Case: Amalgamated Laboratories

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This case study describes what happens when a health district merges four laboratories into one unit due to external driving forces for change, primarily the government funding cuts. Although the intention was to develop one centralized, efficient, and high volume centre, the inattention to the ‘people issues’ and the cultural differences of the work units results in chaos. The recently hired laboratory manager, Claude, has implemented several stopgap measures intended to address the work load issues resulting from high turnover levels and sick leave usage. However, these measures do not improve the morale and performance problems of the laboratory. Time is running out for Claude as his supervisor gives him an ultimatum to ‘clean house or else.’

One can point to several symptoms of an underlying problem such as poor morale, reduced performance levels, excessive sick leave usage, conflict, and work overload. However, it is necessary to ask why these problems exist. The manager has made an attempt to bring the staff together in order to develop some mutually acceptable solutions. This is the typical solution advocated for dealing with operational problems. There is an idyllic view that, if only we can involve people, they can come up with the necessary solutions to bring an end to workplace issues. However, in this case, the staff are so ‘wrapped up’ in their day-to-day issues, that they cannot see beyond their own particular grievances.

It can also be argued that the management of the change process itself was ‘botched.’ The planning efforts were focussed on how the Amalgamated Laboratory would be structured rather than how the revised structure would, in reality, improve service levels or affect staffing levels. A realistic appraisal of the adequacy of the existing system was not undertaken. Also, existing staff were involved in the consultation process on a rather superficial level. Having said this, however, it must be noted that the manager in our case study cannot undo the past. He can only deal with its consequences.

Depending on one’s general perspective on the causes of work unit effectiveness, several issues can be presented as important problems in this case study. How the laboratory is structured, how it functions in serving its customers and/or bringing together its members as a team, the reactive, ‘firefighting’ nature of Claude’s leadership style and the effective management of organizational change and culture in mergers are all relevant issues. You must choose two or three areas and analyze them in depth, explicitly applying OB concepts and theories.

It can be argued that the core issue is the sense of disengagement that employees are experiencing; disengagement from their work, their customers, and their teammates. Most of the employees in the laboratory have been demoted and, consequently, do not experience the sense of challenge and reward that their previous jobs provided to them. In their previous jobs, they were also ‘co-located’ with their customers. This provided them with a real sense of the impact and need for their work. They interacted with people rather than processing paper. They had a greater sense of identification and collaboration with a team of medical staff pursuing the single goal of patient health. In this sense, they were performing ‘complete tasks’ (i.e., task identity) and were able to see the results of their work. This case study also touches upon the issues of job identity, social support, and organizing for service quality. Apply the Job Characteristics Model (JCM) and job satisfaction, rather than the MARS model.

In the new system, they are merely ‘cogs in the wheel’ - removed from their customers and part of the larger machinery that emphasizes processing speed (efficiency) rather than attempting to understand and meet the unique needs of their customers (effectiveness). The new system also took away the sense of community that the...
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