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Time: Mon 2020-12-14 13.00

Location:, Stockholm (Swedish)

Subject area: Industrial Economics and Management

Doctoral student: Håkan Nilsson , Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM)

Opponent: Professor Alexander Styhre, Handelshögskolan Göteborg

Supervisor: Professor Marianne Ekman Rising, Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM); Professor Tony Huzzard, Lunds universitet; Associate Professor/ Docent Lucia Crevani, Mälardalen University

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The focal point of this thesis is an interest in workplace development and how the relationship between managers and workers affects an organization’s ability to develop its way of working. The aim of the study is to contribute to debates on workplace development away from Tayloristic principles based on a strict division of labour and to investigate how to manage the well-documented consequences of such principles, low productivity and lack of engagement from employees. The aim is also to discuss how workplace relations founded on such principles can be changed and to elaborate on the benefits from such a change.

In order to do so two lines of inquiry have guided the research process and formulation of research questions. The first examines how the relationship between managers and workers affects the organization’s ability to undertake organizational development. The second focuses on how the relationship between managers and workers can be configured to support organizational development.

To find answers to these lines of inquiry an action research project was initiated in the same organization where the author has been working for more than twenty years: the research is conducted on his own practice as a change agent. In his job as an in-house trainer he met members of a part of the organization where the employees described their history as a quite dysfunctional workplace, yet at the same time they claimed it is “much better now”. The story caught the author’s interest which led to an agreement that an insider action research project was conducted in that part of the organization.

For one year the author participated in the organization with a twofold purpose: first, to find answers to the research questions and second to support the organization in its ongoing challenges. Through dialogue and interviews, at both individual and group levels, a historical story of the workplace and its functioning “a long time ago” was built up. An informal system was identified whereby workers strove to secure what the thesis calls a “workless salary”, that is, to do as little as possible and still get full pay. This situation was later compared to the situation that emerged during the time of the intervention. The latter was a very different situation with high productivity and high levels of job satisfaction.  The differences between the two work situations over time were obvious. This prompted the next part of the study, namely an investigation into how the development work had been achieved.

The study concerns multiple levels and disciplines, which is common in action research. The result shows that workers’ ability to influence their own work situation along with growing arenas for discussions of work experience made the development possible and that a reflexive dialogue combined with a practice-oriented relational leadership can influence ways of working in practice that are conducive to workplace development. These four factors are presented in the thesis as constituting a platform for the workplace to develop better ways of working.

Organizational change, Organizational development, Workplace science, Action research