Working life and learning
Working life and learning

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1 What is working life?

As you saw from the introduction above, your work is central to the learning you will gain from studying this course. In our view though, ‘work’ does not mean the same as ‘paid employment in an organisation’. The idea that these two things are the same is an assumption that is made in many areas of life, such as management courses, careers advice and newspaper reports.

It is certainly true that very many of us earn our living through paid employment, but modern working life can vary considerably, and it is increasingly difficult to generalise about patterns of work. We would like to challenge the assumption that ‘work’ is always paid. Volunteer work is probably the most obvious example of work that is not paid, but actually there is a more interesting point hidden here. The study of work by academics in the social sciences – subjects like sociology and economics – often reinforces the idea that there is a significant difference between work and ‘non-work’.

Tony Watson, an eminent professor of management, explored this distinction in his book Sociology, Work and Industry (Watson, 1995). He recognised that, traditionally, studies tend to draw distinctions that classify areas of our experience – like family, home, leisure and unemployment – as ‘non-work’. In other words, they assume that there is no work involved in caring for a family, making and maintaining a home, leisure pursuits or seeking and gaining paid employment opportunities, to say nothing of unpaid volunteering.

Of course, those of us who experience these things will recognise that this isn’t the case. Our view is that all of these aspects of life involve work just as much as a paid job or self-employment, and that the learning we gain from work in these contexts is just as valid as that from experience of paid employment.

Left image: © Rao. Right image: © Yeulet
Figure 1 

Activity 1 Your ‘work’ experiences

Timing: Allow about 35 minutes

Take a moment to think about your current work experiences. Using a broader understanding of work, jot down the work that you do during a typical day. Then read the feedback below.

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We all have different experiences of work. Here are three examples:

Sam is on the go as soon as he gets up in the morning. He starts the day by setting out breakfast for the family and making a pot of coffee for himself and his partner, Gill, who is already up and taking calls about her working day – she is a community health visitor. Then Sam gets the packed lunches ready for his three children: 3-year-old Lyddie; and the twins, Jake and Michael, who are 12.

When everyone is washed and dressed and has eaten breakfast, he checks the twins have everything for school while washing the breakfast dishes. After Gill and the boys leave, he drives Lyddie to her nursery in his van and drops her off there. He then goes off on his window-cleaning round for the day until it’s time to pick up Lyddie again at 5pm.

Jackie gets home from the office and makes a quick snack for herself. Wednesday evenings are always a rush. While eating she organises the music sheets for that evening’s band practice and checks her notes from last week.

When she gets there, she spends the next two-and-a-half hours conducting practice while playing her steel drum. Afterwards she makes sure everyone knows the arrangements for their carnival performance in three week’s time. Then it’s off home to study her OU module for an hour or so before sleepily getting into bed.

Ama sits on the train on the way home from her latest job interview with a notebook on her lap and some internet printouts of football training routines. It has been a busy week; she has been doing some temping during the days and filling out application forms in the evenings, as well as attending three interviews. But now it is Friday and she has to think about what to work on with her son Luke’s football team, which she coaches.

She looks at her notes from the last two matches to see what she thinks they should work on and plans out the two-hour session. She gets a text on her mobile phone. It’s the manager of next week’s opponents just checking the kick-off time. She texts her reply quickly, when the phone rings. This time it is the club secretary, Barney. He reminds her that she needs to get her match report form from last week to him by tomorrow. Looks like another busy Saturday.

These examples are all meant to illustrate how what is called ‘non-work’ can actually involve quite a lot of effort, commitment and planning – just as much, in fact, as what we may consider to be our work.

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