treatment of human work as a dispensable good. The criticism of the
capitalist economic system in Laborem exercens is very similar to Marx’s
observations. John Paul II also advocated the solidarity of workers, who
should be the subject, not the object, of the work process. Though (given
the nature of the encyclical nature of the document) he does not attempt a
thorough sociological analysis of the reasons behind society’s objecti ca-
tion of workers, typical in terms of (as he describes it) “rigid capitalism”,
he is categorically against it. He noticed that proletarian rebellion was a
14 The new knowledge workers
completely justi ed “reaction against the system of injustice and harm that
cried to heaven for vengeance”.
Without exaggeration, it can be noted that the issue of human work
in society has been the subject of study and consideration for centuries.
Starting with the nineteenth century and the Luddite movement (which
was so strong enough in 1811 and 1812 to have regular battles with the
British army), a discussion began regarding to what extent the social
nature of work has changed, rst under the in uence of mechanization
and now with the development of IT (Jones, 2006). The scenarios advo-
cated range from the positive and utopian to the extremely pessimistic
(Gorz, 1985; Zubo , 1988).
Nevertheless, in modern times work for the majority is undisputedly the
most important type of activity throughout one’s lifetime. Jeremy Rifkin
in this context cites the observations of Thomas T. Cottle, observations of
a clinical psychologist and sociologist who has done wide-ranging research
on the unemployed (Rifkin, 1995, p. 195). Cottle observed that pathologi-
cal symptoms presented by the hardcore unemployed are similar to those
of dying patients. In their minds, productive work is so strongly linked
to life itself that when they are cut o from that employment they show
typical signs of dying. In this light, it is by no means surprising that almost
three-quarters of Americans state they would continue working even if
they had enough money to live on at their expected level for the rest of
their lives (Sweet and Meiksins, 2008).
Since the mid twentieth century work has started to be seen as a cer-
tainty, an element of human life that is important not only for its economic
reasons but also for more general ful llment. Without a doubt, the change
of gender roles that women successfully initiated, in part because many
men were called up to serve in the armed forces during World War II (from
which many did not return), resulted in a general belief that all people have
the right to their own professional ful llment (Charles and Grusky, 2004).
Thus, the number of social roles in which unemployment would be con-
sidered as justi ed and acceptable was distinctly limited. Also, with the
coming of the Industrial Revolution, housework and caring for the family
stopped being perceived as work; though in the previous agrarian culture
eld work and housework blended, factory work clearly separated those
roles, in terms of both space and time (Sweet and Meiksins, 2008).
Even though the work phenomenon, as mentioned, has been a subject
of serious scienti c studies for a long time, there have been signi cant
changes in the social organization of work in recent years. Above all,
the IT revolution has led to a reshu ing of the hierarchies of individual
professions. Also, the increase in the signi cance of knowledge as the
basic source for competitive advantage has resulted both in the rise of
the number of knowledge-intensive companies and in a more profound
increase in the professional status of knowledge workers. Both processes,
at least potentially, have in uenced changes in structure and the distribu-
tion of power within many organizations.
Owing to such changes, the primary analysis of contemporary profes-
sions and organizational practices that involve knowledge workers in
particular can be interesting and o er a modest, yet new, input into man-
agement science. This book is an attempt to do just this. It is the result of a
few years of research, done in both Poland and the US, and focuses mainly
on knowledge workers within the software industry. It is a response to
the call to “go back to the roots” (S.R. Barley and Kunda, 2001), and
an analysis of work as a separate phenomenon, through research which,
instead of generating more theoretical concepts that are simply detached
from the reality of the social actors, was conducted on real organizational
practices, on the perceptions of the members of the profession and on the
concepts that are important to them.
3. Knowledge-intensive organizations
THE MEANING OF “THE KNOWLEDGE-INTENSIVE
The term “knowledge-intensive company” is not very precise. Its origins
can be traced to the tradition of economic terminology. There, the division
into capital-intensive and labor-intensive is the time-honored, undisput-
able way of organizational classi cation. In capital-intensive companies,
money plays a more important role than human work, while in labor-
intensive companies it is the other way around. Thus, the statement that
a company can be knowledge-intensive emphasizes the fact that in many
organizations a key resource, and the primary product, is knowledge
(Starbuck, 1992) – something distinctive both from capital and from the
people themselves. For example, in the case of Google, people play a very
important role in new product development, yet for the search engine
the important value comes from the developed algorithms and database
attributed to the process of knowledge accumulation.
Of course, we should understand that the terms “knowledge” and
“knowledge-intensive company” have an unequivocally positive sound
to them, which unfortunately tends to undermine their popular usage in
management theory. It is di cult to imagine an organization which com-
municates to its stakeholders that it is not based on knowledge or that its
main product is ignorance or stupidity (Jemielniak and Kociatkiewicz,
2009). The absurdity of such an idea shows that using slogans related
to knowledge and IT terminology can have a purely ideological charac-
ter (Styhre, 2003). Moreover, some companies, even if their operations
have knowledge aspects within them, try to emphasize those aspects
unequivocally by decreasing the weights of others. A good example is
the pharmaceutical industry, which for PR image reasons usually tries
to emphasize their R&D character and to reduce to a minimum the role
of marketing, sales and production, even though these obviously still
do account for similarly important positions in their budgets (Alvesson,
2004). Obviously, high-tech organizations are hybrids of di erent pur-
poses, values and ideas, knowledge creation being just one of many com-
peting (Ciesielska, 2010). Labeling organizations “knowledge-intensive
companies” is also an attempt to legitimize and validate them, through
rede ning organizational identity in the eyes of the stakeholders. Such
managerial rhetoric is a manifestation of a kind of management fashion
and a natural re ection of current social interest in the idea of an infor-
mation society, knowledge management, etc. (Klincewicz, 2004; Styhre
and Sundgren, 2005).
However, the changes that have taken place in management and eco-
nomic practices during the last decades are hard to miss. A good example
is IBM, where in 1924 as much as 96 per cent of the company’s pro ts were
generated by machine leasing and 4 per cent by the sale of time cards (to
measure work time). Fifty years later, 80 per cent of IBM’s pro ts were
still generated by equipment leasing, but 15 per cent was now generated by
software sales, and 5 per cent by services. Nearly a further 20 years later,
services (almost entirely related to knowledge work) amounted to 30 per
cent of the company’s pro ts (Cortada, 1998), and in 2009 services gener-
ated 42 per cent, and software 42 per cent.1 IBM itself, which developed
the rst PCs, has since 2005 totally withdrawn from their production,
including the production of laptop computers, and has sold the relevant
department to the Chinese company Lenovo (for cash and assets).
Looking at the whole global economy, although in 1978 about 80 per
cent of companies’ value was their tangible assets, and only 20 per cent
intangible ones, just 20 years later that ratio had reversed (Blair and
However, this whole set of data may be partly misleading. After all,
assets valuation criteria have changed over the years. Intangible and
intellectual property rights assets, though underestimated in accounting,
have long played a very signi cant role in many companies’ business.
Besides, less weight was previously put on the measurement of what is
now emphasized as “knowledge”, immaterial assets and the like. Further,
the change to a “new economy”, which in theory has relied on a decrease
in the importance of production and the increase of the importance of
services, remains in reality to some extent the same old economy, based on
production after all, now, owing to the elimination of legal barriers and
progress in communication, taking place on a global scale. The US, which
is often quoted as the standard example of the “new economy”, employs
over 14 million people in the production sector, roughly as many as in
1970 (Sweet and Meiksins, 2008). In addition, a dispute over intellectual
capital can be read as a language game, in search of organizational power
(Jørgensen, 2006). It should however, be noted, that even though it is di -
cult to describe the complete novelty and the economic breakthrough, the
changes observed still point to an important new trend in contemporary
organizations (Dobija and Rosolińska, 2009).
18 The new knowledge workers
This trend is directly related to the increased role of intellectual capital:
knowledge, information and their management systems have at least in
part become more important than the tangible sources of production
(Dobija and Rosolinska, 2010; Stewart, 1997), and their higher values,
as well as having a larger proportional share in a company’s stock worth,
are the re ection of the increased signi cance of these factors in the eyes
of society. O cial Airline Guide (OAG) is a good example: the company
publishes ight timetables and is worth more than many of the described
airlines. Similarly, TV Guide, the popular American media magazine
with TV program descriptions and timetables, was in 1989 already worth
US$3billion, much more than many of the TV stations back then (Burrell,
One of the most quoted management theorists, (Peter Drucker, 1999,
p. 13) states that currently the real assets controlling the means of pro-
duction are neither capital nor land nor labor power, but knowledge.
Consequently, he concludes that instead of capitalists and proletarians the
key social class of the post-capitalist society are highly quali ed workers.
The same opinion was expressed earlier by Alvin To er (1970), writing
about the move from the agrarian era through an industrial period to the
IT economy. The main feature of this ongoing change is the transforma-
tion of the value creation method. In the agrarian era the highest value was
characteristically added through the work of muscles and in the industrial
era by machine work, while now in the electronic era it is by intellectual
work, i.e. knowledge and information.
The introduction of the term “knowledge-intensive company” was
aimed at signaling the profound social changes occurring in the post-
capitalist system – paradoxically an unexpected ful llment of some of the
neo-Marxists’ visions (Agger, 1989), mainly in the area of the distorted
separation of the owners of the means of production from the workers.
Some call this change a “third wave” of Industrial Revolution, some call
it “post-Fordism”, and for some it is an aspect of “the information society
revolution”. Occasionally the period is described as “postmodern capital-
ism”. Each name emphasizes a di erent way of perceiving the ongoing
phenomenon or a di erent analytical approach (Zacher, 2001, 1999).
Observers are in agreement however about the possible consequences of
such change (Kumar, 2005). In particular, these include the disappearance
of typical hierarchies, to be replaced by organizational “ atness” with a
simultaneous change of managerial roles to consulting and often subservi-
Knowledge-intensive companies can of course be divided according to
many di erent criteria. Lowendahl (quoted in Newell et al., 2002, p. 25)
suggests standardization according to Table 3.1.
Table 3.1 Types of knowledge-intensive rm
Strategic Resources Examples
Client-based Relations with Individually Law and
clients controlled accounting
Solution-based Creative solutions, Teamwork Advertising
innovations agencies, software
Output-based Adjustment and Controlled by the Certain large
adaptation of organization consulting rms
Source: (Newell et al. (2002).
Mats Alvesson, on the other hand, suggests an easier and clearer divi-
sion into two basic groups of knowledge-intensive companies, according
to whether their focus is on (Alvesson, 2004, p. 18):
professional services (law rms, accounting o ces, consulting agen-
cies, advertising agencies, investment banks etc.), or
research and development (mostly pharmaceutical and biotechno-
logical research centers and high-tech companies based on the work
of hardware engineers and software developers).
The subjects in interest in this book are those organizations that fall into
the second category. This is especially important, as service companies
deal with immaterial goods to a larger extent (mostly through consulting)
as opposed to speci c products, even virtual ones that exist in companies
from the second category. Knowledge workers in the latter companies
have more contact with their clients. It is di erent in the typical high-tech
and software companies, where it is managers, sales representatives and
specially trained employees who assist in such contacts, or are full interme-
diaries with clients. Owing to the very complex social context of such rela-
tions (a greater number of roles, the broader presence of managers etc.)
and because companies that create speci c products still resemble more
traditional production organizations, they seemed to be a more interest-
ing research subject for the topic of this book. Moreover, knowledge-
intensive companies in the service and consulting sector can rely more
on propaganda and on the development of “persuasion systems”, that is,
20 The new knowledge workers
on convincing clients about the superiority of their solutions rather than
about their real expertise (Alvesson, 1993). This issue is much less visible
in companies that develop new products and solutions, which hence con-
stitute a clearer example of real knowledge-intensive companies.
Even though this book is based on several years of research on high-
tech rms and on interviews with engineers (mainly programmers) at
Polish and American companies, part of the ndings presented can be
successfully generalized, through analogies, for the greater population
of knowledge workers in the R&D sector. Nevertheless, whenever in this
interpretation the subject of knowledge workers is mentioned, it should be
taken into account that the practical part of the project has relied mainly
on software engineers.
THE IT REVOLUTION
One of the rst writers about the e ects of the IT revolution was Daniel
Bell (1973). He predicted the dawn of the post-industrial era, in which
services, and not production, would play a key role, while the highest
value added would be generated by the new-technology industry. The
social strati cation would be reshu ed, and new elites would be formed,
relying mostly on technological knowledge. Similarly, a belief in dispens-
ing with the traditional hierarchies was expressed by Serge Mallet (1975),
who predicted the sudden arrival in the mid 1980s of a “new working
class”, which would set aside procedures and rm hierarchies and replace
them with power based on quali cations and knowledge.
In turn, for some more skeptical futurologists, the progressive indus-
trialization process was not really a way of freeing employees from their
traditional hierarchies, but rather became a necessary next step toward
increasing a new type of grip over them (Zubo , 1988). This step would
be accomplished through the enhanced possibilities of precise surveil-
lance and through advances in IT. It would lead to the con nes of the
“iron cage”, that is, increased supervision over procedures and deepening
rational bureaucratic control (Ritzer, 1993; M. Weber, 2001). For such
authors, the shift in value chain from production quality to marketing and
branding would result in even more social oppression and a further deep-
ening of worker objecti cation (Klein, 2000).
Usually, neither, the skeptics nor the optimists question the increasing
role of specialist knowledge. At most, daring predictions to a great extent
eliminate traditional hierarchies and managerial roles and also reduce
many traditional institutions. According to one such analysis (Gephart,
2002, p. 334), the advances in the new technologies:
Transform the nature, form, and temporal aspects of work; in uence the struc-
ture and meaning of the workplace; and impact human relations in organiza-
tional settings . . . They also lead to changes in . . . power and authority [and]
communication and participation.
It should be noted that this idea is not a new one. Already Plato in his
dialogue The Republic had advocated governments made up of experts. As
Schön notices, a dream that organizations would reach a phase in which
they would be completely “meritocratic”, and that knowledge would be
as important for industry as steel used to be, is one of the big myths that
have been accompanying our civilization for centuries (Schön, 1983). It is
an attempt to create a “grand narrative” (Lyotard, 1987),2 or a powerful
myth about technological progress and the enlightened governance of the
The complete ful llment of such a vision would require a transforma-
tion of the essence of the power–knowledge relation, as described by
Foucault. According to the French philosopher, knowledge is an ability to
communicate sentences that in a given environment are accepted as true
(Foucault, 2000). This truth relies on discourse, and is a proposal for the
listener – yet it is also fundamentally linked to power. Social power barri-
ers also set knowledge barriers. For instance, one cannot be a criminolo-
gist when there are no prisons and no law enforcement systems in place
(Allen, 1999). Similarly, psychiatric diagnosis is “justi ed” because in
the discourse it is simultaneously linked to power (the actual authority to
label the patient as mentally ill and to restrain them). Power–knowledge
relations are, therefore, united, strengthening each other, yet without a
possibility, in social reality, of being independent of each other.
Moreover, together with increased power asymmetry (and vertical
control, replacing control through equal peers), the experts’ role grows in
signi cance, as they are considered to be better suited for proposing justi-
ed solutions (Bauman, 1998). Not only are the hierarchical elements not
eliminated from structures, or organizational relations democratized, by
the spread of the “knowledge society”, but in fact the perversely attractive
opposite hypothesis can be made: such change actually increases hierar-
chies and builds more layers of structures and nuances of power. This
happens because the higher the esteem the experts have, the more access
to knowledge is considered a privilege and must be formalized. Also, the
specialists themselves are strati ed at di erent levels of both competence
and assigned authority (Leicht and Fennell, 2001). At best, the main shift
in the revolutionary change described would be in moving from a general
knowledge to a localized, “genealogical” one (Jørgensen, 2002).
In the context of contemporary change, it does not make any sense to
talk about the replacement of traditional power division by an egalitarian
22 The new knowledge workers
system based more on competence – such a claim would be far too idealis-
tic. However, signi cant changes can be observed, which (though they do
not lead to the attening of organizational structures, or to “meritocratic”
organizations), do result in the shake-up of the current status quo. The
classic and clear division of functions between capital and labor may be
distorted – in practice many specialists (and managers) have to combine
both functions (Carter, 1985).
Organizational knowledge is also being rede ned. Again, it is not so
much a matter of its increased or decreased value, or of its share in product
development, but rather of some kind of shu ing of the social groups that
are validated to pass on judgments seen as legitimate by the others. In that
sense, this shu ing leads to changes in organizational power, and yet it
does not have to be directly linked to the power that is based on the right
to give orders. It is, rather, related to the power that is the authority to
make assessments and is understood not only as something we have, but
also as something given to us by others (Latour, 1986), and as carrying
with it the right to abstain from some submission rituals.
One of the main signs of these transformations is the creation of new
professions (in other words, the common acceptance of the rights of these
new professions to make authoritative judgments; address the topic of
“professions” in Chapter 4). That new elite is mostly made up of knowl-
edge workers (Brante, 1988, p. 123):
In contrast to the old bureaucracy, their positions do not rest on legal author-
ity, but on argument, reason, and knowledge. Therefore, they stand in a
politically contradictory relation to the “old guardians”, which they regard as
irrational and ignorant.
This revolution results in an obvious and inevitable organizational
con ict. The rise of the IT society and the role of knowledge-intensive
companies leads, in a very natural way, as indicated above, to a signi cant
At the same time, in organizational and management theory, there are
a surprisingly small number of scienti c publications that analyze this
important phenomenon from the point of view of high-tech companies.
Although there are many publications giving advice to managers on how
to deal with subordinates in high-tech industry (Williams, 2002), as well as
general DIY books on how to manage knowledge workers (Amar, 2002;
Horibe, 1999), or, more broadly, on organizational and hierarchical trans-
formation in the modern world, there are few studies that have focused
on employee perceptions. That is the aim of critical management theory
(Alvesson and Willmott, 2003; Knights and Willmott, 1999; Magala,
2009; Rehn, 2008), which so far has dealt relatively rarely with high-tech
employees (more often, as in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, it focuses on
Yet the study of employee perceptions and a partial understanding of
their group logic are of huge importance for a better description of the
ongoing phenomenon. They are, in fact, more interesting than those of the
managers, since the employees actually do the work. Moreover, in the case
of organizational animosities, where one of the active sides is taken by the
managers, their perception of organizational dynamics is of even less value
than usual – because their bias and subjectivity are increased.
Taking into account the obvious contradiction of organizational roles
between knowledge workers and managers, it can be expected that
the result of such a study will shed new light on the ongoing changes.
The research method particularly useful in such types of studies is an
interpretive organizational anthropology, because it allows for the use of
“the thick description” (Geertz, 1973) – that is, the opportunity to attain
the perception of the organizational actors themselves, understood in the
context of their activities and logic. This and other methodological issues
are described in more detail in Chapter 5.
1. According to the company’s Annual Report 2009, available at: http://www.ibm.com/
investor/ nancials/ nancial-reporting.wss (accessed 14 June 2010).
2. According to Lyotard, the term “grand narrative” or “metanarrative” is a kind of an
interpretation key, which existed in most centuries, and in modernism especially, as a
universal explanation of ongoing processes. One example of the grand narrative can be
the Enlightenment’s conviction that the development of rationalism and science would
lead to moral/ethical progress; or similarly the Marxist assumption that social liberation
is conditional on revolution. According to Lyotard, the postmodernist (or rather late
modernist) era is characterized by the skepticism and rejection of grand narratives, which
have been replaced by a series of “small”, so far unsuccessful, pretenses to take over the
role of the grand narrative.
4. Knowledge workers
This book is based on the study of programmers. In the literature they
fall into the category of knowledge workers, professionals, engineers and
white-collars. All these categories are justi ed, although each one takes
account of slightly di erent dimensions of their role, which is why these
terms and categories are the subject of this chapter.
In terms of broad simpli cation, it can be assumed that, for knowledge
workers, knowledge is as much the resource and means of production as
it is the result of their work (Newell et al., 2002). For them, to divide work
up into planning, scheduling and following the plan is a gross distortion.
This is a view which, as mentioned earlier, has appeared only recently and
is typical of the transformation process taking place in the knowledge-
Because this category of employees is relatively new and small, most
modern analysis of contemporary organizational transformation proc-
esses relates to manual workers and is linked to the quite obvious observa-
tion that the mechanization and computerization of production change
the character of manual work for more than they do that of intellectual
work. Experts who deal with the latest technologies in particular are
seldom the subject of these academic considerations. This is mostly due
to the novelty of their profession, (which makes them seem less prone to
changes). Second, a common belief is that through their link to technology
and access to knowledge they enjoy a privileged status, and may indeed
even seem to exist above and beyond typical organizational power play.
Despite appearances, however, the case is not so clear. The organizational
workplace in high-tech companies is subject to interesting changes – which
in addition can re ect on the manager–employee relation in more tradi-
High-tech company employees (and programmers in particular)
form a speci c knowledge worker subgroup that is in the process of
negotiating their organizational status and the creation of their profes-
sional roles – which is also what makes them a very interesting research
As was rightly noticed by John Van Maanen, (1977, p. 8), to the same
extent that people make careers, careers make people. Gandhi spoke in the
same spirit, saying that we become who we think we are.
The notion of the professional role has di erent meanings in various
academic disciplines. In organization and management theory, as well as
in sociology (but rather di erently from what we nd in for example psy-
chology, where we come across the cognitive theory of roles), social roles
are used mainly in two approaches:
In the functional concept, already used in the 1930s by Ralph Linton,
but coherently presented later in the work of Talcott Parsons (Parsons and
Shils, 1951), social roles refer to scripts of individual repetitive behaviors.
An individual has a designated position within a stable social system and
receives sets of expectations and standards that are related to his or her
occupational, organizational, family etc. role. This approach was popular
in science up until the end of the 1970s. Today, however, it is decreasing
in signi cance. In turn, the symbolic-interactive approach, commenced by
George Mead (1934), apart from sets of social expectations and standards
imposed on actors, puts emphasis on the dynamic creation of the roles,
with the participation of their performers. Thanks to this perspective, it is
easier to analyze the informal aspects of role creation (which are at least
as important as idealistic social behavioral patterns, and sometimes even
more so). The change of approach to the issue of social roles is a subject
of further analysis in the context of its in uence on the process of profes-
sionalization (see under “Professionals”, pp. 00 .); here it should only be
emphasized that this book takes the symbolic-interactive approach and
further links professional and organizational roles with ad hoc created
behavioral scenarios that result mostly from the socialization processes of
a speci ed group and the informal interactions within that group. Hence,
the subjects of special interest in this approach are all the beliefs, opinions,
behaviors and rituals of the members of a given group.
Of course, social roles, when so understood, are also created to a great
extent as a reaction to the roles suggested by other actors. In this sense,
girls who have been o ered (by their teachers, parents etc.) the roles of
well-behaved, polite young ladies who dislike mathematics soon start to
actually take such roles seriously and comply (Rothenbuhler, 2003, p. 90).
Thus, roles are under the in uence of (Kostera, 1996):
26 The new knowledge workers
Professional group dimension
Figure 4.1 Factors formulating professional roles
societal expectations (set for members of given groups, for example
priests are expected not to overuse alcohol in public, and IT special-
ists are allowed to walk around in torn trousers);
professional group expectations (played out among professionals, as
well as by each of them alone, i.e. assumptions made by them “about
organizational expectations (assumptions about the character of a
given role expressed by the organizational representatives).
These are summarized in Figure 4.1.
The acceptance of social roles (including professional ones) goes on
throughout one’s lifetime; however an education plays an important
role – it is a tool for communicating social expectations about a given
profession. That “speci c form of modern ritual” (Collins, 1990, p. 26)
relies not only on the real remittance of specialist knowledge but also (and
maybe mostly) on the strengthening of the professional role. A few years
of education and thinking of oneself as of a future performer in a given
profession can sometimes be more important than the knowledge gained
from study itself. This phenomenon is also related to the absorption of
perceptual standards: the rules for seeing the environment. For program-
mers, it is important, for example, to form an “appropriate” opinion on
ordinary users of computers, who are often treated with disrespect and are
looked down on as those without access to the knowledge available to the
“clued-up ones” (Jemielniak, 2008c).
Professional roles naturally involve an assumption both that playing
them requires special skills and preparation, and also that the actor
playing them does so almost without e ort (Go man, 2000, p. 75). In
this sense, formal education has the most signi cant symbolic value – it
supports professional monopoly, but also gives the impression that the
graduate is someone who, following graduation, has been created again
and singled out from the others, after the most liminal (i.e. transitional)
experience of social transformation (Turner, 1977).
Within all three dimensions (institutional, organizational, and profes-
sional), the apparent small displays of control are also very important.
Though expressed in a very subtle way, through language, artifacts and
rituals, they can have a huge impact. Even such neutral issues as the way of
formulating kitchen equipment instructions can, according to Elizabeth B.
Silva (2000), serve to maintain gender and power-relation roles. Minor as it
might seem, the change in the way those addicted to alcohol are described,
from “being a drunk” to “becoming an alcoholic”, resulted in a major
shift in the ways alcoholism was perceived. As Richard H. Brown (1998)
shows, this linguistic nuance possibly led to development of help centers for
addicts in hospitals and medical clinics, and to the disappearance of centers
managed by the churches. These observations lead to an important conclu-
sion: even seemingly mundane and insigni cant behaviors and customs, as
well as the vocabulary used for describing social reality, are worth analyz-
ing, as they may be symptomatic of bigger issues and cultural changes.
The professional and institutional dimension of a group is mostly de ned
through socialization at the workplace. Because of that, workers know
who to respect, who to ignore, what is right and what is wrong (Konecki,
1992). They learn who they should be like, just as much as they unlearn the
undesired identities, and the process’s organizational oblivion and “empty
spaces” – i.e. areas and topics avoided in everyday organizational life (Ciuk
and Kostera, 2010; Kociatkiewicz and Kostera, 1999) are just as important
for understanding workplace reality as organizational learning is.
A solid analysis of the processes of maintaining social roles can be
achieved for example through a situational study (non-participant obser-
vation) or a narrative study (an analysis of statements and interactions,
as well as organizational myths and stories). A study of the narratives
constructed only by representatives of a single professional group has the
advantage of directly approaching that group’s convictions (Jemielniak
and Kostera, 2010). Although in statement analysis it is di cult to
approach information on “how it really is” in the organization (a great
challenge also for other research methods), it is easier to study the basic
development process of professional roles: they are created through what
the performing actors say and think (Boje, 1991; Feldman and Skölberg,
2004), and also through their myths and archetypes (Kostera, 2007,
2008b). That is why it is also interesting to study the prejudices and the
stereotypes if they are typical for the majority of that profession’s repre-
sentatives (Gill, 2003).
Professional roles are an important part of employee identity. This is one
reason why, according to some authors, the study of professional groups
is even more important than the study of organizations themselves (Van
Maanen and Barley, 1984). For many people, position and its prestige
are of signi cant importance, which is why they are willing to make huge
sacri ces to look their best in it, sometimes despite any obvious economic
28 The new knowledge workers
interest. As Go man observes (1961, p. 63), a professional can behave in a
very modest way in the street, yet put in a lot of e ort to show o their com-
petences in the social circle in which their professional activity takes place.
What is interesting is that the feeling of professional pride in practice
applies to all occupations without exception, regardless of society’s per-
ception of the given activity. There is a strong need to feel that we are
doing something important and useful and for each profession to o er
some kind of pride to its members. Even strippers emphasize that they
play an important therapeutic role, prostitutes and pimps believe that
because of them there are fewer rapes and divorces, and for thieves their
activity partially serves as a readjustment of unjust social di erences
(Bryan, 1966; Trice, 1993).
The variety of roles performed by workers and professionals is almost
in nite. The subject of this book is knowledge workers; hence it is impor-
tant to di erentiate and specify who falls into that category and how that
category ts the existing typologies.
In the sociology of work and professions, a classic division is into manual
(“blue-collar”) workers and o ce (“white-collar”) workers. Despite
appearances, this division is relatively conventional and is not associated
only with purely physical (or not) aspects of work. Smith et al. (1996), as
an example, note that secretaries are counted as white-collar workers while
technicians who install phones are regarded as manual workers. They
notice that this division relies more on the span of control, the location of
the employee and the social prestige of the occupation than on the number
of manual activities necessary for the work.
In reality, it is di cult to explain logically why a creative, brilliant
plumber is still regarded as a manual worker, and an old-fogy dentist
who mechanically and routinely does the simplest procedures, undisput-
edly falls into the intellectual worker category (Jemielniak, 2005). Only
by drawing attention to social status (professionalism, formal education
and prestige) does it become clear that the division of work aims mostly
to di erentiate those workers who, under some circumstances, have a
right to express their opinions, from other workers who mainly have to
follow orders. A erce competition over whose work is to be recognized
as non-manual goes on all the time between various professional groups
(Meiksins, 1985). According to Harry Braverman (1974), work organiza-
tion on a production line is greatly determined not by its functionality but
in a symbolic way – a worker who has to work for his or her “master” in
doing so becomes similar to the machines, and the technology is only one
of the ways of emphasizing that asymmetrical social relation.
It should be noted also that the IT revolution and the development of
“the smart machines”, as Shoshana Zubo (1988) calls them, results also
(as mentioned earlier) in an increased scope of employee control. Although
at the beginning of the twentieth century mechanical supervision over
employees was limited to time cards stamped on entering and leaving the
production site (the rest being imposed by the pace of the work and human
supervisors), the contemporary scope and detailed control, thanks to IT
developments, is almost in nite. Manual workers work under the supervi-
sion of cameras, so their e ectiveness is constantly monitored. Moreover,
unlike when there is a human supervisor present, in case of CCTV it is
much more di cult to tell if they are being watched or not (more precisely,
whether whoever sits at the other end of the cable is looking at the monitor
at that very moment or whether the camera is recording or not).
The common accessibility and low prices of the control systems result
in the degradation of occupations traditionally considered as white-collar,
for example sta at a post o ce or a bank counter. Clerical professions are
rapidly declassi ed – i.e. downgraded and deskilled – and in the same time
there are fewer jobs for factory workers.
In that sense, we can really discuss manual work only conventionally,
even if it requires more real knowledge and skill than many “intellectual”
activities. The main distinctive feature of blue-collar work is the expecta-
tion of total submission to the manager, in a spirit not far removed from
Taylorism (Taylor, 1911/1998). Indeed, manual work is the one category
in which an employer’s rst expectation of an employee is their undisputed
obedience to orders.
Based on that division, the programmers studied quite obviously fell
into the white-collar category. The distinction, however, does not take
any analysis much further; hence, it has to be supplemented with a more
modern typology of professions.
A profession is a speci c kind of intellectual occupations The noun pro-
fessio in Midieral Latin meant the taking of church vows. Later, besides
priests, into the category of professionals fell doctors and lawyers, so that
“the professions” came to signify these three occupations until modern
times (Collins English Dictionary, 2007). Professionalization theory can
be a useful analytical tool to examine the processes that are taking place
among intellectual workers.
30 The new knowledge workers
Probably the clearest de nition of professionalism is given by one of the
well-known researchers on that issue, Eliot Freidson, who writes (2001,
p. 12) that the term refers to the institutional conditions under which rep-
resentatives of the given profession, and not the consumers or the manag-
ers, control the work – its access, processes and results.
Traditionally, professions were seen quite idealistically. The process
of professionalization was perceived as addressing some social need to
meet the requirements for high-quality services and their standardization
– hence it was believed that professions evolve in peace, to some extent,
out of the goodness of the heart (this approach is directly related to the
functionalists’ understanding of the social roles mentioned earlier).
The consecutive phases and necessary distinctive features of a profes-
sion were distinguished, and the given job had to meet those criteria to
be considered a profession. The common requirements for professions
included the following criteria (Carr-Saunders and Wilson, 1933; Goode,
1957; Wilensky, 1964):
A body of professional knowledge based on scienti c theory.
2. A course of education (usually higher), lasting a few years and prepar-
ing one to work and exhibit real competences and knowledge of the
culture and customs of one’s profession.
3. The clients’ welfare and social service forming an important source of
The work performed addressing signi cant social needs (health care,
lifesaving, solving serious con icts, etc.).
5. The work possessing an autonomous character, with its assessment
mostly in the hands of other members of the same profession.
6. Membership in the profession being long-term, with a strong percep-
tion of professional community and solidarity.
7. A highly developed code of ethics and internal rules of conduct.
The subsequent sociological literature has withdrawn from the peace-
ful view of a profession. It was quickly noticed that the professionaliza-
tion process relies mostly on groups who battle over power, prestige and
autonomy, rather than relying simply on altruism (Marks and Thompson,
2010). As was indicated in the previous subsection, the scienti c knowl-
edge of a given profession is of course socially constructed, inextricably
intertwined with power and is the subject of constant inter-subjective
negotiations, which in uence the perception of the status of that given
profession (Blackler, 1993).
It has been also noticed that professionalization theory is useful in
the analysis of many jobs, but some of them do not necessary meet all
the theoretical conditions. Additionally, the order of accomplishing the
phases in the theoretical professionalization model has proven to be very
dubious. That is why Andrew D. Abbott, in his highly acclaimed work The
System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor, suggested
that it is more sensible to withdraw altogether from attempts to de ne
the necessary phases or di erentiators of professionalization. Instead, he
suggested focusing on the social processes through which occupations lay
claim to speci c knowledge and operational areas as their own (Abbott,
The basic contemporary di erentiator of a profession is, therefore,
the speci c ability to seize a de ned “jurisdiction”, an area in which the
representatives of that given profession are considered to be competent.
Occupations compete against each other for legitimization. That rivalry
may, as a side e ect, be bene cial for society, as it is one of the reasons why
a profession requires continuous supplemental training for its members,
regardless of basic university education (Ben-David, 1971). Claims to rec-
ognition of the exclusive rights to particular turfs are particularly e ective
if society believes that those professional activities not only require knowl-
edge and skills but also will signi cantly increase both people’s security of
and their wealth, especially in situations where the potential losses are great.
A natural and indispensable element of the system of professions is the
dispute among various occupations over assigning problems to areas of
specialization (Abbott, 1988). Thus, it becomes very important to have
the ability to de ne social problems in the language appropriate for the
given profession. For example, depending on the manner of describing a
situation, a child’s conduct can be described as “hyperactive” (a medical
problem: psychiatric consultation is required and possibly a pharmaceuti-
cal treatment); “rude” (the problem lies within the upbringing psychology,
its solution requiring consultation with a family counselor or psychologist
and maybe one or more therapeutic sessions); “sinful” (also a behavioral
problem, but requiring a consultation with an priest and maybe prayer);
“unappeased” (a problem with organizing activities, suggesting the need
for consultation with a sports coach or youth tutor); and so on.
Professions ercely compete with each other over the areas in which they
are competent. A very good example from some countries is the debate,
from the early twentieth century, between accountants and nanciers,
which has resulted in the seizure by the rst group of the rights to de ne
and assess accounting standards in organizations. Similar is the current
process of psychoanalysts gaining independence and taking the position
previously assigned to psychiatry and psychology (Leveille, 2002), or the
constant con ict between lawyers and tax advisers on the scope of their
respective authorities (Felstiner, 2005).
32 The new knowledge workers
Hence, a profession is di erent from a common occupation in its ability
to gain independence and to reserve to itself the area in which its represent-
atives are considered to have full social legitimacy to make judgments and
to supervise the process and the results of work (Cullen, 1978). Members
of occupations that are successfully professionalized are therefore, granted
in part, the power to take independent actions, regardless of the employing
Joseph A. Raelin believes (1986) that in many organizations, and in
knowledge-intensive ones in particular, there is a con ict between man-
agers and professionals. According to him, the con ict is due not only to
contradicting interests (and competition over prestige, authority, resources
etc.) but also to a fundamental culture clash. On one side is the corporate
culture and on the other a strong occupational culture represented by the
professionals, who identify themselves mostly with their job and not the
corporation. This division has already been observed by Alvin W. Gouldner
(1957), who made a distinction between “cosmopolitans”, or employees
whose loyalty depends mostly on their professional role and “locals”,
those employees whose loyalty is to their organization. Similar tensions are
observed in software corporations, too (D’Mello and Eriksen, 2010).
In fact, contemporary professionals typically de ne their roles in relation
to their clients and not to their organizations or their managers (Larson,
1993). It is one of the “consequences of modernity”, as Anthony Giddens
(1990) puts it, that expert knowledge is more and more widespread, and
there are fewer and fewer sentences which can be sensibly uttered without
a specialist background. Expert status allows its holders to bypass the
organizational hierarchies – a manager is thus seen as someone without
the appropriate training to make decisions. Professionals, who mostly
have relations with clients, often perceive their supervisors as incompetent
and even as interfering in their work (Jemielniak, 2007b). Many profes-
sionals often earn more than their managers – this is particularly the case
for example at corporations that trade in nancial instruments (Lewis,
1989). In some cases, when their authority is considerable and the profes-
sional status is stable, professionals take over actual control of an organi-
zation, by forming a “professional bureaucracy” (Mintzberg, 1993).
The professionals’ specialist authority is so great that they can ques-
tion managerial roles. Professionals often believe that (Trice, 1993, p. 41)
members of their given professions and not the managers should control
the most important aspects of the work. This view is in clear contrast
with the managerial assumptions – namely, that the managers should
control the majority of the prerogatives.
This con ict, according to neo-Marxist analysis, results in part from
the proximity of professional and managerial roles. Some analyses suggest
that the managers themselves form a speci c profession (Koźmiński,
1999; Leicht and Fennell, 2001), which on the one hand tries to keep its
autonomy from the owners and does not allow investors to be in control
and make decisions, and on the other tries to subordinate all other profes-
sions to it, as these others are an obvious threat. At the same time, profes-
sionals may take over the managerial roles to a great extent. A managerial
model of reimbursement founded on, apart from basic salary, share option
o ers at a company, in the IT industry relates to knowledge workers in
particular. For Poulantzas (quoted in Burris, 1999), professionals and,
more broadly, intellectual workers, because of their professional roles,
strengthen the ideological dominance of the managers (by separating
common employees from the production processes, and through usurping
and monopolizing their areas of competence).
Professionals, as Freidson (2001, p. 151) states, are subjected to the ruling
class, but they also often have supervisory functions. Their interactions with
subordinates, their social status, their institutional authority and their for-
mally justi ed expert knowledge all emphasize respect and power distance.
Seeing professionalism only in terms of class struggle, however, does not
do justice to the topic. Table 4.1 re ects these classi cation problems, by
showing the di erent typologies of the popular theorists.
When describing the future of the intellectual professions and the devel-
opment of a new social class, while at the same time criticizing the basis
of the Marxist analysis, Gouldner (1979) had already in the 1970s pointed
to the inadequacy of the classic typologies for categorizing knowledge
workers and technical laborers.
According to Ronald M. Pavalko (1971) the increased signi cance of
a given profession results naturally in the development of its professional
loyalty (as opposed to an organizational loyalty). Professionals, regard-
less of their individual economic position, feel more related to their peers
than to their employers. They are collectively placed somehow between
traditionally de ned classes, or, to use the terminology of Eric O. Wright
(1985), they have “contradictory class locations”, that combine aspects
typical of several groups.
It is di cult to negate the importance of reaction speed, of liquidity
and of the value of information in the modern world (Castells, 1996),
even if they seriously deprive many people of actual choices and limit
their freedom (Bauman, 2007). The standard explanation given as to why
the structures of many companies are becoming atter and atter (a fact
certain at least in the management literature discourse, which in itself is
to make the meme of attering structures interesting enough) is that it
is in response to the need for faster reactions. It is worth noting however
that the structural changes can also be the result of the increased role of
Table 4.1 Social classes based on the di erent theories
Detailed social class Social class by Social class by Social class by Social class by Social class by Wright
group Poulantzas Mills Ehrenreich Carchedi
Managers and New middle class Managers and
New middle managerial class
Technical workers Quasi-mechanical
New small class
and professionals workers (by
manual workers Proletariat
Productive manual Proletariat
Liu (2004, p. 33).
professionals in organizations. Although many researchers point out that
the modern organization values expert knowledge highly, the majority still
consider that process to be a consequence of global organizational change,
rather than a reason for the change itself. Of course, the cause and e ect
can be di cult to di erentiate here. It should be remembered, however,
that in the con ict between managers and professionals, managers often
resort to outsourcing expert activities, so as to make for the almost com-
plete elimination of competition for power, prestige and authority within
the organization. Thus, structures may be becoming atter and atter
because also of the rivalry of the management with the professionals. This
rationale helps us understand why organizations decide to employ “free-
lancers” even in situations when it is more costly to do so than to hire full-
time employees, and when they need quali ed personnel on a long-term
basis (S.R. Barley and Kunda, 2004).
Another interesting observation was that by Valerie Fourier (1999),
who claims that the usage of professional ethos and the provision of the
name tag “professional” to de ne a job can be, quite perversely, a mana-
gerial control tool. People who believe that they are members of a profes-
sion try to work better and in a more reliable way, thus imposing higher
standards. In this sense, the ideology of professionalism is a variation of
normative control (Kunda, 1992). The same spirit can be found in the
work of Philip Kraft (1977), who indicates that the process of imposing
professional identity on programmers is an organizational way to increase
their e ciency – and also to reduce their salaries, because exchanging
information about pay is considered “unprofessional”. Employees in the
Kraft study did not compare their incomes, which allowed the company to
keep their salaries at a lower level.
Similar and other managerial strategies to execute control over intel-
lectual workers, and professionals in particular, have been the subject
of academic discourse in recent years (Winstanley, 1996). Of particular
interest is the study of the professionalization process at the cutting edge
of social changes, as described earlier, and its relation to the development
of the IT society. Engineers and programmers are a good example of the
new technical professions.
The appearance of computer technology and its related professions has
shaken up the current professional system. IT processes can be found in
all industries, and IT experts have quickly been awarded high status and a
new, previously unoccupied scope of competence (Abbott, 1988).
36 The new knowledge workers
Contemporarily, software runs almost all electronic equipment from
alarm clocks and TV sets to banking and life support systems. Unnoticed,
algorithms and programming codes have led to the reduction of the areas
subject to social negotiation, for example through the introduction of a
limited number of choice options in automated hotlines or through copy-
right rules, embedded in standard user agreements made for program or
music CDs, that are uniform with only one speci c legal system, namely
that of the US (Lessig, 1999). The in uence of software and thus of the
knowledge workers who develop it in every area of social life cannot be
overestimated. At the same time, direct management control over pro-
gramming is impossible. Even though software engineering shares many
similarities with both engineering and production work, in some aspects
it is diametrically di erent (because of, for example, the fuzzy division
between the respective roles of designer and performer, as well as the less
obvious ownership of the means of production).
Technical workers, or engineers at least, have traditionally been con-
sidered as cooperating with managers (C. Smith, 1996). For many neo-
Marxists they have constituted an intermediary group between the manual
workers and the supervisors (C. Smith, 1987) or a speci c subgroup within
the ones in charge. David Noble even makes a point that (1979, p. 30) the
elimination of human errors and uncertainty, as for example in a modern
“zero defects” system, is a way of expressing the need of the owners of
capital to reduce their dependence on workers. Since this process is per-
formed by and through engineers, it exempli es the contrasting interests
within the capitalist production system. It should be remembered that
management has been for quite some time considered as a kind of variation
of engineering applied to humans (Noble, 1977; Shenhav, 1999), and there
are still many technocrats among managers who are fascinated by indica-
tors, algorithms and quantitative management models (Koźmiński, 1977).
Of course, also from the class struggle perspective, engineers are a privi-
leged group, greatly interested in maintaining both the status quo and the
system in which manual workers’ jobs are constantly de ned as generat-
ing the lowest value added (Burawoy, 1979). According to some authors
they even sometimes identify more with the organization than with their
occupation (Kunda and Van Maanen, 1999, p. 64): “[M]anagers and pro-
fessionals (particularly engineers) are those who most closely identify with
the companies for whom they work.”
Without a doubt, both groups are on the better side of the “digital divi-
sion”, which additionally enhances their position. Alvin and Heidi To er
have called the increase in the dominance of knowledge-intensive work
over manual work a replacement of the proletariat by a “cognitariat”
(To er and To er, 1995, p. 55). From this point of view, social position
is determined not by the relationship to the means of production, but by
the nature of information technologies. The “proletariat” (or “informa-
tion lumpenproletariat”) includes people who use IT in a passive way,
by watching TV or playing computer games. The “cognitariat” consists
of those individuals who use IT resources in an active and conscious
way, though they have no in uence on their content. The “digitariat”,
however, is a category of people who not only use technology uently, but
also develop the knowledge transmitted by it and construct the informa-
tion systems. Among digitarians there is an obvious division into power
elites, those who create information and develop its remittance by others,
and a special subgroup of technical workers that remain subject to their
dominion but create tools that allow the distribution of information. The
latter are the digital supervisors, helping the privileged caste. Engineers
are the wealthy representatives of the ruling class, potentially capable of
subversion and seizure of power, by keeping control over the development
of algorithms and information management systems (Krzysztofek, 2007).
This line of thinking is in part similar to the neo-Weberian tradition, in
which technical workers usually have administrative functions, and, in
part, executive ones (Zussman, 1985).
On the face of it, engineers, in the IT industry in particular, constitute
a very speci c group of their own, escaping easy classi cation. In some
instances, in an obvious way, engineers fall into the white-collar category
(for example architects, software designers etc.). In some instances, however,
despite a higher education, they have jobs similar to those in the blue-collar
category and are subjected to the same kind of supervision (for example tech-
nicians who arrange equipment, some operators of technical hotlines etc.).
As an interesting study by Abigail Marks and Chris Baldry (2009) shows,
many IT employees feel themselves to be “working class”, even though they
perceive their occupation as belonging to the “middle class”.
Stephen Barley noticed (S.R. Barley, 1992) that technical workers and
engineers while mostly craftsmen, could be classi ed within almost any
professional group (excluding managers), according to their diversi ed
capabilities of transferring knowledge into their di erent organizational
contexts, and also based on their diversi ed authority regarding manage-
ment and supervision (Table 4.2).
According to other authors, many professionals activities directly seen
as involved in software development closely resemble craftwork or even
low-level managerial work and under no conditions can be classi ed as
knowledge-intensive employment, or the work of professionals (Marks
and Scholarios, 2007). As Peter Cappelli (2001, p. 94) believes, “Aside
from pay, many IT jobs – but especially computer programming jobs –
would qualify as lousy work.”
38 The new knowledge workers
Table 4.2 Professional categories
Authority to Ability to use a great part of one’s
give orders and knowledge in other organizations
supervise Low High
O ce workers Craftsmen
Source: S.R. Barley (1992, p. 13).
Table 4.3 Types of IT profession
Specialist System designer, analyst, Technical support
Old-stager Programmer, coder Software/hardware
To outsiders, di erences within the engineering environment can seem
insigni cant, but for insiders they are obvious and very important. These
di erences are particularly visible in the IT industry. Additionally, both
among white-collars and blue-collars, true specialists (independently creat-
ing value for a company based on their knowledge, or using that knowledge
creatively to solve problems) can be distinguished from average but solid
“old stagers” (performing very repetitive and reproductive tasks). Examples
of the IT professions within those two divisions, based on research and
interviews, can be found in Table 4.3. Paradoxically, the old stagers are
characterized by a higher level of job security (the need for their services is
very stable in any organization), while specialists often work on the project
base – this tendency is visible in the IT industry in general (S.R. Barley and
Even though it is di cult to argue that many engineers don’t identify
with their work (this is typical of many of the modern professions, but
also, as mentioned earlier, of managers), the post-industrial transforma-
tion processes described earlier distinctively in uence the polarization
of organizational roles; thus engineers from the white-collar group are
de ned to a greater extent in relation to and by di erentiation from
managers (Whalley, 1986). They are often in strong opposition to
the management, and manifest this in any way possible, for example
through the dismissal of the displays of the managerial professional
culture (Jemielniak, 2007b; Prager, 1999; Strannegård and Friberg,
Taking into account that the technical professions are, according
to some, an avant-garde of organizational transformation (Bell, 1973;
Mallet, 1975), it is clear that the distinction between a professional and
a manager, as described earlier, is highly visible to those in the technical
professions. This book tackles only engineers (mainly software engineers,
to be exact) who perform intellectual work, and hence it covers mainly
white-collar specialists, and to a much lesser extent technicians. Software
engineers may well be a key professional group that should be analyzed in
the study of knowledge workers.
Owing to the organizational and social transformation processes
described, knowledge workers, who include the high-tech engineers
studied, escape an unequivocal classi cation as professionals, but neither
do they t the features typical for craftwork (Table 4. 4). There are at least
a few tendencies among professions in the IT industry. Some groups try to
increase their professional elitism, but some also act contrarily, even trying
to pauperize high-tech employees. For instance, in the US in 1998, thanks
to a group of Microsoft employees, WashTech (Washington Alliance
of Technology Workers) was established. Following a merger with the
Communications Workers of America, the largest communications and
media union, the group now has 700,000 members, calls actively for new
members and also appears in industry papers (Blain, 2001). Candidates
are encouraged to join (original formatting):1
Myth: Unions are for blue-collar workers
Reality: The problems facing IT workers aren’t so di erent from other
parts of the work force–long hours, poor bene ts, limited job security, and
career immobility. The number of white-collar professionals in unions has
been increasing steadily over the last several decades. Engineers at Lockheed-
Martin and Boeing, researchers holding advanced degrees at the University
of California, and professional airline pilots are some examples. Even
medical doctors have started their own union, to act collectively in negotia-
tions with HMO’s. As the high-tech economy slumps and mega-mergers rise,
high-tech workers need the collective power of a union to make sure their
interests are represented. IT unions also nd common cause with other trade
unions across the country, and work together to ght for the rights of all
40 The new knowledge workers
Table 4.4 Professionals and knowledge workers
Feature Professionals Common Engineers/
performers knowledge workers
Capabilities and Knowledge Basic capabilities Knowledge
knowledge also and capabilities and knowledge and capabilities
in possession of protected and widely accessible, protected, but
outsiders. of an “esoteric” though advanced of an “esoteric”
character. or precision character.
Professional usage rare. Occasionally
knowledge amateurs can
resources not possess them.
from the outside.
High – usually Low–possible Usually higher
specialist apprenticeship education required,
required. though not always a
education. bachelor’s and/or
master’s degree is
Weight on on- Low – useful, but The highest – High – often
the-job of a secondary how apprentices indicated as
training. aspect. learn the job. particularly
Intellectual and Mostly analytical Mostly manual Very important
also manual and intellectual work. intellectual aspect,
aspect of work work. but also has
balance. presence of manual
Professional Development Trade unions rare Associations rare,
organizations. of associations and uncommon. industry magazines
(often licensing popular.
Necessary to Yes. No. Very rare.
have formal job
Access- High. Low. Low.
Source: S.R. Barley (1992, p. 14).
It is surprising to what extent militant rhetoric has found a place in the
high-tech industry (commonly perceived as diametrically di erent from
the realities of the “old” economy), among highly paid white-collars.
In any given case, the development of the trade union does not follow
that of a professional association, which monitors work standards and
limits job access. Rather, this is a classic body representating workers
in collective bargaining with the employer(s). In the short term, without
a doubt, the development of trade unions helps in a battle to improve
working conditions and get better pay and working hours, as well as
improved job security (Jaarsveld, 2004). It should be noted though that, at
the same time, this is a very hazardous step as regards the professionaliza-
tion of high-tech jobs. It openly contradicts that process, making it very
di cult simultaneously to maintain both the image of an elite, based on
individual capabilities, aptitudes and specialist professional knowledge,
and the picture of the membership of an occupation that holds power over
the employer based on the sheer number of associated members.
Thus, the ever more visible advance towards elitism and professional-
ism by programmers and, more broadly, IT engineers (Adams, 2007) that
has taken place in recent years should surprise no one. However, even that
process does not run on parallel lines in every country. There are di erent
tendencies and aspirations visible in the case of each competing profes-
sional association (Ensmenger, 2001).
There is no doubt that a broad understanding of the terms “profession”
and “professional” frequently encompasses knowledge workers as well,
and the literature on the professionalization process can be useful in that
analysis. It is worth noting however that there are di erences and warn-
ings as indicated above, and as also suggested by, among others, Mats
Alvesson (2004). He criticizes the traditional professional literature (de n-
ing it as narrow and idealistic), but he also emphasizes the open character
of many knowledge-intensive professions, as opposed to the classic profes-
sions, which try to limit access to the performance of work falling within
the competence in question to the members of the professional association
or those in possession of formal education in a given area. One of the most
important di erences between o ce professionals and knowledge workers
is their approach to formalities and bureaucracy.
1. Quote taken from: http://www.washtech.org/about/mythsandrealities.php (accessed 17
5. Research methods and the
The present book is based on research ndings from a ve-year (2004–08)
ethnographic project. Organizational anthropology has enjoyed growing
popularity in the academic world recently. As some authors have indi-
cated, general qualitative and interpretative research methods have in
recent years become gradually more important for organizational and
management theories than have approaches that are purely quantitative
(Prasad and Prasad, 2002).
Methodological and paradigmatic pluralism in science and management
theory can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage in the eld. There
was a very erce discussion at the beginning of the 1990s in two of the most
frequently cited management journals, between Je rey Pfe er (Stanford
University) and John Van Maanen (MIT). The rst argued (Pfe er, 1993,
1995) that the implementation of only one type of research (quantitative)
would help to focus on the most important problems, whereas the latter (Van
Maanen, 1995a, 1995b) believed that a variety of di erent approaches and
interdisciplinary inquiry in the eld of management study is an important
source of its power. A similar opinion to that of Van Maanen, though more
balanced, was expressed by other authors (Cannella and Paetzold, 1994).
It is di cult to decide unequivocally which side is right (and there are
no neutral parties in that argument); however it has become clear that
Pfe er’s stance, although recognized as part of the scholarly environment,
has not signi cantly in uenced any change within the scienti c eld for 15
years. There are still many competing paradigms and the war is far from
over (Tadajewski, 2009; Woźniak, 2010), while the extremists on both
sides deny academic status to their opponents.
This is certainly harmful to the development of our science. According
to some current quantitative research (Glick et al., 2007) it leads directly
to the development of unclear criteria and arbitrary decisions both in the
selection of articles for publication in the academic journals of our dis-
cipline, and in the processing of applications for grants. More broadly,
it makes it di cult to promote interesting and knowledge-enriching
research while it also gives an impression of management studies as a
confrontational and unscienti c eld.
Research methods and the organizations studied
That is why it is essential to emphasize that in this book, though its bulk
is based mostly on qualitative research ndings, there are small, though
supplementary, quantitative mini-analyses. I value and occasionally use
quantitative methods – guided mostly by pragmatism not ideology, in line
with the recommendations of many representatives of “action research”
(Greenwood and Levin, 1998; Reason and Bradbury, 2001). Quantitative
methods are surely the best tools in many areas of research – yet in some
instances qualitative ones are better suited, providing a richer (or supple-
mentary) view of social reality. This is the case here both for the research
presented and for the issues studied.
In line with the chosen method rules (Czarniawska-Joerges, 1992;
Kostera, 2003), the following parts of this chapter include the description
of the chosen paradigm, research method and analytical tools.
The concept of paradigm in science has been around since the publication
of Thomas S. Kuhn’s famous book (1962) on the structural revolutions in
the way the world is perceived.1 Initially the term was a very vague one,
with 22 di erent meanings o ered in the book; later it was clari ed and
currently it is almost undisputedly understood as a set of fundamental and
impossible-to-verify (hence taken at face value) assumptions on the nature
of the world (Kuhn, 1985).
Relatively quickly, the term was adopted by the social sciences. One of
the best-known divisions of paradigms within organizational theory was
presented by Gibson Burrell and Gareth Morgan (1979), who di erenti-
ated between four basic sociological theories (Table 5.1). According to
Burrell and Morgan (1979, p. 24): “Positioning within the given paradigm
means seeing the world in a given way. Four paradigms conceptualize four
social opinions, in terms of di erent metatheoretical assumptions about
the nature of the social sciences and society.”
This observation implies that adopting and being aware of one’s own
paradigm is necessary to maintain scienti c reliability. In their research,
positivists often omitted the paradigmatic assumptions to build a solid
academic image and to given the impression of their own “objectivity”.
Contemporarily, rhetoric of that kind is quite ine ective, and is often
considered to be more a major methodological mistake than just a cheap
rhetorical trick (Golden-Biddle and Locke, 1997).
Burrell and Morgan (1979), much like Kuhn, believed that individual
paradigms are “incommensurable”, and cannot be integrated – a view I
also share (B. Czarniawska, 2001). Although the triangulation of research
44 The new knowledge workers
Table 5.1 Paradigms in organization studies
The role of science The role of science is to
is descriptive; social discover a cognitive wedge
reality is quite solid. between the individual
and his consciousness,
and change the world
by showing the social
Social reality is objective; Functionalism Radical structuralism
all social names/
concepts are used to
structure reality on a
Social reality is subjective Interpretivism Radical humanism
and not constant; the
dynamically create it.
Source: Burrell and Morgan (1979).
methods is acceptable and even advisable in classic qualitative research,
paradigmatic triangulation is often considered unacceptable (Konecki,
2000). Some contemporary authors on the other hand believe that in the
social sciences the process of mixing paradigms is in some instances theo-
retically possible, although it requires teamwork (Kelemen and Hassard,
2003; Schultz and Hatch, 1996).
Thus, as the author of the book, I need to state my position on this divi-
sion. I nd radical humanism’s paradigm assumptions very appealing: for
example, the ability to change the world for the better or to help unprivi-
leged social groups, with the action research movement (Chrostowski
and Jemielniak, 2008; Jemielniak, 2006). I also appreciate the function-
alist paradigm for its practical focus. This work, however, is not multi-
paradigmatic and relies on the interpretive paradigm, which is often the
case for qualitative researchers.
In line with that choice, this book relies on the social constructivist
approach (Berger and Luckman, 1967). That posits the assumption that
reality has an intersubjective character, and that its perception is created
within the realm of human relations. It does not mean that there should be
any negation of the material world – social constructivism is not engaged
in issues of ontology. As Barbara Czarniawska (2003) noticed, it is absurd
to refuse to stop at a red light, even though it is only a social contract.
Research methods and the organizations studied
Still, similarly absurd would be the refusal to discuss the same red light as
a symbolic representation “because it’s real”. Peter L. Berger and Thomas
Luckman (1967) use a very picturesque example in this same context: what
is real for the American businessman is not necessary equally real for a
Social constructivism does not take any sides in the realism–nominalism
debate. It is focused however on social perceptions, the ways of attributing
meanings and symbols to the perceived environment by the social actors.
Hence, it emphasizes an important element of the social world, namely that
each situation is a subject of the observer’s interpretation. This perception
of reality cannot be separated from its adequate conceptual categories,
individual baggage of experience, or “the nal vocabulary” (Rorty, 1989).
Reality is “unclear”, (Schütz, 1967), and thus is subjected to interpretation
only through personal, individual experience. In that meaning, reality is
socially constructed, because individual perception is the only tool for its
recognition. At the same time, it is one of the elements constantly present
in the process of its creation (Czarniawska-Joerges, 1992). That is why
Cli ord Geertz (1973, p. 5), the Nestor of contemporary interpretive
anthropology, believes, as he writes in one of his most frequently cited
passages (in which he uses directly a comparison taken from the work of
Max Weber), that “man is an animal suspended in webs of signi cance he
himself has spun . . . [and its study] . . . is not an experimental science in
search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”
The researcher cannot be separated from their understanding of the
world – they classify and lter that understanding through their own
history, knowledge and emotions. The researcher’s obligation is not, in
line with the assumed approach, to get to “how it really is”. Their duty
is, rather, to describe the studied group as accurately as possible, giving
justice to its representatives and showing its reliable scienti c interpreta-
tion. An analysis, like any other e ort, is (by its very nature) of a subjective
character; yet even though it abandons the objectivist rhetoric it allows for
a potentially higher authenticity of its ndings (Case, 2003).
The aim of interpretive analysis is to reach things that are important
for the social actors, including also those that are often perceived as
obvious, objective and not requiring discussion (Kostera, 2003). The
more the given phenomenon is unquestionable, the more it becomes
institutionalized; thus its objective existence is acknowledged (Latour,
1987), and uncritical legitimization is granted (Suchman, 1995). For the
researcher, an important challenge is to show the background and the
reasons behind such a state of things, thus approaching a more profound
meaning in apparently obvious explanations. Social reality in the inter-
pretive paradigm is dynamic, and the participants constantly change and
46 The new knowledge workers
give meaning to their peers, thus shaping their own social roles (Konecki,
2000; Weick, 1969).
Research metaphors, or epistemological assumptions, arise directly from
the chosen paradigm. They de ne the way an observer classi es reality
and also determine the method for its interpretation. As Gareth Morgan
(1997) notices, the world of an organization cannot be de ned or observed
without the acceptance of certain metaphors – though one might not
realize what metaphors are unconsciously presumed and thus held.
Research metaphors can be freely assumed; however, a basic limitation
is their usefulness. Only those that aid in understanding the situations
analyzed should be adapted, by introducing a value added into their con-
sideration and enhancing the view regarding the practical organizational
processes (Kwiatkowski, 2001; Płoszajski, 1985).
The basic metaphor assumed in this book is the cultural one – the
studied group is treated as a special kind of culture that can be analyzed
using ethnographic methods. Hence, culture is perceived as the “root”
metaphor (Smircich, 1983), with respect both to the software engineers’
community and to each organization as a whole. That means that organi-
zations and collectives do not have “cultures”, but rather are ones, and a
researcher can, as an ethnographer, therefore make an attempt to under-
stand them through an anthropological analysis.
An additional, supplementary metaphor is the one of organizational
reality as theatre. Researchers within the interpretive paradigm circle often
assume this metaphor because the term “social role” has an important
place in their vocabulary (more on this topic in the section “Professional
Roles” in Chapter 4). That role is treated as an element in both the peer
and the organizational pressures and in an individual’s subjective actions
The theatrical metaphor assumes that organizational participants, by
assuming, appointing, performing and developing a role, take part in a
kind of performance. In this performance the ability to adapt to the speci-
ed script (adjusting one’s own role to the roles played by others) comes
rst, but the skill of all in improving, the uency of each in applying his
or her own role, are also extremely important (Go man, 2000). Such an
approach emphasizes an interactive character in organizational reality
(Go man, 1961). Within management science, it also lays stress on the
fact that in order to understand a company’s operations it is important
to discover how each individual actor stages their act, how they create
Research methods and the organizations studied
their appearance and identity and the picture of their work in the context
of others, and how they de ne their own and others’ roles, how they
make sense of daily events, and what things bother them. This approach,
together with the cultural metaphor, is particularly useful in any interpre-
tation of observed symbolic events (Vlaar et al., 2010).
Accordingly, this book is not normative and does not present any rec-
ommendations made up and/or put forward by the researcher. It is rather
a look into the perceptions and convictions of knowledge workers and
a comparison of their representatives from two di erent countries. This
comparison can be useful for both executives and HR specialists, not to
mention knowledge workers themselves. The last group, thanks to the
comparison of their realities with descriptions of similar situations among
a few companies from two apparently di erent countries, are allowed to
see more clearly the conditions of their work. For executive management,
however, the presented work will allow an understanding of the view of
the speci c professional group, with no need of statistical generaliza-
tions. Thanks to this applied approach, the researcher (and, through the
research ndings, also the reader) can reach further interpretations and a
somewhat more general analysis, by nding analogies with situations and
cultures observed elsewhere.
Krzysztof Konecki (2000) points out that research methods are second-
ary to the assumed paradigm and research metaphors. That means that
even though quantitative and qualitative methods can be used within any
paradigm, their roles will be di erent depending on the approach – the
paradigm mostly determines not only the choice of methods (which are
simply operational tools), but, even more, the style and manner in which
they are used.
The basic research methods used for this book were the tools typical for
anthropology (Nachmias and Frankfort-Nachmias, 2001), i.e. unstruc-
tured, loosely directed interviews and non-participant observations,
Each of the interviews conducted lasted about an hour and was com-
pleted during working hours on company premises (or, on a few occa-
sions, at local diners over lunch breaks). In one case, two persons were
interviewed at the same time; however, that formula proved less e cient
than a one-to-one interview, and hence was not used again. That untypi-
cal interview was done separately from the studied companies, during
the process of gaining access to the research area and within the initial
48 The new knowledge workers
preparations for the project. Additionally, in the case of one interlocutor,
a programmer from California, three informal interviews were conducted
in 2004, 2005 and 2008.
All remaining interviews were recorded with the consent of the inter-
locutors and then transcribed. In every case that assent was conditional on
the guarantee to provide anonymity to the company and the individual,
and to hide or change all data that could be important on the competitive
market. In the case of two American companies that guarantee took the
form of a written agreement.
Iterative analyses of the interviews led to the identi cation of those of
the interview’s fragments that were most representative and interesting
with regard to further interpretation. The method used for the constant
comparison, taken from grounded theory, was applied: the category
concepts were saturated with new cycles of material-gathering (until they
were relatively stable). Additionally, the initial topics from the interviews
created new questions and a gradual clari cation of the basic theme axis of
the research report, as well as the reformulation of the research problem.
In all of the interviews, I tried to limit my narrative involvement and the
direction of the interviews, with most of the questions I asked being in fact
designed to keep the conversation owing. (Kostera, 2003).
Altogether, 89 interviews were conducted between 2004 and 2008, in two
Polish and three American companies (described in more detail later on).
Transcripts were completed in accordance with the rules of ethnometh-
odology (Silverman, 2005)–that is, with the most truthful resemblance to
whole statements, including pauses, repetitions and inclusions. The origi-
nal Polish fragments of the interviews were translated into English by the
author for the purpose of this volume.
The long-term, non-participant observations were done primarily
on-site at two companies, one Polish (PLOneos) and one American
(USVisualprog). The research at PLOneos and USVisualprog lasted ve
and four months, respectively. During that time, the observations took
place within working hours (from 9 a.m. to leaving with the last employee)
a few times a week, mostly in the o ces where the teams worked, but also
in social rooms (both companies had designated areas to make co ee,
have snacks and take short breaks) and at a couple of working meetings
of the USVisualprog team. One-day observations in the form of “shad-
owing” were conducted with two employees at PLOneos and three at
USVisualprog, which involved following them all the time at their work
and making notes. All workers with whom I interacted were aware that
I was in the process of gathering material for academic research. Both
organizations allowed the making of notes. When it was inconvenient to
take notes (for example during informal talks), they were written at the
Research methods and the organizations studied
earliest possibility thereafter. I was asked not to take notes during the
meetings I was invited to and thus made my eldnotes afterwards.
A supplementary method that enhanced the research ndings, through
tools triangulation within the studied phenomenon (Denzin, 1978), was a
narrative analysis of the stories. Over ten stories and anecdotes were gath-
ered, and a few were used in the further analysis.
For the same purpose, quantitative research was used to a limited
extent; the basic technique was chronometric analysis. I took notes of the
programmers’ activities and coded them, over a week of observations in
one room with programmers at PLOneos and USVisualprog. The par-
ticipants were not additionally informed about this mini-project, as it was
part of the more general observation. Additionally, I registered the length
of the interactions among those present in the room, the initial subject of
their conversations, and those who initiated the interactions. An impor-
tant research element was the measurement of the average daily work time
of the individual programmers. In order to eliminate di erences between
the various phases of the projects, both analyses were of the work of teams
who were in the preparation phase of implementation at the client site,
one month prior to the rst deadline. Although this was de nitely a deeply
imperfect solution, it reduced as much as possible the di erences due to
uctuations in the production cycle.
In both companies, I conducted semi-directed interviews with the HR
sta to obtain information on employee assessment criteria. In PLOneos, I
was granted access to the disclosed parts of the assessments. Additionally,
I asked HR managers and programmers to indicate who were the best pro-
grammers, and the lists so created were then analyzed with respect to the
time spent at work. At the end of each interview in both companies there
was a question about who at work was seen as the most helpful (who could
be asked for help), and also (in the case of programmers) whether they
ever did programming for pleasure. If the answer was a rmative, there
was a further question to indicate the last time that this situation occurred.
Each programmer was also asked whether they ever spent free time with
their colleagues (the possible answer being very often, often, sometimes,
seldom, hardly ever, or never).
THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
This was the question often posed in the literature–namely, whether
knowledge workers are a privileged professional group that could poten-
tially change the typical organizational structure and hierarchies in the
future. This is directly related to the issue of ways to execute control over
50 The new knowledge workers
knowledge workers and how that professional group perceives it. More
practically, the question could also be formulated as an attempt to under-
stand whether the workplace democratization process in a software deve-
lopment environment is actually taking place as regularly as it is said to
be in the literature. That is why the aim of the project was to describe the
workplace and the collectives of Polish and American knowledge workers
(speci cally, programmers) through their own eyes.
In line with the requirements of qualitative research (Silverman, 2005,
p. 77), the project commenced with a list of initial primary questions:
What are the relations of knowledge workers with each other, and
also with performers in other social roles?
How do knowledge workers perceive their jobs?
How do knowledge workers perceive organizational structures,
careers, hierarchies and power?
Do the organizational roles of knowledge workers di er signi -
cantly between countries?
How do programmers assess IT project processes?
These initial questions were only a general direction for an interview to
take, but they helped to start it o (W.F. Whyte and Whyte, 1984), and the
conversation was later continued in a more natural way. Also, the answers
provided to those initial questions changed my views on the issue, and led
to focus being given to issues initially considered insigni cant. At the same
time, issues at rst considered by me as worth exploring often became
relatively more shallow and di cult to analyze in practice.
The aim of this research was to indicate those conceptual categories
that are especially important to knowledge workers in software compa-
nies, and indeed de ne their workplace. Through showing what issues
are important to programmers and what issues their perception of work
revolves around, the project presented the topic of knowledge-intensive
work and transformations in modern organizations from the point of view
of the actual performers.
Conceptual categories that occurred during the study were therefore
its main axis. It is on this basis that the interviews and their interpreta-
tions are presented. The key concepts referred to by the interviewees were:
the attitude toward hierarchies and formalities (“bureaucracy”), time in
IT projects, trust and distrust in software development, and a few other
topics classi ed collectively as being related to the HRM of knowledge
workers. Here in the book, these considerations are summarized by short
interpretations of the research ndings in the context of organizational
and professional identity. I did not aim to present complex organizational
Research methods and the organizations studied
policies related to these issues – to the contrary, the point of view of the
organizations and the managers is presented here only relatively rarely,
and the basic aim remains to describe only those system elements that
were described by the programmers and important to them. In line with
these assumed requirements, the work did not aim to be objective through
bringing together contradictory views of di erent groups (with con ict-
ing interests), or by trying to learn “how it really is”, but rather through
presenting a solid and reliable resemblance to the perception shared by the
majority of the chosen, studied professional group. That is why, when rep-
resenting the selected, representative fragments of the interviews and the
eld notes, the opinion of the participants in the given process is primarily
presented and narrated by the researcher (Czarniawska-Joerges, 1992).
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ORGANIZATIONS
The names of the organizations in this study are ctional, though each one
does incorporate a country code (by adding the pre x US or PL, respec-
tively), so the location of the interlocutor is known.
PLOneos–A medium-sized company based in Warsaw. It employed
about 200 people. Its main operations were in software development for
other companies. The rm accepted orders from new clients, although the
majority of its operations were in cooperation with large long-term busi-
ness partners, mainly banks, for which it implemented whole IT systems
and provided complex solutions to IT problems. Employees worked
mainly at the company’s head o ce. Twenty-one interviews were con-
ducted with the programmers and four with the managers at PLOneos.
About four months were spent on non-participant observations, done at
the company’s HQ, directly at the programmers’ workplace, and also at
team meetings and in designated rest areas.
PLSantos – A small start-up company based in Warsaw, which employed
20 people. The company was established by a few former employees of a
large IT company from the owners’ own capital resources. It initially only
had just one large corporate client, but later started to o er solutions to
a wider clientele. Programmers at PLSantos often worked on the client’s
premises. Eight interviews with the programmers and one with the owner-
managers were done there.
USVisualprog – A medium-sized American company located on the
East Coast. It was established over a decade before the research, and set
up by a former big-corporation engineer. It currently employs some 300
people. The company was divided into two branches, separated from each
52 The new knowledge workers
other physically in di erent buildings. One dealt mainly with the produc-
tion of physical devices for the government (patented hardware and soft-
ware); the other dealt with open-market business solutions. USVisualprog
products for the government were developed on the basis of the techni-
cal speci cations agreed to with the nal client; however, the products
in the open market were mainly ready-made, with only a small amount
of customization available (although full technical support was o ered
during the system usage). Thirty- ve interviews were conducted with pro-
grammers and six with managers. Over the period of a few months, non-
participant observations were carried out at meetings, at programmers’
workplaces, in designated rest areas, at introductory meetings for new
sta and also at one strategic session with the managers.
USHuncor – A large American corporation based on the East Coast.
It produced OCR software and employed a few thousand people. Seven
interviews with programmers and one with a manager were carried out at
USVird – A start-up company in Silicon Valley. It was set up through
venture capital investment. Initially the company specialized in the devel-
opment of new data security software and implementations of commercial
databases. At the time of the study it dealt with scheduling and contacts
software development for the corporate and mass market. It employs 25
people. Five interviews with the programmers and one with the manager
were done at USVird.
1. Kuhn’s book has sold almost 800,000 copies up to now and has had an enormous impact
on the methodology of science. However, it should be noted that at the end of his life
Kuhn strongly disagreed with many of his followers’ hypotheses and indeed criticized the
Kuhnians (Horwich, 1993; Hoyningen-Huene, 1993).
6. Modern bureaucracies
The rst of the topics often related to during the conducted interviews was
attitude toward procedures and the formal organization. It is worth start-
ing its analysis by taking a broader look into the bureaucracy phenom-
enon in modern organizations.
As Joan Greenbaum (1998) very rightly points out, while the factory
worker in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, re ecting Taylor’s production
line work system, could serve as an archetype of a worker of the industrial
era, it is Dilbert, a character from the popular comic strip by Scott Adams,
who o ers himself as the symbol of our times – an intelligent software
engineer who has to struggle with the stupidity of his supervisors and the
paradox of his bureaucratic organization.
Both knowledge workers and professionals are often described in
the context of bureaucracy. On the one hand, as in Henry Mintzberg’s
(1993) view, they are seen mostly as enforcers of a given standard and key
members of a bureaucratic organization. On the other hand, the creative
aspect and original character of their work is often emphasized (Powell et
al., 1999). For some researchers, the post-industrial era can even be called
“post-bureaucratic” because the most important social changes relate to
the development of the “organization of the future”, which is a contradic-
tion of traditional bureaucratic rules (Argyris, 1973; M. Weber, 2001).
Hence, it is worth analyzing modern bureaucracy in the contexts of both
professionals and knowledge workers.
Bureaucracy does not have many supporters, and probably never had. It
used to have strong enemies long before Weber developed his theoretical
concept. Alexander Styhre (2007), when describing that phenomenon,
mentions a novel published by Honoré de Balzac in 1838, appearing in the
series (La Comédie Humaine) [The Human Comedy], called Les Employés
[The Government Clerks]. Balzac believed that o ce work was done
54 The new knowledge workers
mostly by the indolent, losers, and idiots. He also added straightforwardly
that bureaucracy (created by narrow-minded people) is an obstacle to
national development and suppresses all talents.
As William H. Starbuck (2003, p. 162) noted, “Nearly everyone who
has written about bureaucracy has complained about it; almost the only
authors who found value in bureaucracy were German economists and
sociologists writing between 1870 and 1915.”
Indeed, it was Weber who discovered bureaucracy for sociology and
organizational theory. His work, and the fundamental postmortem pub-
lication Economy and Society (2002) in particular, was introduced to
English-speaking science through a translation by Talcott Parsons in
the 1940s. Because Parsons had been a chair of sociology at Harvard
University for many years, he managed to attract a signi cant number of
researchers and students and encourage them to analyze the bureaucracy
phenomenon. Quite in unison, they believed that bureaucratic organiza-
tions led to dysfunctionality (Robert K. Merton, 1957a), though some
also noticed potentially positive e ects (Blau, 1956; Gouldner, 1954).
However, in management science there has been a consensus according
to which bureaucracies are seen as ine cient and incapable of economic
rationality (Von Mises, 1944). Additionally, they usually lead to the waste
of resources, time and motivation (Crozier, 1976). Many authors even
share the opinion that the only way to improve the e ectiveness of public
organizations and state-owned enterprises is a constant and involved ght
with bureaucracy (Osborne and Plastrik, 1997).
In some radical interpretations a bureaucratic organization is con-
trasted with an intelligent one, as can be seen in the catchy titles of bestsell-
ers like, for example, The End of Bureaucracy and the Rise of the Intelligent
Organization (Pinchot and Pinchot, 1993) – which of course means that
bureacracy is plainly stupid, or at least non-intelligent. In management
science, a discourse on the end, on change, on paradigm shift, or in
general on anything “post-” is relatively popular, and unsurprisingly many
authors also bluntly talk about a “post-bureaucratic world” (Heckscher
and Donnellon, 1994). There are similar ideas presented in the literature,
e.g. Manuel Castells asserts (in a book called, characteristically, The Rise
of the Network Society) that there is a shift toward the “horizontal cor-
porations”, which rely on self-directed and highly decentralized networks
(1996, p. 164) that embody anti-bureaucracy.
What is interesting is that this view of bureaucratic decline seems
essentially to be an evergreen narrative – at least it has been around for
over several decades. Warren Bennis made this observation (1970, p.
166) in the 1970s, claiming that the organizations of the future would be
rapidly adaptive, changing and short-lived systems, organized around task
groups, composed of and by people relatively unknown to each other and
with di erentiated professional pro les. He strongly advocated “the end
of bureaucracy and the rise of new social systems better suited to twenti-
eth century demands of industrialization” (Bennis, 1965, p. 31). However,
despite the strong and continuous rhetoric that has been ongoing for a
very long time, describing what post-bureaucratic organizations would
look like, it is very di cult to indicate at present which established and
developed companies do ful ll all the set criteria, and it is even more
di cult to prove that bureaucracy is in decline.
As mentioned before, one of the leitmotifs of management discourse
is transformation – enhancement, improvement and aiming for the
ideal. The story about the end of bureaucracy and the era of the experts
is partially an outgrowth of the need by managers (and management
theorists) to prove their own usefulness. It is thus di cult to argue with
the statement (Eccles et al., 1992, p. 29) that: “Much of the current
hysteria over labels, such as ‘the new organization’ and ‘empower-
ment’, can be seen as an attempt to lend new energy to the collective
enterprises that have recently found themselves in a period of doubt and
It cannot be disputed that in many organizations there are processes
that could indicate the expectation of change (structural atness, less
formalization etc). At the same time, many expected changes do not take
place or have only a partial character (e.g. the end of managers’ primacy,
organizational power in the hands of experts, and others). At least at
the moment, it is di cult to state de nitely whether this is some kind of
revolution or not. Separate and relatively rare cases are considered to be
perfect examples. Post-bureaucratic theory is being built mostly with a
reliance on wishful thinking, not based on solid research and observations
(Alvesson and Thompson, 2004).
For sure, there are a large number of other transformation theo-
ries, for example, technological (Zubo , 1988; Zubo and Maxmin,
2002) economic (Stiglitz, 2006), institutional (Morawski, 2000) or social
(Bauman, 2007). They all point to di erent important breakthrough
catalysts – whose in uence can, paradoxically, strengthen organizational
bureaucratic structures (McSweeney, 2006). This strengthening can take
the form, for example, of direct control over the execution of o ce work
procedures to the same extent as those of manual work, thanks to the
implementation of new technologies – as early observed in practice by
Harry Braverman (1974).
Many of the features associated with bureaucratic organization in Max
Weber’s description (2001; 2002) are omitted in contemporary publica-
tions (Höp , 2006). Weber insisted that in bureaucracy:
56 The new knowledge workers
People management requires a team of managers.
There is a tight and clear hierarchy and division of work.
Employees act impersonally (i.e. they use procedures, regardless of
who they are dealing with).
Organizational position depends on formal quali cations.
Occupational and professional knowledge (Fachwissen) is key in
Promotions and salaries depend on general organizational policy,
not on individual e ectiveness/results.
All decisions and procedures are stored in databases.
Con dentiality is considered to be of utmost importance.
As can be seen in the above list, post-bureaucracy advocates refer only
to some of the organizational features described by Weber (and his fol-
lowers) and omit the other ones, such as the importance attributed to pro-
fessional knowledge, the high pressure on database development, or the
role associated with information and the limited access to it. These three
features would in modern times be more often attributed to the so-called
“intelligent organization” or a “learning” one (Senge, 1990). The criticism
movement is mostly focused on bureaucracy’s disadvantages, and silent
on its advantages. The same movement relies also on a kind of general,
though utopian, belief that civilized progress and development will lead
to the elimination of these most irritating of human work organizations.
Yet both the belief that bureaucracies are going away forever, and the
one that they are ine cient without exception, have not necessarily been
proven right in reality. As mentioned earlier, a discourse on breakthrough
on the end of an era, or on any “post-” era theme, although attractive for
marketing purposes, is often based on only theoretical guesses (and the
belief in how things should be), and not on research (and a clear, docu-
mented opinion on how it really is). That does not mean that the processes
commonly called post-bureaucratic do not take place at all – just that they
are much slower and with a decisively more limited scope than it seemed
they would be to their rst propagators.
Bureaucratic organizations may well have some important advantages
and qualities, since they are quite universally present in most modern,
developed cultures (Du Gay, 2000, 2005). In a broad sense, bureaucracy
refers not only to administration but also to some pro t-oriented organi-
zations. This is one of the most classic and still often irreplaceable features
of white-collar work organization. A study by Dennis W. Organ and
Charles N. Green also indicates that the professions with well-established
positions can successfully operate within bureaucratic culture, and “for-
malization can serve a purpose of articulating the convergences between
Table 6.1 Bureaucracies vs. the professions
Standardization (classi cation Individuality (an apparent or real
and the formulaic treatment of individual approach to everyone).
Responsibility for organization. Responsibility for the professional group
and professional standards).
Impersonal relations. Personal relations with group members.
Companies aim for ful llment; Clients aims for ful llment; short-term
long-term goals. goals.
Hierarchical relations. Vertical hierarchy.
Formal authority. Expert authority.
Source: Gross (1958).
the organizational mission and the professional aims” (Organ and Green,
1981, p. 249). Moreover, according to some authors, each organization
goes through a bureaucratic phase at a certain level of its development
(Greiner, 1972) – which can, but does not have to, lead to a pathologic
rigidity and decline.
Of course, di erent professions and occupations di er signi cantly in
the degree to which formalization is accepted and in how far bureaucracy
is considered to be a proper method of work management (Hall, 1968).
Some professional groups and knowledge workers may see formalization
as an important obstacle in daily work; yet for others it may be just the
other way around (Raelin, 1986, p. 56): for example, Raelin writes about
lawyers working in law rms who can be less subject to bureaucratic
limitations than legal advisers working in the legal departments of large
It should be remembered, however, that the professionalization process
can often challenge the bureaucracy (Morrissey and Gillespie, 1975). The
lack of di erentiation between formal and professional authority has been
a consistent basis of criticism of the Weberian school of thought (Toren,
1976). The basic potential discrepancies are summed up in Table 6.1
As is clear from the table, some professional characteristics are strik-
ingly similar to the “organization of the future” that is being developed
in line with the forecast IT revolution and future knowledge society.
Especially under conditions of general uncertainty, liquidity and simulta-
neous rapid technological development, there could be a need to withdraw
from the bureaucratic work organization (Woodward, 1958). Thus, for
58 The new knowledge workers
some authors, post-bureaucratism could even be associated with the praise
of professional values (Kernaghan, 2000).
Robert E. Kelley, in one of his rst cross-sectional analyses of knowl-
edge workers, called them “the golden collars” (Kelley, 1985). According
to him, they are an elite, a subgroup of “the white collars”, who in practice
are not subjected to unemployment and who by de nition work (for very
high pay) almost entirely intellectually, doing tasks that require an out-
standing mix of knowledge and intelligence. According to Jeremy Rifkin
(1995), in the long term they will eventually supersede non-intellectual
workers. The latter could be replaced by machines, which is much more
di cult to do in the case of intellectual workers. Unlike common o ce
workers, also counted among “the white collars”, their attitude toward
bureaucratic work organization was ambivalent at the most, and often
This view is in line with Richard W. Scott’s observations di erenti-
ating the four most typical areas within which the professionals reject
the assumptions of the bureaucratic organization (Scott, 1966, p. 269),
operational rules and regulations;
task performance standardization;
supervision over tasks;
The ongoing process of professionalization may well be one of the ele-
ments of the anticipated social changes the issue is certainly worth further
BUREAUCRACY IN THE HIGH-TECH
If the post-bureaucratic era is really going to occur, the best place to look
for its beginnings could be in high-tech companies, for at least several
reasons. Above all, it is the knowledge workers who create the main value
in these organizations, and, as discussed in earlier chapters, knowledge
workers are often considered to be forerunners of ongoing organizational
transformations. Second, in high-tech companies (and in the knowl-
edge economy in general), innovations play a key role. Innovations and
bureaucracy have traditionally been perceived as contradictory (Business
International, 1986). Third, programming is to some extent independent
from local cultural conditions – programmers all over the world use the
same tools and programming languages and without exception speak at
least Basic English (this is necessary to understand instructions in the
programming languages). Mobility of contracts (and of employees as well,
though not necessarily) is highly valued in the IT sector. Workers there
are the avant-garde of the global, post-capitalist job market – hence they
deserve special attention.
Finally, engineers–professionals are in a very good position in their
organizations, which enables them to have a signi cant in uence on their
structure. If there is any place that can be described as departing from
managerial power and procedures, it is in companies where these individu-
als preponderate. Thus, one of the rst issues discussed with the interview-
ees in the studied organizations was the perception of formalization.
Interestingly, among the engineers studied, the overwhelming majority
pointed to bureaucracy (also called “Dilbertization”) as the most hated
aspect of organizational life. Of course, such strong negative reaction to
formalization could also be proof that in many companies, at least accord-
ing to their managers, bureaucratic work organization is still doing quite
At the same time, in knowledge-intensive companies direct control,
which is relatively easy over manual work (Taylor, 1998), is usually impos-
sible to enforce, and at the best is very costly (Alchian and Demsetz, 1972).
Intellectual work is a kind of black box: as long as it is not nished, its
quality and the amount of work left to complete cannot be easily assessed.
This is clearly visible in programming: as was unequivocally stated in this
study, all programmers have their own unique style and way of thinking;
hence the assessment of an un nished program written by somebody else
is impossible to conduct in practice.1
The fundamental problem of each bureaucratic (if not any) organiza-
tion is control. Somewhere between orders, supervision, sticks and carrots,
there is a discretionary area, in which managers try more or less e ciently
to create a feeling of loyalty and duty among subordinates (Bendix, 1956).
Traditionally, inevitable discrepancies between managerial and worker
interests lead to con icts and problems in obtaining expected e ective-
ness. Each organization has to balance excess freedom (and chaos) with
excess order (and rigidity). In organizations in which the key role is played
by innovation, the typical tools of formal control have very negative side
e ects (demotivation, lack of initiative, distance to assigned tasks, indis-
cipline and others). Second (as already mentioned), these tools are often
inadequate for an analysis of the work processes.
Thus, modern high-tech companies must, in the case of work and tasks
in which simple evaluation is hindered, use what the classic bureaucracies
discovered a long time ago, that is, normative control (Merton, 1957b).
60 The new knowledge workers
This relies on the internalization of norms by employees and hence on
the introduction of self-control (through a strong feeling of duty). One
of the most important observations made by Gideon Kunda in his highly
acclaimed book Engineering Culture (1992) was the explanation of the
mechanisms of normative control to promote the feeling of loyalty among
A good many years ago, William H. Whyte, in one of his best-known
works, The Organization Man, noticed, when commenting on the human
resources management transformation from the classic approach to a
more “human” one (W.H. Whyte, 1956, p. 397): “No one wants to see
the old authoritarian return, but at least it could be said of him that
what he wanted primarily from you was your sweat. The new man wants
your soul.” He pointed to the paradox that became fully visible follow-
ing the wave of the human relations movement (Mayo, 1933; McGregor,
1960, 1967; Roethlisberger, Dickson, and Wright, 1939). An inevitable
increase of the productivity of employees under friendly treatment
and participative approach is obvious to some (Bass and Shackleton,
1979; Macdu e, 1995), while disputable to others (Nehrbass, 1979).
Nevertheless, unquestionably, the accepted consequence of the creation
of work relations in which employees enjoy their jobs and in which they
can enter into useful interactions with each other is that, under extreme
circumstances, their work can takeover their entire lives. In the most
friendly and participative environment, apparently, it is even easier to
lose one’s soul.
Of course, the drama of this phenomenon is rather exaggerated.
Employees under such devilish management still voluntarily and willingly
subject themselves to the described “torture”. One of the most desir-
able employers in the world is Google – a company that emphasizes that
employees can fully devote their time to the assigned tasks. There are
cinemas, restaurants, cafeterias, day nurseries and whatnot on the campus,
so basically there is no need for workers to leave work. It is obvious to eve-
ryone that work at Google is not about nine-to- ve at a desk. However,
the o ered bene ts (mostly non- nancial ones, though the pay is above
the average in the industry) are so attractive that the corporation regularly
receives about 1300 job applications daily, in an ongoing recruitment
process. Even though work at Google is demanding, and quite likely calls
for full commitment and “soul”, in 2007 the company was awarded the
title of “best employer” by Fortune and has since been consistently ranked
as one of the most desired employers in the world.
At the same time, there are numerous examples in the literature of
similar corporations in the high-tech industry that also rely on norma-
tive control, but which after a few years su er from professional burnout
among many of their employees, and from other serious social problems
(Hochschild, 1983; Kunda, 1992; Perlow, 1997).
It could be interesting to gain more insight into how high-tech compa-
nies try to maintain balance between extreme bureaucracy and extreme
innovation. One answer is what is called “the representative bureaucracy”.
A company which requires a high level of technical knowledge, even if its
work organization is formalized and hierarchical, can still rely greatly on
the real knowledge possessed by the employees. The availability of such
knowledge can be rooted in consensus, and not just on the acceptance of
orders from the bosses and the formal status of the supervisors that are
only too typical for the so-called “punishing organization” (Gouldner,
1954). According to Alvin W. Gouldner’s (1979) idea, the technical,
new-class intelligentsia is much more likely to rise within bureaucratic
There certainly is something to this: while researching the American
corporation USVisualprog, I witnessed the following course of events
involving two new employees:
Vera, HR manager at USVisualprog, welcomes two new engineers. One
of them joins the programming team, and the other the R&D department.
Though this is their rst day at work, they are dressed casually in sports
blouses. On the contrary, Vera is wearing a suit. She spends 30 minutes
describing the company’s history. She often emphasizes the uniqueness of the
environment in which they will work. “You are part of the small company,
which was especially designed so it’s dynamic. People come here and say that
it’s all complete chaos. But that’s because it’s di erent here. We are very small
on the organizational chart.”
Both engineers nod their heads and look through the brochure on the bonus
scheme for employees. Vera speaks clearly and uently, quite often repeating
herself, probably on purpose. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like she has said
that speech many times before.
She takes out one of the sheets from the folder. “There is no need to memo-
rize it. It’s funny that it’s hanging on our walls, bur hardly anyone notices it,”
she says and declaims the company’s mission statement. Then she moves on to
describe the reasons why the company decided to implement the ISO system
a couple years ago. “Our quality system, with all due respect for its creators,
is not very user-friendly,” she adds with a smile. She gives out the copy of
company procedures. “I encourage you to study all of our quality procedures.
Let me know when you do it – I will be very impressed. But seriously – you
don’t have to ll out many forms here. We do our best so you don’t have to do
What I nd interesting is that the HR manager on the one hand strongly
emphasized the lack of formalism and minimal attention to documenta-
tion, yet on the other hand clearly acted in accordance with the proce-
dures, and skillfully and smoothly introduced the new employees to a large
62 The new knowledge workers
system of formalities and requirements. Particularly striking was Vera’s
Orwell-type “doublethink” as expressed in the dissonance between o -
cial company policy and the seemingly non-o cial winking at employees
Still, the company strongly emphasized that the formal position is irrel-
evant. As the vice president of USVisualprog said:
[USVisualprogVP:]2 Success here, regardless of the held position, entirely
depends on the ability to in uence others. It does not matter what you do, or
what’s your job title – it is much more real here than elsewhere. So, if you rely
on that, i.e. if you come from an organization in which you could rely on the
job title to achieve credibility, you won’t do very well over here. It all depends
on the ability to entangle everybody with your enthusiasm, to create an image
of an intelligent person who does not cut o others. And your ability to be
someone useful, someone who can really do a useful job at the company.
[Researcher:] Is it good?
[USVisualprogVP:] Well, I think it’s better than when people rely only on the
job title. Thanks to that, the leadership can be manifested at any level of the
organization and among completely di erent people. Yet at the same time, it
is very di cult to start new here, it’s di cult to assimilate, because you might
have an idea to solve a problem but you haven’t yet proved your value, so you
don’t have credibility, so you know, you are not quite visible . . . That is a dif-
cult, di cult phase.
The company praised its low hierarchy, and its main reliance on skills
the value of its employees’ ideas, regardless of their formal position.
Taking into account that the programmers, who according to other
studies do not like formal structures, also hold career and promotions in
contempt (Jemielniak, 2007a), such an approach certainly tries to meet the
expectations of their professional culture.
It is worth noting, however, that all of the companies analyzed, in state-
ments made by their managers, expressed a belief that they were “very
entrepreneurial”, “dynamic” and “non-bureaucratic”. A post- (or anti-)
bureaucratic discourse may be purely propagandist. Its purpose is to de ne
the cultural arena (Rosen, 1985/91) of the organizational eld. Procedures
are presented such that interlocutors have a feeling that the organization
(which, after all, creates the very procedures by itself) perceived them as
“necessarily evil”. Paradoxically, a company with fewer procedures could
potentially present, in a similar situation, a rather worse picture; it could
not “uno cially” (though in fact, in clearly set and approved limitations
by management) create a pretense of meeting employees’ needs and of
taking some formal requirements o the table (requirements which might
in part be created for that very reason, so they could be put aside). The
seemingly liberating discourse (hush-hush release from some of the formal
requirements) is, in fact, enslaving (Žižek, 2009).
This is one of Steve Fuller’s (2002) bitter observations: the advances
of knowledge management theory lead to clear and loud emphasizing
of the knowledge workers’ importance and crucial value, yet the corpo-
rations relying on knowledge management have to audit, standardize
and bracket knowledge production, thus making it a commodity. They
also have to control the workers much more closely. The more knowl-
edge work is o cially praised and described as indispensable, the more
it is, in fact, reduced to common labor and subjected to Tayloristic
Normative control is often called, in the language of managerial lit-
erature, “strong corporate culture” (Deal and Kennedy, 1982). Corporate
culture that is “strong” imposes norms and values on its members and
changes the behaviors of its employees, bending their perceptions to the
expected view. The research conducted research shows that “strong” cor-
porate culture can, paradoxically, sustain freedom and sprit of innovation
– the “strength” relies on coercion to accept the ideology of the given
company, and not on the ideological content. This is, it should be added,
a very subtle coercion system that is based on the gradual enculturation of
the employee, who owes to the corporation not only a full day at work but
also behavioral standards and feelings (R. Edwards, 1979, p. 148).
The usage of the keywords about freedom, self-development and
satisfying work is not a limitation on the simultaneous process of using
strong normative control. To some extent, it makes employees even more
vulnerable to managerial propaganda. Slavoj Žižek points out (2006) that
the superior who rejects traditional customs and formal conduct, o ering
instead friendly relations, “equality”, and the exchange of jokes (some-
times risqué ones,to emphasize informality), in fact subdues the employee
even more, because an employee cannot refuse such treatment. It is indeed
perverse – the acted-out friendly role betokens a lack of coercion and
freely accepted relations yet the professional social setting means that the
subordinate has no choice of refusing it. Hence the boss starts to dominate
both the purely professional relation and also the (seemingly) informal
The “post-bureaucratic” transformations, and the reduction of hierar-
chies and formal expectations in particular, may be not only the e ects
of organizational reaction to the increased pace of the modern world,
but also the side e ects of adjustments made inside bureaucracies of the
modern type and the need to impose normative control on knowledge
A similar exibility could be observed in the case of a dress code – all of
the studied companies, both in Poland and in the US, accepted the engi-
neers’ very casual dress code. National di erences did not play any role;
64 The new knowledge workers
striking, however, were the dress code di erences among representatives
of the di erent professions. Usually managers wore shirts and suit jackets,
sometimes even a suit and a tie. Engineers, on the other hand, usually had
polo shirts on or just T-shirts.
What is interesting is that the dress code is one of the clearest visible dif-
ferences between knowledge-intensive companies. For service companies
related to knowledge (consulting, auditing, accounting, etc.), the look is a
subject of strict standardization to the extent that strictly following one’s
superiors in their dress code is a well-seen (and praised) behavior. Apparel
that does not meet the bosses’ expectations, even if worn in free time
(e.g. lawn-mowing without a T-shirt on), can result in being reprimanded
(Covaleski et al., 1998). The there classic professions (doctors, lawyers,
and priests) all dress up into special uniforms for work, and often use
It is the opposite for the programmers – they emphasize their lack
of seriousness, and play with their image. No wonder IT workers are
considered the worst-dressed profession in the world (Hearn, 2005). In
part, this can be explained by their opposition to corporate culture and a
very strongly manifested aversion to bureaucracy, as well as the need to
di erentiate themselves from those who embody it. For example, o ce
workers at Apple, and in the marketing department in particular, are
called “ties”, whereas the programmers are “T-shirts” (Kawasaki, 1990).
Similarly, in the companies studied, programmers had a very casual
dress code. For those who did not respect it, that is, for those who had a
more formal dress code (especially when they had meetings with clients)
various types of correction strategy were applied. For example, col-
leagues made jokes that the programmer in a suit was certainly about to
propose, or was going to get married, or at least going to a funeral later.
In several cases questions were asked, such as “Why are you dressed
up?”, or, expressing understanding sympathy, “Having a presentation,
Hence, the programmers’ professional culture imposed the casual dress
code, di erentiating them from those categorized as white-collars. Though
it can be interpreted, as already described in Chapter 4, as an opposition
of the experts to the managers, according to my interlocutors the reason
behind the situation was de nitely di erent. Both the Polish and the
American interlocutors were unequivocal on that point (the following
quote being exemplary of many others):
[Researcher:] I was wondering, do programmers dress di erently than the
employees in other departments?
[PLOneosGrz:] Well, there it is certainly more free and easy.
[Researcher:] What does it mean?
[PLOneosGrz:] Everybody dresses in a casual way. If I am to sit ten hours at
work, I don’t really want the tie to strangle me. I don’t know. It’s just an issue
of comfort really. If I am to write a program, it does not really matter if I am
naked, in a uniform, if I do it in a bath or standing up. What is important is
that it suits me.
In the context of democratization of the workplace, at rst glance that
kind of privilege shows great freedom at work for programmers, though
that conclusion would be far too rash. In the view of the programmers
analyzed, the issue of the dress code was not especially symbolic, and it did
not serve to di erentiate the programmers from other professional groups.
Though these symbolic aspects could also be important, the programmers
pointed to an additional, quite obvious aspect of knowledge-intensive
work: it had to be organized so that the process ran in the most comfort-
able way for the performer. For manual work and common o ce work it
was the employee who had to t into the process, but for the knowledge-
intensive worker the fundamental assumption was just the opposite. The
workplace plays a subservient role, and hence it has to be, according to
the programmers and their superiors, adjusted as much as possible to
meet the performers’ needs. This is quite understandable when taking into
account that in the IT industry during frequent periods of heavy workload
programmers spend all their time at work, except when sleeping. However,
the research ndings on work time in knowledge-intensive companies
deserve a separate chapter.
1. Many of the employees studied emphasized in the interviews that taking over a project
from somebody else was “a pure nightmare” despite common procedures that help in
the understanding of the logic of the program by the outsider, such as preparing detailed
documentation, the division of programs into modules to enable collective software
2. All interviewees are hidden under cryptonyms – either ctional names (when they
are described in an excerpt from eldnotes) or nicknames with the cryptonym of the
company in the beginning of the nickname.
7. High time in high-tech
One of the most dramatic yet overlooked changes that has developed in
post-industrial enterprises is time management among knowledge workers.
According to Stephen A. Sweet and Peter Meiksins (2008, p. 151), who
cite a Princeton Survey Research Associates’ study conducted in 2007,
75 per cent of Americans believe that employees today experience more
stress than the previous generation. They also spend more time at work.
Zygmunt Bauman (1998) describes how globalization and the develop-
ment of computer technology has overtaken public space and caused it to
gradually disappear. The identical process is also true for time – modern
work management methods cause private time to shrink. The possibility
of working remotely (from a location other than a corporate o ce) only
leads to an illusory increase in employees’ freedom. It identi es, however,
every spare moment as potential work time, and deprives employees of
regular time spent commuting, and starting and nishing work. These
factors also blur the di erences between work and private time.
Women experience particularly di cult time constraints, as was noticed
by Helena Strzemińska (1970), a pioneer researcher in Poland. Working
women must balance their career with the same level of responsibilities at
home as housewives. It could be expected that after nearly 40 years this sit-
uation would have improved dramatically, yet the experience of working
women both in Poland (Tarkowska, 2002) and in other Western societies
is similar (Gerson, 1985, 1993; Jacobs and Gerson, 2004). Unfortunately,
the limited number of women in the companies studied and the complete
lack of women among engineers have thwarted further research on this
issue. It is certainly worth a separate study.
OUTSOURCING AND TIME POVERTY
One of the e ects of globalization most commonly mentioned is the e ace-
ment of spatial borders; that is, reducing relative distances, through the
development of transport technology and communications, to an extent
High time in high-tech
uncommon until now. David Harvey (1990) describes this process as the
compression of the space–time continuum. World news can be (and often
is) commented upon as it happens. The hegemony of lm-related arts
(photography and movies) in contemporary media and entertainment
introduced a focus on still or moving images – snapshots of reality. The
illusion of true representation, widely accepted both for photography
and for the movies, reinforces the xation on the present, and as a result
“speed–space” is the new paradigm (Virilio, 1994). The future and past are
becoming meaningless (again, Harvey (1990) calls it the “schizophrenia”
of modern times). Yesterday’s news interests no one, while issues a ect-
ing the future, such as economics or the environment, which are beyond
the scope of one or two politicians’ tenure of o ce, are of interest only
to those with limited in uence on “real life,” such as scientists and social
Apart from the focus on the present, globalization is also manifested
through the extraordinary ow of information, people, goods, capital and
ideas (Bauman, 2005). It equally increases di erences, even as it dimin-
ishes them (Bauman, 1998). According to a McKinsey report, the United
States receives 78 per cent of the total value generated by outsourcing,
whereas countries to which work is outsourced receive only 22 per cent of
the value (McKinseyandCompany, 2003). This means that the bene ts of
outsourcing primarily bene t developed countries, only helping the devel-
oping world to a minor extent.
When globalization is discussed, it is often emphasized that capital,
information and people all experience more mobility. Thus, everything
that is important to people becomes, according to Zygmunt Bauman
(2007), changeable, intangible and uncertain. In particular, distance and
time are rede ned. Manuel Castells writes about “the denial of space
and annihilation of time” (1996, p. 470) as one manifestation of a wired
society. It also relates, and indeed relates perhaps most of all, to the much
increased mobility of every element of an enterprise’s chain value.
Globalization is primarily visible to the average American consumer
through call centers operated from abroad. Owing to the rapid decrease
of data transfer costs and the development of VOIP, the location of a cus-
tomer service center becomes irrelevant. This is why the outsourcing of call
center services has moved to India on a massive scale. India was a natural
choice for several reasons. First, Indians tend to comprehend English u-
ently (they may also take additional training to improve their accent) and
labour costs are low. (It is worth noting, too, that some German rms
have set up call centers in western Poland for similar reasons). Further,
call center employees are typically given false names that sound American.
This helps avoid stress to the customer resulting from having their phone
68 The new knowledge workers
call answered on the other side of the world by a person who earns a frac-
tion of what the caller does and who has only heard about the product or
services o ered. When dealing with con dential data, for example credit
card details and banking accounts, outsourced call center employees can
also be asked to give the false impression that they are located somewhere
in America (Aneesh, 2006).
At the same time, the recent development of speech recognition tech-
nology has resulted in establishing fully automated customer service
centers. This technology recognizes not only simple words (e.g. credit
card numbers), but also key words and phrases. This enables the devel-
opment of an extended choice-tree con guration, which greatly reduces
the number of employees needed. In extreme situations, employees are
eliminated completely. Of course, these systems require great patience on
the caller’s part, and in some cases may result in an inability to solve the
With regard to knowledge work, outsourcing seems to be even more
pro table, as the main cost factor is the knowledge worker’s salary. Also,
knowledge work doesn’t require any logistics, and its e ects can be sent in
an instant from one side of the world to the other. In the high-tech indus-
try of programming and software development, outsourcing is used on a
large scale. Much of it takes place in India – for the reasons previously
mentioned, but also because of Indians’ strong technical backgrounds.
Almost one-third of Fortune 500 companies outsource programming to
India, with the total value of developed software reaching some US$40
billion (Heeks et al., 2001; Krishna et al., 2004).
The same is true for the computer animation and special-e ects
niche industry, which is often reserved for the specialized companies of
Hollywood. The total value of outsourcing in these industries in 2006
amounted to US$15 billion and has increased by one-third annually since
The process of outsourcing does not run smoothly, however, and the
savings from this practice may not be apparent. In a study by Jerome
Barthelemy (2001), 14 per cent of outsourcing e orts failed. In most cases,
the failures were due to the unexpected and often too high costs of setting
up the center. Cultural di erences also caused major problems (Sahay
et al., 2003). Because outsourcing is frequently part of a restructuring
process in the company, its positive results are whittled down by other
simultaneous changes taking place there.
In most cases, outsourcing is increasingly tied to the standardization of
working processes. This is the case in the so-called “programming plants”
and in computer animation studios inter alia. Work that is elsewhere
treated as creative and requiring freedom is, in India is often completed
High time in high-tech
under strict supervision and in small, repetitive tasks (Day, 2007). This
makes it similar to the manual labor mentioned in Frederick W. Taylor’s
original recommendations. Indian programmers, though their educa-
tion and quali cations match their Western colleagues, receive boring
and uncreative tasks. India is second only to the US in the number of
programmers, estimated at about half a million (Khadria, 2004). Because
of the nature of the received tasks, however, India currently has little
chance to become a knowledge society. In short, India is treated as the
source of cheap labor. Taking into account imposed institutional regula-
tions, this greatly strengthens America’s leading position in the industry
This further exacerbates the problems mentioned above: neither manag-
ers nor knowledge workers from Western companies that request develop-
ment of any given software understand the working conditions of India’s
programmers. This was con rmed in the study. As one of the program-
mers from USVisualprog described it:
Everything looks great on paper. Everybody believes that you have a program-
mer who works for a third of what we earn over here, and he is able to pick up
work when we call it a day, i.e. when it’s evening here and morning there, that
the project can be developed almost 24/7. It sounds great. But what it comes
down to is that if I need to talk to a guy or exchange comments, it requires
special arrangements and decisions. Because you cannot assume that if, let’s
say, it is seven in the evening over here and it’s seven or eight in the morning
over there that either I would stay up late, or he would have to come at what,
ve? And, without proper arrangements, we work 24/7, but everybody on a
separate thing. It works out better if you either commission the entire thing or
a speci c module. That’s what I think, anyway.
It is clear, therefore, that a serious obstacle to outsourcing programming
relates to di erent time zones. What seems like a perfect arrangement –
where one employee takes over the responsibilities of another – doesn’t
work in real-life situations. Also, the spatial separation of team members
has major e ects on a worker’s identity construction and self-perception
(D’Mello and Sahay, 2007).
A successful example of long-term outsourcing can be seen in a second
quote from an employee of a studied company (USHuncor). Even in this
situation, however, employees mentioned initial di culties with working
arrangements. Moreover, the roots of success can be found in the e ective
socialization among actors. As one analyst mentioned:
[USScanFred:] Altogether initially it was like, above all, you couldn’t nd
the same rhythm of work. In a meaning, let’s say I was doing a description
of what we wanted, quite a nice speci cation. Then we discussed the details
70 The new knowledge workers
online, and it all looked okay, but later it all broke down because of details.
I mean it’s really hard to describe everything so that both parties have the
same understanding of it. Besides, planning work with somebody you don’t
know at all is sometimes a total failure. I had that kind of situation . . . The
guy had huge experience in projects. And, he was doing a part of coding
with me. Every time we talked, he agreed to everything. And then for a week
or more, I couldn’t get in touch with him because of a time di erence or he
wasn’t there or something else. And, after all that, one day it turned up that
it wasn’t that he was doing another thing within the project, but that at that
moment he was working on a di erent project altogether. In sum, it was
All in all, we started to work well together only after a couple of years, when
we started to invite people over here on H-1 visas. On one hand, they could
make some extra money, and on the other, we could get to know them. Finally,
they could see for themselves how we work, what we are and so on.
Hence, successful outsourcing in the above-described situation was
based only on incorporating groups of employees from India into
daily work. Only after that did the cooperation start to work properly.
In the high-tech industry, a great deal of local and hidden knowledge
exists (Gorman, 2002). This means that implementing projects with an
unknown team is bound to be risky. Apart from the purely technical
aspects of programming, a very important issue seems to be the social
dimension; that is, socializing with team members (Kociatkiewicz and
Outsourcing has also raised ethical issues. Those coming from India
expected their short-term contracts to be extended if they performed well.
One programmer described it as follows:
[USScanSar:] Well, I am here for a limited period of time. But basically with
visas in the US it is like that: if a company really wants to, it can prolong a visa
without any problems. You can even pick up a green card. So we’ll see. At the
moment it looks that everybody is happy, so who knows?
Surely, the situation looked di erent to the company. From the begin-
ning, managers believed it was clear that visiting programmers would
return to India; after all, one of their aims was to establish personal rela-
tions with those working overseas. Managers also praised a better ability
to control Indian employees. This follows Sharpe’s (2001) ndings, which
are based on a study done in Microsoft. Sharpe points out that program-
ming is outsourced to India not only because of the inexpensive labor, but
also because the control of programmers there is much greater. Further,
Sharpe noted that management is able to implement deskilling strategies
and the standardization of work commonly used for blue-collar workers
(Sharpe, 2001, p. 223):
High time in high-tech
When a software production labor force is consolidated as an elite, it becomes
a target for attack, since control over production processes by the workforce
is a direct threat to the ability of capital to re-create the relationship in which
labor is forced, every day, to sell the product of its labor for less than it is worth.
Hence the search for methods by which capital can regain control.
Notwithstanding nancial issues, contract programmers brought to the
US on the H-1B visa, among whom 44 per cent are Indian citizens, earn
on average one-tenth of what American workers earn doing the same job
(Rodino-Colocino, 2007). The issue of the temporary nature of contracts
was of course an important factor that increased management’s power
over employees. Although in theory any contractor could get another job
if red, the reality was quite di erent:
[USHuncor5]: Our situation can be summarized shortly: either you work fully,
or you don’t.
[Researcher]: What does this mean? In a meaning, you cannot get another
[USHuncor5]: Oh, surely I can. [laugh.] No problem. But if they re me, the
trick is that I have 30 days to arrange a transfer visa from another employer.
Not to mention time needed to nd another job; you just don’t stand a chance.
Because only two employees from India took part in this study, this
interesting issue should be explored with further research. Nevertheless,
one thing is worth considering: if employees feel that if they are red they
stand no chance of securing another position, and that keeping their job is
their only hope of enhancing their social status permanently (a hope that
is quite unrealistic, anyway), this situation casts an unethical shadow over
employers. The degree to which managers abuse their power and authority
toward foreign employees is so great that this issue has triggered discussion
and possible changes to the law. As mentioned in Chapter 1, even under
the pressure from large, high-tech companies, between 1999 and 2003, the
US Congress agreed to increase the number of H-1B visas granted, eventu-
ally to 195 000. Since 2004, however, the level of visas granted has returned
to an earlier level of 65 000 (Goodsell, 2007).
In the US, both outsourcing and bringing in employees from abroad
may have a negative impact on programmers’ situation in general; even
local knowledge workers believe their position at the company is partially
threatened. However, in the organizations studied this impact was rela-
tively small. American programmers took the same stand as managers,
and employees on temporary visas were treated as a separate, less worthy
subcategory of workers. In Poland a similar situation did not occur,
owing primarily to the lack of outsourcing and foreign employees in the
72 The new knowledge workers
Still, it is most interesting for the purpose of this book to observe how
work time is used by knowledge workers. This issue will now be a subject
of further discussion.
As previously mentioned, many authors connect globalization and the
development of the IT society with the rapid acceleration of social proc-
esses and interactions. Some even use the term “accelerated society” to
describe this phenomenon (Gleick, 1999).
It is worth remembering that the issue of accelerating time and the
increasing rate at which it passes has been discussed since the end of the
eighteenth century. Hence, the feeling of not having enough time and,
increasingly, the actual lack of it are not new issues. It may be that treat-
ing time as a key resource, as some researchers advocate, is representative
not just of modern globalization processes but of the capitalist system as a
whole (Leccardi, 2007). Marx, for example, believed that limiting the time
of business processes was a key tool in maintaining capitalist hegemony
(Marx,1992). Hartmut Rosa, cited by Carmen Leccardi (2007), empha-
sizes three main factors behind the increased meaning of time in society,
which results in the subjective belief that “the world accelerates”. First,
the rate of production is a key criterion for measuring a company’s capac-
ity and its ability to survive in the capitalist system. The popularity (and
undoubtedly e ectiveness) of the “just in time” tenet is a quintessence of
this rule: keeping stock generates costs while no supply to meet demand is
a free gift to one’s competitors.
Second, taking into account people’s limited lifespan, time is a strategic
resource; on the personal scale it cannot be gained. For some scholars, the
fear of death is one of the most important factors that contributes to social
and cultural development (Bauman, 1998). This applies also to shaping
complex formal and hierarchical structures, which remain undisturbed
and thus serve the ful llment of dreams of immortality (Sievers, 1990).
When it is combined with the common capitalist need to increase e ec-
tiveness, the need to accumulate desired experiences within a unit of time
Third, the increased linearity and standardization of time in uences
the belief that there is not enough time. Even in the Middle Ages, impos-
ing a nationwide time (signalled, for example, by the clangs from a bell
tower or, later, a town hall clock tower) was met with protests that it was
unnecessary and unfair (Le Go , 1994). Yet, when the same concept was
introduced through the rail system in the nineteenth century it was not
a subject of controversy (Bartky, 2007). Nonetheless, the uni cation of
High time in high-tech
the measurement of time is related to its increased linearity (Jemielniak,
2008a), and its subsequent importance.
Finally, the fourth and often underestimated reason why humans have
an increased feeling that time is a scarcer and scarcer resource relates to
technological advances and the development of yet another area: virtual
reality (VR). Work and home have a “greedy” characteristic according to
Lewis Coser (1974). What this means is that both housework (together
with family life) and work life have a tendency to consume every spare
moment of our lives. This greed grows from the fact that in many modern
professions, as at home, one can always do more – work on a publication,
write an essay, create a budget or a program, look through paperwork –
the list is endless.
Also, over the past ten years, a new activity has emerged, which is as
time-consuming as family life and work life. Many employees (and house-
holds) spend time chatting on the internet, reading emails, and using social
networking websites (Fox, 2007; Phillips, 2006). Facebook.com, which
was until recently an elite social networking website (mostly because it was
for university a liates), has quickly become one of the most popular web-
sites in the world. Virtual time comes at the cost of both work and home
activities. Moreover, because most white-collar workers use computers for
their work, virtual reality can become a kind of recreational activity that
can be easily incorporated into work – for example, as a break from work
or as an excuse to leave work until later. Virtual reality is unlike to earlier
amusements such as television or computer games, which require one’s
full attention. Virtual life can be experienced in a multitasking mode by
switching from one application to another. Even though research indicates
that many employees spend their time in “reality 2.0”, as VR is teasingly
called (Pee et al., 2008), and considering that one can talk about overusing
the internet at the o ce, for obvious reasons this issue is not discussed in
relation to white-collar workers (Chen et al., 2008). Rarely is it pointed
out, however, that virtual reality in uences employees’ feelings of having
less time for work and family.
For all the above reasons, modern times have introduced into the public
consciousness the need for continuous progress. Increased capacity and
the speed at which things are done are inevitably adding to it. The impor-
tance of speed in relation to time can be easily observed; for example,
consider the success of PCs with ever-increasing processor speeds. Most
PCs operate at a speed that is not required for the majority of end users to
complete their daily work.
This of course leads to a paradox – together with the unprecedented
acceleration of operations and their e ectiveness (faster communications,
transport, money transfers etc.), the feeling of an even greater lack of
74 The new knowledge workers
time grows stronger. The result is a “rat race” in its most extreme form.
According to a Travelodge report from 18 June 20061 more than two-
thirds of working Britons (69 per cent) take two or three days o every
year just to nally get some sleep.
General statistics, however, do not provide complete information.
Over the past several years the so-called bifurcation process has deep-
ened (Jacobs and Gerson, 2004). This means that more employees have
a choice between totally time-consuming work and total unemployment.
Blue-collar workers won themselves an 8-hour day at the beginning of
the twentieth century, which clearly de nes their free time. With knowl-
edge workers, however, no such process has taken place (Sharone, 2004;
Zerubavel, 1981). Knowledge workers rarely work within set o ce hours.
On the surface it looks great – coming to work “late” is not treated as being
late; and in theory one can leave earlier if all tasks are completed. In real
life, however, this leads organizations to capture private time: knowledge
workers simply do not have excess time (S.R. Barley, 1997; Fligstein and
Sharone, 2002; Hassan and Purser, 2007). It seems that Robert Reich’s
theory becomes true: “The richer you are, the more likely it is that you are
putting in long and harried hours at work” (2000, p. 5), being busier than
ever before (Darrah et al., 2007).
Normative control results on the one hand in knowledge workers appre-
ciating the theoretical freedom and the division of work from private time,
but on the other hand they have di culty making it happen in practice. As
Kunda (1992) noted, “[O]ne has to combat both the company’s demands
and one’s own impulses, not easily distinguishable, to allocate more
time to work and to the organizational self that is formed in its context”
(Kunda, 1992, p. 197).
Currently, Poland has one of the highest indicators of average annual
work productivity (Figure 7.1), which before the crisis exceeded those of
Japan and the US for a good number of years (OECD, 2006). In America,
there has been a debate for several years now about why Americans are
so overworked, especially in o ce and intellectual work. As research from
the beginning of the 1990s suggests, time spent at work has increased
signi cantly over the past decades at the cost of leisure time (Schor,
1991). It is thus worth looking into work time and its control in high-tech
Research conducted in high-tech industries clearly shows one thing:
there is never enough time to complete IT projects. According to some
estimates, 69 per cent of projects fail because they go over the budget
High time in high-tech
0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500
Source: OECD (2007).
Figure 7.1 Average annual labour productivity in hours in 2006
76 The new knowledge workers
or miss deadlines (Standish Group International, 2001). Though this
research shows improvement in relation to data from the beginning of
the 1990s (Standish Group International, 1994), the results are still strik-
ing. According to some research, slightly more than one-fourth of all IT
projects meet their deadline, their budget constraints and their planned
functions (J.H. Smith and Keil, 2003). Even when taking into account that
some of these estimates may be overstated (Glass, 2006; Kitchenham et al.,
2007), there seems to be but one conclusion: that delays happen so often
that they become normal, and that from this there are only rare exceptions
(Humphrey, 1997). Almost all interviewees expressed this opinion, regard-
less of the company for which they worked:
[Researcher]: Do you ever experience delays at work?
[OrKan]: Do they happen? I would say that it rarely happens that they do not
Many scholars point to the process of the IT project as a cause of inevi-
table delays. In truth, programming alone is an extremely di cult and
abstract process, such that any unexpected di culties and problems can
cause delays (Connel, 2001; Kesteloot, 2003). In addition, when working
on larger projects, coordinating and integrating every employee raises
additional major di culties. But IT projects become delayed for several
other reasons. Some relate to the lack of, or discrepancies in, documenta-
tion of the existing software application, while others may result from dis-
agreements and communication problems with clients. Yet another cause
of delays is working in an environment that other programmers designed
and initiated, without a description of their ideas and logical structure.
Finally, delays occur owing to the incompatibility of di erent systems and
programs. Moreover, as both American and Polish employees mentioned,
in order to obtain a contract unrealistic deadlines are often suggested. It
is common in this industry for contractors to present clients with over-
optimistic schedules. This, of course, in uences other factors and increases
the scale of delays.
It should not, be forgotten however that working culture and work
management can also be in uential (Perry et al., 1994). According to
some researchers, IT projects’ social settings can have a greater impact on
delays than technical problems (Genuchten, 1991). Further, the de nition
of time in high-tech industry goes beyond that of functionality. De ning
a situation in terms of missing a deadline is distinctive because it relates
to the de nition of goals and organizational control. It is also a typical
element of management’s “ nal vocabulary”, as Richard Rorty (1989)
puts it. This issue can however have a more profound meaning: social time
High time in high-tech
7h 8h 9h 10 h 11 h 12 h
Figure 7.2 Average productive labor time per programmer (Monday–
Friday) in hours per day in USVisualprog among a team of 13
management in high-tech companies deviates from that found in other
companies (Shih, 2004; Westenholz, 2006b). In itself, social time manage-
ment in IT can be an interesting subject, regardless of whether projects are
identi ed as overdue or not.
Di erent attitudes toward time clearly distinguish knowledge compa-
nies that are focused on R&D and on developing new products or services
from those that consult and implement existing products and services.
The latter often measure their employees’ time very accurately (Starbuck,
1992). The former, however, including all the companies studied in this
research, measure their employees’ time too rarely.
It was therefore very interesting to note the di erent attitudes to time
among the studied companies in this project. As Leslie Perlow (2001) sug-
gested, based on an analysis of Chinese, Indian, Hungarian and American
high-tech companies, di erences may arise from cultural diversity. It is
not that clear however with respect to the companies researched. On the
basis of the auxiliary quantitative research and notes taken from one team
at PLOneos and one at USVisualprog,2 it was clear that in both organiza-
tions the average labor productivity did not exceed eight hours only for a
small minority (Figures 7.2 and 7.3).
Almost two-thirds of employees in the Polish company spent, on
average, ten or more hours daily at their computers. A similar situation
was true for over half the American employees. Data from PLOneos are
understated because one of the team members who normally worked on
average eight hours daily had to leave early during the study period week
for family reasons. It should however be noted that at the end of a project’s
life, regardless of the country of origin, programmers worked signi cantly
longer than at the beginning. National customs were of no importance
because in both Poland and the US the Western custom of starting work
around 9:00 a.m. and taking one one-hour lunch break was observed.
78 The new knowledge workers
7h 8h 9h 10 h 11 h 12 h
Figure 7.3 Average productive labor time per programmer (Monday–
Friday) in hours per day at POLneos among a team of 12
Regardless of the quantitative results, evidently the Polish programmers
from PLOneos were spending more time at work. Some bluntly acknowl-
edged that they regularly “pulled an all-nighter” or spent weekends at
work because of a project. Further, being available during holidays, at
least on the telephone, was also a common requirement.
At USVisualprog, employees left the o ce around 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.,
rarely staying longer. Although employees acknowledged that under
critical circumstances they could be motivated to work more than usual,
they stressed that the standard was to keep private time as private as
possible. They decisively ruled out working on weekends except during
Still, at PLOneos employees enjoyed freedom and informality, quali-
ties that were useful for entertainment (playful behaviors at work are
described further in Chapter 9). At USVisualprog however, more for-
mality was observed: employees did not take time o for leisure as a
group. Only at lunch breaks did they spend time together, not necessarily
(though often) working. Additional social opportunities in both com-
panies included meetings in the co ee-maker area or using a common
On the basis of the analysis, it can be said that most of the issues relating
to work time depend on the project’s manager. Admittedly, at PLOneos
programmers worked, on average, longer hours than at USVisualprog.
Among the four teams analyzed in PLOneos, however, clear di erences
were observed, which went beyond those dependent on the organization.
Indisputably, all teams worked the hardest toward the end of the project,
which was true also for USVisualprog. Within the teams, distinct manag-
ers’ expectations and styles were visible however.
Mark, a project leader at USVisualprog, emphasized several times how
important it was to him that his team had time for a private life:
High time in high-tech
I believe that you shouldn’t overdo it. Of course, there are times that something
is really important, but in my opinion your work should be e cient and solid
all the time. When it turns up that people have to work at night, it means that
either they lazed around earlier, or something went completely wrong with
planning. Either way – to some extent it’s my fault.
In fact, throughout the whole research period, the last person to leave
the o ce left at 6:30 p.m. at the latest, and the majority left between 5:30
and 6:00 p.m. In turn, work started no earlier than at 9:00 a.m., with some
arriving at 10:00 a.m. Part of the reason for this could have been that
Mark’s team dealt mostly with one speci c product, unlike others within
the company. Moreover, Mark’s project was not an ordered software
program or system, but an element of hardware with the software com-
missioned by the army. This meant that not all the crisis situations pos-
sible with the individually customized system at the client’s site actually
occured. Engineers really appreciated that style of work:
[VisRobi]: I have to say that my work conditions are really good. When I look
at what happens in other companies or teams, I have to say that Mark has a
lot of common sense. It can be even said that whatever happens we try to work
on the same level; that is without extremes either way. I think I can recall one
situation when we had to work at the weekend, but that was a really important
thing – to be or not to be for the project. But as a rule, people are not harassed
without a reason.
The interviewee emphasized that in his organization “people are not
harassed without a reason”, which may indicate that in other companies
and projects this is the case.
Most interesting was how others viewed Mark’s team (“X”). According
to some engineers from other teams, the project was clearly sidetracked:
[Researcher]: Have you ever considered working for team X?
[VisOmnia]: Maybe when I start to think about my retirement [smile].
[VisOmnia]: Well, don’t take me wrong; they do important and cool things
there. But it’s just not for me . . . Maybe it’s a question of taste. I like what I
[Researcher]: But why when thinking about retirement? Is it about the pace of
work? What is it about really?
[VisOmnia]: Well, yes, the pace. Besides, for me it’s important to do exciting
things. I still have time to slow down when I feel I’m burning out. But right now
it’s just not for me.
In Mark’s team, the average age was a bit higher than in other groups,
mostly because there were no recent graduates. The majority of employees
80 The new knowledge workers
were in their forties. Admittedly, USVisualprog used a project-based work
system and internal recruitment for tasks, but Mark’s team had a fairly
xed personnel. As can be gathered from the above interview, peers saw
the project as a pre-retirement option, not doing “exciting things” and
working at a slower pace. Perhaps, in their view, it was even a team for
those who were feeling burned out. Certainly the actual team members
themselves didn’t think of it as such. Further, they regarded the lack of
need to stay late as a sign of good work management.
What is interesting in the above situation is that shorter work hours and
not having to do overtime can be seen as being sidetracked and boring.
The majority of interviewees strongly criticized long hours, and control-
ling the schedule was one of the least likable management responsibilities.
Yet working nine to ve and not working overtime were also seen as an
anomaly. In addition, the work hours were perceived as a hint that the
project was not interesting and that its contractors did not have enough
zest and energy to work harder.
Here programmers’ work culture can impose competition within a
company (Ofer, 2002), based on comparing who spends more time at
work. In an extreme scenario this can take a particular form, as described
by Marianne Cooper (2000, p. 382):
“Competition isn’t waged on the basketball court or by getting girls.
Here men compete in cubicles to see who can work more hours, who can
cut the best code, and who can be most creative and innovative.” This is a
process independent of the company’s and management’s indoctrination.
Team leaders and managers place great emphasis on work time. In par-
ticular, at PLOneos work time was clearly a factor in uencing employee
assessments. Demonstrating this are the results of a small research project
that was conducted while observations took place: I asked four managers
to point out their ve best programmers. I asked programmers for the same
thing. I also obtained information from the human resources department
regarding the ve best programmers according to their annual assessments.
The list provided by the HR department and managers contained small
discrepancies. Two managers pointed to four people on the HR list and the
other two had lists identical to the that given by the HR department.
Programmers’ lists were more diverse (perhaps also due to the number of
them). Although four programmers refused to indicate certain colleagues,
accumulated data from 17 programmers pointed to three people not on the
HR list and only two on it. The data indicated that programmers appreciated
kindness and a willingness to help one another; for example, four of those
indicated were people to whom programmers could turn to for help. The
issue of knowledge exchange and helping one another is the subject of a sep-
arate chapter. At PLOneos, willingness to help was not valued above other
High time in high-tech
qualities either by managers or in the annual assessment. This is contrary to
USVisualprog, where 360-degree assessment was an important element of
the assessment process, and great weight was placed on mentoring.
The most interesting nding came when comparing the managers’ lists
and the lists of the ve employees who spent the most time at work (pre-
pared by me during the observations). It turned out that the managers
most often identi ed these ve people as the best, but the programmers
themselves perceived only two of them as such.
This seems to indicate that work time, and not its e ectiveness, fault-
lessness or e ciency, can be directly translated into a superior’s high
assessment in high-tech companies. It is, of course, linked to the knowl-
edge work feature that results in its “black box” aspect for all outsiders.
Because the work process cannot be assessed (the production process is
excluded from management control), what is assessed are factors that are
the easiest to evaluate – though this seems ludicrous for knowledge work.
It is, however, in line with the traditional assumption (Go man, 2000,
p. 139) that a worker should not only produce a certain number of things
in a given unit of time, but that they should also look very busy. It seems
that time plays an important symbolic role in knowledge work (I have
written more on this topic in a separate publication: Jemielniak, 2009).
At USVisualprog a similar experiment could not have been carried
out because managers there often did not know members of other teams,
unlike those at PLOneos. As previously noted, many people, including
programmers, gave great weight to time spent at the o ce. What is even
more interesting is how knowledge workers reacted to disturbances and
breaks at work.
In both organizations in theory, employees had freedom to determine
their work time, but they only exercised this decision-making power in the
morning. Several employees came to work signi cantly later than others
(at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m.) and then stayed longer (until late evening hours).
Most of them gave the following reason for this:
[VisMat]: If I am to do something useful, I need a few hours of peace and quiet.
Without phone calls, constant questioning as to how am I doing. Also, in my
opinion, it’s very good that I can come to work whenever I want, a few hours
later and stay longer.
A partial time shift3 (i.e. coming to work later than the management,
and leaving a corresponding number of hours later,too) was for some the
best way to work e ciently. This nding leads to yet another conclusion
82 The new knowledge workers
– a break during actual knowledge work hours can be seriously disruptive
to the process. This issue is worth a thorough description.
As Anne Westenholz (2006b) noted, the modern world o ers at least
two ways of scheduling social hours, based mostly on being a member of
a given profession: on one hand, knowledge workers, and on the other,
o ce and blue-collar workers. Much as in a study conducted by Zerubavel
(1979) and describing the way medical doctors work (compared with
nurses), knowledge workers have to be exible by adjusting their work
time to tasks and being on call as needed. Knowledge workers mostly
perceive time through their tasks. Compared with other professions,
which are set in tight frameworks of eight-hour work days, knowledge
workers have to operate on a basis of assignments, often doing several
Common multitasking does not, however, mean that being interrupted
at work is not an issue. On the contrary, in all of the organizations ana-
lyzed, when asked “What bothers or interrupts you most at work?”, most
people indicated being solicited by managers or clients. Some program-
mers were quite blunt about it:
[PLOneosNor]: I really don’t like it when somebody comes in every minute and
asks silly questions, or when the work would be done. Either you work or talk.
Further, it was common for programmers to complain about the need to
[USVisualprogAn]: I am very sorry, but if I have, let’s say, two or three meet-
ings scattered throughout the day, a few status reports, a few phone calls,
sometimes even a meeting with a client, then when I am supposed to work?
Queries from managers were often seen as undesired:
[Researcher]: What should a manager never do?
[PLSantosAga]: Above all, don’t put your head in every 15 minutes, because
that is like throwing a baby out with the bathwater.
This is no surprise in the light of other research: almost 40 per cent of
employees cannot go back to their tasks after being interrupted by a third
party (O’Conaill and Frohlich, 1995). Programming is a creative task that
requires focus; hence any interruptions, even small ones, can be overly
destructive and result in breaking the employee’s work pace.
This down-to-earth assumption was put into question when another
surprising phenomenon was observed: interlocutors had a dramatically
High time in high-tech
di erent attitude to being solicited by other programmers. This was espe-
cially striking when taking into account that interactions among program-
mers occurred frequently. At PLOneos programmers chatted four to ve
times per hour in one room where the team worked. This phenomenon
was observed less frequently at USVisualprog. The main obstacle here
appeared to be the working space arrangement, as each employee occu-
pied their own cubicle. Even there, however, employees talked to one
another at least a couple of times an hour, often via internet communica-
tors or by making visits to other cubicles.
All speakers believed that interactions with colleagues are essential at
[Researcher]: Does your colleagues’ naging bother you?
[PLOneosEmu]: No, this is something di erent. Among my colleagues it’s a
part of work, this is how it’s done. In a sense, that when you work on a project,
it never happens that you just sit in your cubicle, talk to nobody, and at the end
you put all pieces together. And, besides, some of the things are better done at
In the case of programming, cooperation among programmers is of
high importance – decisions, interactions, work coordination, and putting
nishing touches on each software element, so they work well together,
can all consume up to half of a project’s life cycle. This is why, as previ-
ously described in the discussion of outsourcing earlier in this chapter,
being on-site signi cantly helps IT projects’ processes. Many factors
simply require close cooperation – other programmers may use some IT
elements operated by a speci c programmer and any amendments require
Programmers also agreed that their colleagues are a great source of
information and help when encountering technological problems. This
issue is covered further in the section “Knowledge Exchange” in Chapter
9. The following statement is very typical:
[USVisualprogJon]: Helping each other in a team has the bene t of working on
one project, coming across similar problems. So it’s natural that somebody has
an idea for something.
[Researcher]: But doesn’t it bother you? Don’t you lose focus? When your col-
leagues are nagging you?
[USVisualprogJon]: This is just the way things are done. It’s not a problem.
When you need to focus, you can say that you would do it later and not now,
or that you don’t have time right now.
Interestingly, observations at both companies corresponded with what
programmers said during interviews. While they often talked about work,
84 The new knowledge workers
more than half of their interactions were just socializing. Employees told
jokes, shared sport commentaries and exchanged internet links to lms,
images and articles.
Thus, in analyzing interruptions in knowledge work, I found that being
solicited at work by managers and other non-programmers (interlocutors
talked with annoyance, for example, about phone calls from clients as
obstructing their normal work) could be seen as highly disruptive, while
interruptions from peers were not perceived as such at all.
This suggests that interruptions per se may not play a key role. What
is important is the relationship with the person who interrupts. When
interruptions are from other programmers (including, in some cases,
acquainted programmers from other companies), talking and mutual
help are socially acceptable and customary. Interference from superiors,
however, is de nitely not seen as positive. It may be that in the latter case,
managers’ interruptions are seen as an element of control, which knowl-
edge workers may reject as a traditional system of supervision. Resentment
toward managers’ interruptions and considering them destructive draws
into question managerial roles and is a way to create even more animosity
toward managers (pointed out in previous chapters). This does not mean,
however, that programmers do not try to look their best in the eyes of
their managers. On the contrary, some use sophisticated “facework” tech-
niques, among which the one of “individual heroism” is particularly worth
describing. This matter links directly to the issue of delays in IT projects
and is the subject of analysis in the next section.
Also very important is a symmetry rule on soliciting. In theory, knowl-
edge workers are equal among one another. When asked questions by
colleagues, programmers believe that they have the right to ask ques-
tions of their own. Of course, one programmer can refuse to speak to
another programmer, depending on the circumstances. This cannot be
said in relation to superiors, however. Finally, many discussions among
programmers have nothing to do with work; therefore, interactions are
often considered informal. The presence of the manager, however, is a
sign that there are work issues to discuss. The socializing aspect of talks
may in fact make it crucially important for all interactions, including the
professional and project-related ones, to be perceived as voluntary and
Both at USVisualprog and at PLOneos a very interesting phenomenon
was observed, called “individual heroism” by Leslie A. Perlow (1997). In
both organizations a paradox typical in knowledge companies became
High time in high-tech
apparent: particularly praised were programmers who committed great,
ostentatious personal sacri ces in the name of the project.
For instance, in one of PLOneos’s projects, Piotr was on vacation when
a serious malfunction of the system he had co-developed occurred. As a
result, he spent many hours on the phone discussing possible solutions.
He also spent signi cant time connecting to the server and making neces-
sary adjustments. His superior later praised his attitude and professional-
ism. The manager did not, however, draw attention to the fact that the
malfunction was partially caused by Piotr’s neglect; he had not foreseen
certain things. In turn, Piotr claimed that his colleagues could have xed
the malfunction without him. However, it was the manager who wanted
Piotr to take the matter into his own hands, even though he was on
His symbolic self-sacri ce was appreciated – maybe even more than
regular, constant, and solid work. This may have been related to Peter
Cappelli’s (2001) observation that most IT employers were not able to
indicate who among their programmers possessed the best quali cations.
As previously discussed in relation to high-tech time, IT project manag-
ers often prefer to chose control tools that are easily applied, rather than
those that are really linked to the goals of the project but are di cult to
employ. Time becomes a currency within organizations: employees who
devote more of their time are valued above others regardless of their work
e ectiveness. In addition, particularly noticeable are ritual temporal sac-
ri ces. An employee who is constantly available on the phone just to help
with the project or one who cancels planned family events (weekend visits,
dinner arrangements etc.) is perceived as extraordinarily loyal.
Some companies even boast about being able to force their employees to
completely change their daily schedules for a client. For example, an inter-
national law rm, DLA Piper, placed an advertisement5 in the press stating:
“When a client in California was acquiring a company in Norway, our
Norway-based team changed its workday by nine hours – to US time – to
better serve the client.” Such actions seem rather grotesque, not to mention
the likelihood that lawyers who suddenly changed their work hours from
a 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p m. day to a 6:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. zone, would work
less e ciently. Nevertheless, this kind of behavior probably meets customer
expectations. Hence, symbolic time o ering is more important than work
e ectiveness. Spectacular sacri ce may be of more importance than facts
– it is hard to expect an American law rm to participate in taking over a
Norwegian rm working only within its own time zone.
Moreover, in knowledge work, and speci cally in programming in a
team, e ectiveness is hard to attribute to a single person. The nal result
may be partially independent of the input of each individual team member.
86 The new knowledge workers
Further, managers, as mentioned, do not possess either the physical ability
or the practical knowledge to assess the process of coding. Therefore,
loyalty becomes a measurement of an employee’s worth. And that loyalty
is often assessed through the sacri ce of free time and individual heroism.
This phenomenon in high-tech companies makes it possible to notice
problems relatively early, but they are solved late only when absolutely
necessary (Van de Ven and Polley, 1992). Saving at-risk projects in a
spectacular way is a much better display of sacri ce than solid, day-to-day
work. This line of thinking is partially advocated by programmers them-
selves; for example, team X was seen as uninteresting, perhaps because the
work was being handled steadily and without drama. Therefore, delays
in IT projects are to some extent determined by the value system of the
In this respect, it is interesting that two programmers from PLOneos
and one from USVisualprog stated with an unexpected sincerity that
when working on a project’s schedule they trialed to estimate both man-
agers’ and clients’ expectations rather than forecast milestones based on
the theoretical complexity of the project. They convincingly argued that
forecasting deadlines for an IT project was not very useful. They did so,
however, because their superiors value employees who met expectations in
the project’s planning stages.
A programmer at PLOneos provided a most interesting statement:
I heard about a guy who was a programmer-analyst here few years ago, and
he had a pretty independent position. He was also smart. He always gave an
impression that work was the most important thing – do you understand? But
in truth, he didn’t care; he laughed about it. And, he had imagination! Once he
decided that he could do with a bit of holidays. And, that was right after his
superior changed. You couldn’t expect that the new manager would agree to his
vacation straight away, and so on. You know how it works. So that guy came to
work one Wednesday, left a jacket on his armchair and a glass of water on his
desk and he went skiing with his wife till Monday next week. The funniest thing
is that nobody noticed that he was gone. I mean surely his colleagues knew
about it, but they didn’t say a word. Even if the manager came in, he must have
thought that the guy was at work and he had just left the room.
The above story is hard to believe and it may be a local legend; neverthe-
less, its being non-factual doesn’t reduce its importance. On the contrary,
similar stories told repeatedly by employees provide a basis for de ning
professional roles and the workplace culture, and give meaning to individ-
ual behavior. These stories also indicate which kind of behavior is praised
and which not (Bowles, 1989; Gabriel, 2004; Hatch et al., 2005). The pro-
grammer described in the above story is a positive character because he
brilliantly outsmarted his superior. He thus combined two achievements:
High time in high-tech
obtaining more free time and giving the impression he was working very
hard. This myth, as well as others of its kind (Kostera, 2008a), says a
lot about work relations. In few words, it shows professionals’ opposi-
tion toward managers; group solidarity and the importance placed on
work time; and the ability to appear to be overworked. In addition, it is
a reaction to corporate culture, which constantly generates demand for
1. http://www.travelodge.co.uk/press/article.php?id=153, (accessed 6 June 2008).
2. Data presented are only of an auxiliary character. For a more detailed statistical analy-
sis, the research should be broadened and deepened. Data were gathered when observing
for one week ( ve working days, because no one worked at the weekend during the study
period week). To eliminate uctuations resulting from the programming production
cycle, in both cases the studied work time related to one month prior to the rst deadline
set by the client. This is a very imperfect research method because speci c implementa-
tion criteria, customer relations and the type or scale of the project can all in uence the
speed at which work is completed. Although both projects were characterized by large
teams of more than ten members and were ordered by private companies, they also had
di erences. In PLOneos a database management system was developed for a nancial
institution, whereas in USVisualprog software was developed for a speci ed detecting
device, along with the service interface for the network of such devices. Nevertheless, the
presented data clearly indicates that programmers work many hours, even though their
work time is not formally limited.
3. It is worth noting that monks in medieval times used separation from work and time
shift as a severe punishment – those experiencing punishment were undertaking the same
duties as others, but a few hours later (Zerubavel, 1981, p. 65). Of course, this example
is of no use in the companies studied, because programmers agreed voluntarily to pro-
longed temporary work.
4. What is interesting is that according to David R. Roediger and Philip S. Foner (1989) a
similar attitude toward time was speci c for the pre-modern era: apart from the seasons,
farmers viewed time through their tasks. The industrialization process has caused a
social change based on a linear perception of clock time, i.e. “standard time” linked
directly to factory work. That change, however, has resulted in separating the social per-
ception of a manual laborer’s private time and work time, with the latter being somehow
the property of the employer.
5. The Economist, 21 June 2008, p. 15.
8. Trust in knowledge work
An important element in discussing knowledge workers is a transforma-
tion process signaled by Zygmunt Bauman (1998), where he points to
an era changing from pre-modern to modern. Bauman’s transformation
is based in part on departing from symmetric control (exercised by the
members of a given community over one another) and in part on a greater
share of asymmetric control (exercised by the state over its citizens). This
“pastoral power”, as it is named by Michel Foucault (1993), is based on
denying subordinates the right to express their opinion and is based on
favoring a superior’s knowledge. This power game then leads directly
to the greater role of knowledge itself (Henriksen et al., 2004) and, par-
tially, to the development of knowledge workers as a group. According
to Bauman (1998, p. 61), an expert’s role can be established only under
conditions of constant power asymmetry. This in and of itself is another
consequence of the distinctive transfer of social power and is thus related
to the origin of the modern era.
This power shift is related directly to the issue of trust. Until the 1990s
this topic was not given much attention in the management literature. It is
an important cultural element, however, which to a great extent in uences
the development of elements such as professional roles, transaction costs,
typical behavior patterns etc. (Sztompka, 1999).
According to John H. Goldthorpe (1982, p. 168), what distinguishes
professionals from others is above all a “high degree of trust” granted
to them, which results from a need to internalize quality standards. As
discussed before, professional work cannot be e ectively monitored from
outside an organization or group. Even in the case of surgeons, whose
work has manual aspects, some control can be held only by another, more
experienced surgeon. The most important work element, however (i.e.,
diagnosis and therapy), is purely intellectual and impenetrable by outsid-
ers. As a result, trust is a major factor in knowledge work.
This is particularly true in the case of a workplace prone to delays
and an inability to deliver a project within budget, as happens in the IT
industry (more than two-thirds of IT projects experience time or budget
Trust in knowledge work
overruns: Standish Group International, 2001). Software projects are
conducted in an environment of high collective risk (Federspiel and
Brincker, 2010). Trust therefore becomes a crucial category that de nes
the knowledge-intensive workplace. This is why trust (or the lack of it) in
the IT sector has increasingly became a subject of academic interest (Baba,
1999; Latusek, 2007a; Latusek and Jemielniak, 2007; Marsh and Dibben,
2003). No cross-cultural studies have compared the enactment of trust in
high-tech companies in the US and Europe, however. This chapter is an
attempt to ll this gap.
DISTRUST IN HIGH-TECH
Jörg Sydow (1998) observed that growing business uncertainty and post-
bureaucratic tendencies result in trust becoming a signi cantly important
element in the process of corporate control. In this way, trust can some-
times be understood as a tool of normative control. One of the best-known
authors in the eld of management, Rosabeth M. Kanter, described the
phenomenon in the 1970s (1977, p. 65) as follows: “The organization’s
demands for a di use commitment from managers is another way to nd
concrete measures of trust, loyalty, and performance in the face of uncer-
tainties.” Today, this process concerns not only managers but knowledge
workers as well.
Trust in a traditional sense implies predictable behavior (Luhmann,
1979), or an inclination to accept potentially risky situations, including
“exposure” in front of others, without the ability to control circumstances
(Mayer et al., 1995). Trust such is measured by the “degree to which a
person is convinced and willing to take actions, on the basis of somebody’s
words, actions, and decisions” (McAllister, 1995, p. 25). It may on one
hand have a purely emotional aspect, which emanates from, among other
things, a feeling of community and belonging, conventional courtesies and
so on. Or it may have an entirely cognitive aspect resulting from interac-
tions with a person, knowledge of their quali cations and so on. Usually,
however, trust results from both of these factors.
Still, trust is not a direct antonym of distrust. Each can be perceived
independently from the other (Lewicki et al., 1998). In particular, various
combinations of high/low trust and high/low distrust are possible, as
shown in Table 8.1. This is highly evident in the IT industry, where a
triangle of mutual suspicion between manager, client and programmer
(Latusek and Jemielniak, 2007) often occurs. Each party can embody a
high degree of distrust toward the others, even though at the same time
they work together with a high level of trust.
90 The new knowledge workers
Table 8.1 Combinations of low and high trust and distrust in
Low distrust High distrust
High trust High value congruence. Trust, but verify.
Interdependence promoted. Relations highly segmented
Opportunities pursued. and bounded.
New initiatives. Opportunities pursued and
Low trust Casual acquaintances. Undesired eventualities
Limited interdependence. expected and feared.
Bounded, arm’s-length Harmful motives assumed.
transactions. Interdependence managed.
Professional courtesy. Preemption: best defense is a
good o ense.
Source: (Lewicki et al., 1998, p. 445).
On the customer side, a high level of distrust is caused by the high level
of uncertainty inherent in IT projects (Latusek and Jemielniak, 2008).
Technical problems, delays, and inconsistencies between a client and a
contractor concerning a project’s vision are so common that they are
almost inevitable. Usually, the client does not have an opportunity to
verify the reasons the programmers or managers give for the problems
Managers also experience similar uncertainty – programmers’ expla-
nations are often taken at face value, yet they can vastly in uence
the project’s nances. In an extreme scenario (and as was observed at
PLOneos), programmers cannot deliver a contracted product owing to
technical problems; more precisely, the programmers claim they cannot
solve a problem sensibly within budget. At the same time, managers and
salespeople constantly try to balance pro tability, in order to keep a client
and preserve the company’s reputation (Latusek, 2007b). On a practical
level and according to interviewees, a client is never able to describe clearly
and precisely the details of an expected IT solution from the start; instead,
the solution is improved as the project progresses. On the other hand, the
budget, which can also be amended in the face of signi cant changes to
functionality, is typically anchored at a negotiated level, as long as the
project stays within initial assumptions. The degree to which the budget
can be adjusted to a client’s later expectations depends on negotiations,
Trust in knowledge work
but generally a margin is built in. Some clients, however, take advantage
of a changing situation. Using the excuse of guaranteed adjustments and
alterations, they may insist on signi cant changes to the nal product.
The above issues also relate to programmers. They are often torn
between managers who impose impossible deadlines and clients who
expect products that are impossible to deliver. At the same time, neither
managers nor clients have su cient technical expertise to discuss the
merits of budgets and deadlines. This may be the reason why the majority
of programmers’ opinions gathered in the study conveyed a high level of
distrust toward managers and customers. Programmers clearly related to
stereotypical roles of managers and clients in general, but they also often
emphasized that their company or project or customer is an exception to a
general rule. Nonetheless, these stereotypes are very important in develop-
ing corporate customs and relations among single teams.
Typically, programmers do not mention trust when describing their
clients. Instead, it’s the client who must trust a contractor. In order to
gain trust, appropriate quali cations, references and similar qualities are
needed. The relationship is completely asymmetrical from the other side.
As one of the programmers from PLOneos said:
[PLOneosDor]: I don’t trust a client at all. Usually he just doesn’t know what he
wants, secondly he changes his mind, and thirdly he totally doesn’t understand
what we do, our limitations and possibilities . . . Besides, what kind of issue is
that anyway? The client has to trust us, because that is our role, but it doesn’t
work the other way around. It’s like saying that a doctor has to trust a patient.
A similar attitude was found in statements made by several Polish
programmers, which is supported by other research (Latusek, 2007b).
American employees expressed their views in a more subtle way, though it
was clear that the issue of trust was a strange idea to them:
[USVisualprogTa]: Trust a client . . . Of course we have to trust each other, this
is a bottom line of our cooperation. We assume, for example, that if a client
brings up a problem, that it really occurs. That it is not made up, and that this
is an important issue. However, I believe that it is much more important for a
client to trust a contractor.
According to the interviewees, relations with a client require unilateral
trust and the client’s devotion to the specialist. On the other hand, the
specialist does not really care if the client is trustworthy or not.
Managers and programmers are unanimous on this issue: their clients
usually have no idea about what they should order, what they need, what
they want, and what the technical possibilities are. In all of the companies
92 The new knowledge workers
studied, clients were subject of scurrilous jokes and boasts. Their lack of
knowledge was legendary, and even the subject of bragging and competi-
tion; for example, programmers competed to tell the most unbelievable
story about users’ illiteracy. This is by no means surprising: program-
mers who have contact with the mass market’s individual users often
think of them as idiots (Jemielniak, 2008c). Although all the companies
researched primarily developed software for corporate clients (who were
a bit more technically sophisticated than the average user), even these
clients were seen in terms of their lack of knowledge and the troubles that
[Researcher]: Could you tell me a bit about problems in IT projects? What
[PLOneosDalick]: Mostly a client doesn’t know what he wants. I mean he has
some kind of vision, or he knows what kind of problems he wants to solve. But
in most cases he cannot de ne it precisely.
[Researcher]: Can you give me an example?
[PLOneosDalick]: For example, recently in a small project . . . We were discuss-
ing basic things, where that data would be collected and processed. The client
wants everything done on his server. OK, it takes me about ten minutes to get
information from him that it’s not really his server, not even dedicated colloca-
tion, but a virtual server, which costs just a few hundred annually. So, I start
explaining to the guy that a www site and a few pictures can be set up on that
kind of device . . . He insists with full conviction that they would have a few
million webpage entries since the beginning. I suggested that maybe he should
spend an additional one or two thousand monthly or consider collocation,
which taking into account his budget should go down smoothly. Then he asks
me if I am trying to negotiate a higher contract.
Although the interviewees had positive stories to share, when asked to
comment on standard situations with clients they almost always described
problems resulting from the client’s lack of knowledge. One of the pro-
[USVisualprogBen]: I’ve heard once that saying: you can work with someone
who is ignorant, you can also work with someone who is arrogant, but you
cannot work with someone who is both. The trouble is that it’s the same in our
industry, but there are many more ignorant than arrogant.
From all of the studied situations came stories about cooperation with
clients who introduced new assumptions and requirements while projects
were being developed. This resulted in the need to start working on the
project again, almost from the beginning.
Programmers did not regard managers with much higher regard. In
extreme cases, they were deemed, even as a professional group, to be “lazy,
Trust in knowledge work
stupid careerists” (Jemielniak, 2007b). For some, a manager was perceived
as somebody completely incompetent:
[Researcher]: What do you think of the managers?
[PLOneosMia]: Complete failure.
[Researcher]: What do you mean? Can you go into some more details?
[PLOneosMia]: Well, the manager has to go to meetings [smile] and later play
a wise guy about things that he knows nothing about. I don’t know, maybe it’s
me; but it’s just not my cup of tea.
The manager’s stereotype as incompetent and interfering with real work
was commonly repeated in the organizations studied, though in a more
[Researcher]: Would you like to be a manager?
[PLOneosKa]: Manager? Never.
[PLOneosKa]: Because who becomes a manager? A person who doesn’t really
have any solid knowledge, so he takes up general studies, a bit of economics, a
bit of law, a bit of sociology, and he later believes that if he also has some clue
about technology he can manage people, who actually know something.
This short statement expresses a common belief that those in manage-
rial posts are, as a rule, dilettantes. This conviction corresponds with the
theory of con ict between professionals and managers. Experts often su er
from a “god syndrome”, which is visible through complete disrespect for
non-experts in their area of expertise (Trice, 1993). A similar perspective
is not unusual among knowledge workers. For example, accountants in a
study carried out by Louis R. Pondy (1983) had a saying that their duty
is to “save the company from the managers”. Programmers’ statements
were much more critical, yet also related to a certain archetypal percep-
tion of managers, and not to situations which they had experienced. The
majority of the interviewees claimed that the companies for which they
worked were an exception to the rule and that managers there were dif-
ferent (i.e., better) than at other companies. Programmers expressed a
belief that their managers (but not the managers elsewhere) possessed suf-
cient technological knowledge. This is similar to the analysis of prison
guards (Klofas and Toch, 1982), who were convinced that there was a
strong professional culture, though they personally did not feel as if they
belonged to it. This is the same for programmers. They told stories about
bad managers, though they were lucky enough to work with the sensible
ones. Distrust of archetypal managers and corporations, as such, was
Of course, although programmers were rm that they did not want to
94 The new knowledge workers
take on managerial responsibilities, they were frequently promoted to
managerial posts that did not require individual programming or software
development. Though a stereotypical manager was viewed as ignorant,
in truth more than two-thirds of managers in the companies studied had
prior engineering experience. Only after going over to the “dark side” (as
one of the interviewees at PLOneos teasingly described his move from
programming to management) did the picture change. The perception of
a professional role is, for obvious reasons, strongly related to the position
currently held. This was evident in the statements of managers who were
[USVisualprogArti]: Once, I couldn’t imagine myself as a manager.
[USVisualprogArti]: Well, just really . . . I really liked programming . . . I didn’t
think of management as especially interesting.
[Researcher]: What made you change your mind?
[USVisualprogArti]: How should I know? I suppose you grow up to certain
situations . . . It’s kind of natural, that with time, if a person has a bit of mana-
gerial knack, you start even informally to partially manage a team. It’s just that
someone has to do it, otherwise everything falls down. And, the perspective
changes a bit; you start to notice it is not as easy as it seemed. At the same time,
surprisingly, it really draws you in.
The speaker admitted that when he was a programmer he regarded
managerial work as easy and boring. Programmers’ extremely negative
perception of managers has been the subject of a separate study based on
this research project (Jemielniak, 2007b). It is worth mentioning, however,
that even when particular managers were valued beyond the stereotype,
the programmers studied often still disrespected managerial work and
believed it was destructive of their own work.
Although programmers expressed negative opinions about managers,
they found common ground with their superiors in discussing clients and
their stupidity. Both in technical discussions and in informal exchanges,
clients were often described in terms of their lack of knowledge. It was
striking that both at PLOneos and in USVisualprog concordance between
programmers and managers was highest when they viewed clients and end
users disapprovingly. This is well illustrated by the following situation,
observed during a team discussion on an application under development
[Steve, project manager]: It’s really quite good, I have to say. Good work. Pete,
remember to increase idiot-proof features. Even a monkey can’t break it down.
[Pete]: Monkey is a piece of cake, but it has to be adjusted to the users.
Trust in knowledge work
In other situations, managers, when passing on additional requirements
to a project under development, often presented them as something to
be done “for the sake of peace and quiet” or to please the client, and not
something that actually had meaning for the developed product. The fol-
lowing observation on a PLOneos team meeting clearly illustrates this
view of the client’s understanding:
Tom, the project manager, opens a meeting with the programming team. He
refers to the discussion he had with a client and describes the list of changes the
client asks for. Programmers take notes, sometimes asking questions for clari-
cation. Occasionally, they throw o remarks like “will do”, “OK, if THAT’S
what they want . . .” One of the changes raises astonishment, though. Peter, a
member of the programming team, says: “But it would require a major revision
of the program.” Someone else adds: “It doesn’t make any sense; we’ll have to
start all over.” Tom is very apologetic; he explains that the client is really impor-
tant, and the company has already approved the change. He rmly cuts down
the doubts, though. By way of consolation, he adds that he was able to negotiate
some deadline extension. Still two programmers shake their heads, even though
they say nothing. When the meeting has concluded, the team stays in the room
to decide what to do and how. Mark, one of the programmers, says: “It’s just
software,” and everyone laughs. Later I ask him what it meant. “Oh, you know.
They never would ask an engineer to rebuild a bridge, or something physical,
right? But they think software is like a couple of written lines, like a document or
something, that you can alter whenever you want and how you want. But it’s like
rebuilding a bridge, or worse, as you don’t really understand what one change
will implicate in another place. Once we had a situation like this, and there was
some ridiculous revision of the speci cation almost near the end of the whole
project, and somebody said ‘Take it easy, it’s just software.’ It was so absurd,
you know. So since then we say that and everybody knows what it means.
To a high degree, managers at PLOneos shared a negative opinion
about clients’ level of knowledge with programmers. A signi cant dif-
ference was observed when analyzing USVisualprog, however. There, at
least in the interviews, all the managers expressed positive opinions about
end users. Cultural variations may have played a role in this di erence,
naturally. In my view, however, signi cantly more important could have
been that on one hand USVisualprog developed its own products, and on
the other it had ful lled requests for the American government. The latter
projects were usually clearly described, and required less interpretation.
But there was also less probability that a situation like the one described
above would occur. Though managers expressed watered-down and not
critical opinions about clients, when talking to programmers they did not
have these hesitations.
At the same time, some managers commonly believed that their subor-
dinates were “geeks”. As the CEO of USVisualprog (an ex-engineer) said:
96 The new knowledge workers
I have a group of really talented people here. There are only few places in the
world where you can nd such good and well-tuned teams. So, if you can’t com-
municate with somebody, maybe it’s worth devoting some time, because maybe
that person doesn’t have communication skills, but has something meaningful
In turn, one of the managers at PLOneos de ned his role as follows:
[PLOneosMantis]: To some extent my work is about translating from one lan-
guage to the other. An IT guy is the kind of animal that is usually highly intel-
ligent, yet in some areas, let’s face it, di erent from others.
[Researcher]: What areas?
[PLOneosMantis]: Just take communication, de ning what the problem is,
what you need, what you expect from both sides. I often see that really clearly
cut people with brains are unable to say in an understandable way what they
need. He usually knows what he would like . . . He has some kind of vision, but
it’s de ned, like with a choice – if I want A, then I am clearly not getting B. My
work often means nding that A and B do not work together and explaining
this to a client in a way which is understood. And then there is a business side to
it; you have to make sure that everything works well together.
Programmers were often described as almost a separate species, or at
best “dorky”: some managers with IT experience attributed high intelli-
gence to programmers, but also noted their lack of communication skills.
They often pointed to programmers’ lack of business thinking as well.
No interviews with USVisualprog and PLOneos clients were conducted
within the scope of this project. While obtaining permission to conduct
research at PLSantos, however, I interviewed two managers at the
company that has been ordering software and IT solutions from PLSantos
for a long time. Both managers had good opinions about PLSantos, yet
expressed frustration several times:
[Krzysztof]: You see, with IT guys it’s like that, you order a white Volvo, and
you receive a red Ford. “Almost” the same. The trouble is that it is really dif-
cult to explain something to them, if it doesn’t come down to algorithms and
also everything is linear for them. And that is not just in PLSantos, I would
say that they are quite good in this respect. But either way – it’s just di cult to
communicate with them.
In a manager–programmer–client triangle, it is very apparent that each
party sees the others as disabled with regard to incompetence, ignorance,
lack of knowledge or communication skills.
Distrust towards other members of an arrangement is strengthened
and forti ed by speci c “alliances” of stereotyped convictions. This issue
needs further research, particularly because it is not entirely clear what
Trust in knowledge work
the typical client’s convictions about IT project managers are (if that is
preserved as a clear stereotype).
When considering managers’ and clients’ stereotyped views of program-
mers, and managers’ and programmers’ stereotyped views of clients, it
seems that attributed negative traits may actually have positive implica-
tions for the IT projects and the stability of social arrangements. De ning
the client as “stupid” brings managers and programmers closer; it is one of
the rare occasions they share a united front. It also makes it easy to place
blame on those who are “guilty” of requirements and tight deadlines. In
turn, de ning programmers as unable to communicate helps establish
relationships with clients and thus requires an intermediary manager who
can clearly “speak the language”.
Both processes, of course, strengthen the managers’ position, making
them indispensable translators and intermediaries between clients and
programmers. It is in management’s best interest, therefore, to uphold
stereotypes of clients and programmers and to maintain a high level of
distrust, which is already seen as a logical accompaniment to IT projects.
Distrust, therefore, becomes a corporate control tool – it is simulta-
neously confronted with an atypically high level of programmers’ trust
toward other members of their profession.
TRUST AS A NETWORK BASE
AnnaLee Saxenian (1994) compared the respective developments of
Silicon Valley and the Route 128 area. She considered the reasons why in
the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s Californian enterprises expanded
while companies from Massachusetts stagnated. Both areas had similar
initial capabilities, access to nancing, local talented graduates (Stanford
and Berkeley near San Francisco, TK MIT and Harvard near Boston) and
shared a similar national culture, economy etc. According to Saxenian
(1994), the main di erence lay in the corporate cultures and the di erent
ways of operating in the workplace in these two regions.
In the Route 128 area in Massachusetts, work management was tra-
ditional and hierarchical. In most cases companies were competing with
one another; therefore, the company saw professional contacts among
programmers as disloyal and interpreted this as a breach of trust.
At the same time, companies in Silicon Valley in California were char-
acterized by a happy atmosphere of anarchy and opposition toward the
establishment (as embodied by the conservative East Coast). Networking
was developing: programmers from various organizations consulted one
another freely. Issues of trust and loyalty, or lack thereof, were not a
98 The new knowledge workers
subject of such relationships. Instead, for employees they were obvious
and natural activities. As a result of that process, combined with employ-
ees’ high mobility (resulting from a large number of start-ups, of which the
majority failed), Silicon Valley developed a networking culture unknown
in the Route 128 area. Silicon Valley bene ted from an additional e ect of
a society highly saturated with high-tech specialists. Currently, therefore,
the development of networking and contacts among IT sta is the main
reason for the extraordinary success of Silicon Valley companies and of
this region developing as an innovative leader in the high-tech industry
(Castilla et al., 2000).
Professional and knowledge workers can be characterized by a high
degree of professional identi cation (and with the interests of their pro-
fessional group) and not by identi cation with the company itself (and
thus the employer’s interests). For IT sector employees, especially in
California, this phenomenon often leads to behaviors that would be seen
as extremely disloyal by traditional management – for example, discussing
con dential technological problems with the employees of a direct com-
petitor (Hertzum, 2002) would be considered a breach of loyalty.
Such behavior can be explained by the belief held by world-class experts
that they work for themselves and that networking is more important (if
only to change from one job to a more lucrative one) than looking after
This phenomenon may to some extent be re ected in the research nd-
ings presented here. The American programmers interviewed understood
loyalty as networking and not as a relationship with the company. Though
they did not feel a special connection with other members of their profes-
sion,1 they were strongly attached to their fellow team members. They
eagerly helped and advised one another, regardless of current employment.
The logic and the mechanism behind community are well illustrated by
Nigel’s story. Nigel, a programmer from San Carlos, whom I interviewed
informally several times over three years, was one of the rst employees at
USVird in San Jose. At that time, the company was developing a range of
products related to the security of data transfer and data encryption. Nigel
had worked there for more than a year. He decided to resign from work,
however, to complete a one-year graduate studies program in computer
science at an Ivy League university. Just before graduating, he received
a job o er from Cisco. It was a very well-paid job and involved working
on a project similar to one at his previous employer. Owing to this high
similarity, before he signed an agreement, he decisively told his imminent
employer that he would not share his insider knowledge about the product
he had previously developed. The company had no concerns about
Nigel’s declaration and he joined their team. It quickly became apparent,
Trust in knowledge work
however, that this is exactly what was expected – i.e. that Nigel should
introduce con dential information about the competitor’s solutions and
ideas. Nigel refused to do so and quit the job. He was not unemployed
for long. Although the return path to the previous employer seemed to be
closed, former colleagues quickly discovered what happened and he was
A feeling of community among programmers plays an important role
which is strengthened by high distrust toward managers and clients and
a belief in their incompetence. Contrary to common misconceptions, pro-
grammers’ work is based to a large extent on interactions. An important
part of these take place between those at both a physical distance and
a cultural one. Often without a way to communicate where one can see
the interlocutor, or hear his voice, the interaction has an asynchronous
quality. At the same time, interactions between individual participants are
often repeated and result in developing dependencies. These are conditions
that typically favor raising trust (Hawthorn, 1988). These dependencies,
however, also result in programmers’ trust being bestowed upon male
project team colleagues (and occasionally females), but not upon the
organization (Marks and Lockyer, 2004).
The aim of this project was to analyze American and Polish companies,
and thus Silicon Valley was treated as a separate phenomenon. Because
fewer interviews were conducted in California than on the East Coast, it
is di cult to draw conclusions about intra-American cultural di erences,
which were a subject of Saxenian’s (1994) research. The processes that
Saxenian (1994) identi ed, however, were visible in an international com-
parative analysis. One of the signi cant di erences between the Polish and
American companies was the attitude toward programmers’ personal con-
tacts. American interlocutors clearly regarded extended social networks as
resources that could also be useful for the company. The following state-
ment by a USHuncor employee is illustrative:
[Researcher]: What role in your work is played by your contacts with other
programmers, also outside of work?
[USHuncorAnan]: Well . . . I would say that’s a key role.
[USHuncorAnan]: Only because in every project you should, or at least it’s
worth consulting somebody else, ask for advice. The more people I know in the
industry, the easier it is to ask someone for help. If there is a need, I can get suit-
able people for the company. A good programmer is not only a great coder, but
also somebody who is in a good [social] network, because that’s part of a job,
which is true for other professions too. It’s worth employing those who have it.
Other interviewees from American companies expressed similar opin-
ions. A well-placed programmer with many industry acquaintances was
100 The new knowledge workers
considered a worthy asset. This was one of the reasons given for legiti-
mizing recruiting through employee referrals. Managers also considered
extensive contacts as a de nite employee “plus”.
The Polish programmers however presented a slightly di erent
[Researcher]: Is it good to have extensive contacts in the industry?
[PLOneosMini]: Of course it is.
[PLOneosMini]: Firstly, you can ask for advice when needed. Besides, one
cannot assume one would work in one company for the rest of one’s life.
[Researcher]: Well then, doesn’t the employer have something against those
kinds of contacts?
[PLOneosMini]: Who says he doesn’t? [Laugh.] Well, let’s not exaggerate.
People here have common sense; they understand that to solve a matter, some-
times it’s easier to use your contacts. But I can’t say that it is especially well seen
In addition, Polish managers discussed their subordinates’ contacts
quite sparingly. One could get the impression that employers worried
more about an employee quitting than they appreciated their contacts.
This view possibly created a signi cant di erence between the Polish
and the American perception of an employee’s resignation. In the Polish
companies, the majority of opinions were neutral, but in some cases they
were de nitely negative. For example, Daniel, who worked for PLOneos
and was later employed by the client company for which he did a project,
illustrates this concept well. As his superior said bluntly: “Daniel more or
less dropped us in it. You just don’t do things like that.”
In the American corporations, opinions about employees changing
companies were almost always positive. A certain discourse prevailed
regarding job-changing with respect to self-development and ful llment
– or to mismatch. A situation similar to Daniel’s also took place at
USVird: James received a job o er from a client’s company branch, for
which he was implementing a ling and data-encoding system. In his
superior’s opinion, the change was de nitely positive. Moreover, the
manager was pleased that thanks to that situation he now had a “mole”
at the client’s company. Hence, USVird had not only a better brand
image but also an expanded social network. Clearly, the prevailing phi-
losophy was to turn potential con ict situations into those that foster
A positive attitude toward changing employment could increase the
mobility of workers in the industry. In one of the cases observed at
USVisualprog, four employees followed their colleague, Te , to his new
company within six months of his new appointment.
Trust in knowledge work
For professionals, it is typical to nd so-called positional trust (Sztompka,
2005), which means giving credit to professional groups, independently of
individual credibility. This was very apparent in both Polish and American
cultures. Among programmers, however, the bottom line was the author-
ity and personal trust placed in a single person.
This may result from the fact that, among themselves knowledge
workers depended more on symmetrical supervision. According to James
R. Barker this is called “concertive control” (1993), which is based on
each team member supervising others and the group’s self-control. A
key ingredient in cementing a concertive control system is simultaneous
trust among team members at a general level, linked to constant, mutual
supervision. This supervision may be reduced only by each group member
gradually building up their position in the eyes of the others.
In the companies studied, programmers achieved this by developing
their own trust capital. It was this that mainly de ned their freedom. By
contrast, in a hierarchical solution as is found in traditionally run com-
panies, freedom is de ned with respect to the position held and not to an
individual. Trust among themselves and in relation to managers had a
great impact on programmers’ work. Trust capital that was established,
similar to social capital as described by Bourdieu (2001), was a source
of corporate power and independence. It created a structure of informal
authority, which in real life was more important than positions held. Any
particular programmer who was respected within the company also built
his position through failures. The following two situations illustrate this
Stanisław had worked for PLOneos for more than a year. He was assigned
to solve a client’s speci c IT problem. Because he came across problems, he
asked for help from his superior, who refused it. Stanisław tried to work out the
solution, but as he claimed later: “It was impossible to solve it within the given
technology. It would have to be turned upside down.” Because he expressed his
doubts to his boss, his boss, dissatis ed, took him o the project. The assign-
ment was then given to other two programmers. These new employees admit-
tedly did not create exactly what the client wanted, but they designed a solution
close enough. This solution was later accepted by the client, and PLOneos
ful lled the order pro tably.
The second situation had a similar beginning:
Zenon had been a programmer at PLOneos for three years. He was asked to
develop a single module as part of a larger application written up for a client.
He had encountered a serious problem – according to him: “An agreement with
102 The new knowledge workers
the client was such that it was impossible to deliver what was promised. You
could do some tricks, use some charm, but at the end of the day there is no
magic – the best we can deliver is almost a working program.” Zenon, instead
of communicating the problem, began to think about the issue and started to
look for solutions. He searched internet chats and exchanged comments with
other programmers from discussion groups to which he belonged. Admittedly,
he did not nd a ready-made solution, but he found a company in the US that
had once solved a similar problem. Only then did he approach his superior. He
explained the whole situation, described all his research, and suggested buying
the module from the Americans to ful ll the task. That was done and the client
was satis ed; however, PLOneos experienced a loss on that order.
What is striking in both the above situations was that even though
Zenon de facto caused a loss for the company, he emerged from that situ-
ation as a great programmer – an expert in problem-solving. His e ective-
ness was later held up as an example at a team meeting. Stanisław, on the
other hand, communicated a real problem from the start. Because of his
failure, however, he was removed from the project and clearly lost status
in his superior’s eyes. In context of the project, his superior later said (not
mentioning Stanisław directly):
Good programmer . . . A good programmer doesn’t run for help if something
goes wrong, but solves the problem. Even if something is impossible, I believe
that he should come to me and say – okay, this is not the way to do it, but it can
be done in that way.
The situations are di cult to compare directly; the scale of the prob-
lems and di culties could have been very di erent. In Zenon’s case, the
company bought the module and paid extra for one implementation. But
it then had a ready-made solution for future use, which could add to its
range of products. It seems, however, that just communicating problems
at PLOneos was not considered positive. A “good programmer” was
someone who didn’t admit to his weaknesses – this is yet another example
of “individual heroism” (Perlow, 1997). Even if the task was impossible
to complete according to given assumptions, it was better not to commu-
nicate that. This way of thinking was clearly visible at USVisualprog and
heightened the “time famine” of IT projects (Perlow, 1999). If not com-
municating problems is rewarded, then it is no surprise that programmers
try to meet those expectations.
A second important aspect, which should be taken into account when
interpreting both situations, is both programmers’ trust capital. Stanisław
worked at PLOneos for a signi cantly shorter time, and was known for
being not a “good programmer” in line with the criteria mentioned. The
manager did not share Stanistaw’s opinion of the situation and, despite
Trust in knowledge work
requests, was not eager to help him, even if only by assigning an colleague
to assist. The manager preferred to move him to another assignment. This
is always an extreme solution, because the employee has to spend time
getting to know a new situation and task speci cations. According to this
study’s interviewees, being removed from a project is a serious warning
sign that a company is not happy with that employee. Zenon is another
story. His trust capital was so high that when he gave his opinion about
the situation, nobody questioned him. If Zenon believed that the project
could not be done within the budget and time constraints, and that it was
better to buy a ready-made module, then that was what had to be done.
I found that trust capital was also bolstered by not expressing weak-
nesses. Precisely as the manager said, a programmer strengthened his
credibility by “solving problems”. Very important was not just the real
search for possibilities (which, after all, could be impossible to nd), but
also a detailed description of the process. Zenon was also credible because
he clearly described what he did, whom he consulted, and what resources
he used. Stanisław, on the other hand, had low credibility because he could
not back his opinion with information from technical forums, or with peer
comments, and could not clearly articulate what he had done, before he
reported the impossibility of the task. This was despite the fact that he
used much the same search tools as every other programmer.
In the IT industry, references provided by companies and people also
play an important role. This is the direct result of the crisis of trust in the
IT industry and, at the same time, of the tremendous need for e ective
ways for programmers and high-tech companies and clients to become
more credible (Latusek, 2008). Such references apply as well, though infor-
mally, to other team members. At USVisualprog references determined
whether an employee would be assigned interesting work, or whether he
was moved to less interesting and poorly paying tasks (internal recruitment
is discussed in the section “Job Security” in the next chapter). Although at
PLOneos the reference system was not formalized, the trust capital, as the
given examples illustrate, still played an important role.
In high-tech industry trust is created by strengthening dependencies
and one’s support network – it is an exchange ritual in and of itself (Baba,
1999). It is based on foreseeable behavior. Programmers, when asked to
de ne a person worthy of their trust, talked about character traits such as
honesty and quali cations, but also devotion to work and full commit-
ment. An American project manager, asked what distinguished employees
he trusted from those in whom he had limited trust, said:
I trust people who I got to know and I know that they don’t razzle-dazzle, but
they possess true knowledge. If I assign, for example, a part of work to be done,
104 The new knowledge workers
I have to be sure that this person would do it reliably, that it would be in order,
that he gets his teeth into it 100 per cent and he won’t let go.
Communicating problems encountered with the project may not be seen
as positive, but rather as lacking true devotion and “letting go”. Though
turning to other programmers for help is widely accepted, telling superiors
that something cannot be done is not, unless it is backed up by a high level
of trust capital.
In this context, an interesting theory is presented by Chris Grey
and Christina Garsten (2001): inter-company trust is something every
organization has to work out over the process of interactions, through
discursive practices and individual interactions. Bureaucratic work man-
agement has in the past dealt so e ectively with the exclusion of trust
as an informal problem that for many years it ceased to be a subject of
research and lost signi cant meaning among employees. However, post-
bureaucratic changes and expanding networking structures have resulted
in the increased need for trust, of necessity unrelated this time to formal
structure and hierarchy.
These observations are in line with the present study. If this is the
situation generally, then the topic of trust in the knowledge-intensive envi-
ronment calls for further study more than ever before.
1. Strong occupational solidarity is typical in many professions. An extraordinary example
is observed among Polish medical doctors, who until recently were bound by the Code
of Professional Conduct, para. 52, which stated blatantly that doctors should keep
“special caution when formulating opinions about other doctors’ professional conduct;
especially one shouldn’t be discredited in any way.” That paragraph was by no means
a dead code. On its basis, Zo a Szychowska, an assistant professor at a medical school
and a pediatrician, was given warnings and was nally removed from working with
patients. Further, the code was used in an attempt to forbid her from working in her
profession (Kołodziejczyk, 2008). The High Court of Justice, however, ruled that the
code of conduct was incompatible with Polish law. It was emphasized that criticizing
other medical doctors is justi ed only if it serves the public good. What is particularly
surprising (and demonstrates medical doctors’ group solidarity) was the reaction of the
president of the medical tribunal. In response to the High Court of Justice ruling, he
stated that this meant that the code of professional conduct needed no amendments (Lis,
9. Pleasure, motivation and identity in
BOREDOM VS. FUN
Boredom and other adverse aspects of work have been regarded as impor-
tant demotivating factors since the very beginning of management science.
One of the main pioneers of scienti c management theory, regarded as the
paragon of a capitalist (and hated within the trade unions of the time) was
Henry Ford. He postulated (2006, p. 230) the following:
The time has come when drudgery must be taken out of labour. It is not work
that men object to, but the element of drudgery. We must drive out drudgery
wherever we nd it. We shall never be wholly civilized until we remove the
treadmill from the daily job.
If one did not know the author of that statement, the words could be
easily attributed to one of his great opponents and “Theory X” followers
What is interesting, however, is that one of Marx’s memorials is to
have advocated the situation where not only was work a pleasure but also
hobbies would have features similar to work (Marx, 1973). Marx pre-
dicted that one of the properties of the communist system would be a blur
between work and play.
Also, some modern-day scholars argue that technological advance-
ments will in the long run lead to an inevitably to a decline in the demand
for work, which then will result in a signi cant decrease in employment
gures and work time (Gorz, 1985). When people start to work less
then they do at present (according to Gorz, about 20 000 hours during
a lifetime, i.e. the equivalent of ten years of full-time work), yet another
turning point in society will take place – there will be no reason for both
the capitalist and the socialist systems to exist. Then, employment would
become a pleasure, and even a privilege, and more attention would
be devoted to amusements – an essential element of human civiliza-
tion (Huizinga, 1949). The world of work, information and fun would
become one (Negroponte, 1996). Other equally utopian theories assume
106 The new knowledge workers
a diametrically opposite economic transformation (Gorz, 1989), not
taking into account the possible scenario of an increasing strati cation
process: a narrow elite working for corporations, which would de facto
take over functions of government, and a vast number of people living on
social bene ts, yet remaining on the margins of the society. This view is
presented, among others, by the authors writings in the popular “cyber-
punk” genre such as The Diamond Age (Stephenson, 2000). More subtle
authors, for example Jeremy Rifkin (1995) in his acclaimed book The End
of Work, predict that the IT revolution will result in a rapid decrease in
employment. This will then lead, on the one hand, to the development of
a very limited number of knowledge workers, enjoying very good remu-
neration packages. On the other hand, there will be the development of
a vast number of wageworkers on short-term contracts and under strict
electronic supervision. Of course, there would be even greater numbers
of unemployed, and to prevent them from starting riots caused by great
frustration and poverty there could be tasks like public works made avail-
able to them, the “pay” for which would in fact be social bene ts, but
with the symbolic value wages for real work).
Future scenarios work best in science ction, which is why in this book
I have deliberately limited the number of speculations about the future of
employment. This scenario is mentioned, for example, in the catchy thesis
about the rapidly upcoming “Singularity”, a rapid social progress that is
its own accelerator, so that in a few years the world we know will change
drastically (Kurzweil, 2005). In all of these forecasts, the most interest-
ing observation is di cult to easily dismiss – that work to a great extent
evolves (and will continue to do so) toward play. At the same time, owing
to (as was pointed out in the “Work Time” section of Chapter 7) employ-
ees spending most of their lives in modern organizations, particularly in
high-tech enterprises, their work will gradually take on the roles previ-
ously assigned to be undertaken at home (Hochschild, 1997).
In this context, recent research, done before the economic slowdown
by CBOS, called Working Poles 2007 and commissioned by the Polish
Trading Network Lewiatan, nds that almost three-quarters of Poles go
to work with pleasure, and over half like to spend their free time with
colleagues (Janczewska, 2007); see Figures 9.1 and 9.2.
In truth, in two of the companies studied, both managers and employ-
ees repeated that work should above all bring satisfaction. “Work as
pleasure” was a key phrase, regardless of country or position held. For
instance, as the HR manager at PLOneos strongly emphasized:
[PLOneosHrman]: We try to employ the best ones: that’s our policy.
[Researcher]: In what way?
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
Hard to say
Rather no Rather yes
Source: Working Poles, CBOS Report, Commissioned by PKPP Lewiatan (from
Figure 9.1 Responses to the question, “Do you go to work with pleasure?”
Hard to say
Source: Working Poles, CBOS Report, Commissioned by PKPP Lewiatan (from
Figure 9.2 Responses to the question, “Do you like to spend free time with
108 The new knowledge workers
[PLOneosHrman]: We talk to nal year IT graduates in Warsaw, we search
through acquaintances. Generally speaking, even if we cannot o er the highest
salaries, people come here to work because they know that work here is a
Similar opinions about recruiting the best candidates were expressed by
the employees of the HR department and managers at USVisualprog. For
the American company, that statement was especially surprising owing to
the company’s headquarters being situated on the outskirts of a small city
in an area not heavily populated by engineers (another large technological
company there was a GE subsidiary). Even though within 100 km there
is a university ranked in the top 20 universities worldwide both in general
league tables and in technological ones, still the studied area does not
bene t from a popularity even close to that of Silicon Valley in California,
or to that of the main area on Route 128 in Massachusetts. Also, remuner-
ation at USVisualprog did not signi cantly exceed the industry average,
which the managers openly acknowledged. Hence it can be assumed that
the expressed aspiration to “employ the best ones” had an ideologically
rhetorical aspect to it. The phrase was often repeated in interviews and
also in the interviews with the programmers.
However, the majority of employees were not hired through open
job advertisements, but through employee referral. The HR manager at
PLOneos stated that he rarely placed a job ad, and that when he did it
usually brought only poor results.
At USVisualprog also, as already mentioned in previous chapters,
recruitment was done mostly through employee referral and informal
networking. In both organizations, hiring was justi ed by the need for a
“good t” with the team. Good t was strongly emphasized as an impor-
tant trait to have in order to survive in a job. In both companies, it was
de ned in a similar way:
[Researcher]: What does a good t mean?
[PLOneos]: Well, it is about good teamwork, tting well with the rest, really . . .
You have to like your job; otherwise nothing comes out of it.
Managers in both companies admitted openly that during the recruit-
ment process they not only assessed a candidate’s quali cations but also
put emphasis on whether they were enthusiastic about what they did – they
looked only for those who found ful llment in their job. It looked almost
as if being an avid worker was a spiritual trait, more important than just
skills (Izak, 2009).
Enjoyment as a purpose of work came out as being very impor-
tant during interviews, both at USVisualprog and at PLOneos. At
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
USVisualprog managers often repeated that the employed programmers
were given the freedom to “follow one’s bliss”. Both the main founder of
the company (who ran the company and was preparing it to go public) and
the managers stressed that in particular they wanted to create a workplace
with as few imposed restrictions as possible.
One explanation, already analyzed in Chapter 6 could be, that high-tech
engineers have an attitude toward an increased number of procedures.
Because programmers often have an almost allergic reaction toward a
formal corporation work style (a work style, as already mentioned, that
is largely mythical, and embodied by a certain archetype of o ce work
rather than drawn from personal experience), their organizations try
to make their workplace as distant from formal constraints as possible.
Work, though de ned as absorbing, should also be exciting.
That same attitude was seen to a smaller extent at PLOneos. Managers
did not say directly that they associated work with play, although they
emphasized that employees’ comfort was given a high priority. Evidently
they believed that by nature programmers enjoyed what they do:
[Researcher]: What motivation system is implemented in your company?
[PLOneosProjman]: We have a quite expanded system; basically there are many
rewards, performance bonuses . . . If you want the details, it’s best to ask at the
HR department; they would provide you with a broader picture. But it’s pretty
good. I would say that people over here like their jobs and all that motivation
system is just an additional thing.
The manager was convinced that his subordinates worked because they
liked it – you could even get the impression that a motivation system was
not really necessary; in any case it was seen as something extra. Both at
USVisualprog and at PLOneos, the predominant assumption about soft-
ware engineering work was that programmers really enjoyed it.
Strannegård and Friberg (2001) call this phenomenon “a serious game”,
referring to the ability of the modern-day employee to nd folk elements in
their daily work, despite the proper care and devotion they give to it. In the
case of knowledge workers from the high-tech sector, work integrity and
reliability are no longer associated with seriousness, which is especially
interesting in comparison with the members of other professions, who
may care about their image and try to exclude anything that has to do with
private life. This di erence from regular professions in the case of software
engineers is expressed through a casual dress code, described in the section
“Bureaucracy in the High-Tech Environment” in Chapter 6. Knowledge
workers try to manage their workplace in the most comfortable way. It is
a symbolic way of di erentiating themselves from other departments and
underlining the importance of their tasks, which they see as so major and
110 The new knowledge workers
so di cult that it justi es their violation of the general dress code. The
company, in their view, should arrange everything in such a way that work
(already challenging) can be carried on smoothly.
Hence, it should be of no surprise that at the companies studied,
employees had various types of amenities such as an equipped kitchen,
co ee machines, beverages and snacks, and that these amenities were the
Elements of amusements were visible in these workplaces at every
corner, especially at PLOneos. Football tables were in the corridors, and
programmers frequently stayed longer to play a popular online game
together. The most popular were rst-person shooters where the players
could see the virtual world through the eyes of the main character; their
goal was to shoot as many enemies as possible without getting shot too
many times themselves – sometimes in teams and sometimes individually.
An important play element in the workplace was team socialization.
Sometimes employees were under pressure to stay up longer and play. For
instance, one evening Maciej (in his thirties and married) had to go home
earlier, while other programmers from the team stayed a bit longer just to
have fun together. As he was getting ready to leave, his colleagues made
fun of him:
[Jan]: Give him a break, okay? He just can’t bear to lose again, right? [Laugh.]
[Maciej]: Sure, I’m scared to death. Especially of you, my master! [Laugh.]
[Jan]: Next time you are not getting away so easily.
Essentially, the lack of involvement in common play was not a cause
of exclusion from the group. For various reasons, a few team members
chose not to participate in the common games and they were not harassed.
Family atmosphere on the team was fostered by shared meals – very often
they ordered pizzas, and occasionally during the summer instead of having
individual lunches they organized a lunch break in the garden over a bar-
becue (and beer).
In contrast, despite enhanced rhetoric about making work a pleasure
at USVisualprog, private lives and work life were strongly separated.
Programmers from one team rarely shared a meal with everyone else.
Usually they went for lunch to one of the local restaurants either individu-
ally or in groups of two or three. This dispersal was de nitely fostered by a
well-established infrastructure (a large number of local restaurants), which
was missing at PLOneos (which, however, had its own canteen).
In every company, a mini-survey was carried out on whether program-
mers often spent free time with their colleagues. The results are presented
in table 9.1.
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
Table 9.1 Responses to the question, “How often do you spend free time
with your colleagues?”
Very often Often Sometimes Rarely Hardly ever Never
PLOneos 24% (5) 33% (7) 33% (7) 10% (2) 0% (0) 0% (0)
PLSantos 25% (2) 38% (3) 38% (3) 0% (0) 0% (0) 0% (0)
USVisualprog 6% (2) 6% (2) 31% (11) 34% (12) 20% (7) 3% (1)
USHuncor 0% (0) 29% (2) 43% (3) 14% (1) 14% (1) 0% (0)
USVird 40% (2) 40% (2) 20% (1) 0% (0) 0% (0) 0% (0)
Source: Author’s own work.
It is very interesting that in both Polish companies, the start-up as well
as the larger, some 60 per cent of programmers declared that they often
or very often spent free time with their colleagues. This was true for only
11 per cent of employees at USVisualprog, who clearly separated their
private and work relations. Undoubtedly, also, programmers at USVird
were very friendly – which is no surprise when we take into account that
the team was established using private contacts.
Qualitative research also showed that some programmers at PLOneos
even spent holidays together or helped each other with issues unrelated
to work. In PLOneos I came across a few people who spent signi cantly
more time at work than those at all the studied companies in both coun-
tries (even, which is hard to believe, working over 100 hours a week in
extreme cases). Those programmers emphasized their excitement about
code writing, but at the same time they hardly had any private life. All
three were single males between 25 and 35 and they spent their free time at
work as well, occasionally on the weekends and usually in the empty o ce.
What is interesting is that despite the high workload so common among
engineers, in all of the studied companies as many as 45 per cent of the
Polish and 26 per cent of the American programmers admitted that occa-
sionally they developed software for pleasure as their hobby (Figure 9.3).
More than national di erences, however, the clear distinction in the
study was between small start-up companies and larger rms. At both
PLSantos and USVird, the smallest among the studied companies, the
majority of programmers claimed they developed software for pleasure
as well as for work, whereas in other companies that gure was less than
Twenty-four people in total from all the studied companies gave an
a rmative answer to the question, “Do you ever do programming for
pleasure?” Each was asked to indicate the time interval, among four
possibilities, in which their last programming just for fun occurred. The
112 The new knowledge workers
Oneos Santos Visualprog Huncor
Source: Author’s own work.
Figure 9.3 Responses to the question, “Do you ever do programming for
Table 9.2 Last occurrence of programming just for fun
Week Month Half year Year Longer
PLOneos (7) 14% (1) 29% (2) 43% (3) 14% (1) 0% (0)
PLSantos (6) 33% (2) 33% (2) 17% (1) 17% (1) 0% (0)
USVisualprog (6) 17% (1) 17% (1) 50% (3) 17% (1) 0% (0)
USHuncor (2) 0% (0) 50% (1) 0% (0) 50% (1) 0% (0)
USVird (3) 33% (1) 33% (1) 33% (1) 0% (0) 0% (0)
Source: Author’s own work.
results are presented in Table 9.2. Although such a small sample does
not allow a broader analysis and conclusions, it is interesting that once
again the two small companies, i.e. PLSantos and USVird, were the ones
in which almost two-thirds of interlocutors had programmed for fun
during the last week or month. Distinctive also is that none of the pro-
grammers admitted to not devoting time over the past year (this answer
is related to the rst question – since they boasted about programming
for pleasure; it would be awkward thus to say that it was so long ago).
Programmers at USVisualprog had last programmed for pleasure the
longest time ago – over two-thirds having done so as much as half a year
before or earlier.
This quantitative mini-analysis was not the main part of my research,
and should be treated only as secondary to the main, qualitative part. It
did however indicate a very interesting phenomenon. Representatives of a
profession under tremendous time pressure frequently seem to do similar
tasks, not just at work but also in their free time. That nding is validated
by the main, qualitative part of this research – the statement made by the
programmer at PLOneos is representative:
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
[Researcher]: Do you spend a large amount of time at home thinking about
problems at work?
[PLOneosZenek]: No, almost never. Usually I don’t have that much free time,
and even if I do programming, it’s on something else.
[Researcher]: Does that mean that you do programming aside from work?
[PLOneosZenek]: Yes, just my stu .
[Researcher]: What kind of things are those? Are these programs written so as
to start up your own company one day?
[PLOneosZenek]: No, nothing like that. Just for fun really. For example, I have
recently written a program for a random picture display. There are web portals
that do that, but they don’t o er exactly what I wanted. So I wrote a program,
and now if I want to insert my online gallery, I can do it exactly as I want to.
Without ads, funny demo e ects, everything as I planned it. When I improve it
a little, I can pass it on to my friends.
A similar behavior pattern was true for other speakers from both coun-
tries, who occasionally wrote software as a hobby or participated in the
open-source community. It is also interesting that some programmers
openly acknowledged occasional implementations of additional functions
to their applications under development, which were not included in the
project’s speci cations, but only because they thought of them as “nice”
and “useful”. This nding is in line with research by Kunda, who reported
(1992, p. 39):
Technology and its aesthetics are said to be the main concern of engineers,
who are driven by a fascination with “neat things” or “bells and whistles” –
challenging features to design, interesting problems, and sophisticated, state-
of-the-art technology . . . If these qualities are not available in regular work
and assigned projects, they can be sought in “midnight projects” – the illicit
projects that dedicated engineers are said to take on in their free time for the
sheer interest or pleasure of the work.
It is worth pointing out here that using aesthetic terminology and
de ning work in terms of its artistic aspects are pretty common aspects
in the software industry (Jemielniak, 2008b). At rst glance, the role of
an artist (a creative, special individual working in bursts of intuition and
talent) is contradictory to the role of an engineer (typically an educated
specialist, who reliably and predictably works on the assigned project).
However, it turns out that in order to describe their work, programmers
will use aesthetic phrases (Case and Piñeiro, 2006; Piñeiro, 2003) and their
professional attitude is almost evenly made up of both the engineering
philosophy and the artistic (Bryant, 2000). Similarly, the vocabulary of
aesthetics may be useful for analyzing entrepreneurial identities (Warren
and Anderson, 2009), as well as relations between the spheres of social
and public entrepreneurship (Hjorth, 2009). Within the parameters of the
114 The new knowledge workers
research program presented here, that issue was a subject of an independ-
ent study with research ndings presented in a separate article (Jemielniak,
2008b); the interested reader can refer to it. For the purpose of this chapter
it should be su cient to note that programming is done not only for
instrumental reasons but also because of creative satisfaction (Piñeiro,
2002) – which is a very important, though sometimes understated, feature
of knowledge work. A more detailed study of playful behaviors in soft-
ware companies, based on the research presented here, has been the topic
of a separate publication (Hunter et al., 2010).
However, a more general observation is crucial here. In all of the compa-
nies studied, knowledge work, as a rule, was predominantly interpreted as
pleasure. The elements of work management, which were considered bur-
densome or unattractive (a formal dress code, strict o ce hours, reporting,
hierarchy, bureaucracy and the like) were eliminated or at least cut down.
Knowledge work was perceived as carnivalesque, allowing for temporary
liberation from social order and hierarchies (Kociatkiewicz and Kostera,
2010) and abandoning the undesired formalities. Though it is true that
certain tasks had, in an obvious way, to include laborious and burdensome
elements for all the actors, in general both managers and subordinates
shared the belief that programming in itself is something that in principle
gives great satisfaction. One of the speakers at USVisualprog even said so:
[Researcher]: Do you like your work?
[USVisualprog]: Do I like it? I tell you what: there are only a limited number of
things that give me as much pleasure as working here.
The company’s expectations toward employees’ enjoyment for work
were visible, as already described, at the recruitment stage. At the same
time, it was clear that even though programmers had a chance of working
on “the neat things they might prefer” (Kunda, 1992, p. 44), time was
spent mostly on laborious and down-to-earth activities – debugging,
bu ng up the code and putting the pieces together.
In artistic professions, work is often absent as a topic of the discourse
(Sullivan, 2007). A distinguished actor or a director does not “work” but
rather “creates”. This is also true of knowledge workers, whose profession
often requires a high level of creativity. It is not quite cool for knowledge
workers to be just wageworkers. At the same time, what distinguishes
knowledge workers and professionals from regular workers is that their
professional roles often require that (Freidson, 2001, p. 108) “[m]embers
of a given profession work more for job satisfaction achieved through
good work, and not for daily life comforts, which it [the work] helps to
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
It is expected that knowledge workers will treat their job as pleasure,
and to some extent fun. This is in clear opposition to the expectations for
blue-collar workers, for whom work by de nition is expected to be per-
ceived as nasty drudgery and has been constructed and described as such
since the beginnings of our discipline (Taylor, 1998).
This expectation is expressed by both the companies and the profes-
sional culture – which is why it has such a strong impact. A programmer
who does not speak enthusiastically about his or her job stands a worse
chance of employment and promotion and is seen as less valuable by
potential colleagues. Surely, the reasoning seems to be, implementing nor-
mative or concertive control is only possible in the case of really devoted
There is yet another factor that in uences the presence of fun and
entertainment elements at work. It is related to the innovative and creative
aspect of programming. As Steven Weber (2004, p. 59) puts it:
The essence of software design, like the writing of poetry, is a creative process.
The role of technology and organization is to liberate that creativity to the
greatest extent possible and to facilitate its translation into working code.
Neither new technology nor a “better” division of labor can replace the creative
essence that drives the project.
Each contractor has a di erent work style and an ability to achieve
optimal focus to work at optimum capacity; yet at the same time they
need occasionally to take a break from what they are doing. The creative
aspect of programming additionally increases the freedom that is given
to knowledge workers and further allows them to have various amenities
and relaxation facilities at the o ce. As mentioned in the discussion on
normative control (Chapter 6), in the case of the most desired employer
in the world, Google, it is possible to implement an “ideal” model of
staying at the company’s premises, without the need to go outside, by
providing there all the amenities – recreation, fun and even childcare
This phenomenon is related to yet another reason for a strong pres-
ence of fun elements at the workplace and also the handling and viewing
of work as pleasure. It seems that we are witnessing an important social
change. As knowledge workers permanently experience lack of time,
often devoting most of it to work except for necessary rest, they have no
opportunities for amusement other than at work. The issue is related not
only to the lack of time as such, but also (and maybe mostly) to fewer
and fewer social opportunities to make friends outside the company.
Alan Liu calls this process “the laws of cool” (2004, pp. 77–8, original
116 The new knowledge workers
Increasingly, knowledge work has no true recreational outside. Cool, therefore,
arises inside the regime of knowledge work as what might be called an intracul-
ture rather than a subculture or counterculture. Cool is an attitude or pose from
within the belly of the beast, an e ort to make one’s very mode of inhabiting a
cubicle express what in the 1960s would have been an “alternative lifestyle” but
now in the postindustrial 2000s is an alternative work style. We work here, but
we’re cool. Out of all technologies and techniques that rule our days and nights, we
create a style of work that is “us” in this place that knows us only as part of our
team. Forget this cubicle, just look at this cool Web page.
As a result, interpreting work as fun becomes a tool of control. Software
engineers do not really have any choice: they have to be excited about
their work, or face unemployment. This is really a perverse interference
with employees’ freedom – theoretically they are o ered many privileges,
conveniences and rights, including exclusion from dress-code rituals,
strict time-clock measure etc. In fact, however, they have to love their
jobs. Working just for a living is not an option. Since the love of coding is
also part of programmers/hackers, professional ethos (Case and Pińeiro,
2009), the pressure to be zealous about work among software engineers
is particularly strong. Organizational approval for the playful character
of work could be, in fact, a way to infantilize and disempower knowledge
workers (Hunter, 2010).
Various studies show that work in the high-tech industry greatly depends
on the national culture. For instance, an analysis of Indian programmers
shows that very often they decide to change employers for short-term ben-
e ts, and that long-term self-development in one company rarely interests
them. This is because of family expectations and peer pressure (Agrawal
and Thite, 2003). In Japan, on the other hand, where the job-for-life
culture is still maintained, if only as a custom, programmers change jobs
very seldom (Licker, 1983).
Both at USVisualprog and PLOneos, programmers regarded job secu-
rity as very important. Although this attitude was not surprising in Poland
(Bogucka, 1997), in the US one would expect that, in high-tech corpo-
rations in particular, job security would not be considered something
special; see Hofstede (1980).
The apparent renouncement of job security can have an element of
managerial propaganda. One of the most supported myths among high-
tech corporations is the belief that knowledge workers signi cantly di er
from those seen as “white-collars” (Ross, 2003). Examples from the
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
temporary workforce and outsourcing indicate that these di erences can
often be arti cial. Also, in the high-tech industry the intellectual worker
experiences management control techniques typical for manual workers
(Ehrenreich, 2005). In emphasizing the di erences between those two
groups, the company can be aiming at two things: rst, discouraging
programmers from representing group interests; second, creating a feeling
that high sta turnover is ordinary in their profession, but that there are
no problems nding the next job. The IT crisis in 2000 showed that this
point of view is clearly not true, and that all employment opportunities
do depend on the general prosperity, which is often di cult to forecast
in the high-tech industry. That crisis was followed by changes in the job
market, which then caused knowledge workers in the high-tech industry
to establish trade unions and even to strike. Thus, on 1 April 2008, 1200
employees of the French company Capgemini, the biggest IT company in
France, went on a half-day strike because there had been no pay rises for
a few years (Bendyk, 2008).
Hence it should be no surprise that even though programmers are per-
ceived as members of the “golden-collar” group, they value highly their
stable relations with their employers. Even though some of them decide
to go freelance and work as independent contractors (S.R. Barley and
Kunda, 2004), for reasons that may include those discussed in chapter 6,
those who are employed on regular basis de nitely value job security.
This was the case at USVisualprog. Programmers there not only
regarded job security as a certain plus, but they also described it as one of
the most important positive aspects of their company. As one of the senior
[USVisualprogJack]: The recruitment here is very selective, in fact if you are
hired, we know for sure that it works out. Of course, the catch is that for every
project there is an internal recruitment – if you don’t have a good reputation,
you can simply not have interesting tasks and that is tiring. In a sense you don’t
do what you would really like to, though you can manage your own destiny.
Either way, we keep people here, and this is de nitely a good thing, that is, the
belief that it’s not like if you have a worse period than it’s a goodbye.
In the company, an important part of an employee’s remuneration
depended on the budgets of the projects for which there was internal
recruitment – together with job interviews and the necessary acceptance by
all team members. This meant that the employees who were considered to
be less experienced, or con icting, clearly had regular di culty in receiving
interesting (and better-paid) tasks. Though USVisualprog did promote a
“follow your bliss” attitude, in truth some employees were left with simple
tasks and with work for large clients that involved all the programmers in
118 The new knowledge workers
one department. Usually those tasks required an implementation of yet
another version of existing products for long-term clients; the common
perception was that other tasks were much more interesting – for example,
new software development.
This view was of course related to the management of one’s reputation,
as already mentioned in earlier chapters. For all specialists, “facework”
played a key role (Go man, 1961). In other words, their knowledge and
achievements were of less importance; more important were the abilities
in presenting them, as well as the rhetorical skills of selling their assets.
One of the employees who had been with the company for over 12 years
described his disappointment with his career:
[USVisualprogTim]: I think that my self-development is withered by the lack
of formal quali cations, cos I only have certi cates and only now am nishing
my undergraduate studies . . . But really in a company like this, but I suppose
in any other, it is very important how well you can negotiate, how well you can
argue your case. I prefer to think things over, not getting going straight away.
I’ve noticed that here it’s easier to climb a ladder simply if one is self-assured.
Tim had been with USVisualprog for a long time, and though he was
satis ed with his work, he had a feeling of injustice. He openly laughed o
the “follow your bliss” policy:
[Researcher]: Hmm, that is interesting, o cially the company says that every-
body is a master of their destiny.
[USVisualprogTim]: Well, maybe I am just blind.
[Researcher]: No, no, just simply describe to me how it really works for you.
[USVisualprogTim]: I started as a technician, just putting parts together. I
later noticed that nobody did cabling in some products, in truth each engineer
designs this in his own way, but nobody tries to put it together. So I started to
do connections diagrams and walked around asking engineers how each one
sees it. Finally, I started presenting my own ideas. This was a totally bottom-
line initiative, we were doing that crazy project, and in the end, I started to do
engineering work, and because in this at structure nobody looks and says,
“Who is that guy who started doing engineering work?” So after a year or two,
when they realized how big that deal really is, hundreds of millions, they real-
ized that somebody should have a broad look at the hardware issues . . . So,
sure thing we had a talk and of course I said that I understood that they needed
an experienced person, that would be better for the company. That’s of course
what they did and my position was cut back. I have often asked for more engi-
neering tasks ever since, but I have never managed to get a similar position.
However, such statements were rare. Sta turnover at USVisualprog
was small and amounted to some 3 per cent annually. On a few occasions
employees handed in their resignations, but then became self-employed
and were doing the same things as before for their former employer.
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
Nominally they were accounted for in the turnover indicator, but they
remained in relatively good and close relations with their employing
company, sometimes working for it exclusively.
In the case of PLOneos, sta turnover was signi cantly higher and
amounted annually to about 10 per cent. Even there, it was di cult to regard
turnover as high. Additionally, interviewees emphasized that job security
was important to them. The majority of programmers believed they would
not want to change their job, even if they were o ered a better-paying one.
Both companies recognized the need for stability, and when making
redundancies they tried to smooth them out, o ering a laid-o pro-
grammer the ability to work as a freelancer. Nonetheless, programmers
believed that this was a form of ring, yet they did appreciate the fact that
they were not just thrown out on the street, so to speak:
[PLOneosMat]: Well, it’s a bit of bullshit really – on one hand we are this big
family, help each other as a team and it’s all nice as pie, and later it turns out
that someone who was okay for a while does not t in anymore. There are no
miracles here, a company has to make a pro t, and sometimes somebody has to
be laid o , so others have a job in the long term. It’s cool that usually they do
it very nicely, in a meaning that yes, we are laying you o , yet we want you to
keep working for us, but not on exclusive terms and not on the same conditions.
As other research shows (Agarwall and Ferrratt, 2001), these high-tech
enterprises, which want to keep employees on a long-term basis, often
o er exible hours, bonuses in the form of share options, nancial sta-
bility (even internal loans), paid training and the like. In contrast, those
companies that focused more on short-term results accepted a high sta
turnover and prevented it only by o ering competitive salaries. However,
a similar situation was not observed in my research.
Things looked a bit di erent at PLSantos. Though sta turnover was
very low (only one person left the company in the year during which the
research took place), employees could not talk about job security, as de
facto they were not employed – each was self-employed, working exclu-
sively for PLSantos. Apart from the legal aspect of employment, their
work was the same as if they were employed, including an informal but
always respected policy of paid holidays. This was of course a way to
evade taxes, while the owner of PLSantos was able to avoid the cost of
health insurance and pensions. All programmers were o ered a clear alter-
native: the PLSantos owner declared that within the cost of employment
everyone could become fully employed (obtaining bene ts, but decreasing
their salaries in real terms), and quite clearly nobody decided to do so.
Another rm, USVird – a Silicon Valley enterprise – also stood out
from the results presented above. Maybe that was due to its start-up
120 The new knowledge workers
character, or its location (and a regional management culture and work
philosophy). Interviewees strongly emphasized that job security did not
bear any special value for them:
[USVirdJohn]: You know how it works – once you’re here, once you are over
there. I don’t really care about having a great corporate career and climbing a
career ladder. My plan is rather to hit a good idea and a project. And to hit well,
you have to keep trying. Among my friends, the majority does the same thing –
if you believe in a project, and this project can, let’s say, bring long-term nan-
cial security if it works out really well, then you dump everything else and do it.
Other publications have found a similar attitude. According to some
scholars, high sta turnover in the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley
is one of the key factors behind that region’s high development and rapid
spread of knowledge (Fallick et al., 2006). Others point out that low job
security has a great in uence on stress and the feeling of being abused by
other employees, which dramatically decreases loyalty (Chun, 2001). This
issue is worth a separate study, but owing to its local nature it is not a
subject of further discussion in this book.
It should be noted, though, that in Poland, apart from industry-wide
speci cations, full-time employment has always been highly valued, and
for a long time job security has often been perceived as a value in itself
(Frieske, 2004; Nowicka, 1999). When evaluating the reasons behind the
slow development of Polish high-tech companies and the lack of globally
recognizable software produced by them, it is worth considering that low
sta turnover also directly in uences the low dynamics of the process of
building up clusters and networking.
Traditionally, knowledge has been almost perceived exclusively as a posi-
tive resource (Grudzewski and Hejduk, 2004; Kowalczyk and Nogalski,
2007; Perechuda, 2005). Rarely are the need for its compatibility and the
resulting subjective assessment within a knowledge workers’ collectivity
pointed out. This aspect is also important however and is illustrated in the
[USVird]: There is this one employee here, and I am not giving out his name,
who came here with the set of skills di erent to those of others. They are very
useful, but di erent to the ones which everybody is used to. Besides, he has
various faults and certain annoying traits. But without a doubt, he is coach-
able, certainly yes. But instead of saying that here is this guy with this set of
skills, it would be worth learning this . . . he was just margined out, both due to
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
his faults, but also because he was a threat to other engineers because he knew
things others did not.
What is interesting in this story is that “good t” meant not only
a similar value system or a sense of humor (which were identi ed as
being very important in other interviews, too), but also having similar
In the statement cited in Chapter 6, in the section about “Bureaucracy in
the High-Tech Environment”, the vice president of USVisualprog believed
that in her company a formal role was barely important in the assessment
process of anybody’s idea, and that everybody had to work on their pres-
entation to be seen as a useful person. However, she pointed to the related
practical inconveniences for those who had joined the company only
recently. If in fact you had to earn authority from others, then managing
daily tasks as an outsider could be really di cult, especially if teamwork
In the literature on professionals, as already mentioned in previous
chapters, this group is often characterized as having knowledge as the
main basis for the creation of internal hierarchies (as opposed to formal
hierarchies that are based on political and power skills). In theory, then,
in line with the vice president’s statement, the more that any given rep-
resentative of a profession knows, the more respect they enjoy in the
professional group. In reality, as is illustrated in the later part of the VP
interview, the situation can be a bit di erent:
[USVisualprog]: Everybody tries to do their best here; there are people who nd
their place not through the feeling of security, but rather through threat. So
with that guy . . .. Instead of saying “Listen, maybe we can do it your way,” or
“Man, you speak the language nobody understands, because it relates to your
part, which nobody else does, so what kind of example could you use from my
area so it makes sense to me?”, basically he was given a really tough time, and
I mean really rude comments about his work, that he plays a wise guy, looks
down on others, and so on.
[Researcher]: What happened next?
[USVisualprog]: Well, that guy has a tough time, but he tries hard. Maybe in a
year or two, people would notice that he does sensible things, that in his area he
is okay. I think that he is going to deal with this, maybe someone would coach
him. He will succeed, even if he leaves the company.
The USVisualprog programmer’s story shows that it can be the other
way around: having skills that are exceptionally di erent from the ones
possessed by those employed earlier alienates a person from the group and
lowers that person’s value among their colleagues. Naturally, it all depends
on many factors, like the size of the common ground and an ability to use
122 The new knowledge workers
the new skills within the current practices, the ability to t well within the
corporate culture and adapt to it and to the preferred technologies, and
so on. Nevertheless, it is clear that local professional hierarchies can be
developed, not just through the assessment of skills but in a relational way.
It is not important how much knowledge and skills each specialist has in
the eyes of the others, but rather to what degree they can incorporate them
into teamwork. As mentioned in Chapter 8, “knowledge” in itself is not
important; mostly it is the trust among peers and superiors that matters,
local prestige based on the assumption that the person really knows his
stu . It could be even worse: a software engineer who is actually more
quali ed than his peers but has a di erent background could in fact be
perceived as less competent.
On many occasions, programmers and IT specialists will claim that
pure knowledge in solving current problems plays an insigni cant role.
Much more important however is the ability to adapt to the situation at
hand, to nd creative solutions, or to understand the problem thoroughly
(Alvesson, 1995). Bizarre though this comment may seem, knowledge can
certainly be a bit fetishized and overrated as a key criterion in knowledge
work (Alvesson, 2001).
As observed at both USVisualprog and PLOneos, professional hier-
archies are based mainly on the process of information barter and occa-
sionally on mutual help, and not on abstract skills rank or knowledge
possessed. Employees who were willing to help each other were often seen
as more skilled; an aspect that was especially visible among programmers
with less work experience (under three years).
Julian Orr (1996) noticed that technicians at Xerox very often had to
rely on advice and information exchanged about repaired devices. The
o cial documentation frequently proved to be insu cient, and sometimes
not compliant with the facts1. Employees simply had to help each other,
and they mostly bene ted from that oral advice. A parallel situation takes
place among programmers, except of course that they often exchange
information on the internet. What is interesting here is that every so often
both USVisualprog and PLOneos programmers would make extensive use
of knowledge from internet chat rooms and comments posted on informa-
tion group sites all around the world. And, clearly, on many occasions
such knowledge and comments came from programmers nding similar
problems in their own work on the development of similar products for
directly competing companies. However, according to the speakers:
(USVisualprogFin): It’s like that: if I come across a problem, especially in the
popular environment, there is a big chance that I am not the rst, and that
someone has already had that problem. The only trouble is how to elicit that
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
information. The easiest way is to search the internet chat rooms, posts . . . On
the other hand, people sometimes recognize each other on those chats. They
are more willing to help you, if they see that you answer others. What’s more,
it really drags you in, rstly you just read, then you ask a few questions, then
you see that someone asks about something that you have cracked or that you
know, so it’s normal that you post a comment about how to do it.
Another valuable source of information was colleagues. Though it may
seem surprising, at both PLOneos and at USVisualprog chronometric
analysis indicated that programmers spend nearly half their time interact-
ing, including meetings and consultations. The majority of programmers
consulted colleagues on problems with the current project and also on
more general issues related to programming. Many of these interactions
had a socializing character as well.
Contrary to other research observations (compare e.g. Hertzum, 2002),
knowledge exchange in the companies studied rarely had a directly equiva-
lent character. The most helpful software engineers were often solicited for
help, and even 70 per cent of their conversing time was spent on conversa-
tions that they did not commence. In both organizations, there were a few
programmers (including people with signi cant experience and a number
of years in that company) who even though they were rarely asked for help
nevertheless often used the help of others, spending 82 per cent of talk in
discussions started by them. In spite of this aspect, they were not seen as
useless or as overusing the kindness of others.
This approach is very typical of communities. When purely individual
relations are most important, there are clear expectations about com-
pensation for incurred input costs (also in the form of advice). Favors
are exchanged routinely, and queries about them and about repayments
are met with a positive attitude. Individuals make mental notes about
the “balance” of mutual services, and the continuous lack of reciproca-
tion loosens relations. However, if the aim is to create a community,
the situation is dramatically di erent (Mills and Clark, 1994). Members
of the community hardly ever follow mutual services equivalence, and
often they do not mind long periods without input equilibrium among
individuals. Helping members of the community is perceived as natural,
however, and is a source of respect and local recognition, similarly to
the gift exchange rituals described in anthropological classics (Mauss,
Probably because of that rationale, none of the programmers studied
described colleagues’ requests for help as a serious obstacle at work.
This is especially interesting when we take into account the permanent
shortage of time they experienced. It would seem that each employee
would in particular try to ful ll their own tasks, leaving any request
124 The new knowledge workers
for help until later and then limiting it whenever possible. This process
however did not take place, as already described under “Disruptive
Breaks at Work”.
As other research shows, informal consultations and knowledge
exchange are the basic way of gaining constant development and train-
ing among programmers (Marks and Lockyer, 2004). Contrarily to their
common “geek” or “nerd” stereotype, programmers must have strongly
developed social and communication skills to master their profession
through interactions and knowledge exchange even though it can be
totally incomprehensible to outsiders. Possibly such mutual help, infor-
mation exchange and development of tools can be useful for other team
members and are seen by programmers as a very positive trait that has an
important in uence on the internal hierarchies of the company and also of
A very interesting situation was observed at PLOneos. Jan, a pro-
grammer with a few years of experience in the company, aside from his
standard workload, decided to solve a problem that had been challenging
for the whole team over a few months. The problem was that modules of
some basic server application designed by PLOneos (and consisting of a
communication module with the clients) were writing data locally onto
the server where the application was installed, enabling somewhat more
advanced data aggregation and integration. This proved problematic for
companies that were running the application in many places and under
various interfaces (usually gradually implementing the application at their
branches, with various modi cations applied by each branch individu-
ally). With each subsequent implementation, the team had its hands full
adjusting the system to the particular needs of the individual branches, yet
keeping all the other implementations running smoothly and maintaining
the universal character of the kept data.
Jan came up with the idea of a universal overlay, that corresponded
to the local database. This should have made the work of others sig-
ni cantly easier. He decided to prepare the overlay and was met with
enthusiasm from his colleagues, who unanimously praised his idea and
believed that its implementation would be a timesaver. However, when
he started to work on it, mostly independently from his current tasks
and partially at the cost of current project time, he received a strong
scolding from the project’s manager, Andrzej. Andrzej said brie y that
even though, of course, one day that kind of overlay would be useful,
Jan must not prepare it at that very moment. He was clearly irritated
that Jan had started to work on it without consulting him and believed
that all his resources should be put into accelerating the work processes
in the current project. However, Jan later explained to me that this was
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
to some extent an illusory assumption because a lot depended on the
modules being developed simultaneously by each programmer (in theory
Jan could do more, but he was limited by the pace of work of the others).
He spoke bluntly about that situation:
[PLOneosJan]: I just really don’t know how to call it really . . . Recklessness,
total recklessness. We waste three times more time if we don’t have that.
Besides, he must think that I am going to run after everything, ask for permis-
sion. Give me a break. Paranoia.
This disagreement was resolved quickly and amicably – Andrzej o -
cially “delegated” the task of nishing up the overlay to Jan, but only after
Jan had completed the work on the module currently being developed. The
whole situation looked like a power game over the freedom of decisions: it
could be interpreted, in the most classical line of interpretation, as part of
the struggle to control the production process. The manager clearly felt the
need to emphasize his superiority. He could have perceived an individually
taken decision as a sign of anarchy, yet he also felt personally responsible
for the pace of the work of the current project. The programmer, on the
other hand, believed that he acted within the just limits of his freedom of
decision and that any possible delays to the current module were minor in
the face of the bene ts of having the overlay completed.
It is di cult to say whether Jan was right, i.e. whether that from the
company’s point of view the overlay would have brought more bene ts.
He also played his own game, emphasizing his independence, putting
himself in the role of a good Samaritan, and simply doing more interest-
ing and individually designed tasks, instead of boring, though necessary,
work on the module. However, maybe to some extent owing to that situa-
tion and maybe because of the social order that existed in that group, the
team did not like Andrzej. One of the speakers said, for example, that he
“likes to boss around a little”; another did not like the constant control
and monitoring of project advancements. It is worth mentioning that, in
general, the programmers studied had a low opinion of the planning and
management processes. They tried to avoid control of not only their own
work but also that of others – and planning was indicated as the least liked
and rarely carried out of their duties (compare: Rose, 2002).
Andrzej, on the other hand, in a private conversation commented:
To gain control over the project is really a di erent league altogether. IT
projects are so very complicated, hardly ever go as planned, always something
has to come out. Then there is a control process that everybody does what he
or she are supposed to do. If I were to say what’s the most di cult at least in
management, I would probably go for motivation.
126 The new knowledge workers
In fact, even though Andrzej was probably not the best source of
knowledge about the e ective management of programmers, motivation
of knowledge workers is still a di cult and interesting issue; it is worth a
closer look, especially from the standpoint of the professional identity of
MOTIVATION AND IDENTITY OF KNOWLEDGE
In the classic sociological work by Michael Burawoy (1979), manual
workers in the industrial plant he studied experienced a typical motiva-
tion system. They had to meet certain output standards (usually related
to the quantity of produced parts), and then they received their basic pay.
However, if they exceeded those limits, they received an additional per-
formance bonus. Burawoy studied the issue through participant observa-
tion (by working ten months in the described factory) and discovered that
workers very often, though they could have gone over output standards,
decided not to do so. To the contrary, they tried to hide their true capac-
ity from superiors. They constantly complained about the requirements
being too high, even with regard to tasks that could have been done much
faster and easier than was indicated in the speci cations. They also applied
very complex group strategies to hide excess output and hand it out later,
shared perks and time “saved up” on too low-limits, and so on. At the
same time, Burawoy believed the introduction of game elements to the
workplace discourse (leaving to employees parts of the work processes
that they could in uence, and relying upon their actions and decisions
with the possibility – though not the certainty – of obtaining the desired
rewards) greatly increased employees’ involvement, and motivation and
competitiveness. In his doctoral thesis was on relations at the workplace
in a start-up software company in California, under the supervision of,
nota bene, Burawoy), Linus Huang noticed that similar dynamics of work
organization could be observed in high-tech companies (Huang, 2008).
Motivating knowledge workers is especially di cult: as already men-
tioned, since their work in progress cannot be as closely supervised and
evaluated, even more depends on incentives, other stimuli and normative
control in general. That is why recruitment also becomes a key element
(the aim being the employment of those who will be engrossed in their
work) and the ability to adjust that work to the normative control culture.
From the start, programmers emphasized how much they liked their jobs
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
Figure 9.4 A knowledge worker motivation model
– this is clearly expected from representatives of this profession, often
more than the technical skills. Freedom is enjoyed by the programmers in
relation to exible hours, dress code, language and other aspects, and goes
along with the expectations about time devoted to work and adjustability
to a team. William H. Whyte’s observation about the “organization man”
is certainly in place here (1956, p. 36):
They will adjust him. Through the scienti c application of human relations,
these neutralist technicians will guide him into satisfying solidarity with the
group so skillfully and unobtrusively that he will scarcely realize how the ben-
efaction has been accomplished.
In summing up and concluding these research ndings, it can be said
that motivating knowledge workers is based mainly on normative control
(including both occupational output standards resulting from concertive
control and those imposed by the ideological system), and the identity of
each actor (determining also the particular fully internalized standards
that each employee identi es with completely and which then in uence the
ideological discourse). This simple model is illustrated in Figure 9.4.
The issue of normative control has already been discussed. The issue of
ideology in knowledge companies is discussed in Chapter 10. Thus, I
128 The new knowledge workers
would like to focus here on the topic of the social identity of knowledge
workers. Identity as a scienti c term in organizational and management
theory and in sociology and anthropology is borrowed from psychology;
yet it has a somewhat di erent meaning and research history (FAME
Consortium, 2007). Even for Erving Go man (2000), personal identity
is clearly di erentiated from social identity and also from professional
and organizational identity – only the last two areas are of interest in this
Thus understood, identities seek to provide security for employees
and makes it easier to give meaning to individual’s actions. Even though
formal rules and procedures imply general, functioning barriers within
a company, the process of identi cation with company goals indicates
real engagement in that company’s operations. This aspect was observed
almost half a century ago by Daniel Katz, who stated that “an organiza-
tion which depends solely upon its blueprints of prescribed behavior is
a very fragile social system” (1964, p. 132). Given that, a social identity
related to work, especially for knowledge workers, greatly in uences their
motivation. Although motivation systems and HRM theory have been
studied and described in depth (and are not a subject of further discussion
here), the issue of the professional identity of knowledge workers has only
recently begun to interest international scholars.
An identity can at the same time be both narrower and broader than
a role. A professional and organizational role can be a carrier of stories
beyond the identity of one actor, yet many roles often make up one
identity, and every identity has an individual character (while the role is
shared among many who meet certain conditions). Development of an
employee’s identity has a discursive character and is linked to practices
(actions). That is why Ann Westenholz (2006a) suggests it is important
to review social identity as a process resulting from the simultaneous
coupling of four separate phenomena: social practice, relational partici-
pants2, ambivalent eld stories (contradicting each other, hence invoking
thought and the possibility of change) and multiple subject positions, as
used by social players (Figure 9.5). Hence, identities can be seen as socially
constructed stories of individuals and their environments in the context of
participation in work-related practices. Identities are neither constant nor
unambiguous – each organizational player actively generates his or her
identities, yet at the same time receives both proposed (and imposed) ones.
As Anthony Giddens put it, the identity of each person is based on “the
capacity to keep a particular narrative going” (1991, p. 54), hence creating
a reliable story within common meanings and in relation to other social
The software engineer’s identity is somewhat developed on the basis of
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
participants eld stories
Source: Westenholz (2006a, p. 1018).
Figure 9.5 A model for organizational identity formation
the archetypal “geek” – a highly intelligent yet socially impaired person,
a Bohemian and a rebel in style or behavior. That is why programmers
develop almost an organizational anti-identity. Emphasizing their individ-
uality often negates an a liation to their employer and to their managers.
This trait was visible in all the studied companies:
[USVird4]: It doesn’t really matter to me who I work for at the moment. More
important is who I work with. Everybody knows how it is – if sensible people
would like to do something cool, then regardless of the company’s name, if it
can be interesting, then I nish my work and I am out of here.
It is worth noting that programmers emphasized the importance of
work being interesting – both in Poland and in the US, “being interest-
ing” was mentioned as the most desired feature, whereas high salary was
brought up relatively rarely. In many interviews interlocutors said that
they de nitely preferred lower-paid jobs, which allowed them “something
interesting” to do, rather than being better paid, but for a boring job.
The need to solve intriguing problems and the need for creative work
were strong in forming programmers’ identities in all the organizations
130 The new knowledge workers
[Researcher]: Could you tell me in a few words, what’s the essence of your job?
Or, what could you do without at work?
[USVisualprog]: There was this guy in [the movie] Pulp Fiction played by
Harvey Keitel, he came in and solved problems. And I could say that my job
is a bit like that. I simply solve problems. The idea is to come up with the new
stu , that’s the essence. That’s why it would be the most di cult for me to sit
at the desk, go through papers eight hours a day . . . I just like to come up with
new things and implement them.
The majority of the engineers saw managerial work as the ultimate
boredom and something they would hate doing:
[Researcher]: Haven’t you thought about becoming a manager?
[PLneos13]: God forbid!
[Researcher]: But why?
[PLneos13]: Well, I mean surely a manager is needed and so on, but for me
this is someone who spends all day at meetings, looking smart, signing papers
and that’s it. I have to have something real to do, I am not really interested in
There were further similarly critical and dismissive opinions about
managers in the programmers’ statements (for more on this topic see
Jemielniak, 2007b), though as already mentioned, these were usually
expressed about the professional group as a whole, and not about one’s
own superior – which may additionally indicate a broader and more
general con ict between those two groups.
Speakers, irrespective of their organizations, clearly emphasized that a
software engineer’s work requires certain abilities regardless of education
– they strongly associated their chosen profession with skills and apti-
tudes or even with general intellectual capacities, and not just formal
[USVird3]: Programmer . . . A programmer is above other things, it is someone
who can think in a certain way. Technological knowledge is a secondary issue,
everything can be learnt, besides that changes really fast. You have to see prob-
lems, solutions in a very speci c, programming way.
Managers interviewed for this study put great weight on, for example,
knowledge of particular programming languages which should be mas-
tered; this came out during recruitment for new posts within projects – to
the extent that on a few occasions managers expected uency and experi-
ence not only in a given language but also in a particular version of that
language. Interestingly, software engineers themselves distinctly played
down that issue, putting their attention, rather, on the general experi-
ence of the candidate, the types of projects they took part in and their
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
willingness to learn, as being much more important. Many spoke in similar
terms to the following:
[PLSantos7]: A good programmer is somebody who does not necessarily know
many programming languages. Of course, the more experience you have, the
more accustomed you are to di erent attitudes . . . But above all you must have
an open mind, to look at the problem and not at the tools. I don’t know Java
well enough, even though it could be useful?. So I’ll learn it, that’s it.
Managers were clearly trying to apply a traditional attitude to depict
software engineers’ capacities and quali cations through point-checking
and formal quali cations. However, programmers dismissed that view
and identi ed an expert’s standing with factors that were more di cult
to measure, like exibility, smartness, ability to learn and adaptability to
di erent situations.
In their analysis of programmers Abigail Marks, and Dora Scholarios
(2007, p. 101) remark that: “The more traditionally quali ed workers
(university education, IT-based degrees) are less likely to possess a strong
organizational identity as they are less reliant on the organization for their
occupational identity or feelings of self-worth.” In the case of the engi-
neers studied, the strong organizational identi cation described above was
only true for a few people, who did not have higher education. The others,
above all, strongly identi ed themselves with their chosen profession and
openly expected to change employers one day:
[PLOneos15]: I think that nobody tries to go overboard with drilling people,
because they know if they overdo it, each of us can nd work somewhere else.
OK, from time to time I can do something boring or in my opinion stupid for
the project, but certainly not all the time – and my boss knows it very well.
Stanley Deetz (1995) observes that strong professional identity among
software engineers is one of the key reasons why direct supervision has
limited uses. Thanks to their professional identity, many behavioral
standards are internalized, regardless of the in uence of normative control
on the part of the organization. However, the result is that many typical
reasons behind organizational identi cation (M.R. Edwards, 2005) apply
to programmers only to a limited extent.
A clear di erence between the statements of the Polish and the
American programmers was visible in identifying quality. Americans
consistently stressed out that they belonged to “the best among the best”,
even if that was not clear to the onlooker. Even employees at the beginning
of their careers and at medium-sized companies de ned their position in
terms of the highest quality:
132 The new knowledge workers
[Researcher]: Why have you decided to work for USVird?
[USVird5]: Above all I knew Paul, I knew that he does cool things here. We
talked about it when I was graduating and I liked what he was saying. Well, I
really wanted to work with the best, using the latest technology, and I can do
Similar expressions were found among other programmers in American
organizations. Ability to “work with the best” was most frequently stated
as one of the reasons behind the choice of employer. Almost without
exception, they described their career plans very ambitiously and with the
use of success rhetoric.3
Mats Alvesson and Maxine Robertson (2006) observe that the formula-
tion of an elite identity is very typical for knowledge organizations (includ-
ing high-tech companies). However, Poles acted in a completely opposite
manner. In the interviews they often played down their own achievements
and those of their team and also the company.
Even though both at PLSantos and at PLOneos the innovative IT solu-
tions developed were no di erent from world-class standards (and often
were produced at a lower cost), in the interviews the speakers did not
describe their work or their employer as the best. If they referred to their
quality, they used such expressions as “nice”, “okay”, “at a good level”,
or “good”. The reasons given for choosing their employer were mostly
related to good relations and the atmosphere at work.
It is di cult to draw general conclusions on the basis of these research
ndings; yet the di erence is conspicuous. As mentioned in the subsection
about professional roles, even apparently tiny language customs can have
a more profound meaning and reveal organizational actors’ inner beliefs.
The issue of career and employer evaluation through success and competi-
tion benchmarks in the Polish companies is worth further research. The
topic of professional identity, however, will be discussed further in the
following concluding chapter, which recapitulates the ndings in terms of
organizational ideology and propaganda.
1. Possibly, of course, owing not to designers’ ill will but to the inability to foresee types of
malfunctions and the wearing-o process rate.
2. Westenholz uses the term “relational participants”, to emphasize that each social situ-
ation has a relational character – it always depends on the dependencies, positions and
emotions of its participants. And these are, of course, relative. Hence the identity of
organizational players cannot be analyzed separately and away from relations with other
organizational participants, and such relations should be analyzed relationally each time
Pleasure, motivation and identity in knowledge work
3. In this context it is worth noting that in a poll of 25 000 Americans, in a study carried
out by Mindset Media in cooperation with Nielsen Online on new technology lovers,
it was found that they are simultaneously rather immodest and also are seen by others
as arrogant (information from Yahoo News, 18 June 2008: http://news.yahoo.com/s/
nm/20080618/tc_nm/gadgets_personalities_life_dc). It would be interesting to do a
similar analysis in Poland.
THE ERA OF IDEOLOGY
The modern business world su ers from a chronic lack of vision and excit-
ing new theories, especially in the face of corporate supervision and rms
becoming more alike (Koźmiński, 2004; Nogalski and Dadej, 2008). New
ideas are needed that allow for at least some partial di erentiation and
prove the uniqueness of each management board.
Ideology thus, plays a more important role in modern management.
Even though traditional literature mostly points to the types of control
in speci c kinds of organizations (economic control in business entities,
ideological control in political ones), in reality very often we are faced
with mixed models (Czarniawska-Joerges, 1988). Normative control, as
discussed before, is entering all kinds of organizations irrespective of their
Ideologies are by nature tools that are used to uphold one’s status and
legitimize the organizational rivalry over resources. They are composed of
belief and value systems, then strengthened and communicated through
enculturation. Using persuasion and propaganda leads to justi cation
of the status quo and the reinforcement of organizational roles that are
then played by representatives of the various occupational groups. Quite
obviously, each organization is a battle eld of overlapping and contrast-
ing ideologies. In some sense, these battles manifest the broader cultural
con ict, but nevertheless are worth di erentiating, as they focus more on
daily practices and justify the present status quo, as well as often being
based on ad hoc rhetoric (Bledstein, 1976). Therefore, it is worth noting
that (Salaman and Thompson, 1980, p. 232) ideology functions as a sort
of shield, which helps to avoid di erent interpretations of reality. It helps
to establish what should not be questionable, and whose nal vocabulary
is being used to describe whatever is happening (Rorty, 1989), so as to
legitimize the dominant order.
Naturally, this happens through the selection and negation of other
visions of social order. David McLellan (1986) noticed that professional
ideology, and managerial ideology in particular, aims at hiding real
group interests. It should not be taken for granted that managers do not
believe in what they say – to the contrary, usually professional ideologies
are strongly believed in by their advocates. The issue, however, is that
managerial rhetoric usually strengthens managers’ positions within the
company, rather than solving local problems or serving to ful ll the com-
pany’s owner’s wishes. In the Marxist tradition, bourgeois ideology is even
seen as a display of the development and strengthening of a false class
consciousness. The systems of symbolic references accepted as relevant
to describing the organizational world de ne social reality and mobilize
organizational members to the greatest extent (Gouldner, 1976).
The widely acclaimed book In Search of Excellence (Peters and
Waterman, 1982) may have been based on fake or at least non-academic
methodology (Byrne, 2001; Towill, 1999). Moreover, almost half of the
examples of excellence described went under in real life a few years after
its publication. Nevertheless, the book has become an international
bestseller – it has been translated into many languages and has had mil-
lions of copies sold. It is still widely cited in management publications.
Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges (1988) comments that this phenomenal
success points to the ease with which readers (and managers) accept the
examples and the case studies used as something obvious and positive. A
sales manager who rented a sports stadium for his team (as a “bonus” or
bonding activity) so that his employees could race each other there, while
being watched by the manager and their families, was introduced in a
book as a master of motivation. Frito-Lay stories about chip distributors
who in hail and snow desperately try to deliver goods (to ful ll their “99.5
per cent e ectiveness level” promise) are portrayed as a source of a com-
pany’s success, a force behind the company’s ethos. Interestingly, no one
questions the absurdity of a ght with the forces of nature to deliver chips
or points out the grotesque concept of forcing salesmen to participate in
running competitions. This is one of the ways ideology is spread: through
the development of a vision in which behaviors absurd in other contexts
become fully acceptable and even admired. At the end of the day, “to
deliver potato chips without concern for hail, you really have to believe in
them. And the belief in potato chips is not something we are born with”
(Czarniawska-Joerges, 1988, p. 15).
Publications of similar stories, compiled by the “management gurus”,
though often apocryphal and idealistic, do appeal to managers partially
through their simplicity and easily understood message. However, there
must be something else behind their popularity and the powerful impact
of this kind of literature. Even though various types of experts may advise
di erent things, they agree on one count – their undisputed belief that
managers’ work is a key element in an organization’s success (Knights and
Willmott, 1999, p. 13):
136 The new knowledge workers
[L]eading management gurus are invariably scathing about the in exibility
of corporate bureaucracies and their functionaries. But they never doubt the
importance of management or the status of managers as an elite of expert
problem solvers and change agents . . . A principal e ect of this kind of guru
commentary and prescription is to leave unexamined the value and e cacy of
managerial work. The centrality and credibility of the manager as corporate
hero and societal trouble-shooter is taken for granted.
Managers’ ethos and their corporate culture assume that it is they who
are the indispensable elements of their organizations. This view, as illus-
trated earlier, is strongly challenged by new groups of employees and pro-
fessionals. There is thus a con ict over the construction of organizational
That is why management is leaning more and more toward in uencing
the contexts and the perceptions of social reality of di erent organiza-
tional stakeholders. This book has covered four major conceptual cat-
egories, presented in knowledge workers’ statements and important in
the daily operations of the organizations studied. The relations between
knowledge workers and their managers, and, more broadly, employees’
approaches to formal regulations and hierarchies, to the social construc-
tion of work time, and to trust and distrust in IT projects and knowledge-
intensive companies, as well as the knowledge worker’s professional
identity, are all signi cantly saturated today by organizational ideology.
However, employees, who in some areas openly question managerial
roles, especially their role in supervision, as illustrated in previous chap-
ters, continue to challenge this status quo. Hence, it will be interesting to
observe in the near future what kind of ideology does become dominant in
knowledge-intensive companies. It is clear from the research ndings here
that both scenarios are possible. Either the long-predicted revolt and the
spread of the model of the “organization of the future” (signi cantly limit-
ing the managerial role) will appear, or, at the other extreme, a scenario
will emerge whereby knowledge workers will be brought to heel and will
be treated almost like a manual labor force.
MANAGING CREATIVE WORK: X = Y?
Stephen N. Barley and Gideon Kunda (1992) described how organization
and management theory has been uctuating in seasonal fashion cycles
from its very beginning. They analyzed a signi cant amount of the relevant
literature, some from as early as the nineteenth century, ran a bibliometric
comparative analysis, and concluded that the majority of these theories
are inscribed into either the rational control theme or a normative control
theme. Rational control is understood as being similar to the assumptions
of “Theory X”, i.e. that workers mostly try to reduce their e orts and
increase their pro ts, in fundamental con ict with the business owners.
The role of the manager in that circumstance is to supervise whether the
worker ful lls the contracted requirements. Work management is based
on economic rationality, and each actor has their own interest at heart. On
the other hand, normative control, described in earlier chapters, relies on
assumptions mostly similar to the contrary “Theory Y”. This assumes that
all employees mostly try to nd satisfaction in what they do. The role of
the manager is to organize work in such a way that employees can realize
their full potential and be as deeply engaged in their work as possible.
Ideally, the output standards are not set entirely from the outside (by the
organization): each worker also internalizes them (considers them to be
natural and just).
Kunda and Barley (1992) distinguish the following periods in these
identi ed cycles. The normative perspective is typical for the beginning
of industrial development (1800–1900); then comes rational rhetoric in
scienti c management (1900–23); a normative perspective toward human
relations follows (1925–55); and once again rationality takes over in the
systems approach (1955–80). Finally normative control stands rm again
in organizational culture and quality control (1980–92). Another turning
point toward rational control took place within so-called “market ration-
ality”, as it was conventionally called by Kunda and Ailon-Souday (2005),
adding a development of initial theory after a few years. This direction
encompasses – as is partially visible in the research ndings here – concepts
such as reengineering, outsourcing, work in dispersed networks, treating
employees as independent entrepreneurs, internal competition, intra-
company tenders and the like.
Much like scienti c management, which stems from the organization–
machine metaphor (Morgan, 1997), market rationality often recalls a
computer metaphor with organization seen as a web. Its fundamental
logic is the dispersion of organizational units and management of the
whole organization’s functions so as to rely on market principles with
value added by each unit.
Kunda and Barley admitted from the beginning that cycles in fashions
do not have a nal character. Alternatives always coexist with dominant
management logics. This is particularly visible today with dispersal of the
“grand narrative” into small stories (Lyotard, 1987), as is typical for the
postmodern condition. This process results in a coexistence of competing
theories and concepts and is also true for market rationality. Even though
it is strongly present in management practice, and for example, the out-
sourcing philosophy and network-type organizations are very popular,
138 The new knowledge workers
still at the same time normative – control manifested through concepts
of work as pleasure, corporate culture, and knowledge management –
is widespread, too. Kunda and Barley’s theory, though suggestive and
useful for historical analysis, as this research shows, may, for the rst
time not be fully applicable anymore. In terms of organizational and
management theory, the twenty- rst century may be a period with both
rational and normative control simultaneously present to the fullest
extent. Knowledge-intensive organizations rely on market rationality, but
also use tools typical for the culture and management of ideology: and
both approaches are passionately believed in and enforced in the same
time, in a peculiar form of doublethink.
It might be that the presence of concepts of normative control, with the
simultaneous popularity of rational control, results from the importance
of managers now for the rst time being very much questioned in organi-
zation and management theory. Market rationality ideology, even though
greatly directed (as most of the management literature is as well) to middle
managers, quite often suggests the elimination of middle management
because it is useless, suggesting instead the introduction of project manag-
ers, who are often expert professionals, possibly with additional manage-
rial training but de nitely with di erent roots, background and culture.
When this issue is taken into account, the research inclines toward yet
another conclusion, though not an obvious one. Teamwork ideology can
sometimes be used to reinstate and strengthen managerial hegemony. It is
the answer to rational control, which (as was already mentioned, for the
rst time in its history) suggests such a strong limitation of managerial
power. In the case of normative control, the role of managers is obvious
and undisputed – they are the essential catalyst and supervisors of the
promoted ideology. As a consequence, in all of the studied organizations,
various proportions of the speci c mix of both normative and rational
control were observed.1 The research proves that implementation of col-
lective decision-making processes can, paradoxically, lead to the inten-
si cation of the division between those in power (managers, who may
implement a “democratic” system but who can also call it o , just as they
can remove the democratically chosen leaders) and their subordinates
Strong professional identity among programmers and the range of
freedom attributed to their professional status (dress code, work time,
limited oversight) together result in something seldom mentioned: a
“project’s work tyranny” (Koch, 2004), which is demonstrated through
very strong self-control and concertive supervision. That is why, even
though on the surface modern HR management systems rely on participa-
tion in decision-making processes, and attempt to increase the scope of
control given to employees to bring about more freedom, in truth such
systems only come down to attempts at change in the scope of their
As mentioned earlier, according to some researchers, the future of work
organization in the high-tech companies relies on creating small, “ exibly
specialized” units, in which even the lowest-level employees (highly edu-
cated, and creative) would have a high impact on the rm’s operations, the
choice of leaders, scheduling, and the division of pro ts (Piore and Sabel,
1984). At rst glance, these observations are con rmed in research nd-
ings, both in Poland and in the US: programmers enjoyed a high degree of
freedom in both places, if only formally. This liberty, however, was only
apparent on the surface. Although the pressure of constant supervision
was taken away from the knowledge workers and they also had freedom
in planning their tasks, as well as in the way they accomplished them, at
the same time, decisions over the choice of these tasks and often deadlines
were outside the scope of their in uence. Knowledge workers “had to” be
highly dedicated workers, because the work-as-pleasure paradigm was in
their case strongly supported through both the corporate and the profes-
sional culture (Hunter et al., 2010). Surprisingly, the Theory Y approach,
for knowledge workers, serves normative control and the exploitation of
employees more e ectively than any supervision system implemented in
Theory X and Theory Y approaches, by classically contradicting each
other as extreme opposites, in reality turn out to be very similar. There are
di erences with respect to the typical organizational structures and also, in
principle, with respect to a motivation system; but, realistically, what they
both come down to is the maintenance of managerial power: for market
rationality, top managers; and for normative control, middle managers.
Surely, it should not be overlooked that even just a change of manage-
rial rhetoric in the direction of Theory Y can be the beginning of a major
makeover. That outcome has already been indicated by Reinhard Bendix
(1956, p. 327):
In the words used to describe “two-way” communication, subordinates are
expected to listen so they may learn, while managers merely receive informa-
tion, which they can use . . . The fact is that Mayo’s synthesis has been capable
of making widely divergent managerial approaches sound alike, and this capac-
ity is one of the tests of a successful ideology. His contribution may well be to
have brought about a change of outlook among American managers as a whole,
a possibility which is obscured by the appearance of hypocrisy which a mere use
of his language implies. For it may not be inconsequential that even those who
remain hostile to the human-relations approach adopt some of its language. In
the long run, the use of a terminology may exert a cumulative pressure toward
140 The new knowledge workers
the acceptance of new practices which di er from those previously regarded as
inviolate, even if they also di er from the words used to describe them.
Half a century later, it is clear that, to a great extent, the ideological
turnover has remained only a rhetorical one. That is why, despite the
huge popularity of the di erent theories – empowerment, management by
objectives, participative management, “high-performance work systems”,
idealized design and the like – in most cases their actual implementa-
tion leaves no room for full democracy in the workplace (Acko , et al.
2006/2007; Borkowska, 2007). They are resisted just as much as, if not
more than, the traditionally autocratic ones (Fleming and Spicer, 2007).
Even though in theory many of these solutions, proposed in the abun-
dant managerial literature, may resemble action research (AR) and coop-
erative management ideas, from which they often originate, in reality they
di er in their fundamental assumption – the basis of the AR method is
the assumption that the collective has a nal deciding vote, whereas in the
majority of the “democratic” theories in common management science
the highest in rank continues to remain the manager. The main objective
then is to make employees feel they are not controlled, although their real
impact on their own workplace remains limited.
It is di cult to expect that it should be di erent – only very few manag-
ers are willing to give up part of their power voluntarily, both because then
they really could prove to be useless, and because that power is a source of
their prestige, resources, information and identity, as much as freedom (in
a setting that quite often constrains them in terms of expected outcomes
etc.). Also, giving up power leads to the perceived suspension of their jus-
ti cation (Žižek, 2005).
At the same time, a quasi-democratic discourse as attributed to the
Theory Y approach eliminates real industrial democracy from the discus-
sion. The real democracy present for example, in some extreme versions
of participative management has been successfully realized in kibbutzim
and (more contemporarily, also in commercial organizations operating
e ectively in Western markets) in popular cooperatives (Greenwood et
al., 1991; W.F. Whyte and Whyte, 1991). The fundamental di erence
between participative management and the various types of the Theory Y
approach2 is that fully participative management relies upon the absolute
right of employees to manage work and its hierarchies – they can not only
choose leaders on the current basis, but also remove them.
Work management that relies on the collective could make sense for
knowledge workers. All its positive aspects have been consistently dis-
cussed for many years by action research advocates (Chrostowski and
Jemielniak, 2008; Greenwood and Levin, 1998; Jemielniak, 2006; Lewin,
1951; Reason, 1988; Reason and Bradbury, 2001; Schön, 1983; Senge,
1990). It should work especially well among software experts, since it
would also avoid the typical faults of democratic solutions in industrial
organizations (for example, lack of education among workers in coopera-
tives). However, even though a participative approach is sometimes used
in an actual management practice, as is also, for example, strategic con-
sulting (Chrostowski, 2006), they are, as these research ndings indicate,
used very rarely in software companies however eager these companies
may be to use a democratic rhetoric and quasi-democratic solutions
(Jemielniak, 2007c). This could be because top and middle managers are
vitally interested in maintaining their own positions and the status quo.
Executives, in response to the need expressed by shareholders and other
stakeholders (articulated owing to the increasing presence of the participa-
tive management theory in popular management publications), may well
at best settle for apparent actions in the Theory Y approach style – but
then very rarely actually transfer power and production process control
fully to their employees, even though this is the most fundamental assump-
tion of industrial democracy (Bass and Shackleton, 1979). Thus, in spite of
cosmetic egalitarian e orts, work, both intellectual and manual, remains
a subject of degradation and submission to the degree to which managers
are willing to achieve that goal through hierarchies, technology, culture
and work ideology (Braverman, 1974).
The rare examples of organizations that have decided to implement
wide-ranging empowerment indicate that these solutions among knowl-
edge workers can be very e ective, and software organizations in particu-
lar are easy to democratize owing to the wide-ranging independence of
the workers (Gupta and Thomas, 2001; Tapia, 2004). Still, for the reasons
given earlier, this approach is certainly uncommon: in business, all is still
about power, and the organizational politics reinstate the system, rather
than just support e ective solutions.
Organizational theory lacks su cient research material to enable the
assessment of the e ectiveness of the participative management of pro t-
oriented knowledge-intensive organizations, though (as mentioned earlier)
some examples indicate that it could be quite high (Greenwood et al.,
1991; W.F. Whyte and Whyte, 1991).
Stories about the meritocracy of future-type organizations, where
knowledge workers take over managerial responsibilities, do of course
seem very interesting, but (at least in the face of these research ndings)
have only a small connection to reality.
Conceptual categories, which proved to be particularly useful for
the organizational actors studied (and which included the knowledge
workers’ approach to procedures and formalities, work time, trust and
142 The new knowledge workers
distrust in IT projects, and motivation), all point to interesting areas of
further research. Yet they prove that in knowledge-intensive companies
the same power games and professional hegemony battles take place as in
other organizations. Theoretically and on the surface, hierarchies do not
exist and are rejected, and the pace of work is imposed by the project and
clients’ “objective” requirements and not a production line. Moreover,
software engineers enjoy the bene t of looking down on clients, and
partially also on managers, and many elements of the motivation system
seem to resemble industrial democracy recommendations perfectly. Yet, in
practice, these observed phenomena often support the managerial control
system and strengthen, not reduce, the ongoing asymmetry of power.
Although this project had an international character, it also showed
that the knowledge workers’ workplace, at least in the case of the soft-
ware companies studied, is surprisingly homogenous and to a high degree
independent of perceivable cultural di erences. It seems that “it is not
the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social
existence that determines their consciousness” (Marx, /1999), after all, to
greater extent an even than national issues do.
These research ndings were also possible owing to the study’s undi-
rected character with no prior/given hypothesis (other advantages, but
also limitations, of this particular research method are described in
Chapter 5). A short summary of comparisons of the studied companies
across countries is presented in Table 10.1.
The minor di erences between the companies referred mostly to work
time (longer in Poland), a feeling of one’s superiority and a competitive
approach (visible in the American companies), and a positive attitude
toward networking among the American companies, including those
behaviors seen as clearly disloyal in Poland; among the Poles there was
more willingness toward hobby projects and playful behavior. Some dif-
ferences related also to the size of the organizations. Both national di er-
ences and those related to the size of the organization open an area for
further, specialized research projects in the future.
Obviously, since the research was qualitative and not based on a care-
fully selected, wide sample of representatives, its results can be generalized
to a limited extent. However, it should be noted that qualitative studies of
this sort can be used as analogies for research on other workplaces, since
they often grasp processes typical also for the cultures of other organiza-
tions (Geertz, 1973, p. 21). The processes described, even if not identical
to the ones observed elsewhere, serve as useful comparisons for further
study. Also, even though organizational and occupational cultures are
de nitely unique, they also share a huge number of similarities and narra-
tives (Martin et al., 1983).
Table 10.1 Basic characteristics of di erent workplace relations revealed
in the studies of Poland and the US ( rm-size basis)
Start-up Very long work time. Long work time.
companies Moderate competition. Competitive approach to tasks.
“Be cool” rhetoric. “Be the best” rhetoric.
Contacts outside a rm seen as Contacts outside a rm
Friendly work atmosphere. Friendly relations at work.
Frequent hobby projects. Occasional hobby projects.
Medium Long work time. Long work time.
and/ Moderate competition. Competitive approach to tasks.
“Be cool” rhetoric. “Be the best” rhetoric.
companies Contacts outside a rm seen as Contacts outside a rm
Only professional relations at Only professional relations at
Occasional hobby projects. Rare hobby projects.
Stefan Kwiatkowski, one of the pioneers of intellectual entrepreneur-
ship research, indicates that there are signi cant di erences in working
methods and practices between entrepreneurs who come from the intel-
ligentsia and associate their ideas of company development with creativ-
ity, and those who are only followers (Kwiatkowski, 2000). The rst very
often are motivated by an idea, against all the odds.
Similar observations could be applied when comparing common o ce
employees with knowledge workers. Di erent publications prove that
what drives knowledge workers is the captivation of intellectual dilemmas
and the sheer joy of solving them (Davenport, 2005). A comparison of
these four professional groups is presented in gure 10.1.
Apparently, intellectual entrepreneurs may sometimes experience a
greater similarity to knowledge workers than they do to “common”
entrepreneurs. Also, in view of the increasing popularity of replacing the
common type of employment in knowledge-intensive companies with
outsourcing to independent contractors who are self-employed,3 it would
seem that the common ground between entrepreneurs and knowledge
workers is quite large.
144 The new knowledge workers
Intellectual type of work
Entrepreneurs who are
O ce workers
Inclination to entrepreneurship
Figure 10.1 Knowledge workers as compared with intellectual
However, the research also shows that work relations are mainly
de ned through power, not knowledge. As it turns out, despite optimistic
futurologists’ predictions, even if whole organizations become increas-
ingly at and their hierarchies are distorted, the fundamental division into
managers and those managed is robustly maintained. Instead of the rise of
all-new professions, in fact now management becomes the only profession,
while everyone else becomes labor.
Is the other scenario possible? As mentioned earlier, there are participa-
tive management patterns that are possible to implement both in small
organizations (Nogalski et al., 2007) and in large corporations. Yet their
introduction to software companies meets a fundamental di culty: it can
only be done by those who are often vitally interested in preserving the
current status quo. Of course, knowledge work di ers to a great extent
from manual work or simple o ce work, but it should not be expected
that its high status will lead to the real democratization even of one’s
workplace, not to mention the commencement of a more fundamental
change in the wider world of organizations.
In further research, and in the search for alternative ways to pursue
knowledge worker management, the model of an organizational reality
Work time Trust
Figure 10.2 Model of the knowledge-intensive workplace as viewed by the
in the eyes of programmers, which was developed in the course of this
research and has been demonstrated in this book (Figure 10.2), could
indeed be useful. Even though this book does not have a normative aspect,
and therefore does not put forward speci c solutions or practical manage-
ment tools, the developed model seems to indicate interesting areas that
can be addressed by managers, HR specialists and, nally, the knowledge
Knowledge worker management, despite conclusions drawn in the
popular literature (Newell et al., 2002), is, in the studied workers’ own
opinion, not reliant on salary scale, bonuses, career, or adjustment of
the workplace to their needs. These are of course necessary and useful,
but for the interlocutors here, the most important issues were di erent.
Interestingly, these were also the ones in which the organization and the
managers were most in con ict with the needs of the knowledge workers.
At the top of the model triangle there is formalization, which was indi-
cated in unison by the interlocutors as the most important element of their
organizational life. What is interesting is that although the organizations
studied were relatively unformalized, the formalization that existed was
so annoying enough to be considered a possible cause for quitting a job,
146 The new knowledge workers
and very often was the subject of criticism. Moreover, many behavioral
patterns which managers believed to be obvious and natural (for example
seeking the attention of employees while they are working, expecting
participation in meetings that took place during the day, requiring con-
stant and detailed reporting, and the like) proved to be very unwelcome
– probably not least because they were a symbolic manifestation of the
asymmetric manager–subordinate relationship/association. The appar-
ent lack of bureaucracy and the existence of participative management
elements could not hide this imbalance of power relations. It is di cult
to say whether real egalitarianism at the knowledge-intensive workplace
makes sense from the point of view of the company’s interests; it is quite
clear however that ideological actions and those of a propagandist char-
acter, even if rhetorically they support equality, still produce the opposite
The second element of the model triangle is work time. Research ndings
clearly showed that the perception of time is most signi cant for knowl-
edge workers. Schedules serve not only an ordinative purpose but also a
symbolic one; they are a way to emphasize the asymmetry of power. At
the same time, in many of the observed cases, work time seemed to be
perceived by the managers and the organizations as even more impor-
tant than real loyalty and e ectiveness. Even though cultural change in
this respect seems highly unlikely, those managers who understand the
ongoing process may be more likely to go beyond their standard manage-
The third element of the model triangle is trust. The research indisputably
shows that trust plays a key role in the realization of IT projects. What is
interesting however, as became visible in the case of cooperation among
Polish and American IT specialists in virtual organizations, is that trust
may determine a project’s success or failure (Grudzewski et al., 2007). The
research shows that trust, and also distrust in IT projects and the resulting
relations that occur among programmers, managers and clients, to a great
extent determine perceptions of the programming process. Moreover,
trust in the organization–knowledge-worker relation directly in uences
the development of an experts’ network, though in the US, and in Silicon
Valley in particular, the inclination to change employers was seen as
natural, and extended networking was seen as an employee’s important
asset, (while an employee leaving the company remains in good standing
with the former employer. In Poland, relations outside the company were
treated cautiously, and a job change often meant a breakdown, at least, in
formal relations with the former employer.
On the basis of these research ndings, it is di cult to draw unequivocal
conclusions as to what in uence this cultural di erence has on the success
of Polish entrepreneurs in the IT market. Even though other research,
such as that done by AnnaLee Saxenian (1994), suggests that it can be
huge, the issue surely does need further investigation.
All three of the model elements supplement HRM practice regarding
knowledge workers. Here as well, what is interesting is that the issues
mentioned most commonly were not really any particular procedures or
policies, but rather issues related to organizational ideology, output stand-
ards, rising organizational and professional identities, and nally also
pleasure and fun at work. Despite the fact that between Poland and the
US there were clear di erences in perceptions of job security, to a greater
extent they could have been predicted from the relevant literature (exclud-
ing Silicon Valley start-ups, where employment mobility is seen almost as
a way of life or lifestyle).
Obviously, a combination of those four elements, namely formaliza-
tion, trust, work time, and HRM practices cannot serve as a basis for the
development of a universal theory of knowledge worker management. The
possibility of such a compilation seems highly unlikely (and even more
improbable is its usage, either in management practice or as an analytical
tool). However, the model allows for further analysis and, even further,
more observations of knowledge-intensive companies in areas that have
been analyzed too rarely until recently. It also draws attention to the
critical points of knowledge-intensive work. These points can be decisive
in achieving employee contentment, work e ectiveness, turnover and the
like, meaning that, even though are deliberately designed not to lead to the
formulation of precise management rules of thumb, in practical terms they
can be very useful when properly adjusted to particular organizational
An analysis of the described model in action, on the basis of research
ndings, indicates that while the idea of disappearing class di erences,
as a result of the newly emerging category of workers and because of the
development of an IT society, is rhetorically attractive, it is in practice very
unlikely. It should be treated as yet another myth found in management
theory (Bradley et al., 2000). Though one can talk about the importance
shifting from the relations of production to those of consumption, as
advocated by Zygmunt Bauman (2005), the role of work as one of the
basic determinants of human identity and the role of power relations and
148 The new knowledge workers
their asymmetry at the workplace still both seem unthreatened, despite the
signi cant development of a knowledge society.
Knowledge-intensive work in the case of programming, though varying
with the country, the size of the organization, or just company speci cs, is
still in many aspects surprisingly similar everywhere. In all of the compa-
nies studied, the social reality of programmers was clearly determined by
the issues that contributed to the nal model presented here. This model
is also supported by other research ndings (Barrett, 2005), and the issues
presented also open the way for further considerations in separate investi-
gations and new publications.
1. An alternative to the neo-normative approach (treating Theories X and Y as equally
useful tools for control) is, unexpectedly, blatantly cynical: as other research shows,
some organizations not only openly admit that they have unpleasant, unfriendly, and
un-fun workplaces, but also force this image and ideology onto the workers, in what
Cederström and Grassman (2008) call, “re exive masochism”.
2. It should be emphasized that the discussion about the Theory Y approach refers not to
its original theoretical concept (McGregor, 1960), which is often fully democratic and
constitutes an important input into the development of the empowerment theory, but to
its contemporary, limited and adapted practical versions.
3. This process, often in uenced by tax considerations, causes additional problems in the
already di cult classi cation of an “entrepreneur”.
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