Tag Archives: job satisfaction

London – love it or hate it

Mike the Psych's Blog

P1000602 - Version 2First the good news: London is apparently the world’s best city in which to work.

In a poll of almost 200,000 people in nearly 200 countries, one in six people said they would like to work there. And the UK as a whole came second to the USA although no other city in UK came in the top 40 world-wide .

Brits aren’t as keen to work abroad as other nationalities – only 40% of us compared to 2/3 from other countries according to the Boston Consulting Group and TotalJobs recruitment website. Those who do prefer the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and France. The UK attracts workers from Portugal, Israel, Barbados, Romania and Jamaica.

The international director at TotalJobs said “This report cements London’s position as a truly global city. Not only does it offer a wealth of job opportunities min a range of industries but it boasts…

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The like button for work

Breathe London

So far in this life I’ve worked in my dad’s hardware shop as well as a tile factory. I’ve worked on a farm, been an intern at a stockbroker, an auditor for an accountancy firm, a corporate financier, a removal man, a massage therapist, a manager of a therapy business, a yoga teacher, a writer and a speaker.

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Over twenty five years I’ve had fun at work, been lost, sometimes sad, often supported, sometimes excited. My mood shifts relentlessly. I’m lucky that I often find happiness and meaning at work. I’m fascinated by work. We spend so much time in it. The time we have and the health we are blessed with are our only assets so why do we sometimes squander these things?

Many employers are smart. They realise that if their staff are healthy, happy and engaged at work they are more likely to work harder, take less…

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Work Life Balance………women more satisfied

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Sixty per cent of women are happy with their work-life balance: Men are more likely to feel the strain of juggling job and family

Part-time: Women tend to be happier with their work/life balance than their male counterparts

It is the modern juggling act – but managing motherhood alongside a career might not be as difficult as it sounds.Most women, it seems, are perfectly happy with the way their professional and personal lives are balanced. Far from desperately battling their way each day between office and kitchen, more than six out of ten believe their work-life balance is just right.

Men, however, are less content with the way the conflicting demands of their home life and jobs play out. But more than half still believe that the balance is broadly good.

The findings were released by the Office for National Statistics in its latest assessment of national well-being. They come as both the Government and Labour strive to impress women voters with their attempts to help them…

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Hierarchical management not all bad

up_the_chain_of_command_800_7901Back in the 1960s when behavioural scientists roamed corporate boardrooms every executive claimed to know about Herzberg’s two-factor theory and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Even here in the UK where firms like ICI invited Herzberg over and took his and others’  ideas on board, introducing a Weekly Staff Agreement and similar initiatives.

One idea that came out of this approach to motivating people was the introduction of autonomous working groups in the mid 1970s. In the UK we heard reports of how Swedish companies in particular had adopted these methods (overlooking work by the Tavistock Institute in British coal mines starting over 20 years earlier).

A lot of water and ideas about managing production have passed under the bridge since then although you could argue that with companies either mechanising or offshoring to reduce production costs Taylorism is still alive and kicking

Just recently however researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology  published the results of a 13 year study into a Norwegian company which adopted autonomous work groups and moved away from a hierarchical structure in line with the national and organisational culture of labour empowerment (reported by A Fradera in The Psychologist)

They described a system where different team members took on the spokesperson role for a week at a time. The workforce was initially enthusiastic  saying things like ” the flat structure has come to stay” and “.. no more foremen pointing fingers and telling us what to do” .

After 8 years however some problems had been identified. The transient role of the spokesperson meant they could skimp on onerous duties or things they thought less important like sharing information. Because the spokesperson was responding to team needs it was more difficult for them to resolve disputes or enforce decisions that were unpopular for individuals but good for the organisation.

They concluded that self-management optimised the comfort of the individuals and the team but possibly to the detriment of the company.

So they introduced a system where different people were responsible for different aspects, a distributed leadership model. The 5-M model had someone looking after  staffing (Man), someone looking after Machine and so on. This was an improvement and also meant the M-leaders could get together to decide plant-wide issues in their own area of responsibility.

Unfortunately not every problem falls neatly into one category and sometimes problems were passed backwards and forwards. Concrete and immediate problems were resolved but not those requiring coordination, clearly a challenge to a company that wants to empower the workforce.

It also raises some interesting questions about whether people can develop their leadership skills when they don’t have continuity (doing it only 1 week in six) and whether everyone is temperamentally suited to undertake a leadership role?

Historical note

Post WWII manufacturing industry was largely adhering to Scientific Management or “Taylorism“, an economic approach and  belief that there was one right way.

People known variously as “Time and Motion experts”  and “Work Study or Industrial Engineers” analysed jobs and broke them down into (very) small chunks so that operators on production assembly lines were more easily able to assemble a switch or put wheel nuts on cars (before robots took over).

So Scientific Management both de-skilled workers and led to mechanisation where possible.

Dividing the total assembly time of a product into tasks of a few minutes and of equal duration was sometimes quite a challenge. The work was pretty boring and relentless and conveyor belt breakdowns, often operator induced, provided welcome breaks from the monotony.

In the UK the Tavistock Institute for Social Research had been using a socio-technical approach (combining social, technical, and economic needs in coal mines since the 1950s and were later involved in Quality of Working Life initiatives, a forerunner of today’s concern about work-life balance. But their work wasn’t widely known.

Following the introduction of new ideas about employee motivation by Herzberg and others ie it wasn’t just the financial incentive (although it appeared to be for car assembly workers whose objective was to earn as much as possible to buy consumer goods (called instrumental motivation) and which was said to have enabled the growth in package holidays – but I digress) many companies tried to make the work more interesting. In some cases they also tried to reverse the de-skilling that had been the hallmark of previous approaches.

Job rotation was one easy way to provide variety and it also up-skilled  the operatives. Job enlargement was combining similar jobs together on a permanent basis and thereby increasing the cycle time. Job enrichment was vertical job enlargement which usually meant including some quality/inspection or supervisory element.

And then in the mid-70s we heard that in Sweden at Saab and at the Volvo Kalmar plant, and at Philips in Eindhoven they had gone a whole step further and introduced autonomous working groups. The Kalmar plant was new and small teams worked in assembly bays rather than straight assembly lines. In both the new Volvo plant and the re-organised Saab plant assembly cycle times rose from 2-3 minutes to 20-30 minutes.

Autonomous working groups can include single skill workers or incorporate features of job enlargement and job enrichment by taking responsibility for purchasing, quality control and absence management. There was usually less need for first line supervisors.

Teams were given the facilities to organise the work themselves, within limits. For example, at the Philips plant teams were allowed to decide how they assembled TV sets either in the traditional flow line method or each person assembling a whole set.

Sweden had a well-educated workforce and companies had high absence rates put down to boredom with the production lines. By the 1980s we were hearing that autonomous working groups had improved job satisfaction and helped to reduce absenteeism but not necessarily improved productivity.

Eventually new methods and approaches came along eg Quality Circles and the use of BPR, and autonomous working groups seemed to fade from the spotlight.

Do family firms have more loyal employees?

Having once worked for a family owned business I was intrigued by the headlines about family firms having happier or more satisfied employees than other forms of enterprise.

When I read more on the research carried out by Stanley Siebert, a professor of labour economics at the University of Birmingham, it seemed to be measuring loyalty – but perhaps loyal employees are happier and more satisfied.

Anyway the survey of 20,00 employees in over 2,000 companies found that 28% of employees strongly agreed that they felt loyal compared with 22% in other organisations and 26% felt they had job security compared with 20% elsewhere.

This is apparently statistically significant. So whilst the figures are higher for family firms it’s still not a very encouraging picture overall is it? And doesn’t it also mean that 62% didn’t feel very loyal and 74% felt they didn’t have job security? 

So the headlines could have read: “Fewer than 1/3 of employees in family firms feel loyal”. And why should this be?

According to the survey staff employed in family firms:

  • have less job security and little protection from redundancies (only 7% of these companies have “no redundancy” policies)
  • work almost a day longer (5.5 hours) each week than employees in the public and private sectors (who average just under 33 hours a week)
  • aren’t paid any more than employees working elsewhere
  • have no or little Trades Union support (only 3% membership compared with 33% in private sector and 50% in public sector)
  • don’t receive much formal training (it’s mostly on-the-job)

Despite this the report claims that staff in family owned business are proud to say who they work for, feel more valued, are closer to the decision-making, and share the values of the company.

These companies are reported to have inclusive management practices and encourage the expectation of long-term employment (but don’t guarantee it – and job tenure is actually shorter than elsewhere).

Research at Warwick University demonstrated that happy workers are more productive so if companies can get employees better aligned with the company’s goals they will probably get more discretionary effort from them ie they will go the extra mile.

But note these are not your typical SMEs. The report was commissioned by the Unquoted Companies Group which includes companies such as Clarks shoes and JCB. Doubtless these are reputable companies but the group has lobbied parliament in the past opposing the growth of EU employment protection legislation and the working time directive.

Happiness and Productivity

Are happy workers more productive or are more productive workers happier?

This is a question that has exercised work and organisational psychologists for over 50 years. And there have been mixed results from workplace interventions. For example in Sweden – with a highly educated workforce doing repetitive work in the car industry – increasing job satisfaction reduced absenteeism but didn’t increase productivity.

Now economists at Warwick University think they have the answer. The Sunday Times article; “Why happy people are the hardest workers” (11 July 2010) reported Professor Andrew Oswald as saying; “… human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings while negative emotions have the opposite effect”. (This is straight from the positive psychology handbook of course and as a psychologist I wonder why they didn’t just ask one of us).

The research team carried out a range of experiments and showed their subjects either a comedy film or a boring (placebo) film. The subjects who reported higher happiness levels after seeing the comedy film were 12% more productive whereas unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

However those subjects who watched the comedy film but did not report increased happiness were not more productive. So the increase in productivity was linked to an increase in happiness but not to just watching a comedy film.

A surprise finding was that those subjects who had experienced a death in the family in the last two years were 10% less productive. But subjects whose parents had divorced recently didn’t appear less happy or less productive. Perhaps with divorce being so common it’s  no longer seen as a negative life event.

They conclude that if happiness does bring increased productivity then HR departments and business managers should be paying more attention to the influence of emotions at work.

This is interesting but there are lots of questions. Some companies have tried to inject fun into work, for example call centres (often the modern equivalent of Victorian sweat shops) but I haven’t seen any evidence it does anything than temporarily alleviate boredom.

The fact that some subjects didn’t report increased happiness after seeing the film might be because they didn’t think the film was funny (it featured a well-known British comedian for a start) and humour is very subjective.

The subjects’ personality as measured by the Big 5 might have been a factor. Extraverts tend to be happier and more positive than Introverts and also respond better to incentives (the subjects were paid an attendance fee plus a performance fee depending on their output).

It also appears that the subjects were working individually rather than in teams. This reduces the element of “social loafing” and usually maximises the incentive effect but there is a strong social effect when working with friends or in teams, especially for more sociable types.

Anything that improves employee engagement (at an all-time low at the moment) is of interest to business leaders but I can’t help thinking that the more holistic approach adopted by companies like Sony Film is worth looking into. See “Rituals engage staff”.