High-tech jobs working conditions: progress toward a brighter future ?

by Anna Dreveau

As high-tech jobs are currently making up to 5.2% of the job market in the United States, their futuristic creative aura has stolen the spotlight from its reality.

Sure, high-tech jobs involve working with the up-to-date technologies, team work, creativity and autonomy. They work in dream-like place (Have you ever seen the Google offices?), with an almost non-existent hierarchical system.

Still, the flip side of those jobs are much less attractive. Pressured by unrealistic deadlines, high- tech workers often have to stay in the office overtime or even overnight; a comfy office, indeed, but you will never get out of here.

Well, actually, you may “get out of here”: an other drawback of those is the job insecurity. Most of high-tech workers are independent contractors; they came to accomplish some specific task. May you be efficient enough, you might be called again; but companies do not guarantee any full-time position nor health care program. This situation sparks fierce competition among peers which ensure intense stress, as everybody have to stay up-to-date in this rapidly progressing field to remain competitive enough.

This “white-collar factory” as Seán Ó Riain nicknamed it, have effects on workers’ social life. Even if family life can be considered as non-existent for those always-working-overtime people, solidarity among peers, despite competition, is strengthening them.

Job insecurity make indeed vertical relationships useless for any workers, who would rather befriend coequals, as they share an identity through their job. Thus, occupational communities bloom, developing mutual assistance and shared information (especially about employment opportunities or latest technologies) between STEM workers. Local communities, as high-tech jobs tend to be found in specific places, are formed and connected to each other, spreading worldwide.

Can we however consider high-tech working trend as progress? If workers still have some sort of social links, all of those resolve around work: friends are current or former colleagues and family can not be the priority as the pressuring competition is taking all the worker’s time. For some, even free time is used for personal projects (as an auto-entrepreneur or an open source contributor). Is making your work the center of your life really a good thing?

Nevertheless, those working conditions are a reality that is extending to other sectors as well. Job insecurity is certainly not STEM sector specificity, as full-time jobs only account for 47% of work nowadays. Besides, even occupational communities can be observed in other professions, such as photocopier repairers, as Julien Orr observed.

Accepting this new reality may be the first step to make things better. Industrial Revolutions did not come as improvement of work conditions at their premise but as unions/bureaucracy were formed, guarantees were granted. Today, as employment security is becoming far off and unions are outperformed by transnational firms, a new system must be implemented to guarantee at least health care, stable income and free time for workers. It may be the turn for occupational communities to grow and voice those demands towards companies all over the world.