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Specialization and Variety in Repetitive Tasks: Evidence from a Japanese Bank

  • Bradley R. Staats


    (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

  • Francesca Gino


    (Harvard Business School, Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit)

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    Sustaining operational productivity in the completion of repetitive tasks is critical to many organizations' success. Yet research points to two different work-design related strategies for accomplishing this goal: specialization to capture the benefits of repetition or variety to keep workers motivated and allow them to learn. In this paper, we investigate how these two strategies may bring different benefits within the same day and across days. Additionally, we examine the impact of these strategies on both worker productivity and workers' likelihood of staying at a firm. For our empirical analyses, we use two and a half years of transaction data from a Japanese bank's home loan application processing line. We find that over the course of a single day, specialization, as compared to variety, is related to improved worker productivity. However, when we examine workers' experience across days we find that variety, or working on different tasks, helps improve worker productivity. We also find that workers with higher variety are more likely to stay at the firm. Our results identify new ways to improve operational performance through the effective allocation of work.

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    Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 11-015.

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    Length: 34 pages
    Date of creation: Aug 2010
    Date of revision: May 2011
    Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:11-015
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    1. Michael A. Lapré & Nikos Tsikriktsis, 2006. "Organizational Learning Curves for Customer Dissatisfaction: Heterogeneity Across Airlines," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 52(3), pages 352-366, March.
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