Alienation of the White-Collar? Quality of Work Life of Elite Business Professionals in Contemporary Turkey

Mustafa Yavas, New York University Abu Dhabi

What sorts of discontents do lie beneath the enviable high-prestige & high-salary corporate jobs? Why and how even highly educated, elite business professionals and managers can be dissatisfied with their work lives? In this paper, I investigate the middle-class dream of going to elite colleges and ending up with high-prestige & high-salary corporate jobs. Drawing from 82 interviews with Turkish elite business professionals working in Istanbul (n=31) and in New York City (n=17), ex-business professionals who quitted “corporate life” (n=15), senior undergraduates on the job market—soon-to-join elite labor force (n=15), and psychotherapists whom such professionals see to talk about their frustrations (n=4), as well as from the emerging genre of literature written by self-reflexive white-collars with the motto “de te fabula narratur,” I identify three interrelated sets of discontents: i) unfulfilling and meaningless work due to various mismatches such as skills, values, and personality; ii) overwork and intensified work leading people to be exhausted even if they like their jobs; and finally, a bit unique to this stratum, iii) perfectionism and status anxiety due to a success-driven habitus, plaguing their management of work-life balance. Relying on these findings, I discuss whether a revitalized alienation theory or job satisfaction theories would fare better in capturing and explaining the discontents of elite labor in particular and the implications of these for quality of work life debates in general.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 102. The Boundaries of Class: Where Proletarians and Bourgeoisie Meet