Toys and Job Design at the Hovey and Beard company – A situation

The following is a situation that occurred in the Hovey and Beard Company, as reported by JV Clark.

This company manufactured a line of wooden toys. One part of the process involved spray painting partially assembled toys, after which the toys were hung on moving hooks that carried them through a drying oven. The operation, staffed entirely by women, was plagued with absenteeism, high turnover, and low morale. Each woman at her paint booth would take a toy from the tray beside her, position it in a fixture, and spray on the color according to the required pattern. She then would release the toy and hang it on the conveyor hook. The rate at which the hooks moved had been calculated so that each woman, once fully trained, would be able to hang a painted toy on each hook before it passed beyond her reach.

The women who worked in the paint room were on a group incentive plan that tied their earnings to the production of the entire group. Since the operation was new, they received a learning allowance that decreased by regular amounts each month. The learning allowance was scheduled to fall to zero in six months because it was expected that the women could meet standard output or more by that time. By the second month of the training period, trouble had developed. The women had progressed more slowly than had been anticipated, and it appeared that their production level would stabilize somewhat below the planned level. Some of the women complained about the speed that was expected of them, and a few of them quit. There was evidence of resistance to the new situation.

Through the counsel of a consultant, the supervisor finally decided to bring the women together for general discussions of working conditions. After two meetings in which relations between the work group and the supervisor were somewhat improved, a third meeting produced the suggestion that control of the conveyor speed be turned over to the work group. The women explained that they felt that they could keep up with the speed of the conveyor but that they could not work at that pace all day long. They wished to be able to adjust the speed of the belt, depending on how they felt.

After consultation, the supervisor had a control marked, Low medium and fast installed at the booth of the group leader, who could adjust the speed of the conveyor anywhere between the lower and upper limits that had been set. The women were delighted and spent many lunch hours deciding how the speed should be varied from hour to hour throughout the day. Within a week, a pattern had emerged: the first half hour of the shift was run on what the women called medium speed (a dial setting slightly above the point marked medium) The next two and one half hours were run at high speed, and the half hour before lunch and the half hour after lunch were run at low speed. The rest of the afternoon was run at high speed, with the exception of the last 45 minutes of the shift which were run at medium speed.

In view of the women’s report of satisfaction and ease in their work, it is interesting to note that the original speed was slightly below medium on the dial of the new control. The average speed at which the women were running the belt was on the high side of the dial. Few, if any, empty hooks entered the drying oven, and inspection showed no increase of rejects from the paint room. Production increased, and within three weeks the women were operating at 30 to 50 percent above the level that had been expected according to the original design.

The experience of the Hovey and Beard Company reflects an optimum job design, good human relationships and the supervisor’s role can be encouraging and supporting the workers. The supervisor should consider the above as a positive situation. Even though workers determine how the work will be performed the goals of increasing production and improving quality are achieved.