From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Good Human Factors in Management Style Increases Profits and Productivity

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and the author of a book titled Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. According to Goleman, a manager or management style that focuses on belittling employees, using harsh or offensive language, telling denigrating jokes, or making threats is not effective management. While this may look like common sense on paper, Goleman and others like the consulting firm Executive Insights Development Group see this type of management on a daily basis.

Executive Insights Development Group works with management personnel to better understand people and react appropriately. This skill is referred to as ’emotional intelligence’ or ’emotional competency’. Companies who have employed this, or a similar service, say they were able to keep highly valued executives whose behavior had put their jobs at risk. Companies also report seeing bottom line benefits to improving the working environment. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, one study at a manufacturing plant showed that after supervisors received training in emotional competencies such as how to listen, the plant reduced lost-time accidents by half and formal employee grievances decreased to an average of three per year from 15 per year. Another study at a multinational consulting company showed partners who scored well on a test of their emotional competencies delivered $1.2 million more profit from their accounts than did other partners.

While this may look like a new art to management, ergonomics and human factors professionals have been using the same principles for years. In ergonomics, the term ‘psychosocial’ refers, in the workplace, to the atmosphere in the work environment. This would include the relationship between workers and management, problems between coworkers, and the organization of the company with regards to promotions and deadlines, etc.

Recently, research that links a stressful work environment to bottom line losses has had more recognition. Not only do psychosocial issues directly affect absence rates, but they may indirectly contribute to increased musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as well.

For instance, a study done at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden shows that work absence can be related to psychosocial issues as well as physical risk factors. The study, published in the March 2001 edition of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine examined 3470 workers in the Swedish Postal system.

The study found that certain physical, psychosocial, and organizational factors were important determinants of incidence of sickness, independent of each other. The background research also suggests that high job demands in combination with low control are associated with, for example, coronary heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders. Also, the occurrence of bullying at the workplace almost doubled the risk of being in the group with high incidence of sickness. Other factors associated with a high absence rate included seldom or never being able to discuss with the supervisor and working through illness.

Several other reports have also pointed to psychosocial issues as a risk factor for increased injury and illness. In December 2000, Ergoweb reported that according to CCH Inc., a human resource firm, one out of every five unscheduled absences is the result of worker stress, costing business about $600 per employee every year.

A 2001 report from the National Academies of Science stated that a rapid work pace, monotonous work, low job satisfaction, little decision-making power, and high levels of job stress are associated with back disorders. Such psychosocial factors affect not only how workers view themselves in relation to the workplace, but also the physical, organizational, and social aspects of their jobs.

Also published in 2001, a Canadian study of over 8,200 workers related back problems to physical as well as psychosocial issues in the workplace. The study found that low social support at work and high job insecurity were independent predictors of restricted activity due to MSDs.

The bottom line is that better understanding of the work environment can save your bottom line.

Reference: Salt Lake Tribune July 8, 2002