In lean production, this autonomy is more controlled, with standardised processes and high work-pace constraints. In contrast, the Taylorist and simple forms of work organisation are characterized by limited employee autonomy, a high degree of task repetition and little learning on the job - with less formalized work procedures for the simple forms.
Each of these models obviously has implications for both companies and employees. Organisational and managerial practices inspired by the learning model appear to be beneficial to both, in so far as they promote the quality of work, the development of skills and the dissemination of innovations. Several Northern European countries have long-standing programs in place to encourage this model. In France, the issue of work organisation has often been underestimated in public policies, because the methods of implementation are diffcult to identify or because they are considered as the "black box" of the company. The study by France Stratégie summarised here1 intends to open this "black box" in order to gain a better understanding of the links between work organisation, quality of work and the dissemination of innovations, based on the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) conducted every five years among employees in the Member States of the European Union.
This study shows that France, compared to the European average, has a higher proportion of private sector employees involved in learning forms of work organisation (43% vs. 40%) or in lean production (32% vs. 27%). Conversely, the proportion of French employees working in Taylorist forms (12% vs. 15%) or in simple forms (13% vs. 18%) is lower than the average. In terms of the proportion of employees in learning forms of work organisation, France is certainly on a par with Germany (45%), but far behind the Nordic countries and the Netherlands (between 54% and 62%). What is more, the dynamic over the decade 2005-2015 seems more favourable in France to lean production (+10 points of employees concerned) than to the learning forms (-3 points over the period).
The France Stratégie study also tends to confirm that the learning forms of work organisation lead to a better quality of work, once the occupational category of employees and the size and sector of activity of the company are controlled for. Placing the promotion of this model on the reform agenda, in France as in Europe, would be a way of responding to the challenges of unprecedented scale that are set to arise by 2030.
This would first of all help to develop employees' learning capacity and level of autonomy at work, critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills – cognitive, organisational and social skills which are increasingly in demand on the labour market. More generally, organisational and managerial innovations inspired by the learning model should be seen as strategic levers for economic, technological and social progress. The study puts forward several recommendations to support French companies seeking to improve their performance in terms of innovation and to develop employee skills and the quality of management.