“The main thing employees want is to be personally effective.”
Motivating people, fostering their development and “taking them with you” (which is such a neat little phrase, isn’t it?) is a daily challenge for managers. According to Professor Niclas Schaper from Paderborn University employees can be helped to more easily master the increasing complexity of workplace demands by taking a look at how work is organised and structured.
Professor Niclas Schaper holds the chair in Occupational and Organisational Psychology at Paderborn University. Within the context of his work, he is in regular contact with managers and employees and, among other things, is interested in how a person’s mental state is affected by the way in which work is organised.
Professor Schaper, what are the telltale signs of a workplace that is in desperate need of better organisation? What do I need to be on the look-out for as a manager?
When employees say that they are stressed and under a lot of pressure, complain that they are no longer able to keep up or are no longer able to bounce back/are no longer able to relax outside of work, then you are seeing some very clear warning signals. A typical indicator is absenteeism, i.e. when people start calling in sick. The underlying cause is often psychological stress. A high employee turnover rate is another sign that staff are not able to cope with the prevailing working conditions. These are clear alarm signals that have to be taken seriously.
You carry out employee surveys at care facilities and are using them to gain some insights. How would you assess the current situation there?
From our surveys, we frequently discover that it is not just the specific work itself that causes stress. There are often other factors at play that unsettle staff or alienate them from their employers, such as mergers or restructuring measures. Often people are worried about losing their jobs. As a manager, you have to take that seriously and deal with it sympathetically.
And what about the specific work situation within this sector? To what extent does work organisation play a role here?
From an occupational psychology perspective, this really is a very tricky field. In many places, nurses and carers face enormous pressure at work. This is often due to the fact that they have to carry out additional tasks, such as completing painstaking care documentation, while simultaneously having to cope with high levels of staff sickness and the general turnover of staff. On top of that, when you consider the amount of effort they have to put in and how important their role is to society, the work is not very well paid. Moreover, people living in care are not ordinary residents. Each of them has their own individual needs. This makes the work extremely complex, as well as both physically and mentally demanding. This can really create a huge amount of pressure.
In light of these circumstances, do I actually have any chance of reaching out to my employees?
Fortunately, the answer to that is yes. In the area that I oversee, a dissertation is currently being written that uses a model to map out the situation faced by nursing staff employed at hospitals or by mobile nursing services. The specific question being posed by this research is: how do nursing staff deal with stress and strain and what kinds of factors can cushion these effects?
What are the findings of this academic work?
That you cannot underestimate the commitment of each member of staff. A large part of this is down to intrinsic motivation and a feeling of being competent to carry out dayto-day tasks. That is to say: if I feel that I am being personally effective within the context of my work, then I can even compensate for difficult working conditions or cope with them better, so to speak. Such employees usually feel as though they are adequately qualified, find meaning in their work and, in turn, develop strong self-confidence.
Are there any other findings from this academic work?
The dissertation also reveals that there are two categories of workplace demands. Firstly, there are those that represent a challenge, e.g. those with an element of work pressure or complexity. And secondly, there are those that are clearly experienced as a strain, such asconstantly being disturbed and prevented from getting on with the actual job, e.g. by activities that have nothing to do with it. One of the key issues here is having too much red tape. If I, as a manager, can identify what is making staff stressed and overburdened and can find some solutions, I will then be able to create a functional and motivating work organisation framework that encourages and enables staff to be effective.
” Good workplace organisation can have a positive economic impact.”
That sounds like a desirable situation, because the staff will then presumably be able to take responsibility and be ready to take decisions independently. How can I encourage that as a manager?
As a manager I have to ensure that work is structured in such way that employees have enough leeway to act autonomously and make decisions for themselves. In addition, I should continuously provide my staff with an adequate amount of feedback on their work. Communication and social support are vital. Once these are in place, people will find a certain amount of job satisfaction. They will regard themselves as capable of tackling the daily challenges and will develop a commitment to the organisation as a whole, including its aims and values. If this results in work tasks or routines being structured more efficiently or in a more flexible response to workplace demands, it can even have an economic impact as well. All in all, a thoroughly positive dynamic.
What is the situation like in other sectors, such as for a team working at an industrial laundry?
Actually, the points I have outlined can be applied to virtually any occupational sector. Ultimately, it always comes down to organising the work in such a way that it is challenging but, insofar as possible, does not cause continuous stress and overload. Employees still need some leeway even in occupations that are supposedly very straightforward. A certain amount of variety and the opportunity to get involved in the organisational aspects help employees to see their work as a positive challenge and gain a sense of “being useful” and “having a job that matters”.
How can I achieve that as a manager?
Informal learning plays an important role in this regard as a means by which employees can acquire additional skills and knowledge/ work-related qualifications. There should be different methods of interaction so that staff can optimise their own work routines, whether that be receiving feedback from colleagues or directly from line managers or multimedia offerings that help staff to develop more effective skills and knowledge. Digitalisation, in particular, offers numerous possibilities for getting employees on board as you seek to develop the area of work organisation. A good example of this are the RFID chips used by industrial laundries. Staff can play their part in ensuring that technology makes processes safer, better and more efficient – including for themselves. At the same time, they have a chance to influence the situation so that the meaningful and enjoyable parts of the job remain.
Many thanks, Prof. Dr. Niclas Schaper, for your time and this informative interview.
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