• 'Stressed out of my box': employee experience of lean working and occupational ill-health in clerical work in the UK public sector

      Carter, B.; Danford, A.; Howcroft, D.; Richardson, H.; Smith, Andrew J.; Taylor, P. (2013)
      Occupational health and safety (OHS) is under-researched in the sociology of work and employment. This deficit is most pronounced for white-collar occupations. Despite growing awareness of the significance of psychosocial conditions – notably stress – and musculoskeletal disorders, white-collar work is considered by conventional OHS discourse to be ‘safe’. This study’s locus is clerical processing in the UK public sector, specifically Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, in the context of efficiency savings programmes. The key initiative was lean working, which involved redesigned workflow, task fragmentation, standardization and individual targets. Utilizing a holistic model of white-collar OHS and in-depth quantitative and qualitative data, the evidence of widespread self-reported ill-health symptoms is compelling. Statistical tests of association demonstrate that the transformed work organization that accompanied lean working contributed most to employees’, particularly women’s, ill-health complaints.
    • Taxing times: lean working and the creation of (in)efficiencies in HM Revenue and Customs

      Carter, B.; Danford, A.; Howcroft, D.; Richardson, H.; Smith, Andrew J.; Taylor, P. (2013)
      The prevailing economic and budgetary climate is intensifying the search for methods and practices aimed at generating efficiencies in public sector provision. This paper investigates the increasingly popular bundle of techniques operating under the generic descriptor of lean, which promises to improve operational quality processes while simultaneously reducing cost. It offers a critical appraisal of lean as a fashionable component of public sector reform and challenges the received wisdom that it unambiguously delivers ‘efficiencies’. Quantitative and qualitative research in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) centred on employees' experiences has indicated the extent to which work has been reorganized along lean principles. However, employees perceive that changes in organizational processes and working practices have unintentionally generated inefficiencies which have impacted on the quality of public service. These suggested outcomes raise wider concerns as lean working is adopted in other public sector organizations.
    • ‘They can’t be the buffer any longer’: Front-line managers and class relations under white-collar lean production

      Carter, B.; Danford, A.; Howcroft, D.; Richardson, H.; Smith, Andrew J.; Taylor, P. (2014-06-01)
      This article reasserts the value of the examination of class relations. It does so via a case study of tax-processing sites within HM Revenue and Customs, focusing on the changes wrought by the alterations to labour and supervisory processes implemented under the banner of ‘lean production’. It concentrates on the transformation of front-line managers, as their tasks moved from those that required tax knowledge and team support to those that narrowed their work towards output monitoring and employee supervision. Following Carchedi, these changes are conceptualised as strengthening the function of capital performed by managers, and weakening their role within the labour process.
    • Uncomfortable Truths – Teamworking under Lean in the UK.

      Carter, B.; Danford, A.; Howcroft, D.; Richardson, H.; Smith, Andrew J.; Taylor, P. (2016)
      This article responds to a recent contribution to this journal. Procter and Radnor (2014) provide an account of teamworking in the UK Civil Service, specifically Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which focuses on the relationship between recently implemented lean work organisation and teams and teamworking. This intervention is prompted by criticism of the present authors’ published research into lean in the same locus (e.g. Carter et al, 2011a; 2011b; 2013a; 2013b). Procter and Radnor claim, without foundation we argue, that our work is ‘one-sided’ and that theirs delivers a ‘more nuanced’ analysis of lean in this government department - and it follows - of the lean phenomenon more generally. Our riposte critiques their article on several grounds. Firstly, it suffers from problems of logic and construction, conceptual confusion and definitional imprecision. Methodological difficulties and inconsistent evidence contribute additionally to analytical weakness. Included in our response are empirical findings on teamworking at HMRC, which challenge Procter and Radnor’s evidential basis and further reveal the shortcomings of their interpretation.