Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 12, 2009

Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at a Tire Plant

I just read a case study from Harvard Business Publishing called “The Treadway Tire Company: Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at the Lima Tire Plant.” It was a look at the factors affecting this specific attitude (job dissatisfaction) and this specific behavior (high turnover) amongst foremen at this major plant for this pseudonym tire company.


The plant had many problems, chiefly:

  • Morale and productivity were imperiled.
  • The plant was not satisfactorily developing new managers.
  • Relations between management and the union were threatened.

The newly-transferred director of HR at this plant had her job cut out for her. She made it her top priority to reversing this trend and had to have an actionable plan in to her boss after the the annual Christmas break (within a month’s time). She knew that by solving these problems, she could make the plant the number one plant in the company for productivity and lowest cost.

And contrary to what a lot of managers believer, high turnover does cost companies a lot (and not just money)!

Even though the aspect of the company presented in the case study was limited, I still think significant observations can be drawn of the the environment at play in this case.

  1. The foremen’s supervisors (the general supervisors and area supervisors) seem to be making the fundamental attribution error. That is, they seem to be attributing poor performance amongst foremen to the foremen themselves, instead of looking at systemic factors outside the control of the foremen that could be contributing more to the poor performance.
  2. This is echoed by comments made by some of the foremen, such as: “a lot of it is beyond my control, and management doesn’t seem to understand that.”
  3. There seems to be a system in place that doesn’t give foremen the proper training they need to conduct their jobs.
  4. The foremen state specifically that the lack of training is their main concern.
  5. Other concerns the foremen have are no respect from their subordinates, and lack of authority and respect for the foremen position from all.
  6. There seems to be a culture in play that seem to keep this perpetuating these problems. A major question I had is that if the general managers were almost always promoted from the foremen positions, why didn’t they take steps to make life easier for the foremen under them since they were also once in that position and knew what it was like?
  7. The training program for the foremen that the HR director was proposing should not have been cut, even with the current economic situation. It was a good way to at least start to solve this problem. It could have been restructured or more limited, but should not have been cut completely.
  8. Even though the HR director lets us know above why she wants to solve this problem, it’s not clear if these benefits were communicated to everyone at the plant. All employees should know that solving this problem will benefit them as well. Good communication and getting buy-in from the employees to¬† to find the root causes of this issue is important.

Finding the solutions to this mess will not be easy. I agree that more training for the foremen is the first step. It’s admirable that the HR director wants to find the root causes instead of treating just the symptoms. That’s the only way to ensure that this will not keep repeating itself.

I’m sure the in-class discussion on this case study will be enlightening as always. I’m sure others will make wonderful suggestions that we can all learn from.


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