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Organizational productivity 2000: a work force perspective.

A major conclusion of "Work Force 2000," a recent study commissioned by the Hudson Institute, is that public education in this country is producing hordes of incompetents of all backgrounds, unassimilable in the technologically progressive work force of the future (Johnston, 1987). The gravity of this situation becomes more acute when it is considered that the United States is moving into a condition of skilled labor scarcity, and that the types of jobs being created by the U.S. economy will demand a much higher level of skills than jobs of today (Nussbaum, 1988).

The most cost-effective alternatives for solving this problem, the Hudson Institute study suggests, are the accelerated immigration of skilled labor or the massive exporting of jobs overseas to countries with abler work forces. Statistics indicate that, tacitly, we are opting for the former alternative. However, due to the nature of current immigration laws, which favor relatives of U.S. citizens and residents without regard to their qualifications, we may not be admitting enough skilled immigrants (Mandel, 1990).

Numbers notwithstanding, will the requisite skills that the influx of immigrants bring to the U.S. work force ameliorate our declining productivity? Or will their diverse cultural values, beliefs, and habits hinder our push toward higher productivity? The purpose of this article is to assess current immigration trends and their potential effects on U.S. productivity. In addition, recommendations are offered for increasing the likelihood that the influx of a large number of immigrants in our work force will not hinder organizational attempts to maintain or improve their productivity record.

U.S. Work Force 2000

Who will do America's work as the demand for skilled labor outstrips a dwindling supply? As a response to this question, results of the Hudson Institute study suggests that U.S. organizations will have to look to the non-male, non-white, and non-citizen (immigrant) as prospective employees. The statistics presented in Table 1 give some indication of this.
Changing Composition of U.S. Workforce
 Composition Composition
Participants (1985) (2000) Change
U.S. Born:
 White Males 47.0% 15.0% -32.0%
 White Females 36.0 42.0 6.0
 Nonwhite Males 5.0 7.0 2.0
 Nonwhite Females 5.0 13.0 8.0
 Total: 93.0% 77.0% -16.0%
 Foreign Born:
 Immigrant Male 4.0% 13.0% 9.0%
 Immigrant Female 3.0 10.0 7.0
 Total: 7.0% 23.0% +16.0%
Source: Adapted from Bruce Nussbaum, "Needed: Human Capital," in Business Week,
September 19, 1988,
pp. 101-103.

As shown, there will not be nearly enough U.S.-born white males to fill the upscale jobs of a technologically progressive future. This means that U.S. organizations are going to have to hire more women and minorities to fill 83% of the jobs that will be opening up in the next decade, and chances are there will not be enough (Erlich and Garland, 1988).

The increase of foreign-born participants in the U.S. work force, from 7% of the total in 1985 to a predicted 23% by the year 2000, suggests that they will make up the deficit. Indeed, the statistics in Table 1 indicate that between now and 2000, immigrants will represent the largest share of the increases the U.S. work force since World War I.

In terms of immigrant diversity, a recent study found that within days after the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, immigrants from the following countries filed for legalization: Mexico, Poland, Thailand, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Chile, Korea, Peru, Canada, Iran, Germany, Japan, China, Honduras, Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Micronesia and Tonga Islands (Griego, 1988).

In terms of magnitude, approximately 600,000 legal immigrants are projected to enter the U.S. annually throughout the balance of the century. Two thirds or more of them of working age will join the work force immediately. The implications are quite clear: immigrants from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds will represent a significant proportion of the U.S. work force by the year 2000.

Work Force Productivity

Although the traditional economic definition of productivity focuses on the ratio of physical outputs to resource inputs, productivity can also be viewed as a broad performance factor that applies a criterion of work achievement to individuals and groups. That is, high-performing individuals and groups are the foundations of organizational productivity.

According to Nicholas A. Bond, J. (1981), a professor of psychology at California State University at Sacramento, productivity has a psychological component. He proposes that intragroup social relations can play a major part in organizational productivity. His research found that some of the most productive work groups in the world are made up of people who have strong shared work values and commitments.

The notion of a correlation between enhanced productivity and strong corporate cultures (i.e., work forces composed of individuals that share strong work values and commitments) supports contentions that current immigration trends can potentially have a large impact on U.S. productivity. The diverse, culturally defined work values that the influx of immigrants will bring to the U.S. work force will no doubt have a significant impact on the corporate culture of organizations that find it necessary to hire a substantial number of skilled immigrants. In turn, work force productivity will undoubtedly be affected.

Productivity and Corporate Culture

An organization's "cultural network" is the mechanism that maintains and strengthens its corporate culture (Gerloff, 1985). This network, which is an aspect of "social information processing," proposes that individuals, as adaptive organisms, adapt attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs to their social context and to the reality of their own past and present situations. As a functional mechanism, the network produces strongly shared work values, beliefs, and behaviors throughout the organization which, in turn, create a strong corporate culture. As suggested by the California State University study, the most productive work forces are those with a strong corporate culture. However, a work force composed of a large number of immigrants from a variety of countries will contain a myriad of cultural differences (i.e., language, work values, beliefs, customs, mores, etc.).

If members of the work force are recent immigrants to the U.S., these differences will probably be exacerbated. Consequently, the cultural network will be limited in its ability to carry out its function of producing strongly shared work values, beliefs, behaviors, and so on among members of the work force.

The result will be a weakening of the organization's corporate culture and, ultimately, a reduction of work force productivity. The model presented in Figure 1 depicts the context within which relatively high or low productivity is promoted.

As shown in the model, low cultural diversity in the work force, a low percentage of new additions of immigrants to the work force, and a low frequency of new additions of immigrants to the work force (all of which provide the context for the proper functioning of the organization's cultural network), are associated with a strong corporate culture. And, as discussed earlier, strong corporate cultures promote relatively high levels of productivity.

However, the reality of the situation is that by 2000, predictions are that cultural diversity in the U.S. work force will be unprecedently high due to the high percentage of immigrants; this will provide the context for a weak corporate culture which, in turn, promotes relatively low levels of productivity.

A Productivity Maintenance Strategy

Forewarned of an imminent skilled labor shortage, and knowing that immigrants represent the best alternative for making up the deficit, U.S. managers should formulate proactive strategies. Based on inferences drawn from the model presented in Figure 1, such strategies should be designed to minimize the disruption of the organization's corporate culture.

A major strategy recommended in this article for achieving this objective is "non-passive" employee socialization. Before discussing this strategy, current organizational practices ("passive" employee socialization) will be reviewed.

Passive Employee Socialization

Management research has found that many U.S. managers believe that corporate culture moderates or erodes the influence of national or societal culture (Laurent, 1983). The assumption is that employees working for the same organization, even ones from different countries, are more similar than different. Consequently, they expect their employees to respond to situations in ways that are consistent with the prevailing corporate culture.

In fact, immigrants new to U.S. organizations are usually not given any special information or programs specifically to help them with the socialization process--such as programs explaining work-related values, beliefs, or behaviors that conform to the prevailing corporate cultures. The implication is that they are merely assigned to work groups within the organization. Thus, the socialization process, in terms of timeframe and success is passive and highly unpredictable.

When organizations take this passive approach to the socialization process, new entrants to their work force are given great latitude to make differentiated responses to various situations (Jones, 1986). Innovative responses are a likely result, which may not be consistent with the corporate culture. Such responses may disrupt the corporate culture to some degree, causing a commensurate disruption of work force productivity.

Non-Passive Employee Socialization

As previously suggested, a "non-passive" approach to the socialization process should effectively minimize disruptions to an organization's corporate culture and its productivity. What does a "non-passive" approach to the socialization process entail?

According to Census Bureau figures, a new arrival to the U.S. is more likely than a U.S. native to be college educated; moreover, in 1988 (according to data provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service), 23% of immigrants reported their occupation as manager, professional, or technician (Mandel, 1989). What this suggests is that immigrants entering the work force will probably have the skills needed to perform effectively and productively. Managerial emphasis, then, should be on reducing those work-related cultural differences which may exist between new immigrant employee and indigenous (or long-time) U.S. workers.

A sample of work-related cultural differences with the greatest potential to disrupt corporate culture (and thus productivity) might include the following: (1) language differences, which lessen the effectiveness of the cultural network (the mechanism that maintains and strengthens corporate culture), (2) motivational differences, which, if extreme, will directly impact productivity levels, and (3) risk propensity differences, which affect the level of aggressiveness, innovation, risk-seeking behavior, and initiative that is required of employees to achieve certain levels of productivity in many U.S. companies (particularly high technology firms). The model presented in Figure 2 suggests a way to reduce these differences.

Before these differences can be narrowed, organizations must determine their standards for each of these work-related factors. For example, a certain level of proficiency in English should be required of any employee entering the work force so that communication problems will not inhibit the cultural network or adversely affect productivity. Similarly, organizations should have explicit expectations about levels of employee achievement and how aggressive, innovative, and risk-seeking they are expected to be.

Once these standards have been determined, new employees should be measured against them. Realistically, employees should be expected to meet at least the minimum requirements. That is, they should be proficient enough in English so that communication problems will not push productivity below "acceptable" levels.

With respect to the other sample factors, there are several diagnostic questionnaires in the management literature, designed specifically to measure self-initiative, aggressiveness, innovativeness, and risk-seeking propensities. To maintain work force productivity at acceptable levels, new employees, should be at least equal to the average proficiency, as determined by the level set by indigenous or long-time U.S. employees on each work-related factor.

If new employees do not meet these minimums, they should be formally indoctrinated into the organization's way of doing things and given remedial training before being assigned to a work group. Such formal indoctrination might entail exposing new employees to the organization's history and culture via pedagogical methods. Remedial training might involve communication and language skills, learning how to adapt to organizational requirements for employee initiative, risk-taking, and so on.

Only when new employees meet the minimum standards should they be assigned to their formal work group. Having met these standards, the organization's culture (and the work group's productivity) should not be disrupted materially. However, new employees may still need a higher level of proficiency in each of the work-related factors in order to strengthen corporate culture and thus improve work group productivity levels.

Informal socialization groups should bring new employees up to this higher level of proficiency and knowledge. These groups need not necessarily be groups, per se, but rather one or more individuals who are willing to serve in a mentoring capacity to new employees. The focus would be on helping to integrate them rapidly into all aspects of the organization's culture, including teaching them any jargon unique to their area of the company or their job, pointing out the nuances of the corporate culture, work group values and norms, and so on.

A non-passive approach to the socialization process is clearly a more effective strategy for minimizing disruptions to an organization's culture as more immigrants are added to its work force. Formal indoctrination into organizational activities and processes, remedial training in areas related to enhancing personal productivity within a group context, and formally sanctioned encouragement to interact with socially-oriented as well as production-oriented work groups should speed up the time it would normally take for immigrants to become integrated into the U.S. work force. The result will be a stronger corporate culture and uninterrupted, possibly higher, productivity.


Previous predictions about the composition of the U.S. work force by 2000 are fast becoming reality. For example, George J. Borjas (1990), in his book Friends or Strangers: The Impact of Immigrants on the U.S. Economy, calls for changing immigration laws to boost the skill level in the immigrant pool and thus make the economy more productive. A subsequent commentary by Michael J. Mandel (1990), noted that when unemployment seemed to be stuck at approximately 7% in 1986, fears of being overrun by illegal workers helped prompt passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Writing later in a more benign economic climate, Mandel states, "the Senate has passed another immigration-reform bill--but this time with the aim of encouraging the legal entry of skilled immigrants."

With the passage of this bill, combined with pressure from those who advocate at least doubling the number of immigrants admitted (i.e., Simon, 1990), many are confident that predictions made about the number of immigrants entering the U.S. labor force will be on target. This article has focused on the impact such a work force will have on productivity. Differences between newcomers and indigenous or long-time workers on several culture-related factors (e.g., language, work-related values, motivation to achieve, etc.) could reduce productivity levels by disrupting corporate cultures. As stated earlier, a strong corporate culture is associated with high levels of productivity.

To address this potential problem we have recommended "non-passive socialization," which is cost-effective compared to the cost of lower productivity and is not difficult to implement.

Indications are that immigration should not be regarded as a stopgap response to temporary skilled labor shortages in the U.S. Importing skilled labor appears to be our best alternative for preserving our competitive edge. However, U.S. organizations must be pro-active in their stance toward integrating immigrants into their respective work forces.

References Bond, N. A., Jr. "The Psychological Component in

Productivity." The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 1981,

p. 23. Borjas, B. J. Friends or Strangers: The Impact of

Immigrants on the U.S. Economy. New York: Basic Books,

1990. Ehrlich, E., and Garland, S. B. "For American Business, a

New World of Workers." Business Week, September 19,

1988, pp. 112-120. Gerloff, E. A. Organizational Theory and Design: A

Strategic Approach for Management. New York:

McGraw-Hill, 1985. Griego, D. "Most Illegal Aliens Seeking Legalization

Aren't from Mexico." The Denver Post, Friday, May

22, 1988, p. 1b. Johnston, W. B. Work Force 2000: Work and Workers for

the 21st Century. Indianapolis, IN: The Hudson

Institute, 1987. Jones, G. R. "Socialization Tactics, Self-Efficacy, and

Newcomers' Adjustments to Organizations." Academy

of Management Journal, 1986, 28 (2), 262-279. Laurent, A. "The Cultural Diversity of Western

Conceptions of Management." International Studies of

Management and Organization, 1983, 13 (1-2), 75-96. Mandel, M. J. "Roll Out America's Red Carpet for the

Skilled." Business Week, October 30, 1989, p. 128. Mandel, M. J. "Does America Need More |Huddled

Masses'? Yes." Business Week, March 12, 1990, p. 20. Nussbaum, B. "Needed: Human Capital." Business Week,

September 19, 1988, pp. 100-103. Simon, J. L. The Economic Consequences of Immigration.

New York: Basil Blackwell, 1990. Dr. Shirley A. Hopkins, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, who previously worked in a managerial capacity for three large financial institutions, has research interests in service quality and just-in-time methods. Dr. Willie E. Hopkins, Associate Professor, Colorado State University, has published several articles in management journals, consults on strategic management, and specializes in organizational decline, service quality, and multi-cultural work environments.
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Author:Hopkins, Shirley A.; Hopkins, Willie E.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Date:Sep 22, 1991
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