certain and goals are unclear, it is critical for people to coordinate with each other and communicate with clients, even though it might be possible to use information technology to support and rationalize work. Work in such settings is likely to be more productive if it allows high discretion, flexibility, and the opportunity to work in teams to solve problems, analyze data, and negotiate over courses of action or the meaning of information. In such environments, failing to structure work in this way will likely result in lower levels of workers' performance and a less rewarding experience for the individuals involved. Changing some but not all of these features may produce mixed results and perhaps unstable arrangements.

The available evidence on the effects of high-performance work systems illustrates this point. Numerous quantitative studies from different industries suggest that when work practices and human resource policies are combined in ways that complement each other, the bundling of tasks has significant, positive effects on productivity, quality, and profitability. Although the evidence is less substantial, proper bundling also appears to result in higher levels of job satisfaction, more employee learning, and higher wages for blue-collar workers. But since these high-performance work systems shift responsibilities formerly held by supervisors and middle managers to teams of lower-level workers, they are likely to reduce the number of middle management jobs and change the nature of supervisory duties. This, in turn, renders obsolete public policy doctrines that depend on a clear line of demarcation between the duties of managers and workers. The adoption of these systems is most likely in firms that are under competitive pressures to produce high productivity and quality.

Thus, although firms do exercise discretion over the decision to implement a high-performance work system, their choice has predictable (although not certain) consequences for at least three stakeholders: the firm and its shareholders, the employees who are affected by the shift to these systems, and public policy makers who are responsible for laws and regulations governing employment relations. Only by considering the full range of factors in the framework presented early in this volume (Figure 1.1) can the consequences of the relationship between driving forces and choices about work content be understood. We caution, however,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement