Employee Involvement and Training
It is widely believed that the employment system in Japan is structured to generate more employee involvement (EI) in production tasks and more skill training of workers than in the United States. Thus, Japanese workers are said to contribute hundreds of individual suggestions per year to improve productivity, to participate wholeheartedly in quality circles, and in general to be unlike U.S. workers, who rarely make above-norm efforts to increase company performance. Japanese employers are said to provide many more hours of formal training each year to their workers, enabling continual skill growth. These characteristics are believed to account for much of the faster productivity growth rate of the Japanese economy documented in Chapter 1. They provide much of the basis for U.S. management's initiatives in the 1990s to increase the use of teams, job rotation, quality circles, and other well-known Japanese management practices on the shop floor, and they underly repeated calls for U.S. employers to step up sharply the training of their work force.
As we noted in the last chapter, many observers attribute these better outcomes to a key institutional characteristic of the Japanese system: the lifetime employment commitment afforded to many Japanese workers. In this view, a lifetime employment commitment means that the productivity and other cost improvements that are generated by EI do not place the existing work force at risk of a layoff, so that high-performing workers know they will not hurt their peers. 1 Long-term em-