The following organizational change was studied in one of the major Swedish engineering companies. Here we find a good example of where the main objective was to improve/increase the level of health at work. The locality is a large industry in a rural area where it is impossible for trained secretaries to easily find other jobs. In practice, staff are forced to accept what this major concern can offer if they want to carry on with their special working skills. Some 50 women worked there as secretaries. Most of them were married to men also employed by the company and so were doubly bound to whatever work the area could offer. The common problems for the secretaries were the duties and salary scales. The company offered no opportunities for job development, training or promotion, and the work of the secretaries in the main consisted of simple routine duties, and so some of them were regarded as over-qualified. Management saw secretarial positions as “the end of the line”, a staff policy which created great irritation among the secretaries. The work changes which arose out of this discontent went on for four years.
The intention was to obtain professional vocational development within the framework of secretarial employment; the problem was that there was no demand for this either from management or other staff categories. So the 50 secretaries had to carry through their objectives in the face of strong opposition. Here is a summary of how their efforts to bring about change progressed step by step.
The problem was first raised at a local meeting of the white-collar union. One of the secretaries was present. She pointed out that most of her colleagues did work which seemed to fall into other occupational classifications. The matter was noted but no action was taken. Some secretaries then approached the union’s local committee and asked the chair to arrange a meeting with a number of their executives. This was done. Salary scales and vocational development for the secretaries was discussed. But interest declined after the meeting.
An internal consultant took over the problem and tried, in vain, to make the union take responsibility for some follow-up. A second internal consultant, an expert in job evaluation, became involved. Together with a firm of consultants, a survey was carried out among the secretaries. The result showed that dissatisfaction was widespread.
At the request of the union and management, the consultants arranged a number of conferences for the secretaries and their immediate superiors.
The intention here was to clarify for management what their working conditions were in practice and what, in more explicit form, their wishes for vocational development were, all within the framework of their secretarial duties. A great deal of hard work was done at these conferences. Prejudices and oppositional attitudes were ventilated. A list of problems was drawn up. A total of 45 managers and 53 secretaries participated. After this problem analysis stage was completed, the consultants made it clear that their contribution was over.
The secretaries decided to take on the job themselves in the phase which now followed. Among possible solutions, they selected a business-economic strategy-this with the assumption that it would increase managerial interest in the matter. They divided themselves into small, specialist working groups (technology, ergonomy, purchasing and so on). Each group took upon itself to produce proposals to improve secretarial work. They also worked out a cost calculation for each proposal.
During the next few years 22 working groups were formed to solve varied problems. Six working groups were in operation 4 years after the start. From the names of these groups we can see where interest for effectiveness lay: technology in the future, office materials, travel service, copy-saving measures, training, sensitivity training. They were more and more successful in gaining attention for their proposals, many of which were carried through.
A number of rationalization measures arose from the studies made by the groups. Now nobody does any unnecessary work. Manuscripts are accepted as working material. Secretaries perform copy typing only where necessary. An office computer system has been procured. The secretarial group lost 10 staff by attrition (usually by moving to another part of the country.) The secretaries started to be consulted by the company’s recruitment department when a vacant secretarial post was to be filled. They were asked to propose reorganizations so that new staff would not be needed. Up to now, 19 secretaries have been promoted to a higher job classification with higher salaries as their work became more skilled. Management is satisfied with the organizational changes which have taken place.
The original idea of the project was to cut out unnecessary and unqualified items from secretarial work and add more qualified duties. This succeeded; at the same time a great deal of expensive duplication of work and long-winded working routines were discovered. After a while, the process could continue in other forms. It was integrated into the work of the staff department under the name RGSD (Reference Group for Secretarial Development).
For some while, this organizational change became known all over the country. A number of group members were invited to committees and conferences around the country to describe the project.
Psychosocial health consequences. These work changes were of immense importance for the secretaries personally. For most, it meant a greater consciousness of their vocational role and of the opportunities which existed to improve the secretarial function in the company. A team spirit grew up when they looked at problems common to them all. As a job collective they saw, step by step, the result of their tenacious work. Their higher qualifications came from their own efforts (Westlander 1991).