Bored Young Men Cause Big Problems for Foxconn Factories

July 11, 2014

 

A few years ago, a rash of employee suicides at Foxconn Technology prompted investigations into the working conditions at the Chinese manufacturing giant. As the maker of such in-demand items as the iPad and Hewlett-Packard servers, Foxconn employs tens of thousands of people who work long shifts and live on-site. The monotonous work and the dorm-like living quarters can make for a grey life on the Foxconn campus, leading to depression and worse.

Foxconn responded to this bleak state of affairs with a number of improvements to its main factory complex. Three Olympic sized pools, multiple basketball courts and a variety of shops were added to make the company’s staff of more than 135,000 migrant workers feel at home. But in the eyes of some staffers, the new amenities are not enough to make the job bearable. “Sure, wages are higher here than in my hometown, but I have friends and family back there,” said 21-year-old Foxconn employee Bai Yaojie. “Work here on the line is extremely boring and life feels meaningless.” He plans to return to his village and become a truck driver.

Stories like Bai’s are becoming increasingly common at Foxconn. Whereas women once dominated China’s production lines, more young men are beginning to crowd the factory floor. The dull work and stifling campus lifestyle aren’t acceptable to many of these male staffers, leading to even more problems for the mega-manufacturer. Generously described as “rowdy” by one executive, the behavior of some of these men can be far more sinister. Seventy percent of the female factory workers surveyed reported that they had been sexual harassed on the job. Fifteen percent of these employees quit their jobs as a result. Men are also the leading instigators of strikes, which have been occurring in record numbers as of late. Foxconn executives have tried to ease tensions by organizing “date nights” and maintaining grievance hotlines. Ultimately, though, the company’s cultural problems may run too deep to be fixed with distractions like swimming pools and mixers.

 

Questions:

  1. The operations at Foxconn seem to be based on the beliefs of which motivational theorist?
  1. Would understanding Herzberg’s two-factor theory be helpful at Foxconn?

 

Source: Dexter Roberts, “China’s Young Men Act Out in Factories,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 1, 2014. Photo by Matt Wakeman.

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