A careful assessment
Worker participation and productivity change
of the available evidence casts doubt on the viability of grafting industrial relations practices from abroad onto the U.S. scene
SAR A . LEVITAN AND DIANE WERNEKE
In the past several years, there has been increasing speculation that the decisionmaking patterns of foreign business firms hold the key to improving U.S . productivity performance, reflecting greater recognition of institutional and cultural influences on productivity . In particular, the industrial practices found in West Germany and Japan, the United States' strongest competitors, have been cited as models to be emulated to achieve optimal productivity . Pointing to the traditional relationship between U.S . management and labor as well as the failure of many business leaders to properly manage and motivate their employees, proponents of reforming the workplace have stressed the potential of raising productivity through better labormanagement communications and the establishment of programs of greater worker participation.' Rejecting the prevailing U .S . economic doctrine, which tends to view the firm as a machine that maximizes shortrun profits, students of organizational behavior regard an enterprise as a social system with gaps between actual and optimum performance. An organization may be resistant or unresponsive to management goals. Jobs may be incom-
Sar A. Levitan is research professor of economics and director of the Center for Social Policy Studies, The George Washington University . Diane Werneke is an economist on the staff of U.S . Senator Paul Tsongas. This article is adapted from chapter 3 of their book, Productivity: Problems, Prospects, and Policies (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984).
patibly designed, given the existing skills of employees, or they may be inappropriately meshed . Information may be lacking, thereby forestalling smooth and coordinated work processes. The consequence is...