Today's service culture puts new demands on frontline staff. Jane Lewis looks at how companies can deliver to customers without employees behaving like cardboard cut-outs at home
Sometime during the course of the 1980s, when it became clear that the downturn in British Manufacturing was actually more in the nature of a permanent decline, public opinion was split broadly into two camps.
On the one hand there were those who welcomed the replacement of the old industrial economy with the new service-based model, claiming it was an inevitable development in capitalism - and likely to lead to greater national prosperity across the board. On the other, were those who thought that any economy without a solid foundation of industrial production underpinning it would enjoy no more long-term stability than a house of cards.
Economists then were in no doubt of where the intellectual high ground lay. The idea that wealth could only be generated to a backing track of whirring machines was as sentimental and retrogressive as it was naïve. Most would now claim that history has borne them out.
But some commentators cannot let go of the issue so easily. Just because the card construction is now more far-reaching and complicated in structure, they argue, it doesn't mean it is any less precarious - though we often lose sight of this fact in the distracting rough and tumble of daily life.
"Much of the insecurity we experience is unconscious," claims Colin Selby, director of occupational psychologists Selby Millsmith. "We don't have a manufacturing base to hang on to, it makes us nervous. We worry about the future: in time we know we'll be outsourcing even our service industries abroad." Indeed, this is already happening in several sectors, most notably IT.
Although it is unlikely many people struggling in to work this morning had that particular debate running through their heads, this unconscious awareness of our insecurity - and of the possible pointlessness of our working lives - is having some interesting effects. Selby believes it might provide a partial reason for the entrenched long working hours culture in this country. It is as if we are trying to compensate for the worthlessness of the whole exercise by working harder. "The work ethic goes very deep. People become trapped on a treadmill. By working hard they lose sight of what's really happening."
Others agree. "Perhaps it is the feeling