Edited by Adrian Wilkinson, Keith Townsend and Gabriele Suder
The foreman, the top sergeant of the factory floor, is facing a greater challenge – and probably greater frustrations – than ever before. The foreman, management’s first line of contact with labour, is caught up in a strange mix of declining powers but new-found importance. No longer master craftsman or shop room tyrant, the foreman is becoming a key figure in the new gospel of worker participation. But that is not all. Today’s foreman is also inundated in increasingly complicated manufacturing technology, bewildering regulations and demands by number-crunching superiors in the front office for more detailed reporting on production data. (Feder, 1981, section 3, p. 4: cited in Schlesinger and Klein, 1987) Published in the New York Times 30 years ago, this comment would be just as relevant today with ‘foreman’ replaced with ‘front-line manager’ (FLM); ‘factory’ changed to ‘call centre’, ‘hospital’, or any service sector employment; and ‘labour’ changed to ‘human resources’. There is consistent agreement that the person working in this role has always been crucial to organisational performance (Jacoby, 2004; Lowe, 1995; Renwick, 2003, 2004; Martins, 2007; Townsend et al., 2013). Throughout recent decades there has been a steady stream of research demonstrating organisations and, indeed, professions in some cases, evolving, restructuring and changing, although far too often the FLM has been a ‘research finding’ rather than a ‘research focus’.
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