PEOPLE AT WORK by Pehr G. Gyllenhammer


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Volvo's young activist president, who made world news by scrapping the auto assembly line, expands on his belief that ""Work must be adapted to people, not people to work."" Sweden's situation, Gyllenhammer recognizes, is special: small, relatively homogeneous, therefore capable of accommodating change; and so advanced educationally, socially, and economically as to be under pressure to change. Under Swedish conditions of full employment and high welfare benefits (90% of pay for sick leave), absenteeism and turnover in heavy industry soared; young workers, in particular, demonstrated their aversion to being ""educated automatons."" This disaffection--its social and economic costs, its threat to the continuance of Swedish manufacturing--prompted development of the team assembly system introduced at Volvo's new Kalmar plant in 1974. Gyllenhammer describes the mechanics (bodies are assembled by teams on independently-controlled carriers, not by workers slotted along a steadily moving production line); discusses the benefits (job rotation, worker responsibility for decisions and quality); lauds the result for demonstrating that ""there are real alternatives to the traditional assembly line, and that they do not need to increase production cost."" Work-enhancing innovations followed at other Volvo plants, abroad as well as at home, all of them with worker input at the planning stage--a Gyllenhammer emphasis (in accordance with current Swedish policy). Re the international business community, another ""stakeholder,"" he takes note of possible conflicts between political signals at home and economic interests abroad (should a company invest under a repressive regime?); but firmly contends that international investment will tend to equalize pay scales and working conditions so that ultimately success will go to competence, not to cost-cutting exploitation. A modicum of enlightened smooth-talk, but sufficiently informative and substantive overall to stand along Emma Rothschild's Paradise Lost and David Jenkins' Job Power.

Pub Date: May 10th, 1977
Publisher: Addison-Wesley