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Workers and managers on the road to quality

Yesterday we wrote about "the nostalgia for quality" in the cultural realm. Today we note findings in the world of work that point the way toward enhanced quality of product and performance as more than a memory.

It may be no surprise that the key element turns out to be the attitudes of employers and employees. What's encouraging is the increasingly evident disposition on the part of management and labor to cooperate in achieving constructive attitudes and the quality of results they can bring.

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Come along to Lake Bluff, Ill., where a carmaker and a union man shared a platform to describe what can happen when all sides get together. They were a Fisher Body production manager and a United Auto Workers official describing the outcome of programs to improve the employees' quality of working life. That outcome was not only greater employee satisfaction but improved quality of product and reduced repairs and scrap costs.

This is but one example of many recognized at a recent meeting sponsored by the nonprofit Work in America Institute. In a sign of the times, participants included members of a new Productivity Forum, a group of labor, business, and government executives organized to meet regularly on the subject. One of the givens is that productivity is not simply a matter of quantity but of the kind of quality that causes fewer returns for repairs and less waste. And it is not only technological advances but human resources that determine growth in output without loss of quality.

What needs to be applied to the workplace is the idea of quality cited in yesterday's editorial: "investment of the best skill and effort possible to produced the finest and most admirable result possible." We all know employers and employees who make that kind of effort -- and no doubt those who don't. Now a report by the United States Chamber of Commerce, based on a Gallup survey of workers conducted last year, provides a hopeful perspective for progress.

The report notes a 1978 survey of business leaders most of whom considered that workers' attitudes were an important factor in decline of productivity growth rates. The 1979 worker survey "does not suggest that worker attitudes have been a cause of the decline" but "rather it reveals a widespread commitment among U.S. workers to improve productivity." More than half the workers placed "workers' attitudes and abilities" at the top of the list of factors that could be changed to "bring about the largest improvement in performance and productivity in most companies." And an overwhelming 84 percent said workers would work harder and do a better job if they "are involved and take part in making decisions which affect their job."

As for concern about providing goods and services of "top quality," only 13 percent thought the employees in their company were "not very much" or "not at all" concerned. Virtually half said "very" concerned and 37 percent "somewhat."

Even more individuals will need to identify themselves with the striving for quality it America's goods, services, and workmanship are to reach and maintain the highest standards. A number of recommendations worth pursuing came from the Lake Bluff conference. For example:

* "Quality of working life and quality of products or services go hand in hand. Involving employees in their improvement can enhance their satisfaction at the same time that it boosts productivity."

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* "[There should be] extensive training of managers and supervisors in the skills necessary to involve employees in the solution of productivity problems."

* "Management and managers should regard unions as a resource, not as a threat."

* "Labor leaders should promote understanding by their members of the value of productivity growth programs which contribute to the employees' own well-being."

Such developments could contribute to one of the underlying attitudes of primary importance: trust between employers and employees. Neither should be the exploiters or the exploited. Both should work toward the mutual trust that their common goal is quality.

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