work organization

work organization

the distribution and coordination of work tasks, skills and authority in an ORGANIZATION. Work organization is the way that tasks are distributed amongst the individuals in an organization and the ways in which these are then coordinated to achieve the final product or service. For instance, in a school the work organization comprises those workers providing tuition, secretarial staff giving administrative support and ancillary workers, such as the caretaker, who ensure that the facilities are ready for teaching to take place. These activities are coordinated in part by staff meetings, in part by the headteachers and their assistants. An alternative form of work organization would be where teachers also undertake some secretarial and ancillary tasks.

Some modes of work organization may be more efficient in terms of labour utilization than others. The quality of work organization may thus have an important impact on the performance of the organization. Work organization may be determined by a number of factors:

  1. the nature of the technology used (in turn influenced by the nature of the product or service). Assembly-line technology, for instance, tends to discourage group working and to encourage a pattern of work organization where each worker does a single repetitive task;
  2. managerial choice. Technology may potentially be used in a number of ways (see SOCIOTECHNICAL SYSTEM) according to managerial objectives. Managerial competence is also important. Poor knowledge of production management may lead to inefficient work organization;
  3. workforce aspirations. Groups of workers are often able to modify informally the way that work is done and the way that tasks are distributed among them.

In addition TRADE UNIONS or SHOP STEWARDS may regulate the way work is organized, either unilaterally (see DEMARCATION LINE, RESTRICTIVE LABOUR PRACTICE), or jointly with management (see COLLECTIVE BARGAINING).

Many commentators believe that much of the UK's economic difficulties in recent decades are due to inefficient patterns of work organization. These are variously attributed to a failure to invest sufficiently in new technology, ‘over-mighty’ unions, poor management etc. There is a growing recognition that the managerial approach to work organization should be more rigorous and strategic than in the past (see JAPANIZATION). Many also believe that greater task scope should be given to MANUAL WORKERS, supported by improved TRAINING. Operators of sophisticated equipment should be given the opportunity to program or maintain it. As well as improving JOB SATISFACTION this would lead to better standards of work. See JOB DESIGN AND REDESIGN, SOCIOLOGY OF WORK.

Collins Dictionary of Business, 3rd ed. © 2002, 2005 C Pass, B Lowes, A Pendleton, L Chadwick, D O’Reilly and M Afferson
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