PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WORK CONDITIONS
The conditions of a workplace are different physical and psychological factors.
Physical work conditions
This includes lighting, temperature, noise, vibration/motion, pollution, location, space, ventilation and aesthetics.
- Location and space:
The layout of work offices will influence the way that people in the workplace interact with each other. Extreme physical separation (e.g. separate cubicles for each employee) would result in very low communication and poor interpersonal skills. However, it may result in a higher level of productivity because workers will be less distracted. If the building itself is small, there will be more personalised interaction between people while a larger building might have more private employees. Many offices use a landscape design; this has no walls. Employees in landscaped offices are grouped according to their position and function and are only separated by landscaping, such as potted plants, cabinets, low screens and bookcases.
There is no one answer to what constitutes ideal lighting for maximum efficiency and productivity. The light should not be distracting or inadequate for the employee.
Intermittent noise has been found to be more disturbing than constant noise. While there is no concrete evidence linking low productivity with noise, one study did find that productivity decreased after noise was introduced in a previously quiet environment. Noise reduction methods can be employed in noisy workplaces, like quieter machinery and soundproof rooms.
If the temperature and humidity of a work environment are kept as comfortable as possible, productivity will not be disturbed. Hot and humid conditions have been shown to decrease productivity. Studies have also shown that mental labour is not as affected by high temperature as much as physical labour.
- Colour and music:
In the workforce, colour has been used for various things, such as: coding, preventing eye strain, creating illusions and improving aesthetic qualities. However, colour does not seem to have any obvious effects on the level of productivity in employees. Music also has no visible effects on productivity, but some employees tend to prefer working with music playing, especially if their job is slightly monotonous or dull. Colour and music, while not affecting the workplace greatly, are able to greatly increase and improve aesthetic quality.
Psychological work conditions
This includes feelings of privacy or crowding, excessive or lacking social interaction, boredom, a sense of status, and importance or anonymity.
Boredom is usually the result of dull and repetitive work; therefore it is assembly-line workers who are largely affected. Boredom results in restlessness, tiredness, low motivation and low productivity. Absenteeism (employees are absent from work without an actual reason) may even be a result of this. To reduce boredom, employees should be given more active roles or their motivation must be addressed.
- Social interactions:
While social interaction is healthy and should be encouraged, its effect on productivity would depend on the job. While certain jobs would benefit from excessive interaction, a more balanced amount of interaction may be more appropriate for others. To improve social interaction between employees, the management could arrange social events. To decrease social interaction, more independence and privacy could be encouraged with independent activities and opportunities.
- Status and recognition:
A person who has no status, little recognition and no importance in the workplace may feel less appreciated for their work and result in low satisfaction and motivation. The management should aim to recognise all employees’ achievements in the workplace and allow them to work towards gaining more status, depending on their effort and productivity. Healthy competition could occur.
TEMPORAL CONDITIONS OF WORK ENVIRONMENTS
Temporal conditions refer to the pattern of a worker’s hours spent at work. Certain temporal factors may be taken into consideration for increased productivity, for example:
- Permanent part-time employment
- Shorter work weeks
- Flexible working hours
- Rest pauses
- Shift work
Shift work: Rapid rotation theory and slow rotation theory
Shift work refers to having different patterns of work. For example, some workers have day shifts and others have night shifts. This allows organisations to continue working for 24 hours. There are three main shift types:
- Day shift (around 6am to 2pm)
- Afternoon-evening shift (around 2pm to 10pm)
- Night shift (around 10pm to 6am)
The rapid rotation theory refers to rapid and frequent shift changes. There are two types of rapid rotation: metropolitation rotation and continental rotation.
- Metropolitan rota: Two day shifts, two twilight shifts, two night shifts, then two days off. Repeat.
- Continental rota: Two day shifts, two twilight shifts, three night shifts, two days off, two day shifts, three twilight shifts, two night shifts, three days off. Repeat.
The slow rotation theory refers to infrequent shift changes. This is beneficial because it allows workers to adapt to a specific routine. For example, an employee may have one month of day shifts and the next month of night shifts with the weekends off.
Compressed work weeks
This refers to weeks in which work is “compressed”. Workers usually work three 12-hour shifts every week with four days off. They will still be working for 36 hours per week, but all their work will be compressed within the first three days, allowing them four full days of no work. However, the longer shifts may be tiring and this could lead to a reduction in the quality of work being done or in the levels of productivity. Still, research shows that workers are happier with compressed work weeks. This may be because it allows them to spend full days doing things other than work, such as spending time with their family and indulging in their hobbies – or even just relaxing at home all day!
Flexitime refers to when employers give employees a contract of specific work hours that must be completed (e.g. employee must work 24 hours per week). However, the employee is allowed to choose their own work hours and timings. For example, an employee may choose to complete their hours within the first four days of the week (six hours each day) or they may spread their hours out for the whole week (six hours on Monday, two hours on Tuesday, eight hours on Wednesday… etc.). Flexitime gives workers the chance to create a professional and personal balance. Their presence may still be required without fail on certain days, such as on days of important group meetings.
The term ergonomics is derived from two Greek words: “ergon” meaning work and “nomoi” meaning laws. It is the scientific discipline concerned with interactions between humans, machines and the environment and how to maximise human well-being and comfort and the efficiency of system performance. In other words, it is the science of work. It is a human-centred technological development.
Operator-machine systems: visual and auditory displays and controls
Operator-machine systems, also called human-machine systems, refer to the systems in which the functions of human operators and machines are integrated.
There are three types of visual displays.
- Quantitative (displays that give numerical data, such as a digital clock that shows it is 10:00).
- Qualitative (displays that give descriptive data, such as “hot” or “cold”).
- Check-reading (displays that are simple and give limited but very important or useful information, such as ON/OFF switches).
Visual displays are best in the following situations:
- When a message is complex or descriptive
- When workers are expecting regular written updates
- When a workplace is too noisy
There are also different types of auditory displays, such as buzzers and alarms. Riggio (1999) said that auditory alarms should be “psychologically effective” in order to catch the attention of employees. For example, a fire alarm is psychologically effective as we associate it with a “warning”.
Auditory displays are best in the following situations:
- When lighting or layout is inadequate for visual messages
- When workers are constantly moving around the workplace
- When a message is urgent and requires immediate reaction
The controls for visual and auditory displays may be in the form of buttons, levels, switches, etc.
Errors and accidents in operator-machine systems
Operator-machine systems may have certain errors or possible accidents. Riggio (1991) outlined four possible OMS-related errors:
- Error of omission (failure to do something – e.g. switch off something)
- Error of commission (failure to follow instructions or do something correctly)
- Error of sequence (failure to follow the correct procedure or sequence)
- Error of timing (failure to do something at the correct time or pace)
Reducing errors (Theory A and Theory B: Reason, 2000)
Reason (2000) differentiated between two main types of workplace errors: Theory A and Theory B.
- Theory A = the worker is to blame for error
- Theory B = the system is to blame for error