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POSTPONED: PhD Defence Milou Habraken | Becoming smarter - A study into industry 4.0 and its job design effects

Becoming smarter - A study into industry 4.0 and its job design effects

Milou Habraken is a PhD student in the research group Human Resource Management (HRM). Her supervisor is prof.dr. T. Bondarouk from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS).

Back in 2015, Industry 4.0 was a relatively new concept receiving limited attention that was primarily technical in nature. However, there were signs indicating it would become an important phenomenon for the social sciences, resulting in the motive to build an Industry 4.0 human resource management (HRM) knowledge base. Over time, the Industry 4.0 phenomenon turned out to be anything but clear. Therefore, the studies reported in this dissertation either examine the phenomenon itself or address the manner in which Industry 4.0 influences HRM, or specifically job design. As a result, this dissertation addresses two interrelated main research questions: 1) ‘What does the Industry 4.0 phenomenon entail?’ and 2) In what way does Industry 4.0 affect job design? In answering these questions, this dissertation includes four studies.

The first study concerns the lack of HRM-related research on Industry 4.0. It highlights the importance of raising questions and conducting research on Industry 4.0 from an HRM perspective. First, we strengthen our call for more HRM-related research into Industry 4.0 by discussing and indicating our position in the employment debate that was raging at that time. Next, upcoming issues arising from Industry 4.0 are predicted using a job design lens. By combining our understanding of the phenomenon with a self-constructed overview of research on job design, we developed challenges that were seen as a non-exhaustive list of some of the impacts of Industry 4.0.

The second study focuses on the observed lack of clarity surrounding the meaning of, and diversity in, labels linked to the Industry 4.0 phenomenon. It examines the value of the Dutch Smart Industry label by developing an understanding of this label, which enabled us to compare it with the more general term ‘fourth industrial revolution’ as well as existing interpretations of Industry 4.0. The comparison shows considerable overlap between the Dutch Smart Industry label and the Industry 4.0 label, which strengthens our call to combine forces. That is, it offers evidence that the diversity in labels does not serve an essential purpose for academia. Due to the communicative component, the Smart Industry label was considered to remain relevant for practice.

The third study focuses on an essential but unexplored job characteristic concerning Industry 4.0. It analyses the developments that can be observed with respect to the social context of work as a result of the Industry 4.0 work context. The findings emphasise the value of face-to-face communication and show that both digital and social means of interaction appear to have different purposes. In addition, the results reveal two ways in which Industry 4.0 influences the social context of work: (1) it leads to changes in the intensity and/or source of existing social characteristics, and (2) introduces new structures (a lending system) or emphasises known ones (teams).

The fourth study, given the slow adoption of Industry 4.0, attempts to expand the current implementation-oriented approach by shifting the focus to a preceding step – the decision-making phase. To do so, an Industry 4.0 strategic decision-making (SDM) typology framework is developed. A cross-case analysis of empirical data shows that the decision-making process surrounding Industry 4.0 is driven by various motives. Results further indicate that the four identified quadrants never act alone, suggesting that there are two different roles in the Industry 4.0 decision-making process: motives addressing why (prime movers) and those facilitating the direction (necessary facilitators). Both roles appear essential to arrive at an Industry 4.0 adoption decision, thereby emphasising that the decision-making process should not be underestimated or neglected.

By integrating the studies 2 and 4, both theory and practice gain an increased understanding of Industry 4.0. The phenomenon is identified as a broad, overarching concept that overlaps with the Dutch Smart Industry label. Given the operational impracticability of such breadth, an operational solution is proposed. Besides the meaning of Industry 4.0, its adoption is also shown to be highly complex. Not only are implementation issues such as financial or cultural barriers relevant, but adoption also appears to be hindered if motives within either the prime movers or necessary facilitators category are lacking. Studies 1 and 3 further contribute to theory and practice with insights from a job design perspective into the effects of Industry 4.0. We show that feedback from the job will become more data-driven; that interactions outside the organisation will increase in relevance and can expand in terms of the types of contacts, and that the underexposed dimensions of interdependence (i.e. between teams or in terms of outcomes and goals) remain important and deserve greater recognition. Finally, the dissertation offers directions for future research that can generate additional practical support and expand the topic academically as Industry  4.0 continues to evolve.