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

34 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2010 Last revised: 22 Sep 2012

See all articles by Bradley R. Staats

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: April 26, 2011

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Job Design, Learning, Productivity, Specialization, Turnover, Variety, Work Fragmentation

Suggested Citation

Staats, Bradley R. and Gino, Francesca, Specialization and Variety in Repetitive Tasks: Evidence from a Japanese Bank (April 26, 2011). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 11-015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1660636 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1660636

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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