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Why has Work Effort become more intense? Conjectures and Evidence about Effort-Biased Technical Change and other stories

  • Francis Green


I investigate possible explanations for work intensification, using four British data sets. I conjecture that an important source of work intensification is effort-biased technical change (EBTC), which enhances the productivity of high effort workers relative to that of low effort workers. EBTC can be traced to innovations such as Total Quality Management and to information technology, and is linked with multi-skilling. I argue that EBTC is complementary with skill-biased technological change. Additional sources of intensification are the increasing use of intra-firm communication policies, and the declining power of unions. All the above receive empirical support. However, evidence also shows that neither increased teamworking nor, contrary to popular expectations, changing job insecurity has raised average effort levels.

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Paper provided by School of Economics, University of Kent in its series Studies in Economics with number 0003.

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Date of creation: May 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ukc:ukcedp:0003
Contact details of provider: Postal: School of Economics, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NP
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  1. Paul Gregg, 1996. "It Takes Two: Employment Polarisation in the OECD," CEP Discussion Papers dp0304, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  2. Francis Green, 1999. "It's been a hard day's night: The concentration and intensification of work in late 20th century Britain," Studies in Economics 9913, School of Economics, University of Kent.
  3. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
  4. Kochan, Thomas A., 1996. "What works at work : overview and assessment," Working papers 3886-96., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  5. Green, Francis & McIntosh, Steven, 2001. "The intensification of work in Europe," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 291-308, May.
  6. Louis S. Jacobson & Robert J. LaLonde & Daniel Sullivan, 1992. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 92-11, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  7. Rebitzer, James B & Taylor, Lowell J, 1995. "Do Labor Markets Provide Enough Short-Hour Jobs? An Analysis of Work Hours and Work Incentives," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 33(2), pages 257-73, April.
  8. Kandel, Eugene & Lazear, Edward P, 1992. "Peer Pressure and Partnerships," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 801-17, August.
  9. Green, Francis & Weisskopf, Thomas E, 1990. "The Worker Discipline Effect: A Disaggregative Analysis," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(2), pages 241-49, May.
  10. John MacDuffie, 1995. "Human resource bundles and manufacturing performance: Organizational logic and flexible production systems in the world auto industry," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(2), pages 197-221, January.
  11. Stephen Nickell & Tracy Jones & Glenda Quintini, 2000. "A picture of job insecurity facing British men," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20141, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  12. Itoh, Hideshi, 1991. "Incentives to Help in Multi-agent Situations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(3), pages 611-36, May.
  13. Green, Francis, 2000. "The Impact of Company Human Resource Policies on Social Skills: Implications for Training Sponsorship, Quit Rates and Efficiency Wages," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 47(3), pages 251-72, August.
  14. Francis Green & Steven McIntosh, 1998. "Union Power, Cost of Job Loss, and Workers' Effort," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 51(3), pages 363-383, April.
  15. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  16. Yoram Barzel, 1973. "The Determination of Daily Hours and Wages," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(2), pages 220-238.
  17. David George, 1997. "Working Longer Hours: Pressure from the Boss or Pressure from the Marketers?," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 55(1), pages 33-65.
  18. Timothy F. Bresnahan, 1997. "Computerization and Wage Dispersion: An Analytical Reinterpretation," Working Papers 97031, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  19. Bowles, Samuel, 1985. "The Production Process in a Competitive Economy: Walrasian, Neo-Hobbesian, and Marxian Models," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 16-36, March.
  20. Dale Belman & Robert Drago & Mark Wooden, 1992. "Workgroups, Efficiency Wages and Work Effort," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 14(4), pages 497-521, July.
  21. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1990. "The Economics of Modern Manufacturing: Technology, Strategy, and Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 511-28, June.
  22. Stewart, Mark B, 1995. "Union Wage Differentials in an Era of Declining Unionization," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(2), pages 143-66, May.
  23. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization, and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 339-376.
  24. A Felstead & D Gallie & F Green, 2000. "Computers are even more important than you thought: An Analysis of the changing skill-intensity of jobs," CEP Discussion Papers dp0439, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  25. Green, Francis & Felstead, Alan & Burchell, Brendan, 2000. " Job Insecurity and the Difficulty of Regaining Employment: An Empirical Study of Unemployment Expectations," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 62(0), pages 855-83, Special I.
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