Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Managerial Practices That Support Lean and Socially Sustainable Working Conditions

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Managerial Practices That Support Lean and Socially Sustainable Working Conditions

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite decades of using the management concept of lean production in industry, there is little knowledge about which managerial practices promote those lean implementations that support socially sustainable working conditions (SSWCs). Here, SSWC is broadly defined as a work environment with sufficient job resources to support meaningful work, employee growth, and health (Kira & Forslin, 2008; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Lean production (henceforth lean) is a Toyota-inspired multidimensional production and management concept (Hines et al., 2004; Liker, 2004; Womack et al., 1991). Several studies confirm that lean is associated with improvements in productivity, quality, and profitability (Liker, 2004; Shah & Ward, 2003). However, lean has been linked to work intensification (Westgaard & Winkel, 2011), and several studies on lean and working conditions report worsened social conditions (Hasle, 2014; Koukoulaki, 2014; Landsbergis et al., 1999). Some of these studies have also indicated that lean can have mixed effects on working conditions, depending on management style, implementation approach, cultural differences, and type of organization (Hasle, 2014; Koukoulaki, 2014). Thus, the need for detailed studies of how lean can be implemented to promote favorable employee working conditions has been indicated (Hasle et al., 2012). Understanding what may support SSWC, even in a lean work system with high performance demands, is important because 1) this way of organizing work is a trend in contemporary work life (Parker, 2014; Samuel et al., 2015; Westgaard & Winkel, 2011); and 2) work-related health problems are a major public health concern (Eurofound, 2012).

Background

Lean and managerial practices

Lean can be present at different organizational levels, both as a philosophy and a set of tools (Pettersen, 2009; Shah & Ward 2007). Important aspects of lean thinking include increasing customer value by identifying value-adding activities and eliminating unnecessary working processes (Liker, 2004; Womack & Jones, 2003). Examples of organizational lean tools are defining corporate values, 5S-a system for structuring the workplace, policy deployment, standardization of work processes, lean boards used for visual steering, and value stream mapping (VSM) for identifying and analyzing how work processes can be simplified and improved (Dennis, 2007). Lean leadership practices also commonly include the implementation of lean tools aimed at promoting employee engagement in daily learning, and systematic continuous improvements (CIs) and monitoring of results (Liker, 2004; Womack & Jones, 2003). Swedish lean initiatives traditionally have a strong focus on employee involvement (Brännmark & Eklund, 2013) and employee coaching during lean implementation (Andreasson et al., 2015). An overview of Nordic studies on management behaviors and working conditions (Torvatn et al., 2015) concluded that surprisingly few studies in this field have investigated modern organizational methods like lean. Only a few studies have empirically studied and described lean leadership (Liker & Convis, 2012; Poksinska et al. 2013; Vänje & Brännmark, 2015). The importance of lean leadership practices may vary depending on different organizational contexts, including maturity and resources for employees engaging in change (Eriksson et al., 2016), and how well lean leadership practices are translated and adapted to the organizational context (Langstrand, 2012). The literature separates the concepts of leadership and management. Management is described as a formal system of implementing and evaluating organizational goals. Leadership embraces an informal role of inspiring employees to engage in organizational goals (Kotter, 1990). Previous research points out that lean requires a vision-driven, engaged, and a close-to-practice leadership approach (Brandao de Souza, 2009; Liker, 2004; Radnor & Walley, 2008). …

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