Occupational ill-health and absence management under a lean regime in the UK civil service

Philip Taylor, R. Carter, A. Danford, D. Howcroft, R. Richardson, A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Occupational health and safety remains under-researched in the sociology of work and employment, notwithstanding the seminal work of Nichols (1997) and recent contributions (e.g. Lloyd and James, 2008). Although the ‘unique working environment’ of the call centre stimulated some notable studies (Deery et al, 2002), clerical work generally has attracted less attention. Consequently, this paper reports on white-collar workers’ perceptions and experiences following the path-breaking introduction of lean working into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, driven by the Gershon review’s efficiency savings. Research design and analysis adopted an holistic model of white-collar occupational ill-health (Taylor et al. 2003). Drawing on quantitative data (840 self-completed surveys) and qualitative sources (semi-structured interviews with managers and union reps) from 6 representative worksites, the findings demonstrate that the abrupt arrival of lean’s brutal form of Taylorism has generated widespread ill-health and sickness. The implementation of punitive sickness absence policy is seen to compound the severity of this alarming situation. ReferencesDeery, S., Iverson, R. and Walsh, J. (2002) ‘Work relationships in telephone call centres: understanding emotional exhaustion and employee withdrawal’, Journal of Management Studies, 39.4:471-496Lloyd, C. and James, S. (2008) ‘Too much pressure? Retailer power and occupational health and safety in the food processing industry’, Work, Employment and Society, 22.4:713-730Nichols, T. (1997) The Sociology of Industrial Injury, London: MansellTaylor, P., Baldry, C., Bain, P. and Ellis, V. (2003) ‘”A unique working environment”: health, sickness and absence management in UK call centres’, Work, Employment and Society, 17.3:435-458
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2010
EventWork, Employment and Society Conference 2010 - Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sep 20109 Sep 2010


ConferenceWork, Employment and Society Conference 2010
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • occupational ill-health
  • absence management
  • lean regime
  • UK civil service


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