Exploring Sustainable Work Systems : An Interactional Perspective on Learning and Organizing

Abstract: Working conditions are increasingly unpredictable, complex, and ungovernable creating severe health risks for employees and negative economic consequences for both corporations and society. Considering the growth in understanding human psychology and sociology, and the progression in measuring working conditions and health, this phenomenon is most perplexing. The enigma has yielded interest in a field known as sustainable work systems, where the challenge is to organize work in a manner that is both beneficial for the business and for its employees. In an attempt to shed light on the growing issue, this dissertation outlines the features of a model intended to capture conditions of organization where learning is of paramount importance, and where organization is conceptualised using interaction as the foundation. One central question concerns which forms of interactions and co-operations replace traditional structures in organizations. Another relevant question, linked to the former, concerns the way in which these structures shape conditions of organization, learning, efficiency, and effectiveness. A combination of research methods has been employed to provide an enhanced picture of this inquiry. Four corporate sub-units have been subject to a cross-sectional study. These sub-units were chosen by middle managers of a corporation because they excelled in an organizational reform that was initiated two years prior. During 2004, a survey was constructed and distributed to all employees in these four sub-units. Data regarding the sub-units’ efficiency and effectiveness has been collected; and, interviews with managers leading the organizational change have been conducted. The two papers included in this thesis disclose four distinctly different approaches to organizational design. All four sub-units have separate conceptions of function and organization, although the guiding principles prescribed by top-management were identical for each of the four first-line managers who were leading the change. Three of the four sub-units have made more pervasive change efforts, and have a higher degree of learning and development, efficiency and effectiveness. The results of this thesis suggest that interaction serves as a vehicle for shaping organizational conditions and outcomes. As a consequence of the chosen design, interaction varied between sub-units, thus influencing conditions of organization, learning, efficiency and effectiveness.