We recently discovered that certain routine functions in a motor assembly plant are repeated by a worker every 1.3 minutes. It was explained that the task was broken down to its smallest possible piece to ensure minimum error – the quality of the product was the supreme consideration. Whilst that zero-defect intention is fully understandable, the question is: “How do you keep the worker engaged?”
For Karl Marx, it was the combination of extremely poor wages and the meaninglessness of the assembly line, where the worker was disconnected from the end product, that inspired his writing that ultimately lead to the socialist revolution. Today workers are mobilised by trade unions to address the pay issue and working conditions. The new threat of course comes from the automation provided by robotics, and the worker involved in routine functions is again under pressure. Nevertheless you still want those assembly line workers to offer maximum productivity, which means ensuring engagement in routine function in the face of tiresome repetitiveness. The principle holds true whether you are dealing with a motor assembly worker or a call centre agent.
German medical sociologist, Aaron Antonovsky, coined the term Salutogenesis. This is opposed to the commonly known concept of ‘pathogenesis’. Where the latter is a medical term relating to identifying the causes of disease, Salutogenesis relates to identifying the source of wellbeing. Wellbeing, Antonovsky shows, in turn relates to a ‘sense of coherence’ – see that simply as ‘things working together well’. He in turn identified three essential qualities of experience to enjoy such a sense of coherence:
• Comprehensibility – having the fullest possible picture and so being sufficiently informed
• Manageability – feeling competent and confident in carrying out the task
• Meaningfulness – understanding the significance of the task – the essential role it plays in the bigger picture.
Resilience in the face of challenging conditions can then be correlated to such a sense of coherence – and this applies especially in the workplace. Clearly ‘comprehensibility’ requires strategic communication and proper education, and ‘manageability’ obviously requires thorough training. But ‘meaningfulness’ requires having a greater sense of purpose in carrying out the task – being able to identify its significance in the organisational output and the value it can ultimately help generate. If this is simply relate to shareholder profit it will only be meaningful if workers have a share in that profit. But if the worker, be that a computer program code-writer or a component designer, can acquire a better understanding of the value offered to society by the quality of product and service provided, meaningfulness is more assured. Then resilience will be enhanced, notwithstanding challenging conditions.
How can your employees function with a defined sense of purpose – appreciating the value the company brings to society?
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