In 1949 trade unionist and former coal miner Ken Bamforth, a postgraduate fellow training for industrial !eldwork in London, was encouraged to return to his former industry to report on work organization. At a newly opened coal seam, Bamforth noticed an interesting development. Technical improvements in roof control hadmade it possible to mine “shortwall,” and themen in the pits, with the support of their union, proposed to reorganize the work process. Instead of each miner being responsible for a separate task, as was the custom, workers organized relatively autonomous groups. Small groups rotated tasks and shifts among themselves with a minimum of supervision. To take advantage of new technical opportunities, they revived a tradition of small group autonomy and responsibility dominant in the days before mechanization (Sirianni, 1995, p. 1).
Bamforth’s observations helped to spur the “sociotechnical systems” movement (Rice, 1953; Trist and Bamforth, 1951), which sought to integrate structural and human resource considerations. Trist and Bamforth noted that the old method isolated individual workers and disrupted informal groupings that offered potent social support in a dif!cult and dangerous environment. They argued for the creation of “composite”work groups, in which individuals would be cross-trained in multiple jobs so each group could work relatively autonomously. Their approach made only modest headway in England in the 1950s but got a boost when two Tavistock researchers, Eric Trist and Fred Emery, were invited to Norway. Their ideas were welcomed, and Norway became a pioneer in work redesign.
At about the same time, in a pioneering American study, Frederick Herzberg (1966) asked employees about their best and worst work experiences. “Good feelings” stories featured achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and learning; Herzberg called these motivators. “Bad feelings” stories clustered around company policy and
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administration, supervision, and working conditions; Herzberg labeled these hygiene factors. Motivators dealt mostly with work itself; hygiene factors bunched up around the work context. Herzberg concluded that attempts to motivate workers with better pay and fringe bene!ts, communications programs, or human relations training missed the point. Instead, he saw “job enrichment” as central to motivation. Enrichment meant giving workers more freedom and authority, more feedback, and greater challenges.
Hackman and his colleagues extended Herzberg’s ideas by identifying three critical factors in job redesign: “Individuals need (1) to see their work as meaningful and worthwhile, more likely when jobs produce a visible and useful ‘whole,’ (2) to use discretion and judgment so they can feel personally accountable for results, and (3) to receive feedback about their efforts so they can improve” (Hackman et al., 1987, p. 320).
Experiments with job redesign have grown signi!cantly in recent decades. Many efforts have been successful, some resoundingly so (Kopelman, 1985; Lawler, 1986; Yorks and Whitsett, 1989; Pfeffer, 1994; Parker andWall, 1998; Mohr and Zoghi, 2006). Typically, job enrichment has a stronger impact on quality than on productivity. Workers !nd more satisfaction in doing good work than in simply working harder (Lawler, 1986). Most workers prefer redesigned jobs, although some still favor old ways. Hackman emphasized that employees with “high growth needs” would welcome job enrichment, while others with “low growth needs” would not. Organizational context also makes a difference. Job redesign produced greater bene!t in situations where working conditions were poor to begin with (Morgeson et al., 2006).
Recent decades have witnessed a gradual reduction in dreary, unchallenging jobs. Routine work has been increasingly redesigned or turned over to machines, robots, and computers. But signi!cant obstacles block the progress of job enrichment, and monotonous jobs will not soon disappear. One barrier is the lingering belief that technical imperatives make simple, repetitive work ef!cient and cheap. Another is the belief that workers produce more in a Theory X environment. A third barrier is economic; many jobs cannot be altered without major investments in redesigning physical plant and machinery. A fourth barrier is illustrated in the doll-manufacturing experiment: When it works, job enrichment leads to pressures for system-wide change. Workers with enriched jobs often develop higher opinions of themselves. They may demand more—sometimes increased bene!ts, other times career opportunities or training for new tasks (Lawler, 1986).
Foster Self-Managing Teams From the beginning, the sociotechnical systems perspective emphasized a close connection between work design and teamwork. Another in”uential early advocate of teaming was
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Rensis Likert, who argued in 1961 that an organization chart should depict not a hierarchy of individual jobs but a set of interconnected teams.1 Each team would be highly effective in its own right and linked to other teams via individuals who served as “linking pins.” It took decades for such ideas to take hold, but an increasing number of !rms now embrace the idea. One is Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain discussed in Chapter 5. The !rm cites “featured team members” on its website, and its “Declaration of Interdependence” pledges, “We Support Team Member Excellence and Happiness.”
The central idea in the autonomous team approach is giving groups responsibility for a meaningful whole—a product, subassembly, or complete service—with ample autonomy and resources and with collective accountability for results. Teams meet regularly to determine work assignments, scheduling, and current production. Supervision typically rests with a team leader, who may be appointed or may emerge from the group. Levels of authority and discretion vary across situations. Some teams have authority to hire, !re, determine pay rates, specify work methods, and manage inventory. In other cases, the team’s scope of decision making is narrower, focusing on issues of production, quality, and work methods.
The human resource concept of teams overlaps with the structural approach to teams (Chapter 5) but emphasizes that teams rarely work without ample training. Workers need group skills and a broader range of technical skills so that each member understands and can perform someone else’s job. “Pay for skills” gives team members an incentive to keep expanding their range of competencies (Manz and Sims, 1995).
Promote Egalitarianism Egalitarianism implies a democratic workplace where employees are an integral part of the decision-making process. This idea goes beyond participation, often viewed as a matter of style and climate rather than shared authority. Even in participative systems, managers still make key decisions. Broader, more egalitarian sharing of power is resisted worldwide (Heller, 2003). Managers have often resisted organizational democracy—the idea of building worker participation into the formal structure to protect it from management interference. Most U.S. !rms report some form of employee involvement, but the approaches (such as a suggestion box or quality circle) “do not fundamentally change the level of decision-making authority extended to the lowest levels of the organization” (Ledford, 1993, p. 148). American organizations make less use of workforce involvement than evidence of effectiveness warrants (Pfeffer, 1998; Ledford, 1993).
Formal efforts to democratize the workplace are more common in some parts of Europe. Norway, for example, legally mandated worker participation in decision making
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in 1977 (Elden, 1983, 1986). Major corporations pioneered efforts to democratize and improve the quality of work life. Three decades later, the results of the “Norwegian model” look impressive—Norway came in at number one on the 2017 World Happiness Report (Worldhappiness.report, 2017) and is regularly at or near the top of rankings for “best country to live in,” with a strong economy, broad prosperity, low unemployment, and excellent health care (Barstad, Ellingsen, and Hellevik, 2005; Gar!eld, 2015).
The Brazilian manufacturer Semco offers another dramatic illustration of organizational democracy in action (Killian, Perez, and Siehl, 1998; Semler, 1993). Ricardo Semler took over the company from his father in the 1980s and gradually evolved an unorthodox philosophy of management. At Semco, workers hire new employees, evaluate bosses, and vote on major decisions. In one instance, employees voted to purchase an abandoned factory that Semler didn’t want and then proceeded to turn it into a big success. “In a 10-year recessionary period in Brazil, Semco’s revenues still grew 600 percent, pro!ts were up 500 percent, productivity was up700 percent, and for the last 20+ years, employee turnover remains at an incredibly low 1–2 percent per year. They have no managers, no HR department, no written policies (just a few written beliefs) and no of!ce hours. Everyone works in small, self-motivated, self- managed work teams who make their own decisions regarding salary, hiring, !ring, and who leads the team for the next six months” (Blakeman, 2014).
Is organizational democracy worth the effort? Harrison and Freeman (2004) conclude that the answer is yes. Even if it does not produce economic gains, it produces other bene!ts such as reduced stress (Kalleberg, Nesheim, and Olsen, 2009). Still, many managers and union leaders oppose the idea because they fear losing prerogatives they see as essential to success. Union leaders and critical management theorists sometimes argue that democracy is a management ploy to get workers to accept gimmicks in place of gains in wages and bene!ts or as a wedge that might come between workers and their union.
Organizations that stop short of formal democracy can still become more egalitarian by reducing both real and symbolic status differences (Pfeffer, 1994, 1998). In most organiza- tions, it is easy to discern an individual’s place in the pecking order from such cues as of!ce size and access to perks like limousines and corporate jets. Organizations that invest in people, by contrast, often reinforce participation and job redesign by replacing symbols of hierarchy with symbols of cooperation and equality. Semco, for example, has no organiza- tion chart, secretaries, or personal assistants. Top executives type letters and make their own photocopies. Nucor has no executive dining rooms, and the chief executive “”ies commer- cial, manages without an executive parking space, and really does make the coffee in the of!ce when he takes the last cup” (Byrnes and Arndt, 2006, p. 60).
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Reducing symbolic differences is helpful, but reducing material disparities is important as well. A controversial issue is the pay differential between workers and management. In the 1980s, Peter Drucker suggested that no leader should earn more than 20 times the pay of the lowest-paid worker. He reasoned that outsized gaps undermine trust and devalue workers. Corporate America paid little heed. In 1980, big-company CEOs earned about 40 times as much as the average worker. By 2015, with an average annual compensation of $13.8 million, they were earning more than 200 times as much (Chamberlain, 2015). In the year it went bankrupt, Enron was a pioneer in the golden paycheck movement, handing out a total of $283 million to its !ve top executives (Ackman, 2002). The controversial drug company, Mylan, which came under !re in 2016 for stunning price increases on its most pro!table product, the EpiPen, paid its top !ve managers a total of $300 million over !ve- year period—signi!cantly more generous than much bigger and more pro!table competi- tors like Johnson & Johnson and P!zer (Maremont, 2016).
In contrast, a number of progressive companies, such as Costco, Whole Foods, and Southwest Airlines, have traditionally underpaid their CEOs by comparison with their competitors. Whole Foods Markets limits executives’ pay to 19 times the average employee salary, and CEO John Mackey asked the board in 2007 to set his salary at $1/year (Gaar, 2010). It was newsworthy that Southwest’s CEO received “less than $1 million in 2006 even as the carrier posted its 34th straight year of pro!ts” (Roberts, 2007). In the same year, United Airlines, fresh out of bankruptcy, unintentionally united all !ve of its unions in protest against the estimated take-home pay of $39 million for its CEO (Moyers, 2007).
Promote Diversity A good workplace is serious about treating everyone well—workers as well as executives; women as well as men; Asians, African Americans, and Hispanics as well as whites; gay as well as straight employees. Sometimes companies support diversity because they think it’s the right thing to do. Others do it more grudgingly because of bad publicity, a lawsuit, or government pressure.
In 1994, Denny’s Restaurants suffered a public relations disaster and paid $54 million to settle discrimination lawsuits. The bill was even higher for Shoney’s, at $134 million. Both restaurant chains got religion as a result (Colvin, 1999). So did Coca-Cola, which settled a class action suit by African American employees for $192 million in November 2000 (Kahn, 2001), and Texaco, after the company’s stock value dropped by half a billion dollars in the wake of a controversy over racism (Colvin, 1999).
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Denny’s transformation was so thorough that the company has frequently appeared on lists of best companies for minorities (Esposito et al., 2002; Daniels et al., 2004).
In the end, it makes good business sense for companies to promote diversity. If a company devalues certain groups, word tends to get out and customers become alienated. In the United States, more than half of consumers and workers are female, and about one fourth are Asian, African American, or Latino. California, New Mexico, and Texas are the !rst states in which non-Hispanic whites are no longer a majority—except for multiethnic Hawaii, in which whites have never been a majority. The same will eventually be true of the United States as a whole. When talent matters, it is tough to build a workforce if your business practices write off a sizable portion of potential employees. That’s one reason so many public agencies in the United States have long-standing commitments to diversity. One of the most successful is the U.S. Army, as exempli!ed in Colin Powell’s ability to rise through the ranks to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff and subsequently to become the nation’s secretary of state.
In industries where talent is a vital competitive edge, private employers have moved aggressively to accommodate gay employees: