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Strictly selling one’s soul

Posted on May 8, 2023 by Leif Jacobsson

Translation from Swedish by Andreas Lindahl

Has it really become necessary to sell one’s soul in order to survive in today’s working life? TAM-Arkiv has interviewed ethnologist Daniel Bodén, who has researched on how new technology has transformed our jobs.

Technological development has always had an impact on people’s working conditions. Industrialization meant that people worked in factories. There was heavy lifting. Today we live in a service society. By then, encounters with people have become a common feature of working life. Previous research has shown that new technology leads to a new type of division of labour. The content of the job changes.

Researcher Daniel Bodén – who works at Södertörn University in Stockholm – is a working life researcher. He has studied how some of the employees at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency have become focused on managing customer meetings. They have to deal with emotions that people carry with them when they meet the Social Insurance Agency staff. How did he go about his research?

“I did fieldwork where I observed the activities,” says Daniel.

He also conducted interviews with service administrators and read member magazines. Much of the research is based on what is written in the newspapers. It shows how management has pressed for changes in the organization’s way of working, he explains.
What does it mean, then, that we as workers are now compelled to – so to speak – ”strictly sell one’s soul”? I wonder…

“The thing with ‘strictly selling one’s soul’ is a good expression!” Daniel laughs blissfully.

Research has shown that it is not a problem-free change we are going through. Stress is a common health problem nowadays. Today, the problems are less about physical occupational injuries. Why has this happened? Workplaces are increasingly demanding what has come to be known as ”social skills”. Good interpersonal skills become an important quality. At the same time, this development can lead to an increased burden when we have to deal with our own feelings of others. The healthcare system then encounters people who feel mental – i.e. ”emotional” – stress. This can lead to things like burnout, but also to something called ”stress of conscience”:

“For example, preschool teachers may feel stressed by feeling a duty towards both children and their guardians.“ he notes.

Today, people are expected to have a personal commitment to their work. A good employee is expected to be ”passionate about his job”. You should enjoy spending time with people. It should not be the salary itself that should matter, according to the new ideal. Instead, it’s about making a difference.

Another aspect of the emphasis on emotions in working life is that those who find it difficult to show emotions or are not very social find it increasingly difficult. For example, those who are more introverted or shy are disadvantaged in such a society. More people are being provided with psychiatric diagnoses:

“It’s important to fit within the neurotype, so to speak,” says Daniel.

So how does he see the future? Will the importance of emotions continue to grow in working life? Daniel believes that automation will continue. This may lead to an increasing number of professions being about meeting people. It requires intuition, which is something robots are less good at. He also believes that professional groups may emerge that will have the task of providing robots with information – a more monotonous task. Certain groups, such as administrators and decision-makers, may be rationalized away. But – he emphasizes – it’s all speculation. Only he who lives will see…

TAGS: #divisionoflabour #danielboden #technology #strictlysellingonessoul #fieldwork #swedishsocialinsuranceagency