I forgot to be me

It’s that time of day. You wake up and start to get ready for work. The moment you step out of your door, you become this other person. You stop being yourself. You start being Mr (amend title as necessary) Worker. Expectations about your daily interactions change immediately. The commute to work must involve as little interaction with other commuters. The drive to work must involve efficiency and expediency. In fact, efficiency becomes the order of the day. If it’s not efficient, be prepared for my ire.

On reaching work, this sense of efficiency and being Mr Worker is amplified ten-fold. The moment we walk in the door we cease being Mr Worker, and start being Mr Expects Everything. As loathe as I am to talk about Maslow, suddenly all those basic and secondary level needs become the thing to focus on. Feed me. Water me. Provide toilet and washroom facilities. Have eating areas. Have communal areas. Have meeting rooms. Have desks. Have IT equipment. And then we start to also move on to Herzberg type factors. Give me objectives. Give me development. Give me promotion and progression. Want. Give. Now. Or risk disengaging me and losing me to another company.

I think the issues here are complex. Those motivation theorists I’ve mentioned have heavily influenced the way businesses structure themselves and provide work environments. At an architectural level, not many buildings are designed to be conducive to allowing relationships to happen at work, or give people the freedom to work across groups. Most office spaces follow the same rules where they have silos for distinct work groups. Want to collaborate with another team? Sure, leave your office, go to theirs in another part of the building, navigate corridors and doors, and enter their door and their space. Let battle commence.

At an organisational level, we want things to be simple and to make sense. So having distinct teams sitting together seems to make sense. But what happens when you give people projects to do which require them to collaborate closely? Suddenly reporting structures, line management responsibilities, authority and autonomy all become confused and we start to break down. We don’t do well when lines of clarity become blurred, so we pop our head in the sand and wait for it to be fixed.

At a management level, people need to be developed and supported. They need to know there’s a plan in place for them to do well, and they have the support of their manager to do so. Suddenly things such as weekly catch ups, review meetings, feedback training, coaching training, emotional intelligence, and an array of other needs become important. Some will learn as they go along, others will get training, and some will fail miserably. We’re just too focused at having management structures that we forget to think about organisationally, are they in the right position, doing the right job with the right team.

At a corporate level, we impose restrictions on behaviour by giving a list of policies, procedures, guidelines and processes before someone starts, when they start, and when they’ve been with us for years. We actively tell you that you’re not allowed to be ‘you’. You are now owned by ‘us’. You will do our bidding. If you want to be you, jump through hoops and barriers, become CEO, and even though you’re not allowed to be you. You are only allowed to be you when you leave.

At an individual level, things become really complicated. We each of us have career ambitions, aspirations, desires and motivations. Not matter how small or large they may be, they exist. We have personal lives with problems/challenges aplenty. We have personalities, stereotypes, judgements and more. And when we walk through that entrance to work, we’re asked to forget all that in place of competency frameworks, talent management systems, performance management programmes and learning and development interventions.

Life certainly got complicated, didn’t it?

The science of… Ergonomics

Last week I posted 3 pieces in my series of The Science of… Occupational Psychology. I’m going to try and be disciplined and finish them off this week. Next up then, we look at ergonomics.

Ergonomics is all about the design of a physical object and the way we interact with it. For example, take your standard chair. It has a particular design and purpose. The study of ergonomics informs us about what enables good design and what doesn’t. This particular topic is not restricted to occupational psychology. It also crosses boundaries with Health and Safety, Art, Architecture, Home Furnishings and even Technology.

So why would an occupational psychologist be concerned with the design and use of an object? Well, when you think about it, one of the outputs of the way we interact with an object informs about how much we enjoy and are pleased with that object. If you have purchased a new chair for work and it is comfortable, aids your posture, and is adjustable to your liking, you will have an association with this object. That association will stay with you until you are convinced the object needs to change.

A lot of research goes into the design of pretty much any object you can see on your desk. Your telephone, laptop, monitor, mouse, chair, pedestal, desk, tray stack, and more, have undergone some level of research and development into identifying the ideal way they can be utilised. What this enables is a pleasant work environment that you are comfortable with and have good memories of. If you consider Herzberg’s theory of motivation, where he discusses motivational and hygiene factors, ergonomics is clearly a hygiene factor. Get it right and people will be passe about their interaction with it, get it wrong and you’ll have hell to pay.

In the wider context then, this also plays out with how office spaces are designed. Open plan or walled up offices? Same building or remote work spaces? Dedicated desk, or hot-desk? All these play an important part in an employee’s state of well-being and engagement. Sure, ergonomics doesn’t directly affect all those, but the design and use of the objects that enable all those will have an affect.

I’ve not gone into the actual science of ergonomics, as this isn’t my field of speciality. Instead, I wanted to give an insight into why it’s important. Consider for a moment if the mouse you are using were instead oval shaped, you held it by encasing the whole thing in the palm of your hand and the buttons were at your finger tips. How would that change your experience of, interaction with and association with that mouse? That’s what ergonomics aims to uncover and provide insight into.

Posts in this series:

The science of… Assessment Centres
The science of… Psychometrics
The science of… Competency Frameworks
The science of… Appraisals
The science of… Learning and Development
The science of… Occupational Psychology