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Heather McGuire

Edward G. Engh
BUS 1050 402
2 August 2015

MY RENAISSANCE A Modern Alienated Workforce


During my time in this course, I have thought about business in ways that I never
imagined were possible. In the past, I failed to take the time to reflect on my experiences in the
world of business. However, the critical thinking required in this course led me to analyze my
own journey in the working world. The deep insight I have gained from my renaissance is a
result of comparing and contrasting my experiences with the experiences contained within the
Critical Thinking Readings from the Literature of Business and Society textbook. From this
experience, I have been able to analyze my plans for the future to determine whether or not they
coincide with my ideology and ethics, and if they will ultimately lead to feelings of success and
fulfillment.
One piece of literature that stood out and resonated with me, was Mike LeFevre,
Steelworker written by Louis Studs Terkel. Terkels intent in the text was to encompass the
reader with the perspective of a manual laborer in the 1970s steel factory. With this, he was able
to illustrate the perceptions of the working class toward management with great depth and
insight. This incorporated both the positive aspects of a hard days work and the negative mental
effects that come with it. Additionally, Mike LeFevre, Steel Worker reflected both the oppression
and anger that built up as a result of individuals not feeling fulfilled in life, especially work. With
over nine years of experience in the manufacturing business, I felt a connection to all of these
issues, to different extents.
In Mike LeFevre, Steel Worker it is clearly difficult for Mike, the character, to take pride
in his work because his industry is changing, and the laborers in the field do not start a project
with the intention of completing it. This takes away any sense of pride that laborers once had in
completing their projects. It is difficult for many people to simply work on one single aspect of a
large product day in and day out. This process of work differentiation takes away the pride that
one feels in beginning a process and finishing it to see the end result. These workers are left
unfulfilled because they have no end result to show for all of the labor they put into the job they
perform. Therefore, the meaning of the work and the sense of pride are stripped away.
While reading about Mike LeFevre, I analyzed my previous position in a large
manufacturing company, and the reasons that led me to explore the idea of college. An individual
can start at the bottom doing differentiated manual labor. Eventually that person may quickly

work their way into knowing how to complete an array of complementary tasks and assignments.
Modern business has separated labor into individual processes to enhance efficiency and cut
costs. Whether or not that individual is capable of completing many tasks in the workplace, they
are restricted to, at most, a couple of segments of the entire process. This separation of labor has
eliminated the ability of the product initiator to see the finished result. The middleman does not
understand the beginning or the end of the process, and the finished product is the only thing that
the last employee in the chain sees. In a similar way as Terkels texts describes a sense of
diminishing pride in the 1970s steel mill, I believe the laborers sense of pride and
accomplishment is nowhere to be found in modern business.
A typical job today entails monotony for the most part. People in the workforce go to
work, repeat the same tasks day in and day out, then they go home at the end of an eight hour
work day. This is true for nearly every industry in business. It is irrelevant whether the labor is
intensive or difficult, each aspect of modern business has become repetitive. The separation of
duties in the modern workforce has essentially taken any sense of accomplishment or excitement
away from those doing the work.
Some often highly coveted office positions seem to be ideal compared to the
differentiation associated with manual labor. However, many of the activities completed in an
office environment are just as streamlined and separated out as manual labor is. Improvements in
technology in the modern workplace have also aided in alienating the office workforce. While
one person begins a task, another receives an email with instructions to complete the next
portion, then the next, and the chain continues. Sometimes technological improvements
streamline specific aspects of an office job. For example spreadsheets, word processing, database
and cloud computing programs have replaced many office labor intensive office tasks that
formerly relied on hand written, calculated, or typed information. This lack of human interaction,
technological replacements, monotony, and separation of duties may lead employees to feel
miniscule, replaceable, bored, and unheard.
Outside of work, laborers who feel unsatisfied with their situations, like Mike LeFevre
and office workers, could improve their self-image and self-esteem by enrolling in college
courses part time. With no specific goal other than educating and improving oneself, college can
provide a means to fulfillment. In addition to improving ones education level, an individual can
read books and learn to think critically outside of a formal education system. My journey,
especially in this critical thinking course, has helped me understand the history, foundation,
ideology, and ever changing aspects of business. Self-reflection and self-improvement are the
keys to breaking the monotony of modern labor. By furthering my education and expanding
beyond just a job, I feel more satisfied in all aspects of my life.

As Terkel describes in Mike LeFevre, Steelworker, many workers are intellectually


capable of either positive innovation to better society or have negative motives for the future of
society. Whether alienated workers with potential are disguised innovators or have harmful
intentions towards society, the fact remains that without empowerment and the ability to improve
their situation all of these workers remain in a conceptual captivity. Many modern workers in
society fail to fulfill themselves, and this is due in large part to the manipulation and exploitation
of human labor. To reverse this negative impact on workers, I believe businesses should focus
their attention on providing all levels of employees with training and educational opportunities.
If employees are given the resources and motivation to make improvements, they have the
potential to improve the company. Holding laborers back only creates resentment, but providing
those means for bettering themselves may create the opposite effect, a new found loyalty and
appreciation for the business.
It has becoming increasingly popular for businesses to encourage their employees to
further their education because of the tax incentives provided by the IRS (Publication 15-B).
Even though there are tax incentives for businesses that provide such fringe benefits like tuition
reimbursement, many managers and supervisors feel threatened by an educated employee.
Climbing the ladder and seeking a higher position within the company can be perceived as a
threat to another individuals position within the company. I believe that if an individuals is
discouraged or held back from reaching their full potential they are more likely to feel alienated
and unsatisfied at work. This dissatisfaction can lead many employees to quit a job, even if they
are a good fit for the company.
Mike LeFevre, and many other people like him, believe that management fears an
educated man because, with an education, that man can outperform one who simply holds power.
As an individual gains knowledge and confidence, their potential for improvement in their
personal and professional life grows. This insight and intelligence is the power that the educated
laborer holds over those who are his superiors. Those managers and supervisors fear the
unknown potential that is hidden within the oppressed laborer. In my renaissance, I learned that
the only way to overcome the hurdles was to analyze my position, determine the changes
necessary for improvement, and act upon those decisions. For me, realizing that pursing a higher
education would lead to an improved sense of happiness and success was my renaissance.

Works Cited
Critical Thinking: Readings from the Literature of Business and Society. Pearson Learning
Solutions. Boston, MA. 2013. Print.
"Publication 15-B (2014), Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits." Publication 15-B (2014),
Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits. 2014. Web. 2 Aug. 2015.
Studs Terkel. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studs_Terkel
Terkel, Studs. Critical Thinking: Mike LeFevre, Steel Worker. Pearson Learning Solutions.
Boston, MA. 2013. p. 183-191. Print.
Terkel, Studs. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. New York: New Press:
2000. Print.