TACOMA, Wash. – More than 10 years of dramatic change at the commercial jets arm of The Boeing Company is captured in a new book: Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers (Yale University Press, Oct. 12, 2010). The meticulously researched book takes an inside look at how Boeing Commercial Airplanes workers and managers were affected by unprecedented changes, including a major merger, tens of thousands of layoffs, new roles for women, rapidly expanded outsourcing for the 787 Dreamliner, and rampant technological change.
The voices of hundreds of employees are heard in the book’s pages as they react to a shift in Boeing’s culture from one of “the company is our family” to what some perceived as a short-sighted, cold, and sometimes calamitous drive for shareholder value. The effect on employees’ physical and emotional well-being, as well as the perceived effect on Boeing’s own quality and productivity, are authoritatively documented. The result is a work that outlines valuable lessons for other giant corporations.
Turbulence emerged out of more than 10 years of research, involving hundreds of interviews and data from thousands of Boeing workers and management. It was written by University of Puget Sound professors Leon Grunberg and Sarah Moore, University of Colorado professor Edward Greenberg, and Patricia Sikora, owner of Sikora Associates in Colorado. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
“Turbulence is not only a masterful, detailed study of 10 years of dramatic organizational change at Boeing,” said Benjamin Page, Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University. “It is also a story of how American managers and workers can cope with the fierce pressures of global economic competition, seeking both high productivity and a decent workplace.”
The book, which tells a very human story about coping in a new world of work, reveals some surprising research results. For example after the 1997 Boeing merger with McDonnell Douglas, the combined workforce shrank by about a third over six years. The researchers found that people who were laid off were often happier than those who stayed behind. Some of those laid off found new jobs, some did not—but freed of the stress of not knowing if their job might disappear tomorrow, those who did leave were generally less depressed, they slept better, and they had fewer chronic health problems.
“It’s like a bad marriage,” one worker told the researchers. “Sometimes it’s a relief [when it ends].” Whether the same employee reactions would be found today—when the job market is far tighter and many people’s life savings have been savaged—we do not know, the researchers emphasize. The point is that the findings highlight the depth and power of a stressful work environment.
As for the managers who handled the layoffs, it was found that they sometimes suffered what has been called “executioner’s lament”—an emotional numbness or mental stress that lasted up to three years. One former manager commented, “Just before I left, I was facing my fourth layoff cycle in the last six years. It became apparent to me that Boeing was not being managed properly and [we] had to be the implementers of their poor decisions.”
However, not all employees wilted under the new regimes, the authors found. Some employees thrived under the new ways of working and were inspired to see Boeing shift away from a paternalistic and somewhat “lazy” culture to one devoted to winning at its game with the newest technology.
Ultimately Turbulence is a book that provides rich data from which corporations, employees, managers, and policymakers can draw lessons as the American workplace transforms. The authors forewarn and forearm those heading down a similar ambitious path and aim to inspire the creation of a win-win-win strategy for employees, employers, and shareholders.
About the authors—Edward S. Greenberg is a member of the Political and Economic Change Program, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, and professor of political science. Leon Grunberg is professor and chair, Department of Comparative Sociology, University of Puget Sound. Sarah Moore is associate dean of faculty and professor of psychology, University of Puget Sound. Patricia B. Sikora is owner/principal, Sikora Associates LLC, in Superior, Colo.
Print-quality photos of the Turbulence book jacket are available at Press Photos - University of Puget Sound.
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