OHS Canada Magazine

The Stress Connection(Presentation to IAPA conference, Toronto, April 2002)

September 9, 2002

Health & Safety

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming out.

Id like to talk about health, safety and stress this morning for one rather simple reason. Its because thats where the action is today.

The fact is that things are not the way they used to be in health and safety. The rules are changing. The list of priorities today is radically different from what it was 15 or 20 years ago. Lost-time claims are often for ailments we never heard of before and we ask ourselves, “Where did that come from, all of a sudden?”

Who ever heard of “return to work” in 1985? And yet, today, its the number-one concern in most workplaces, the number one driver of cost and the most likely subject of any nasty letter an employer might get from the compensation board.

Who could have told you what a “musculoskeletal injury” was in the 80s?” And yet those bizarrely-named MSIs account for more than half of all new cost in the system.

And the statistics. The statistics for lost time have done some remarkable flip-flops in the last 20 years — Ill get back to the stats a little later on.

But most of all, those of us who started in health and safety in the 1980s or before are finding more and more that the traditional tools of oh&s just dont seem to fit all of the problems anymore.

What Id like to do this morning is to try to put my finger on just exactly what it is thats going on, and perhaps put it all in some kind of perspective. What Id like to talk to you about this morning is what I call, for want of a better term, “the stress connection”.

Then we can have a look at the solution to the problem — the things people need in their jobs to ensure that they can function in a productive, creative way.

The solution to the problem, oddly enough, is really quite simple. Not easy, but simple. Well get back to that later on, but first I think I have to set the stage for where it is we find ourselves today.

Today, I suggest to you, at least half of all workers comp claims — and quite possibly more than half of all cost in the system — comes from stress. I made that statement in an editorial in the magazine once, and a reader from Thunder Bay sent me one of those blistering e-mails that just about made smoke come out of my computer monitor. “What do you mean, Stress causes injuries she demanded. Who ever heard of such nonsense!”

So I e-mailed her back. “Maam,” I told her politely, “I didnt say that stress causes injuries. I said that stress causes lost-time claims.”


And I stand by that. Ill even say it again. Half of all claims and at least half of all claims cost is caused by stress. We can debate whether or not that is fair or reasonable, or whether it ought to be allowed by the compensation board, but the bottom line is that its a fact.

By the way, I think that stress does cause accidents and injuries, and Im pretty sure that stress causes illness, but I thought it might be better not to mention that part to the lady in Thunder Bay.

Now “stress” is a very inadequate term to describe what we see going on in our workplaces and what we see written between the lines in the workers compensation statistics. “Stress” is a weak term and overly broad. And it also has a tendency to make people roll their eyes and say, “Gimme a break, weve all got stress.”

Thats true. We all have stress. But I want to focus on the destructive kinds of stress that makes jobs unbearable. Thats the heart of the matter. Many of us — perhaps all of us — can identify with that from time to time as well.

The fact is, I think we are in a new era of health and safety. That probably sounds a bit grand and maybe even overblown. But I dont use the term lightly or make the suggestion without a great deal of compelling evidence.

Eras overlap, yes, and entering a new one does not wipe clean the slate of the previous era. If we look at the history of health and safety as we know it, we can identify two previous eras, whose central concerns are with us still.


Let me tell you what I mean by a “new era of health and safety.”

The first age of oh&s built up very gradually over many years. Historians, who like to put dates on things and identify starting points, might point to 1833 in Great Britain when the first of the Factory Acts was passed. There were several more over the next 50 years and their accumulated weight established the principle that people are not supposed to get hurt or killed at work.

Putting that into law was a big step. And as the economy grew in the industrialized world, so did the possibility that injured workers — or their widows — might sue now that the law recognized some obligation on the part of employers.

That led us directly into the creation of workers compensation in Ontario in 1915, and, incidentally, the invention of the safety profession when organizations such as the IAPA were created to improve and promote safety.

Now, if you look at that early legislation, if you examine what the old Workmans Compensation Board was compensating and even if you look at what the IAPA was working on in the 1920s, we can give a name to the first era of health and safety.

The age of energy.

For the first half of the 20th century, safety, accident prevention and control of hazardous energy were synonymous. Safety was almost entirely concerned with things like guarding, lockout, barriers, energy control systems, and, most of all, safe work procedures around energized equipment. Thats where the action was. And for good reason. If you have to start somewhere in accident prevention, energy is a good place. Thats where the sudden, horrible and gruesome accidents lie.

And you might say that weve done a pretty good job in controlling hazards related to energy. Nevertheless, energy, the defining concern of the first era, is still with us as one of our leading concerns.

But, as the number of people caught in gears and crushed in presses started to come down, a second age of health and safety was taking shape, and we might date it from 1946. Thats when the organization that would soon become the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists published its first list of threshold limit values, or TLVs, in an attempt to regulate exposure to hazardous chemicals.

That was a fairly radical concept at the time, because the effects could often not be seen. Different people were affected in different ways. Some people were not affected at all, or didnt seem to be. And the science of hazardous materials was very sketchy, at first.

Not everyone believed that hazardous materials were actually hazardous. Many argued and fought against it, both on general principle and, one hazardous material at a time, as a rear-guard action against change. Or at least against having to pay for change.

It took a recognition of the fact that controlling hazardous materials requires different rules in health and safety before we started to make progress. Even then, it was slow.

Not until 1988 did we introduce the workplace hazardous materials information system, or WHMIS.

We dont have statistics, but if I were to take a poll of all the safety professionals, and especially the hygienists, and ask them what caused more injuries, illness, disability and death in the last century — traumatic accidents or exposure to hazardous materials? — I think the result would be clear.

In fact, it may just be possible that death related to just one hazardous substance — asbestos — would, all by itself, outnumber all traumatic fatalities. Add black lung disease, silicosis, emphysema, birth defects and a host of cancers and other problems that we are still trying to identify, and it becomes clear why the fight against exposure to hazardous materials is the central element of the second era of health and safety.


The first era, concerned centrally with controlling hazardous energy, continues today. The second era, focused on controlling hazardous
materials, continues today. But somewhere in the last 15 years, we slipped, quiet and unsuspecting, into a third era of health and safety in which controlling another hazardous agent came into the spotlight.

Stress. Or perhaps I should call it the era of the psychosocial factors — except that I suspect “psychosocial” may be an even harder term to sell than “stress”.

We enter new eras not when the calendar hits a nice round number, not when significant or watershed events occur — and certainly not when we decide its time to take a new and different direction.

We enter new eras when the weight of all the small changes that accumulate over the years suddenly overbalance and we discover that things are not the way they used to be, that many of the rules dont apply anymore.

Thats where we find ourselves again today. Many small changes — and a few big ones — have once again changed everything. We are entering the era in which controlling hazardous stress has jumped to the head of the list of issues we have to address.


Remember that I said earlier that half of all claims are related to stress. If Im right, and if you want to reduce the number of claims, youre going to have to address the stress.

But am I right?

Lets look at the facts. Consider the statistics for fatalities and for injuries, and, most of all, for cost. Its an unfortunate fact of life that it is cost that gets our attention first and cost that drives change the fastest.

In 1974, there were eight-and-a-quarter million people employed in this country, according to Human Resources Development Canada. And 1,456 of them were killed on the job. That year, incidentally, marked the high-point for recorded work-related fatalities in this country.

And I might add, as sort of an aside that puts this into perspective for me personally, I was driving a forklift truck in a plastics factory that made parts for General Motors in 1974. I was also studying accounting at night and sending really awful freelance articles on fishing and camping to the outdoor magazines. They all came back unpublished, but I mention it because Im sure many of you here today have similar sorts of connections to that date.

Its not that long ago.

The number of fatalities started to fall sharply after 1974. Today, there are one-and-a-half times as many people employed in Canada — over twelve-and-a-half million, but the number of fatalities is around 850. Taking into account the increase in the number of workers, the rate of fatalities from traumatic accidents has fallen by over 60 per cent.

Thats pretty good, and I mention the fatalities first for a very good reason. Thats because there can be very little debate over what is and what is not a fatality. You dont have to meet any criteria to be listed as a fatality — all you have to do is be killed at work. There are no qualifying rules that the workers compensation board can change, to allow a claim or not allow a claim. You cant cover it up. You cant overstate it or understate it. The number is one of our truest measures of how well were doing in oh&s.

And that true number is down sharply. Health and safety is winning the battle of the first era against traumatic, energy-related accidents.

And are we also winning the battle of the second era, against hazardous materials? Its much harder to say, because we dont have the statistics. No one really knows how many people have been made ill or how many have died. We cant point to a graph to prove that there is a radical decline.

Yet, I think it defies all logic to suggest that there has not been a steep decline in exposure to hazardous materials. We now have WHMIS. We have occupational exposure limits in law. We have occupational hygienists who earn their keep. And we have the general public much more aware of the hazards of hazardous exposure.

I think its safe to say that the battle of the second era, to control the substances that we inhale, ingest and absorb, is also being won.

So things are rosy all over.

Except for those darn statistics that say we arent getting ahead at all.


You see, the statistics for injuries dont fit the rosy pattern. Between 1974, when we hit our high-point in fatal accidents, and 1989, the total number of accepted claims for lost-time injuries doubled. In 1989, we hit our all-time record for the number of accepted claims, at 621,000. At the same time as the number of fatalities was being cut in half.

Now, if you apply classical health and safety theory, which holds that fatal accidents are just the worst-case scenario in an incident that could just as easily have been property damage or a minor injury or a critical injury, you would expect accident numbers and fatality numbers to be forever bound in lock-step. More accidents, more fatalities. Fewer accidents, fewer fatalities.

But it didnt happen. In fact, the exact opposite happened. As fatalities were cut in half, accidents doubled.


That doesnt make sense. It doesnt add up. So whats going on?


What I do want to offer you is what I believe is a compelling argument and a logical explanation.

The published statistics that tell us the number of lost-time claims doubled between 1974 and 1989, while, at the same time, the number of fatalities was cut in half.

The only logical conclusion I can reach is that the increase in claims did not arise from a decline in the level of safety at work. The fatality numbers essentially prove that workplaces were getting much safer.

So that must mean that the steep increase in lost-time claims had some source other than a general decline in the level of safety. The most obvious possible source — and a close examination of the stats broken down by cause bear this out — is that people started filing lost-time claims for things that they did not claim before.

That makes sense, especially considering that workers compensation boards were under pressure to provide better service and to make it easier to file a claim and have it accepted.

So, by 1989, we have twice as many people filing claims, and the major source of the increase — of half of those claims, at least — is things that people did not file claims for 15 years earlier.


Now we have to ask ourselves this: Why did people file those claims for things that were not considered compensable before? Lets not be too quick to try to answer it. Well come back to that question a little later.


First, lets go back to the statistics and fill in the years between 1989 and today. It turns out that another wholly unexpected trend was about to evolve.

In 1989 we had 621,000 claims. The cost nationally was around 4.9 billion dollars per year, 40 per cent of that in Ontario. Workers compensation boards were under pressure from all sides to reduce the cost of comp. Politicians had the board in their sights. Unfunded liabilities shot up into the billions and hit over 11 billion in Ontario alone. Employers were threatening to move to Alberta, or Michigan or Mexico. Something had to be done — and fast.

So the boards started getting tough. They tightened the rules. They eliminated some classes of claims. They started going after fraud — most of it, by the way, on the employer under-reporting side. They also got more efficient. But most of all, they made it a lot more rigorous and a lot more difficult to get a claim approved.

Again, we see a wild swing in the stats. Over the next decade, the number of claims was cut in nearly in half — from 621,000 to 380,000, again in an expanding economy with more people employed all the time.

So we can assume that some types of claims that were accepted before 1989 stopped being filed and accepted. Perhaps workplaces were getting twice as safe — but that cant be, because the number of fatalities did not fall appreciably after 1989.

More likely, it was just that the rules for filing a claim had changed.

But heres the problem. Wi
th the number of claims cut in half in the last dozen or so years, you would expect the total cost — in terms of fixed-value 1989 dollars — to be cut in half, too.

It didnt happen. The cost, in fact, crept upward, from 4.9 billion to just over 5 billion.


Which, again, does not add up. If we have half as many claims, why should the total cost, in real dollars, stay the same? Whats going on?


Whats going on is that the average claim is costing nearly twice as much, in real dollars, as it did a dozen years ago. And that, in turn, is because injured workers are off for nearly twice as long.

Thats right. The average claim in the year 2000 lasts nearly twice as long as the average claim in 1989.

So, once and for all, let me ask, What in the world is going on?


Workplaces get safer — a lot safer, as proven by the decline in fatalities — and the number of claims shoots up. The compensation system tightens up and the duration of claims doubles.

You cant win for losing.

Everything we know about health and safety says that those things should not happen. The only logical conclusion I can draw is that the rules, as we know them, dont apply anymore.

We are now, we have been for some time, in a different world. The assumptions we work under have been altered. And when the old rules dont apply anymore, what we have to do is to figure out what the new rules are.


Controlling energy and traumatic injury remains a part of our mandate. So does controlling hazardous exposure. But the people who are filing todays compensation claims, the people who are off work, who are the focus of our return-to-work efforts, are subject to a new set of factors, of stressors, that is causing them to be off work.

So lets look at the new rules Ive been talking about.

Back in the 1980s, there was a huge study on work and health in Great Britain. They tracked approximately 10,000 civil servants over a 15-year period. Since many of them worked at “Whitehall” the centre of British government, the study was called “The Whitehall Study” and its become very well known all over the world.

The study was designed to test a hypothesis. And the hypothesis was that people who had “low control” over their daily jobs would suffer different levels of health problems than people who had “high control” over their working lives. But not even the people who designed the study were ready for the results.

After compensating for smoking, lifestyle, diet and so on, they found that employees in the “low control” group had roughly twice the incidence of heart disease as the “high control group”. The same was true for general health and life expectance.

This was a huge study, conducted over 15 years by some of the most reputable researchers in the business. When the results came out, nobody could believe it. Twice the level of heart disease for “low control” workers? An average of nearly five years shorter lifespan? But it was true.

Were not even talking about sick leave or workers comp claims. Were talking about actual, diagnosable heart disease and black-and-white mortality records. The conclusion is clear: Working for a long time in a frustrating, low-control job is very hazardous to your health.

“Low control” means that you dont have any decision making ability, no chance to arrange the work to suit your own best way of doing it, no chance to set your own pace of work, no right to modify the way the work is done, no authority to improve the process. You cant put your personal imprint on the work. Really, you cant own that job, you cant do it better and you cant get any recognition for superior performance.

And yet, we all define ourselves partly through our work. We derive our sustaining satisfaction from how well we do, how much we are recognized for doing it well. We derive our status from our perceived value through our work. Low control jobs rob us of all those things, and, apparently, also rob us of our health.

Now theres a new rule, wouldnt you say? In the third era of health and safety, a job with “low control” is a hazard, just like an unguarded gear or a high level of solvent in the atmosphere.

Wed better add a line or two to our safety audit forms — especially if we want our audit to be a reliable predictor of future lost-time claims.


Closer to home, there have been other studies that found similarly surprising results. The Institute for Work and Health conducted a study at a General Motors plant in Oshawa a few years ago. They were looking for the factors associated with lost-time claims for musculoskeletal injuries.

Thats classical safety theory. If you can identify the factors that a large number of accidents or injuries have in common, you can eliminate them. We may have expected them to find things like complex motions, excessive weight, poor ergonomics, repetition and perhaps even susceptible individuals.

They found something very different.

They found that “self-rated demands” were the number one factor in reported MSIs. In other words, among a large group of people all doing the same job, those people who felt that the work was very demanding were the most likely to have and subsequently to report, an injury. How hard the job actually was did not appear to be a factor: It was how hard each individual thought it was.

You can see a new rule there. Under classical health and safety, or ergonomics, for that matter, we think that we ought to be able to go in and design a task to fall within acceptable parameters. But, after a certain point, its the perception of the task that matters in terms of the number of claims we are going to end up with.

The second-most common factor was a perception of a poor social environment. Workers who felt that they did not have the opportunity to form close, easy social relationships with their co-workers and supervisors, were more likely to suffer — and to report — a musculosketal injury.

Lets add that question to the safety audit: Do workers have a chance to laugh and joke in an free and easy manner with each other and with supervisors? No joke. It would be a terrific addition to any safety audit.

Factor number three in the GM study was another surprise. Anyone waiting for “force, duration, repetition and posture” as factors in MSIs will have to wait a bit longer. The third factor was a perception by the workers reporting the injury that he or she was more educated than his or her co-workers. Frankly, Im not sure what to make of that, except perhaps to suggest that is a dimension of social environment.

The fourth factor was low job control. The more the worker thought that he or she had no control over the work and its performance, the more likely he or she was to have an MSI.

At the fifth factor, finally, we encounter lifting and twisting with excessive loads.

But if this study shows us anything, it show that any intervention we attempt in order to lower a lost-time rate will have to deal with the leading causal factors.

And those leading factors, today, are different than they were 50 or even 15 years ago.


There are many more studies I could quote. A study at the Toronto Star newspaper, conducted by the Institute for Work and Health and the union representing workers, came up with results that fit the same pattern. A study of chronic pain claims in Nova Scotia several years ago looked for common factors — and found that almost all the factors were psychosocial.


Now, you may think that its a big leap from psychosocial factors to stress, but I dont think it is. Stress, as a factor in lost-time injury, is simply an accumulation of negative psychosocial factors.

Stress is what you feel when you spend every work day between a rock and hard place.

Stress is long-term frustration. Its anger. Its continuous, unresolvable conflict. In the context of stress at work, its often conflict between how things are and how we think they o
ught to be. People want to do a good job. When their efforts to their best, or to do the “right thing” or to do “a good job” are frustrated, the level of stress goes up.

What sort of things are we talking about? Too much demand. Crushing workload. Internal politics. Continual frustration. Unfairness. Predatory egos of supervisors. Faulty procedures. A lack of respect. Dishonesty. Bad labour relations. Continual confrontations. The immovable weight of “the way we do things around here”. Catch-22s. No chance to get the satisfaction of a good job well done. That sort of thing.

If the stress is intense, if it is unresolved and if it is long-term, it can start to eat away at our health and our safety.

In very broad terms, the health effects are related to our “fight or flight” instincts. When were faced with a conflict, we react the same way we did when we lived in the jungle and some big animal jumped out at us. We want to deal with the threat, either by fighting or fleeing.

Weve all experienced this when theres conflict — you can feel the same old jungle fight-or-flight reaction. Your blood pressure goes up. Your heart rate accelerates. You may actually go pale — thats the body shutting down circulation to the surface to send more blood to the muscles youll need to fight or run. Theres adrenaline released into your system and you may feel your knees shaking. Youre ready for anything.

But if the threat is your job or your boss or your co-workers or the way youre supposed to do your job, then you cant fight and you cant run away — not if you need to keep your job. Not if you have a mortgage or a family or a career you want to build.

So you keep it all bottled up inside.

You feel awful. Your stomach is upset, you cant eat or you eat all the time. You cant relax. Youre crabby and miserable at home. You cant sleep properly and youre tired all the time. Bottling it up, day after day, is very hard on the body and the mind. It wears you down and wears you out. Its killing you one bad day at a time.

And of course, one thing builds on another. Stress is cumulative. Your stress at work puts stress on your home life, and thats really bad for your relationships. Which means more stress and fewer resources for dealing with it.

And this leads directly to lost-time claims.

Consider back pain, its still one of the biggest areas of lost-time cost. And almost everyone — 80 per cent of the population, I believe — has one or more episodes of back pain in their lives. Stress, all by itself, can cause back problems — the continuous tension and inability to relax are factors. And once you do have a back problem, the stressful environment will make it worse.

But perhaps the biggest factor in lost-time cost is simply that if you hate your job, if you cant stand to be there, you might think about taking a few weeks off when you do get a sore back. The system will support you — all you have to do is bend over once on the job, and that back pain qualifies as work-related.

But theres another factor, too. If you think youve been treated unfairly, if you feel that the employer doesnt care and, indeed, if you think the employer has effectively violated the implicit employment contract by the way its treated you, you are not going to feel any great loyalty or be in any big hurry to get back to work.


I think all the experts are starting to agree that there are two broad situations that are at the core of destructive stress. The first is “high demand — low control”. Think of nurses in the emergency department — an endless line of sick people who need care, not-so-sick people who demand care, too few doctors, too few nurses, too few beds and not enough time. Those nurses face huge demand — day after day, shift after shift — and have very little control. If that doesnt burn you out in a few years, I dont know what will.

The second is “high demand — low reward”. And remember, “reward” doesnt just mean money — it means things like satisfaction, respect and so on. Its the conflict between how you know things ought to be with how they really are. And if you cant change how things are, if you have no control, you never have a chance to get that feeling of satisfaction and you get more and more frustrated.

Like I said, most people want to do a good job, they want to accomplish things and, yes, they want the satisfaction and recognition of a good job well done. But how often, when you know what needs to be done, are you told, “No, you cant do that”? So youre prevented from succeeding and youre prevented from earning the satisfaction that should be the rewarding part of the job.

The stress we feel is a result of the interplay between a person and the environment. So there are environmental factors and personal factors. Or, to put it another way, different people will react to a stressful environment in different ways. Not everyone is affected — for some people, the stressors roll off their backs like water off the proverbial duck. Some people have developed coping mechanisms — some good, some not so good. Other people have such strong psychological resources, or family and peer-group support that they can cope better than others.

But, despite the variations, I think everyone is susceptible to some level of stress, particularly when they have other, non-work stressors in their lives. And I think its the more highly motivated people who are the most likely to be affected.

There are a lot of bad coping mechanisms. One of them consists of not giving a darn. Picture the stereotype of the worn-out civil servant behind a wicket who lets you stand in line for 15 minutes and then closes for lunch when its your turn. He doesnt give a darn. Hes on a personal work-to-rule campaign. Big picture, Id say thats how hes learned to cope with stress in a crazy world — by giving up and giving in.

Other people go on sick leave or develop a bad back or just seem to have a series of health problems one after the other.

Other people start to drink too much. Or abuse drugs.

Some people with too much stress quit their jobs — or get fired. But all those things tend to get lost in the shuffle. These peoples lives are in ruins and its hard to extract the work-related problems from the life-related problems and say for sure what caused what.

And then there are the catastrophes. Think of the shootings at Concordia University, or at OC Transpo. What both these cases have in common is that the shooters were subject to years of unfair treatment and intense, unrelieved stress. That fact in no way even begins to excuse what happened, but we do have to recognize that both the shooters had legitimate and long-standing grievances that their workplaces refused to address. It was a breakthrough when the coroners jury on the OC Transpo case devoted 16 of its recommendations to the workplace harassment that they felt led up to the tragedy.


But its important to keep in mind that stress, all by itself, is not always a bad thing.

I think stress is like cholesterol — theres good stress and bad stress. Its not just a tough day, difficult challenge, coping with a crazy world. No problem, we can handle lots of that. In fact, some of the toughest days we have at work are the best ones. Just because theres pressure and hard work, that doesnt make it bad stress.

The key is whether or not you accomplish anything useful and get any satisfaction out of it. Almost everyone, deep down and regardless of what they may tell you, really wants to do a good job, to be useful and valued and respected. If you work hard and you get the job done, that can be very, very satisfying. Thats sort of the opposite of the kind of stress were talking about. You come home tired, but feeling that warm glow of wellness that comes with a tough job well done. You have an appetite, youre cheerful and happy, you sleep well and youre ready to take on the world again tomorrow. Stress and hard work are not the same thing at all.


All of this
raises at least one obvious question in the minds of sceptics: If stress is the root cause of so many lost-time injuries, how come we never heard of them 15 or 20 years ago? Why now all of a sudden?

Thats a tough one, and I dont have a definitive answer. But I can suggest two possible explanations.

First, nobody ever heard of smoking-related cancer in the 1950s. It just wasnt known that one could lead to the other. People smoked, some of them died of lung cancer and nobody made the connection. Some of the same sort of thing may be at work here — that people had these problems, but just didnt report them, couldnt report them because they just werent recognized. They worked through it or they fell off the radar screen.

Second, the kind of stress were talking about has its roots in conflict and ambiguity — often the conflict over roles and what is expected.

Thirty or 40 years ago, there was perhaps a little less ambiguity. It was your job to assemble widgets in exactly the way the employer wanted. It didnt have to make sense and you didnt expect it to. If it was dumb, you shrugged your shoulders and forgot about it at 5 p.m. on the dot.

Nowadays we have much greater expectations from our jobs.


What all this has boiled down to can be summed up pretty simply. If people really, really hate their jobs, they will jump at any chance to be off work. If people who hate their jobs are off in comp, they will do everything they can to stay off as long as possible. If people feel they have been unfairly treated by the employer, they will feel that they are entitled to do whatever it takes to redress the balance. And if people are unhappy, worn out and continually frustrated, they will be more likely to ignore procedures, to cut corners on their instructions, to not pay attention to training, to not cooperate with any kind of safety effort.

What can be done about it?

That should be fairly obvious, too. There are some things that we all need from our jobs. I suppose there are different mays of enumerating those things, and different people will come up with different lists of basic requirements. But heres one list of six things that people need from their jobs.

1. People need clarity of end result. We need to know what we are working toward. It doesnt really matter what that is, since every job has value, but we have to know what the overall goal of the work is all about. Because, after all, how can you do a good job and feel any sense of accomplishment if you dont know what the end result is supposed to be?

2. People need clarity of role. We need to know what out part is in the big picture. We need to be able to see where our contribution fits in and perhaps even to understand why our part of it is important. And we want to be able to own that part of the process, to identify it with ourselves and, untimately, to be able to say, “I did that.”

3. Belief in the value of the work. We need to know why what we are doing needs to be done. We have to feel that it is useful somehow, that it is making a contribution to making the world a better place. We do not want to think that the thing we work at is pointless or useless — lest we start to think that we, ourselves, are pointless and useless.

4. Respect of the individual. Each one of us needs to be treated with respect. We need the opportunity to earn that respect, to have other people recognize the value of our contribution. In fact, we cant do a good job without respect because, without it, how would anyone know if we were doing well or not?

5. Freedom to arrange the work. We all need to be able to control the way the work is done to the greatest degree possible. We need to be able to tailor the work to our own way of doing things, to arrange the work in the way that is most efficient for us, to rr-arrange it to suit us — and, ultimately to improve the way it is done, to personalize it and to own it.

6. Finally, we need the ability to make the decisions about how the work is done. We need that freedom to decide. We need to have the mental part of the job intergrated with the physical part of the job. We who are doing the job need to be able to decide how it is done.

These six things form a chain. You cant have five of them without the other one. You need all six, since each is dependent on the others.

Make sure people have those six things — really have them, not some program of pretending to be them — and I guarantee you that your lost time rates will go down spectacularly. Almost as spectacularly as things like productivity and quality go up at the same time.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories