“The process of moving from an adversarial relationship toward a co-operative one is neither easy nor painless,” writes Wilfrid List in a recent report on the implementation of quality of working life (QWL) programs in Canadian workplaces (Report on Business Magazine, October 1985, pp. 60-67). But numerous companies have discovered that the effort has been worthwhile.
The goal of any QWL program is to increase job satisfaction for workers and increase profits for the employer. “The general strategy for achieving the goal is to give workers more of a say in decisions affecting their work,” List explains. Employers are realizing that they need a committed workforce in order to meet sharpened competition from abroad, while workers are attracted to the increased freedom, responsibility and dignity QWL programs bring to their daily lives. Although QWL theories have been around for over a decade, only a small percentage of firms have really tried to put them into practice. Of those who have, the majority claim impressive results.
List describes the remarkable turnaround that occurred after a QWL program was implemented at the Ford casting plant in Windsor: quality climbed by 40%, the absentee rate dropped to the lowest in this kind of plant in Canada, grievances all but disappeared, plant and cafeteria facilities improved, and the plant went from a $5-million loss in 1981 to a $55-million profit in 1984.
A philosophy of work that increases the worker’s dignity and improves quality and productivity is clearly worth investigating for any company. However, it is not a quick fix, and each QWL project must be tailored to fit the history and environment of the individual company. “Building a new model of participatory-style management requires time, effort and money to train workers and supervisors in new work systems, and work schedules have to be reorganized so employees can attend team meetings,” List observes. Not only do employers and workers have to make significant adjustments, but foremen, the people in the middle, often feel threatened by moves to give their subordinates greater power in determining how work is to be performed. Furthermore, while some union leaders support QWL programs as a way to improve the lives of workers, many more are suspicious or hostile. They not only fear change, but also worry about being seen as “soft on management,” and that QWL will undermine workers’ loyalty to the union. This is an irresponsible attitude, according to William Westley, whose firm has aided in the introduction of QWL systems. “A unionized plant is one of the best environments for QWL because it combines the strength and assurance of the protection a union brings with the dignity QWL gives workers.”
The Windsor Ford plant got its advice at the QWL Centre in Toronto, which is financed by the Ontario Government to promote QWL programs in unionized companies. Other provinces have parallel bodies. You may wish to contact them to see what they have to offer the company you work for or own.