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Country Employment and Job Autonomy Published: Sunday, September 12, 1999 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Two very distinguished sociologists and researchers, Frank Dobbin and Terry Boychuk have presented evidence in order to make a very interesting point: across counties, similar jobs carry very different levels of autonomy. Workers and employees in Nordic countries have greater discretion than those counterparts in the United States, Canada and Australia. The argument is that professionals of human resources and organizational development, who emphasize task complexity and human capital as part of the new the structuring of work, should heed the roles of wider institutional culture and environment with respect to job autonomy and/or empowerment.

There are three explanations of the link between country location or context and autonomy. (1) The Taylorism / de-skilling thesis, suggesting that work control is a zero - sum game between workers and managers, such that in countries where managers exercise great control, workers will exercise little. (2) The orthodox collective bargaining thesis indicating that union bargaining strategy is the key for unionists to have high autonomy in co-determination countries and low autonomy in "job control"countries. However, these researchers make the fundamental point that country management, training, bargaining, philosophy, and employment systems operate according to different logics. Where they are oriented to regulate work, autonomy will be low. Where they are oriented to skills and knowledge work, autonomy will be high. The strong claim is that detailed data from seven thousand jobs in seven countries support the interpretation that the country employment culture and systems shape job autonomy, and thus micro and macro performance.

The above argument is very important because conventional thinking suggest that such individual level factors as task complexity, structuring and human capital explain variation in job autonomy. The other core dimension for executives and policy makers is that autonomy and high skill levels are important for organizational and country economic competitiveness. Also, designers have to be alert to wipe - out statements such as that globalization and economic integration are standardizing work everywhere, reducing job autonomy in high-skill nations.

The findings of this research are quite interesting. In the U.S. and Australia, rule oriented employment systems lower autonomy for all sorts of jobs. Contrary to the Taylorism / de-skilling thesis the research did not find that worker autonomy is negatively related to manager autonomy among nations. Contrary to the classic collective bargaining thesis, it did not find that autonomy among union members is relatively low in job control countries and high in co-determination countries. The message is that society`s employment systems influence autonomy across all sorts of jobs.

 


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