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Sustained lean transformation of working conditions: A Swedish longitudinal case study
KTH, School of Technology and Health (STH), Health Systems Engineering, Ergonomics.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0505-5388
KTH, School of Technology and Health (STH), Health Systems Engineering, Ergonomics.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0480-1895
Department of BioHealth Informatics,Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, Indianapolis, IN, USA.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3603-6158
2017 (English)In: Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, ISSN 1090-8471, E-ISSN 1520-6564, Vol. 27, no 6, p. 268-279Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Studies of lean production’s effect on working conditions are mixed but point toward worsened conditions. The aim of this longitudinal study was to assess how lean contributes to transforming work characteristics in a medium-sized specialized industrial family business. A mixed methods approachwas used to combine an external assessment of work characteristics with selfreported employee questionnaires. Favorable psychosocial working conditions were indicated, with role conflicts decreasing over time. The assessment of work provided descriptions of how lean practices contributed to decreased task control due to standardized work and simplified work processes. At the same time, employees still had opportunities to influence their long-term work assignment. There was also a trend toward job enlargement through new, higher-skilled tasks, multiskilling, and extended opportunities to influence work through different continuous improvement activities. The participative lean approach and type of skilled jobs may have contributed to this transformation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2017. Vol. 27, no 6, p. 268-279
Keywords [en]
continuous improvement, lean production, work characteristics, worker control, working
National Category
Work Sciences Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
Research subject
Technology and Health
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-216595DOI: 10.1002/hfm.20710ISI: 000412519500002Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85024898906OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-216595DiVA, id: diva2:1157168
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2008-1165
Note

QC 20171115

Available from: 2017-11-15 Created: 2017-11-15 Last updated: 2019-05-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Lean Transformation of Industrial Work: Understanding What Supports Socially Sustainable Working Conditions During Lean Manufacturing
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Lean Transformation of Industrial Work: Understanding What Supports Socially Sustainable Working Conditions During Lean Manufacturing
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The overall aim of this thesis is to contribute to the understanding of to what extent lean manufacturing transforms industrial work, including psychosocial and physical working conditions, and, to understand how socially sustainable working conditions can be supported in a lean organization.

Four studies with different methodological approaches are included. The first study is a literature overview of the associations between lean and risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. The second study documented physical workload and pain among operators, through direct measurements and painratings, in a process industry with extensive usage of lean practices. In addition, two 3-year case studies were carried out in a medium-sized, Swedish manufacturing family company. The studies focused on the influence of lean on work characteristics, psychosocial working conditions, and what leadership practices contributed to supporting the socially sustainable working conditions respectively.

The literature overview on lean and physical workload showed that the literature in the area was limited, of varying quality, and that none of the included studies had directly measured the physical workload. Further, it suggested that lean tended to have better outcomes for employees in the Nordic countries and in those cases where the lean initiative was combined with an ergonomic or work environment intervention. The measurements of physical workload in the process industry showed that the exposures were low across the study period. Ratings of neck and upper extremity pain were relatively high across the years, but did not increase significantly.

The results from the manufacturing company showed that employees could sustain important work resources including favorable psychosocial working conditions: Good social support, low stress levels, and a good self-rated health were sustained while role conflicts decreased, and justice and respect increased significantly. There was a trend toward gradually increased work content through job enlargment with increased elements of more qualified tasks, and more employees were cross-trained. The work standardization, however, meant that some work processes were simplified and that employees’ influence over the daily work seemed to have decreased, while there were still opportunities for them to influence what would be included in the work assignment, and employee influence through improvement practices increased. Both case studies indicated that the participatory leadership approach in combination with a value-creating leadership that focus on health and employee development, contributed to making the lean initiative socially sustainable. In conclusion, lean can affect work characteristics and employees’ working conditions in different ways depending on how, and in what type of work, it is implemented. Previous studies on lean in industry have mostly shown that lean tends to increase workload and reduce control over daily work. This thesis, however, provides examples showing that it is possible to have low levels of physical exposures in a lean process industry and that it is possible to sustain important psychosocial work resources.

The work practices seemed to be shaped in an interplay between organizational context, type of job, managerial practices, lean practices employed, and employees’ involvement. Knowledge abouthow work is shaped is important for those who want to proactively contribute to a work design that supports the development of resourceful jobs. Findings in this thesis point to the need to actively monitor and care how lean affects working conditions in order to support resourceful jobs.

This thesis shows that it is possible to make lean initiatives in manufacturing companies more socially sustainable. Overall, findings from this thesis indicate that important and interdependent components that can contribute to socially sustainable lean initiatives involve having a conscious focus on work environment management and health, in combination with a value-creating leadership that actively support important work resources and involves employees in a conscious manner.

Abstract [sv]

Arbetssystem med krav höga krav på effektivitet är vanliga i dagens arbetsliv. I Sverige är konceptet lean produktion (lean) ett vanligt sätt att organisera produktionen för ökad effektivitet. Det övergripande syftet med denna avhandling är att bidra till kunskapen om hur lean kan påverka arbetsinnehåll, fysiska och psykosociala arbetsförhållanden vid industriarbete, samt att bidra till förståelsen för hur socialt hållbara arbetsförhållanden kan stödjas i en lean organisation.

Fyra studier med olika metodologiska ansatser är inkluderade. Den första är en litteraturstudie kring sambanden mellan lean och risker för belastningsrelaterade besvär. I den andra studien genomfördes med två års mellanrum ergonomiska mätningar av den fysiska arbetsbelastningen och skattningar av smärta i en processindustri, som vid baslinjemätningarna arbetat tio år enligt lean-principer. Därtill ingår två 3-åriga fallstudier som genomfördes i ett svenskt, medelstort familjeföretag inom verkstadsindustrin som framgångsrikt arbetat med lean. Studierna fokuseradepå lean-konceptets påverkan på arbetsinnehåll och psykosociala arbetsförhållanden respektive vilka ledarskaps-praktiker som bidrog till att skapa de socialt hållbara arbetsförhållandena.

Litteraturöversikten om belastningsergonomi och lean visade att litteraturen på området var begränsad, av varierande kvalitet samt att ingen av de ingående studierna mätt fysisk belastning vid leanifierat arbete. Dock pekade flera av studierna på att lean tenderar att öka den upplevda arbetsbelastningen och att upplevd kontroll över det dagliga arbetet minskar. Vidare noterades att lean hade en tendens att ha bättre utfall för medarbetare i de nordiska länderna och i de fall lean-satsningen kombinerats med någon form av ergonomi- eller arbetsmiljöinsats. De ergonomiska mätningarna av fysisk belastning i en processindustri visade att belastningarna för övre extremiteterna kunde hållas på låga nivåer trots en hög grad av lean. Dock var skattningar av smärta i nacke och övre extremitet relativt höga, men ökade inte signifikant under perioden.

Resultaten från lean-arbetet på verkstadsindustrin visade att medarbetarna kunde behålla viktiga arbetsresurser inklusive en god psykosocial arbetsmiljö: Ett gott socialt stöd, låg stressnivå och en god självskattad hälsa, samtidigt som rollkonflikter minskade och rättvisa och respekt ökade signifikant. Vidare innebar lean för medarbetarna en trend mot ett gradvis utökat arbetsinnehåll. Detta genom arbetsutvidgning, ökade inslag av mer kvalificerade uppgifter och att fler medarbetarekunde rotera mellan olika arbetsuppgifter. Dock innebar standardisering av arbetet att några arbetsprocesser förenklats och att inflytandet över det dagliga arbetet verkade ha minskat, samtidigt som det fortsatt fanns möjligheter att påverka vad som skulle ingå i arbetsåtagandet i stort och möjligheter till utökat inflytande via ständigt förbättringsarbete. Påverkan på arbetets innehåll verkade formas i ett interaktivt samspel mellan ledare, medarbetarnas involvering, miljön och lean.

De fyra praktiker som stödde den socialt hållbara lean-satsningen bedömdes vara: (1) En sammanhängande satsning med en tydlig riktning, (2) Ett värdeskapande ledarskap innefattande främjande av delaktighet och ett omtänksamt ledarskap med samtidigt fokus på hälsa och produktion, (3) En medveten, stegvis involvering av medarbetarna och strategier för att koordinera initiativ från medarbetare och ledning samt (4) Fokus på att främja meningsfulla jobboch hälsa med stöd i ett aktivt arbetsmiljöarbete.

Slutsatserna från denna avhandling är att lean kan påverka arbetsinnehåll och medarbetarnas arbetsförhållanden på olika sätt beroende på företagets förutsättningar, typen av arbete och hur lean implementeras. Denna avhandling visar att det går att göra lean-satsningar inom industrin mer socialt hållbara. Viktiga komponenter som kan bidra till en socialt hållbar lean-satsning är ett medvetet fokus på arbetsmiljö och hälsa i kombination med ett värdeskapande ledarskap som aktivt stödjer viktiga arbetsresurser och involverar medarbetare på ett medvetet sätt.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2019. p. 116
Series
TRITA-CBH-FOU ; 31
Keywords
Organizational Ergonomics, Work Design, Physical Ergonomics, Lean Production, Manufacturing, Working conditions, Work Content Analysis, Musculoskeletal Pain
National Category
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
Research subject
Technology and Health
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-250782 (URN)978-91-7873-202-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2019-05-29, T1, Emmy Rappe-salen, Hälsovägen 11, Huddinge, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2008-1165
Note

QC 2019-05-08

Available from: 2019-05-08 Created: 2019-05-06 Last updated: 2019-05-08Bibliographically approved

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