Lean Production, Worker
Empowerment, and Job
Satisfaction: A Qualitative
Analysis and Critique

Matt Vidal

University of Wisconsin


Many argue that increased employee involvement in manufacturing is central to lean production. Increasing the responsibilities and abilities of front-line workers has been labeled empowerment. Such empowerment is said to increase job satisfaction. Yet, there is surprisingly little qualitative research directly addressing the relationship between participatory work arrangements and job satisfaction, and the quantitative evidence is much less clear than oft en presented. Qualitative data presented here show that workers can be satisfied under relatively traditional Fordist arrangements and that increasing employee involvement does not necessarily increase satisfaction. My research highlights the role of individual work orientations in mediating the effects of objective characteristics of job design – such as participatory work arrangements – on job satisfaction. Further, individual preferences for work arrangements are shown not to be consistent and invariable, but context-dependent and subject to reevaluation.

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Lean Production, Worker Empowerment, and Job Satisfaction

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