Culture, Control and Commitment

James R. Lincoln and Arne L. Kalleberg. 1990. Culture, Control, and Commitment: A Study of Work Organization and Work Attitudes in the United States and Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0 521 36517 1 (cloth); 0 521 42866 1 (paper).
(New edition, with updated prologue, published by Percheron Press, Clinton Corners, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-9719587-2-6 (paper))

CultureControl72How different are the work attitudes and behavior of Japanese and American manufacturing employees? Is commitment to work and company truly as great in Japan as the discipline of Japanese labor and the power of the Japanese economy seem to suggest? And if so, is this due to the organization and management of the Japanese factory or to deep-seated cultural values and beliefs? Applying sophisticated statistical analysis to survey data collected in Japan and the United States, Professors Lincoln and Kalleberg provide the most systematic and thoroughgoing social-scientific treatment of these questions to appear to date. Their analysis includes an appraisal of recent influential theories of the evolution of organizational control systems in capitalist industrial societies.

The answers produced by this study are not altogether simple ones, and some may surprise. The authors conclude that labor commitment and motivation do in fact run deeper in Japan, but a cursory reading of the data suggests that the Japanese are no more committed to their companies than U.S. workers, and are actually much less satisfied with their jobs. On the other hand, the evidence is clear that part of any Japanese advantage in labor commitment and motivation does stem from the distinctive social structure of the Japanese workplace: i.e., the tight-knit work groups and strong vertical relations that bind the employee to the organization. The authors also find that quality circles, participatory decision-making (including the ringi system), enterprise unions, and a broad bundle of welfare services help to reduce any feelings of alienation and foster commitment in the Japanese workforce. When these same practices are implemented in U.S. companies, the consequence is a rise in company commitment among American employees as well. Though they in no way minimize the role played by cultural and historical influences in the rise of the Japanese employment system, these findings do bolster the argument that “welfare corporatism” as a commitment-maximizing organizational form is not uniquely Japanese but is in fact a sophisticated control system now widely deployed among enterprises of the Western industrial world.

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