Addressing workplace culture can be difficult, with many different aspects that can lead to the development of a bad workplace culture if not properly maintained. Culture can be defined as “a state of manners, taste and intellectual development at a time or place; refinement or improvement of mind, tastes, etc. by education and training” (Stranks, 2007). The last part of education and training is exactly what must be done to bring about a positive culture change. So, what is the current culture at Foxconn? What seems to need a change in the culture? Finally, how to advance/improve the culture in a positive and effective manner?
Existing Workplace Culture
China’s workers are known to get very little pay and the work is extremely difficult in many cases, this is why many companies like Apple, Nvidia and more choose to have Foxconn make many of their products. Foxconn is not the only company that has a workplace culture that needs major improvement in china as well, but since they are fairly large in the industry, it is safe to say if they start a trend, others may hopefully follow.
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Currently, Foxconn does not show much concern for employees, the culture is very much one of employees are disposable to the company, and their will always be more people to fill those spots willingly. The culture of management is that, they are the leaders, they say something it must get done, this is highly authoritarian, which can lead to lack of productiveness in the employees as well, as they will feel the need for constant guidance, this can waste time as it removes any chance for the employee to make decisions on their own. For example, instead of an employee taking it upon themselves to find a new way of assembling a product, they feel they must do it the only way management wants. This means the potential for employees to find a method that is effective and works for them is limited, thus requiring more time and reduces productivity of the employee.
There is also issues with the culture of the employees, since communication with management is severely limited with an authoritarian approach, incidents and issues that arise are less likely to be reported. The employees also can feel that they are nothing to the company, so they do not take pride in their work, as well as have negative feelings toward the company and management. This can bring up some issues with workplace violence, including suicide, which is proven to be an issue, as many Foxconn buildings in china have suicide nets to prevent workers from committing suicide at work. This is basically the equivalent of a doctor preventing the symptoms, but doesn’t give you the cure, even if one exists.
There must be something done to change the culture in the workplace, but with struggles of the culture of China being highly authoritarian in their, government and workplace, creating an authoritarian culture rooted deep into their lives. There is also the struggle that in many workplaces, due to sheer volume of people in china, workers can have fast turn over times, this has little to no effect on business in the shortterm, however it is not a good culture, which can lead to long term productivity issues, as well as increase for employee dissatisfaction and workplace violence. These are all issue points coming from every direction, and these must be changed, and management must change first, as without management engagement, there is no hope there could be change for employees, and the culture will slowly revert to an unsafe, unsatisfactory one. So, what can be done to fix this, and improve the general and safety culture of Foxconn?
How to Advance the Workplace Culture
Changing and advancing workplace culture is difficult and establishing a proper safety culture can be daunting at first. However, it is mentioned that “The main principles, which involve the establishment of a safety culture, accepted and observed generally, are
- the acceptance of responsibility at and from the top, exercised through a clear chain of command, seen to be actual and felt through the organization;
- a conviction that high standards are achievable through proper management;
- setting and monitoring of relevant objectives/targets, based upon satisfactory internal information systems;
- systematic identification and assessment of hazards and the devising and exercise of preventive systems which are subject to audit and review; in such approaches, particular attention is given to the investigation of error;
- immediate rectification of deficiencies; and
- promotion and reward of enthusiasm and good results (Rimington, 1989).” (Stranks, 2007).
This gives the sources that need to be tackled at Foxconn to help improve and advance the current workplace culture. There is mention of Management, Communication, and Employee aspects, in the list given by Stranks.
The first two aspect of the workplace culture that needs to be changed are responsibility acceptance at and from the top, meaning management, and high standards that are achievable via proper management, again, management change is needed. This will allow easier implantation of a better workplace culture, since management is often looked up to, and since the employees are used to an authoritarian way of managing, this means that the employees focus on management and take them more seriously. This can be beneficial once the change in management culture is made, as they are now the main example employees will be following. This can be done by “selling” management on the change that needs to take place. For example, management will be more willing to accept change, if their idea that more money, or better production can be achieved if the changes occur. Basically, the changes management need to under are acceptance/commitment for upper management to change, and they will not be willing to change unless they feel they get something from it. Trust is one of the changes that need to occur, as well as management training.
Building trust with management is another thing all together, this is were managements authoritarianist ways make this change hard. Management must have trust that their employees will make the right decision, and employees must be able to trust that management shows some concern for them. The best thing to do, is for management to allow employees to implement new ideas into the workplace, such as, new assembly techniques, this allows more freedom, and makes management show some form of trust for the employee. As for trust coming from employees, the most cost-effective thing to do would be to implement more breaks, or time off. On a more costly but highly effective form of employee trust building would be to implement an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), this would allow employees to talk about, solve, and move forward from personal and work-related problems. This could not only show concern for the employee, which can instill trust in management, but it can reduce the chances of workplace suicides.
Training management improves the high standards that are achievable via proper management aspect of the workplace culture. While most thoughts go to a lack of high standards for bad management, however Foxconn is a company that sets too high of standards that cannot be easily or reasonably achieved. This is where training of management would help, as management would need better communication to understand what their workers are capable of. So how can communication be improved at Foxconn?
Communication can aid in establishing many things within a company, however some of the most noticeable improvements would be;
- “A shared vision. This is one of the most important features of a safety culture where everyone in the organization shares the same ambitions and feelings about the need to improve safety performance by following the policies, procedures and systems being promoted.
- Accountability. A system identifying individual accountability for health and safety should be introduced. This may incorporate job safety specifications for different groups of workers. Specific groups may need training to meet the requirements of job safety specifications.
- Feedback. As with any system designed to bring about change, there must be feedback which gives a clear indication as to how change is proceeding…” (Stranks, 2007).
A shared vision can be established with communication, as this will allow management and employees alike to have a full understanding on what the company wants from them. This can help management understand what they need to do to help their employees achieve their visions, but within reason of what the employees are capable of.
Accountability is also established with proper communication, as this allows employees and management to know who is accountable for what aspects of the company. For example, if management did not communicate what is expected of employees, then management is still held accountable. However, if proper communication is established, then each member of the company is held accountable for their actions. This however must not be used as a form of blame on management or the employee, it is simply a tool to say who is responsible for what functions of the company.
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Feedback is not only something that needs to be established but is one of the most important in terms of effectiveness of communication and improvements to the culture in general. This form of communication allows management to understand what needs to be corrected in the eyes of employees, and this allows employees to have reasonable influence in changes that should be made for the benefit of themselves, their workplace, and their productivity. Overall communication is a key factor in improving and maintaining a good workplace culture, that improves the company’s workplace and helps the workers. So what can be done on the employee end of the workplace culture?
While management is the head of the company, employees are the body, they make up the bulk of the company, and while not decisionmakers for the company, they should have some input as they are part of the company. However, the main culture issue is that, employees are not held as a valuable resource to Foxconn, they are seen as disposable and unnecessary. This can be changed, and with that change so will the attitudes of the employees, and one of the ways to changes this is the establishment of a reward/promotion program into the workplace. This means that management, once on board, would be establishing that employees are valued by the company and can improve themselves within the company. This can also have positive impact on production as if the goals are met, then employees will be rewarded.
However, this can lead to issues, if employees are only rewarded, this is there the “immediate rectification of deficiencies” (Stranks, 2007) comes into play. While employees should be seen as valuable, if they do not meet expectations, management should enforce a reasonable penalty. For example, management can use unpaid time off, or even demotion from a position if work is not done properly, or quotas not met, repeatedly. This way employees are not scared of management, but are still held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Basically, this comes down to reward for good work, and reprimand bad work, though this should never be too harsh, unless warranted, as it can have negative effects on the workplace culture.
Overall, Workplace culture at Foxconn currently is a mess, and has many functional and harmful tendencies. Management should do more for their employees, such as see them as valuable to the company, as well as building trust in the for of an EAP or similar program. Employee aspects can improve by being rewarded for good work, this will also establish trust and value with management. Finally, Communication is key, without it, any program will eventual fail, but especially a workplace culture change. Accountability falls under this as management bust be held accountable for their actions, such as the lack of care for employee suicide. However, employees must hold accountability too, as this incorporates the employees into the company, and will give them a sense of importance in and to the company. Finally, with all these changes made, there bust be a willingness from the company to changes, especially management, as employees will look to them for leadership, and if the leaders don’t buy it, neither will the employees.
- Stranks, J. W. (2007). Human factors and behavioral safety. Elsevier.
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