From an outsider’s point of view, the workplace in question appears to be efficient, effective, and has the reputation of excellent treatment of its workers, promising competitive wages and benefits. However, after conducting research internally on the work environment of the Ontario workplace, the conclusion has been drawn that there are a lot of internal issues that need to be understood and addressed. For example, the workers appear to be highly dissatisfied, lack motivation, apathetic, high rights of alcoholism, drug use and absenteeism.
The first concept that was noticed in the workplace was Marx’ theory of alienation. Alienation is described as “The loss of self or relationships with others’ and ‘something that is profoundly important to being both a social and private individual is frustrated and deformed” (Yuill 2011, pg. 205). Marx focussed on the alienation from the self that comes from being a mechanistic part of society (Marx 1844, pg. 50). In a capitalist society, the lower classes take on very monotonous jobs that include repetitive tasks and lead to the specialization of labour.
Marx describes 4 different ways in which the worker becomes alienated which has a negative impact on his work and his mental wellbeing. These workers become alienated from 1. The product (s)he is producing because the labour becomes an object, 2. The process of production and the activity itself, 3. Self, they cannot develop or become creative and 4. Others, there is a lack of collaboration as each person works alone (Marx 1844, pg. 33). These four ways the worker feels alienated have a negative impact on their work ethic and willingness to work.
Moreover, the process of alienation not only describes the reason behind workers feeling dissatisfied, having a lack of motivation for the task at hand, and frequently feeling apathetic but also leads to anomie and potentially suicide which will be discussed later. The second concept is the division of labour by Marx. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx focusses on the division of labour between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the haves and the have-nots as well as the tension this creates.
While the working class may be content with their role in society they eventually develop a class consciousness which lets them to the unfair division of labour, while Marx does not use the exact term class consciousness in his Communist Manifesto he describes a class in itself and a class for itself (Marx 1848, pg. 16). Furthermore, this class consciousness leads the worker to feel dissatisfied in their job, seriously apathetic, and with a general lack of motivation.
It seems obvious that those who are seen as the lesser classes will come to a time where they will no longer want to work long hours to help the rich get richer and the poor to get poorer. Marx describes the process of two parties – capitalist and labourers who remain estranged from one another because the relationship they have is based on their conflicting interests and very different conditions of life. These differences lead to the lower class becoming objectified and at some point, knowledgeable about their objectification (Marx 1844, pg. 9).
Therefore, once the working class becomes aware of their less than optimal situation and exploitation they are more likely to lack motivation, miss work, feel apathetic, and potentially turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope with their social situation. The third concept is Durkheim’s Anomie. The theory of anomie relates heavily to the previously discussed concept of the division of labour. Durkheim claims this division is one of the main causes of anomie (Durkheim, 1893).
The division weakens the sense of self-identification and identification with the community as a whole which leads to social disintegration, anomie, and the final concept suicide. Durkheim believes the problems of modern man were maladjustment, the need to develop a sense of satiety, that would aid him in overcoming his restlessness and discontent. The poor conditions of the workplace make it difficult or even impossible for workers under the crushing thumb of the bourgeoisie to not develop into an anomic state of being.
The lack of moral-legal code appropriate to the new conditions leads to those involved to feel anomic (Zeitlin 2001, pg. 341). The issue in the workplace of sexism and racism demonstrates a lack of moral code which leads to individuals targeted to feel a lack of connection to society and potentially to themselves. The fourth and final concept is suicide as defined by Durkheim. As mentioned previously, suicide can result from all of the aforementioned concepts – alienation, division of labour and anomie. Durkheim claims suicide occurs when there is a loss of social cohesion and the absence of moral norms (Zeitlin 2001, pg. 64). Moreover, suicide directly relates to all of the problems that were noted in the work environment, including alcoholism, drug use, lack of motivation, apathy, sexism, racism, and absenteeism. The two problems that will be focussed on are sexism and racism. Both of these problems result in one person or group of people being targeted and discriminated against based on their sex and race. This treatment could lead to an individual feeling even less connected to those around them and thus their society.
This lack of connection can lead to anomie which could then lead to suicide. Durkheim states that suicide is the result of an individual having weak societal connections or diminished social cohesion (Durkheim 1897, pg. 240). One can assume that those who are the target of sexist or racist behaviours would feel The concepts of anomie and suicide as defined by Durkheim very clear relate to the rise of mental health issues and suicides on university campuses, including but not limited to the University of Guelph (Pfeffer 2016).
There has been a public outcry to increase the amount and accessibility of resources available to university students who are suffering from mental health issues and may be contemplating suicide. Anomie occurs when there is a breakdown or absence of social norms, values and rules. While university society has norms and rules, there is usually a large jump for first-year students to go from most likely having a plethora of rules at home from their parents to having a lot more freedom. This in conjunction with the increased accessibility and prevalence of drugs and alcohol can be a dangerous combination.
The lack of solid rules can lead to the student experiencing a state of normlessness. Moreover, the combination of lenient rules along with many students moving away from their core social ties, friends and family, can be very difficult for first and upper year students. After one moves away from the home they may initially feel excited at first about their new freedom, when one adds in the stress of university including the pressure to make one’s family proud, increased workload, difficulty of the classes, and balancing grades, with a job, extracurriculars and a social life it can be less exciting and more dangerous for one’s mental health.
Durkheim describes three types of suicide: altruistic, egoistic, and anomic (Durkheim 1897 pg. 241). Of these types, the one most frequently experienced by university students is anomic suicide which is defined as a lack of social cohesion. Suicide rates are said by Durkheim (1897) to be linked to the degree of cohesiveness one feels in the group. The combination of anomie with the all of the aforementioned university stress can lead to steadily declining mental health in students. This trapped feeling can ultimately lead to the student feeling the only way out is to commit suicide.
Therefore, the two concepts of anomie and suicide as defined by Durkheim need to be consulted when considering the need for an increase in public awareness of the commonality of poor mental health of university students. This is a serious issue that is frequently overlooked. University students are simply expected to do absolutely everything in order to be successful and everyone is shocked when a student feels they have no other option but to commit suicide. However, with the forced feeling of anomie placed on them by the university setting, it is not surprising students are cracking under the pressure.
As such, universities should rely more heavily on the sociological theories presented by Durkheim because they explain the reason students enter an anomic state and the social pressures that lead to suicide. While it is incorrect to suggest that the university alone is responsible for the recent increase in mental health issues and suicides on university campuses, more can certainly be done to reduce the stress felt by students and anomie can be reduced by working more diligently to ensure students are making adequate societal connections.