Related BLS programs | Related articles
May 1995, Vol. 118, No. 5
I n today's competitive world economy, the strength of U.S. firms is increasingly dependent upon product quality and rapid adaptation to changing conditions. To survive in this environment, firms may choose to rely upon the creativity, ingenuity, and problem-solving abilities of their workers. To do so, they attempt to provide workers with the information, skills, incentives, and responsibility to make decisions essential for innovation, quality improvement, and rapid response to change. Firms taking this approach often are referred to as "high performance work organizations."
By way of example, take the case of delivery truck drivers. Drivers can be assigned loads and routes by a supervisor. Alternately, they can be made responsible for scheduling their own routes and for making changes. They can use their knowledge of customers and routes to inform existing customers of new services, acting as assistant sales representatives. They can participate in problem-solving groups to identify bottlenecks in processes, such as the morning's sorting of packages, that slow delivery. Installing communications equipment in trucks can facilitate teamwork to allow balancing of routes between couriers with unexpectedly large shipments and those with lighter loads, without the intervention of a supervisor. These work practices have been used by Federal Express couriers, and both the company and the workers appear to have benefited from converting ordinary driving responsibilities into jobs that require higher skills.1
While this example helps illustrate the types of work practices firms may adopt, the anecdotal experiences of a few firms are unlikely to be representative . The goal of this literature review is to ascertain whether high performance work practices are more generally associated with better firm performance.
This excerpt is from an article published in the May 1995 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full text in PDF (565K)
1 Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages! (Rochester, NY, National Center on Education and the Economy, 1991), Supporting Works, Vol. II, pp. 243-45.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers