The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines workplace stress as “the process that arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope.” This can lead to sickness, absences and high levels of staff turnover within a business: results which are positive for neither the staff nor the company. However, despite claiming that stress at work is widespread throughout the UK, the HSE (2010) also offers strategies designed to alleviate stress and promote general well-being. Also, in the UK there are certain laws in place to ensure all workplaces meet a minimum standard to avoid accidents and unsafe practices which can then lead to illness and stress. For example, the Health and Safety at Work Act which controls the use of dangerous substances, certain emissions and other factors which can pose as a risk (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, 1974.) This law also ensures employers show their staff a ‘duty of care’ which encompasses their psychological well-being as well as physical, meaning a company can fall short of the law if staff become stressed (Duty of care: a helping hand, 2006.)
However, not every country has such guidelines and regulations to adhere to. China, for example, has experienced a burst of economic growth like no other over the last 20 years: no country has ever industrialised so fast, facing such a number of new industries and therefore new potential hazards, in so short a time. It is for these reasons, according to Brown and O’Rourke (2003) that occupational health, safety and well-being are only now coming under question and examination.
One company to have faced the effects of large amounts of workplace stress is Ford. Henry Ford first introduced the assembly line method of production in 1908. This involved a number of workers each constantly repeating a different task so as to eventually, at the end of the line, produce a finished car. Through this method, Ford was able to literally cut production time in half, reducing his production costs and subsequently allowing him to reduce his selling cost, making cars affordable for everyone (Henry Ford changes the World 1908, 2005.) Also, since the small tasks now necessary to put an automobile together were much simpler than the skilled work it had previously required, employees were easier to come by, and since they were less qualified, they would accept less pay.
However, despite these numerous benefits to the business, staff soon began showing their discontent through high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover. There are several factors which would have made working in this kind of environment unappealing, such as low pay, completely monotonous tasks and low prospects of ever receiving higher pay. In March 1913 over 5000 members of Ford’s staff were let go due to simply refusing to show up to work for 5 consecutive days without any excuse. Eventually the business reached a point where, despite having such innovative and potentially successful methods of production, it did not have enough employees to keep it running (Anderson, 2009.)
Having to hire as many new workers as Ford was soon became expensive, regardless of their lack of skill and the minimal training they were offered. It was because of this that Henry Ford was forced to take action and increase wages to $5 a day, a substantial amount at the time. Despite Ford’s own claim that there was “no charity involved” and the rise in pay was purely in the interest of his business, it was an effective move, with both absences and staff turnover dropping dramatically (Anderson, 2009.)
This suggests that employees were motivated almost, if not entirely, by monetary gain: they were willing to contend with a working environment which had caused many previous workers to either quit or get fired due to not arriving for work, because they were now earning a good wage. It could be suggested though that legislation and evolution in...
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