Japanese manufacturers in the UK electronics sector : the impact of production systems on employee attitudes and behaviour
Recent research at Japanese manufacturers in the UK has tended to simply focus on their employee relations practices, arguing that where they operate effectively they result in a loyal and highly productive workforce. It often goes on to point out that there is a link between these practices and the companies' production systems, suggesting that employee relations practices are an integral part of the production system at a Japanese company. However, the research fails to adequately show the implications of this link. Its attempts to examine the issue have remained descriptive, devaluing its results and conclusions. This research remedies this deficiency. The research's central argument and findings are that production systems vary considerably between Japanese manufacturers in the UK and that contrary to popular belief some of these companies' production systems display serious shortcomings. It argues that employment relations practices at these companies though an integral part of their production systems are only one of several sets of characteristics necessary to the successful operation of the company. It is also important to consider a company's organizational structure and managerial effectiveness. Strengths and weaknesses in these other production system characteristics affect employee responses to a company's employment relations practices, impeding or assisting the intended improvement of individuals in the performance of their work. Either a vicious or virtuous circle can therefore emerge since employee responses to a company's employment relations practices will further contribute to its production performance. Testing this argument involves the design and use of an innovative model that identifies the key characteristics necessary for the production system at a Japanese manufacturing transplant in the UK to perform efficiently. Identification of these characteristics allows the model to be used as a benchmark against which to compare the production systems of Japanese manufacturers. The research applies the model to the production systems of nine Japanese companies in the UK's consumer electronics sector and identifies a number of differences in their production system characteristics. Two of these nine companies are then selected as case studies and their production systems are examined in detail. In addition, workforce reactions to the employee relations practices at these two companies are also measured using questionnaire and interview data. The results confirm the research's argument that the closer a company's manufacturing system comes to displaying the model's full set of production system characteristics, the more likely it is that its employee relations practices will elicit workforce attitudes and behaviour desired by the company.