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Alienation in Today's Workplace: Alienation of the Worker

Updated on December 29, 2017
Patrick Patrick profile image

Patrick has been working as a freelance writer for the past 3 years


According to the definition given by Marx, and also supported by Kai, labor alienation is the term used to refer to the estrangement that occurs when the worker (laborer) relates to the work of hands as an object that is alien and even hostile to him or herself. In this case, the laborer invests his life, efforts and energy in the object (product), but due to the fact a that he/she does not own the fruit of his labor (having no knowledge about it, or being able to afford it among other reasons) he ends up being estranged regardless of how much he/she is involved in producing. In labor alienation therefore, everything that the worker contribute to in the world outside him (particularly in the workplace) he is unable to possess.



Ways in which workers are alienated

Loosing contact with products of their labor

Alienated when they lose their involvement

Estrangement from their peers, and fellow human beings

Separation from their nature as human beings

Alienation in today's workplace

With high competition among the young, lack of employment opportunities and failing economics, it is highly evident that the concept of alienation is relevant for understanding the workplace today. Although major companies such as Google and Apple are allowing workers/employees some amount of time to concentrate on their own personal projects, workers are still highly focused on success and more financial gains that most their energy and life goes to their job. This significantly alienates them from their peers and loved ones. One of the best examples of such a case is Steve Jobs. Known as one of the most innovative entrepreneurs to have ever lived, Jobs was largely focused on success and being the best in the industry that he found it difficult to make time for his wife and daughter. His obsession to succeed drove him to be particularly strict and harsh towards his employees to an extent that some would simply quit.

Steve Jobs



The other good example is with McDonald’s where about two thirds of the workers in the United States are under the age of 20. These young people open the stores early in the morning, close them late in to the night, keeping them going through out these period. Some of the managers and assistant managers are also young individuals, who are preferred due to the fact that they can be easily controlled and are also less expensive to high. It is a fact that McDonald’s has the biggest population of younger employees, who work for fewer than 40 hours a week, and pays them a bare minimum. Such individuals are likely to take up other part time jobs, and are thus alienated not only from their peers and fellow human beings, but also from their nature as human beings. On the other hand, given that they are expected to work under specific set of rules, they are also alienated from involvement. This is the reality for a majority of workers around the globe.


Foxxconn had been referred to as Apple's Chinese "sweatshop" factory given that workers were only paid about 1.12 pounds per hour to produce iPhones and iPads for the west. This is a good example of employees/workers being alienated not only from involvement, but also loosing contact with products of their labor. From such wages, it is almost impossible for such employees to afford these products. They have to endure difficult working conditions as well as low pay for hard work, while being alienated from not only the products, but also from involvement and even from their nature as human beings, only being reduced to machine like status.



Ways through which alienation may be reduced

Salary increment

More involvement (on the part of employees/workers)

Allowing employees time on their personal projects


As an individual who has worked at a food chain store, I support the notion that he concept of alienation is very relevant for understanding the workplace today. With my colleagues, tasks were limited to following a given procedure, and never deviating from these procedures. In addition to the low pay, we also had to work long hours in order to get the salary with which we could meet our needs. For some of us, this meant looking for part time job in order to get sufficient wages to meet our day to day needs. This not only affected our relationship with others, but also took most of our time to an extent that we only had time to rest. The workplace therefore alienated us from being involved, from peers and from human nature given that we has very little time for those we cared about.
Although there are more rights for workers than was the case for the 19th century factory workers that Marx wrote about, the fact remains that workers remain alienated in all the four ways given that there are a great majority that is desperate to take up any job with the ever reducing job opportunities. Therefore, rights of workers that protect them from exploitation have not significantly changed the fact that they are still alienated in all ways.

© 2017 Patrick


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