A distinction, widely employed in industrial sociology, to indicate contrasting orientations to work and forms of labour discipline. In the narrow sense, task-oriented workers relate the measurement of time to naturally occurring phenomena and cycles, such as ‘the time between sunrise and sunset’, the seasons of the year, or (quite simply) ‘the time it takes to complete the task in hand’. The important point is that there is a complete disregard for the artificial units (minutes, hours, and ‘working days’) of clock-time. Anthropological and historical evidence suggests that this attitude to work—in which labour is oriented to the completion of specific tasks with a minimal demarcation between work and leisure—was prevalent among traditional tribal and Western pre-industrial societies alike. The invention of clocks—or rather their utilization by employers as a means of measuring labour-inputs—generated (after well-documented initial resistance among workers) a labour discipline in which time was the principal currency. Effort was now bought and sold by the hour; time was ‘spent’ rather than ‘passed’; and the ‘time-effort bargain’ could be budgeted like any other commodity. The classic analysis of the change in work-discipline that accompanies the shift between task-orientation and time-orientation is E. P. Thompson 's ‘Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism’ (in Past and Present, 1967).
In contemporary usage, the application of these concepts has become somewhat broader, with task-orientation and time-orientation often being treated as synonymous with ‘solidaristic’ and ‘instrumental’ orientations to work respectively. See also work, subjective experience of.