Everyone is badgered constantly about finding ways to increase productivity and minimize the labor content that gets tied up in what our companies provide to the marketplace. The old maxim about not being able to save your way into prosperity is absolutely true. On the other hand, redesigning the way we work—streamlining the process—is a viable way to make progress on efficiency and profitability. Join me on a dive into the sticky morass we call the Web in search of solid content that supports this month’s focus on job design.
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Sliding through the academic viewpoint
Janet Drez at the Department of Psychology at Southern Illinois University posts a PowerPoint presentation that forms the basis for a class lecture. Hop on over to http://www.siu.edu/~psycho/psyc323/chapt07/index.htm and zero in on slides 11 through 15. If you enjoyed that small bit of the college level course, you can get 17 related PowerPoint presentations at http://www.siu.edu/departments/cola/psycho/psyc323/.
At the University of Western Ontario, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, there is a course called “Production Management for Engineers.” The school posts a slide show of the notes for a lecture about human resources in operations management. Click your way over to http://hyperserver.engga.uwo.ca/es492b/Lectures/lect8/sld001.htm to get a flavor of what’s in store for someone in academe studying job design. The lecture notes covers just the high points, without details.
Temasek Engineering School, Singapore, offers an Advanced Diploma in Engineering Management. One course for this degree is called Management of Change. It concerns itself, in part, with the idea of job design. The school was kind enough to post what apparently serves as the basis for course lecture notes. The information is good, but unfortunately it, too, is presented in the form of those dreaded, slow-loading slides. But, this information is relevant, it’s free, it does not require you to register your identity. In short, it has all the characteristics of what this column is about. We search the Web so you don’t have to. With that said, all you need to do now is make a beeline for http://www-eng.tp.ac.sg/courses/adv/Adengman/sec2a/index.htm to get a sense of the philosophy behind the idea of job design. Sure, it’s a pain to scroll through slides, but you won’t be disappointed when they finally materialize on the screen.
One can also learn about job design at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, by taking a course on production and operations management identified as MFET 4590. Class notes for “Work Design and Human Resource Management” are found at http://mmet.weber.edu/Faculty/ADRAKE/Course%20Notes/MFET4590/Chapt%2005/sld001.htm.
Old versus new concepts
According to PHF Services Inc., a human factors and ergonomics consultancy in Almonte, Ont., job design means organizing activities to create the optimum level of performance. On the surface, this sounds like the teachings of Frederick W. Taylor, who in the early 1900s published his theories about getting the most from workers. Taylor’s approach, if followed to a logical extreme, produced some negative results. It minimized the job’s intellectual content and fostered mechanization, routinization and simplification of tasks. It relied on coercion over consent. In short, it reduced the worker to the status of a preprogrammed automaton, a two-legged PLC. Space does not allow a full explanation of Taylor’s approach, but you can visit http://sol.brunel.ac.uk/~jarvis/bola/motivation/taylor.html for more information.
Modern conceptions of job design are different in that they attempt to make work meaningful to both the employee and the employer. You can find the five basic approaches to modern job design at http://www.itbp.com/hrm/iebm/job_design.htm. The idea of benefits being derived from improved job design is not new. The year 1975 saw the establishment of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Article 2 of the organization’s charter specifically mentions job design as an area of concern. You can see the document, in English, at http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/lif/dat/1975/en_375R1365.html.