EMPLOYEE SUGGESTIONS: Industry Turns the Gripes into Gold

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FOR years, the suggestion box was little more than an office gag—a handy receptacle for notes telling the boss to kindly drop dead. But in U.S. industry employee suggestions are no longer a joking matter. Since World War II. the battered old suggestion box has blossomed into one of U.S. industry's best sources of production-boosting ideas and one of its biggest money-savers. Last year some 4,000 companies (with organized suggestion programs) got more than two million ideas from employees, found 20% of them worth adopting and paid out something like $15 million in awards. For U.S. business the tangible savings added up to at least $300 million; no one can count the intangible rewards in higher morale, better workmanship and closer cooperation between boss and worker.

In the past few years, suggestion programs have proved so valuable that some 300 companies, Government departments and agencies have banded together in their own National Association of Suggestion Systems to promote the idea. Such blue-ribbon firms as Standard Oil (N.J.), National Biscuit. Sears, Roebuck, Internation al Business Machines, John Hancock Life. American Airlines and Westinghouse have elaborate programs. In 1953 General Motors alone paid out $2,419,709 (an average $52 a suggestion); Ford paid $542,918, Du Pont $295,382. General Electric $685,842. Government agencies gave $1,362,000 for new ideas—including a $275 award (and a promotion) for one selfless civil servant who suggested abolishing his own $12,000 job. Estimated saving to Uncle Sam from such suggestions: $44 million. In many companies employee suggestions have won equal rank with research. Says a Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. executive: "Our experience has been that we get a higher return on the ideas of our employees than we do from the development of a new product."

In the old days, workers' ideas often fell on deaf executive ears, but in World War II, U.S. business had to learn to mine the gold in suggestion boxes. Confronted with manpower and material shortages, businessmen searched around for ways of doing things faster and cheaper, discovered that their own employees had many of the answers. In turn, workers found the suggestion box an ideal way to get ahead. Furthermore, for the first time, many workers found that they could talk as well as listen to the boss.

Today, many companies have expertly staffed departments working full-time on nothing but suggestion programs. They have found that even a light nudge goes a long way. General Electric had little success with suggestions in its Utica. N.Y. plant until it repainted its boxes, put up posters and published a leaflet entitled A Penny for Your Thoughts. Almost 200 suggestions poured in. Boeing, which last year paid out $105.170 for suggestions that saved it $1,653,000, honors its star suggesters with "Man of the Week," "Man of the Month'' and "Man of the Year" titles.

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