Gruppenarbeit: Revolutionizing the Automobile Industry? A Case Study of Ford Motor Company in Cologne, Germany
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I have recently completed a three-month internship with Ford Motor Company in Cologne, Germany for my Work Experience Senior Individualized Project. I was placed in a personnel department responsible for 2800 hourly employees in two factories: the Cologne Engine Plant and the Forge- and Dye-casting Plant. For my research I focused on the introduction of a highly structured form of group work, termed Gruppenarbeit, and the resulting reduction in absenteeism. Gruppenarbeit empowers employees and distributes authority more evenly throughout the hierarchical structure of the firm. This reorganization results in a cost saving for Ford-not only because of the more effective use of employee talents and skills, but also because it motivates workers. Increased motivation has been proven to increase job satisfaction and worker morale. Statistics show that workers involved in Gruppenarbeit have lower absenteeism rates than any other production or assembly area. This finding is consistent with other firms that have introduced this practice. The results of Gruppenarbeit areas have been very successful in Germany. The company that changed the world through its creation of jobs for millions of unskilled workers is now taking steps to hire more highly skilled laborers. In many cases, workers can perform two to three of the tasks previously completed by individual operators. This trend is far more feasible, however, in Europe than in the United States. Laborers in the United States tend to be relatively unskilled as compared to those in other European nations. Even the less-skilled workers in Germany have completed some sort of extended training or apprenticeship program. This makes Gruppenarbeit much easier to implement-the laborers are far closer to having the skill set necessary to take on increased responsibility. More effective use of these skills, which have been latent in so many workers once hired into assembly and production areas, is a great opportunity for Ford of Germany to reduce costs and increase revenue.