Roads to Emptiness
Abstract: The phenomenon of empty labour gained considerable attention throughout the past years - mainly through its debate in public media and the introduction of the term by Roland Paulsen. We aim to contribute to the existing literature by adding alternative explanations to this phenomenon, as it is, up until now, mainly presented in a negative light. More specifically, we investigate how organisational factors influence the amount of empty labour of office employees in the banking sector and to what extent they experience this phenomenon as wasteful and “empty”. By answering these questions, we contribute missing perspectives to the existing literature, which only slightly touches upon these aspects. Using an interpretive approach, we conducted 19 semi-structured interviews in the banking industry. Our findings showed that the organisational factors of change processes, culture, and job design influence the amount of empty labour office employees working in the banking industry engage in. Moreover, we found that the phenomenon is mostly experienced as meaningful and, therefore, less “empty” than indicated by the majority of the literature. Since the organisational factors are likely to gain in importance, and since empty labour is perceived as a natural part of today’s working environments, we question the applicability of the concept to an incommensurable future.
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