Place of Work in Individual’s Life and Society

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Work is one of the basic ingredients of human activity. It is, and has been, a central aspect of life in all cultures from prehistoric times to modern civilizations. One recent study reminds us that scientists see the presence of primitive tools as a clue to determining if relics bund in archeological explorations are human or animal. Work is significant in the life of the individual and in the relationships between individual and family and between individual and society.

Earlier definitions of work usually equated the concept with paid employment. More recently, Work in America and other sources suggest that work is an activity that produces something valued by other people. Similarly, Hoyt (1975) proposes that work is a conscious effort, other than activities whose primary purpose is either coping or relaxation, aimed at producing benefits for oneself and others. These broader definitions extend the concept to include the efforts of homemakers, volunteers, and others who are engaged in productive activity but may receive no financial remuneration.

The concept of career has also undergone change in recent years. Early definitions tended to restraint the application of the word to those individuals who had pursued a single occupation over a very long period of time with great success. Thus, one might speak of the career of a famous statesman, an outstanding physician, or a renowned actress, but one would not likely use the term to refer to a craftsman, a teacher, a nurse, or a storekeeper. Recently, usage has broadened so that the word is appropriately applied to almost everyone. There now appears to be considerable consensus for equating the word to an individual's lifelong work pattern. Thus it encompasses the work history of each individual where the term work is used in the broad sense described above.

The concept that work is the chronological sequence of all work related experiences for every individual has recently been reconfirmed by committee of the National Vocational Guidance Association. Most individuals start their careers as students preparing for work, acquire some part-time paid and/or unpaid experience while students, then move o to a series of positions that may be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid, and continue for variable lengths of time. In other words, it includes all of one sequence of work-related activities, starting at least as soon as one enters school and likely extending into post-retirement years while one is engage in producing benefits for self and others. It does not include other non work-related aspects of life that belong to the roles of friend, neighbor, citizen, spouse, parent, and so forth.

Work and the Individual

As the median age of our population gradually moves upward, increasing attention is being paid to adults in our society. Studies by psychologists, sociologists, and others, of development in infancy, childhood, and adolescence are now being supplemented by research on adult development. Examples of recent efforts include The Seasons of a Man's Life by Levinson et al. (1978) and Transformations: Growth and Change in Adult Life b) Gould (1978). Both books emphasize the importance of work throughout adult life and both focus primarily on the early adulthood period covering ages seventeen to forty-five. The reader must keep in mind that both studies also included only adult men. Comparable studies of adult women or of both men and women have not yet found their way into the research literature. When such studies are completed we will know more about the relationship to work of both genders. These two studies are significant because they suggest a path for future research. It would be erroneous to assume either that they are sexist because the subjects are all men or that the results apply equally well to women.

The Levinson study consists of the analysis of extended interviews over several years with a group of forty men, including four single occupational subgroups of ten men employed as biologists, executives, novelists, and factory workers. The authors conclude that the major components of adult life are the following:







Among the above components of life they identify the first two, occupation and marriage/family, as usually the most central aspects. Additionally, the authors state that a man's work is the primary base for his life in society. They consider the developmental patterns of life to be established on a combined biological, psychological, and social foundation. Further, they view individual life structure as consisting of a sequence of alternating developmental periods. A relatively stable, structure-building period is followed by a transitional, structure-changing period, replaced in turn by another stable period.

The developmental periods reported for their subjects include the following, with estimated ages:

1. Childhood and adolescence 0-22

2. Early adulthood 17-45

Early adult transition 17-22

Entering the adult world 23-28

Age thirty transition 28-33

Settling down 33-40

3. Middle adulthood 40-65

Midlife transition 40-45

Entering middle adulthood 45-50

Age fifty transition 50-55

Culmination of middle adulthood 55-60

4. Late adulthood 60-

Although the age clusters covered by the various periods and sub-cycles are not specific, the Levinson group believes there is more rigidity in the pattern than previously thought because their sample experienced these cycles within a year or so of the indicated ages. The almost clocklike transition from one cycle to the next appeared to be unaffected by other aspects the subjects' lives.

According to this study, one of four major tasks faced during the early adulthood period (ages 17-45) is that of forming an occupation. Other tasks include forming a dream, goal, or purpose for life and incorporating into one's life structure; forming a mentor relationship with an older adult who will become advisor, confidant, and sponsor; and forming love relationships, marriage, and family.

The task of forming an occupation is seen as extending across what is called the novice phase of early adulthood, including the periods of early adult transition (ages 17-22), entering the adult world (ages 23-28), at age thirty transition (ages 28-33), and sometimes even beyond this in" The Levinson group reports that their sample subjects made a first occupational choice between the ages of 17 and 29, and often subsequent changed to another choice. Those subjects who chose early often indicate that they later regretted the early choice, while those who delayed the choice reported they didn't have enough time to engage in what they considered to be enduring work. Levinson states that a man doesn't complete the preparatory phase of occupational development until he reaches the thirty transition period, between ages 28 and 33.

The viewpoint expressed by the Levinson group that occupation formation occurs primarily in the decade of the twenties appears to conflict somewhat with the views of career development theorists, most of whom would suggest an earlier period. The apparent discrepancy perhaps can be explained to be the focus in the Levinson study on the events of adult life as recalled by adult subjects. Significance certainly can be attached to the evidence of occupational uncertainty, reconsideration, and modification extending throughout the twenties reported by this group. The implication of this longer period of uncertainty and self-doubt is very important for career counselors because this suggests the need for providing career counseling services--particularly focusing on support programs, clarification of values and self-understanding, and realignment of career goals--long beyond the choice and preparation periods usually associated with formal schooling.

The Levinson group (1978) further suggests important career-related aspects in the settling down period that extends across the years from age 33 to 40. They report that men face two major tasks during these years first, establishing a niche in society, and second, working toward advancement. These two tasks are usually accomplished in one of five typical patterns, labeled as follows:

A. Advancement within a stable life structure.

B. Serious failure or decline within a stable life structure.

C. Breaking out: trying for a new life structure.

D. Advancement which itself produces a change in life structure.

E. Unstable life structure.

Over half of the men studied were identified as following the first sequence and the remainder were scattered across the other four options. For the larger group, this suggests they are progressing toward self-identified goals satisfactorily and they generally consider themselves to be successful rather than failures. Occupationally, they are most likely to continue on the path that they chose and defined earlier. Another 20 percent of the group was identified as following the second sequence. These men generally displayed satisfactory progress according to society's standards but failed to accomplish significant goals that they had set for themselves or that might provide the basis for important advancements in future years. This group, along with those identified with the other three patterns, were likely to make dramatic changes in their work or love relationships or both.

During their early forties, according to Levinson et al., men again find themselves in a period of transition. In this stage they review the past and begin to make new plans and choices for the years ahead. They also begin to deal with some basic philosophic issues in their lives that Levinson designates as polarities. Eighty percent of the subjects reported this to be a time of moderate or severe crisis affecting every part of their lives. The pattern followed in the previous settling down period influences the way this period is managed. Between the ages of 43 and 47, all of the men had entered the period labeled as middle adulthood. During this time, the nature of their work changed substantially.

Gould (1978) concentrates almost entirely on the age span from 16 to 45. Like Levinson, he divides this early adulthood period into four parts, with almost identical age groups: 16-22, 22-28, 28-34, and 35-45. His description of these developmental sequences affirms many positions taken by Levinson. For example, Gould also states that the period from 28 to 34 is the time when career commitments deepen.

Both studies confirm that work remains one of the central aspects of adult life, as was suggested much earlier in the writings of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson. Work has great influence on identifying who the individual really is, what status is held in society, the material rewards received by the individual, and the psychological satisfactions realized.

Because both Levinson and Gould limited their research to adult men, we must wait for parallel studies of adult women. Although we cannot confirm the cyclic patterns identified in these two studies, we can infer that work and marriage/family hold positions of centrality in the lives of women as well. One significant event of the past decade has been the influx of women into work outside the home. As the proportion of adult women who are engaged in work for pay continues to increase, we can assume that they too will view work as a means of self-expression and self-actualization. Perhaps one of the significant transitions in contemporary life may be the full involvement of most women in the activities of paid employment.
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