Changing the 'line of sight' on payment systems: A study of shop-floor workers and managers within the British chemical industry

Bell, Emma (1999). Changing the 'line of sight' on payment systems: A study of shop-floor workers and managers within the British chemical industry. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 10(5) pp. 924–940.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/095851999340233

Abstract

This paper examines the culturally expressed viewpoints of shop-floor workers and their managers in two multinational chemical companies in terms of the way that they make sense of their organizations’ payment systems. Using interview data from ethnographic study in two production sites, contrasts are made between the discourse of managers, characterized by developmental humanism, and that of the shopfloor workers, who retain attachment to economistic principles regarding their employment. The paper suggests that the introduction of all-salaried systems and annualized hours removes traditional ‘line of sight’ between hourly pay for physical effort. Performance-pay schemes, on a group and individual level, have met with worker resistance in a way which suggests a lack of shared basic values. Managerial responses to pay conflict differ according to business context, suggesting that employee development gives way to a ‘managing of the headcount’ as chemical industry companies deal with environmental and market pressures. Removal of short-term incentives on the shop-floor during the 1980s, without due attention to the reward mechanisms that might replace them, could leave a ‘black hole’ in terms of the work orientations of these blue-collar employees.

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