Queen's University IRC

Work Re-organization in Canada: An Overview of Developments


Andrew Sharpe
Centre for the Study of Living Standards

September 1, 1995

The current restructuring of the Canadian economy is leading to a number of workplace changes, designed both to increase the productivity and competitiveness performance of firms and improve the work environment for employees. Workplace change is a general concept that encompasses a number of specific developments that are affecting Canadian workplaces. These developments include, but are not limited to, changes in work organization, changes in remuneration systems, increased emphasis on customer orientation and product quality, and of course technological change. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of the first aspect of workplace change, namely work organization, or more appropriately work re-organization through increased employee participation in decision-making. As well, other aspects of workplace change will at times be referred to given the close interrelationships between the different aspects of workplace change.

The paper is divided into six main sections. Part one provides a discussion of the factors behind the push for workplace re-organization in Canada, both from the perspective of the employer and the employee. Part two looks at the various types of workplace organization, from the traditional Taylorist work structures, to worker participation schemes, to self-managed work teams. The third section looks at the evidence on workplace re-organization in Canada. The fourth section discusses the attitudes of labour and business to workplace re-organization. The fifth and final part, based on both the case studies and the literature, outlines ten lessons which come out of the experience in workplace reorganization. An Appendix is included that lists Canadian workplaces identified as innovative in change.

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