CHENGDU, China — One day last summer, Pu Xiaolan was halfway through a shift inspecting iPad cases when she received a beige wooden chair with white stripes and a high, sturdy back.
At first, Pu wondered if someone had made a mistake. But when her bosses walked by, they nodded curtly. So Pu gently sat down and leaned back. Her body relaxed. The rumors were true. When Pu was hired at this Foxconn plant a year earlier, she received a short, green plastic stool that left her unsupported back so sore that she could barely sleep at night. Eventually, she was promoted to a wooden chair, but the backrest was much too small to lean against. The managers of this 164,000-employee factory, she surmised, believed that comfort encouraged sloth. But in March, unbeknownst to Pu, a critical meeting had occurred between Foxconn’s top executives and a high-ranking Apple (AAPL) official.
A revealing story, where “lean” is only used in the sense of a backrest to lean against. Under pressure, FoxConn has come around to replacing stools with chairs. In another 10 years, they may realize that sitting while working 10 hours a day is itself a problem, and redesign operations so that operators stand and move. They may also realize that you get higher productivity and better quality with 8-hour shifts.
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