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Job’s Worth

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

“Is there no inspiration in labor? Must the man who works go on forever in a deadly routine, fall into the habit of mechanical nothingness, and reap the reward of only so much drudgery and so much pay? I think not. The times demand an industrial prophet who will lift industry off from its rusted, medieval hinges and put pure human interest, and simple, free-spirited life into modern workmanship” McChesney, 1917I

In the Journal of Applied Psychology’s  first edition, G. G. McChesney made this elegant call to more seriously design work that preserves human character. McChesney went on to argue that “every man should be more of a man, a better man, for having worked a day,” and that “deterioration of men deteriorates profits”. Thus, right from the very beginning we have been considering what type of work is best for organizations and those who work in them.

The interest in the question of what makes ‘good’ work, largely arose because of the specialized and simplified jobs that became prevalent during the Industrial Revolution, when machine-operated work in large factories replaced small, craft-based industries. Around mid 1700 the concept of division of labour emerged, something which Taylor took further with the precept of scientific management, in which tasks were broken down into simplified elements.

Time and motion study  complemented these simplification principles, with Henry Ford fully exploiting them by opening the first continuously moving automotive production line in 1913. The success of this mode of work organization was so great, that simplified or narrow and low autonomy jobs became the work design of choice in manufacturing and beyond. Simplified work designs still exist, as witnessed at contract manufacturer Foxconn, who have become (in)famous for the large-scale production of such products as the iPhone.

Years ago how we did our work was the decision of management and work design left to experts and OD specialists. As appreciation increases for the fact that most employees spend half their waking hours at work a and a lot of  see it as a struggle, or at least a bore, where looking forward to the weekend when they can do more meaningful things is their main motivation, there is understanding that we should harness peoples desires.  But what if employers could change that so that employees felt that the job itself was worthwhile? What if work was meaningful, left one satisfied, and through it, you felt that you were part of something bigger?

In my article last week, I reflected on what jobs had disappeared in the past few years but it isn’t just the jobs which are ceasing to exist but also how they are being changed. When I studied HR we learnt about job design and today this has an old fashioned ring to it as modern proactive employers look towards things like job crafting which allows employees to become involved in the design of work.

This is where job crafting comes in. Job crafting is about taking proactive steps and actions to redesign what we do at work, essentially changing tasks, relationships, and perceptions of our jobs (Berg et al., 2007). The main premise is that we can stay in the same role, getting more meaning out of our jobs simply by changing what we do and the ‘whole point’ behind it. It’s about creating or crafting a job that you can love. You still do your function but at the same time the work is more aligned with our strengths, motives, and passions. And the research shows that when this happens there is better performance, engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Crafting can take place in three ways – task crafting, relationship crafting, and/or cognitive crafting, referring to the ‘behaviours’ which employees can use to become ‘crafters’. Task crafting is about adding or dropping the responsibilities set out in your official job for instance, a chef may take it upon themselves to not just serve food but to create beautifully designed plates that enhance a customer’s dining experience. As another example, a bus driver might decide to give helpful sightseeing advice to tourists along his route.  In both instances, the purpose is to harness individual passions, knowledge and skills to give added value to the task – a win-win situation.

This type of crafting might also (or alternatively) involve changing the nature of certain responsibilities, or dedicating different amounts of time to what you currently do, while not affecting the quality or impact of what you’re hired to do – although probably improving it. Relationship crafting is how people reshape the type and nature of the interactions they have with others or changing up whom we work with on different tasks and communicate and engage with on a regular basis. A marketing manager might brainstorm with the firm’s app designer to talk and learn about the user interface, unlocking creativity benefits while crafting relationships, linking  departments and functions and increasing engagement for both.

Cognitive crafting is how people change their mindsets about the tasks they do. By changing perspectives on what we’re doing, we can find or create more meaning about what might otherwise be seen as ‘busy work’. Changing hotel bedsheets in this sense might be less about cleaning and more about making travellers’ journeys more comfortable and memorable. When you do this you may find an employee saying such things as “Technically, my job is putting in orders orders, but really I see it as providing our customers with an enjoyable experience, a positive service delivery, which is a lot more meaningful to me than entering numbers.

In my own work I went through a really busy period a few weeks back which saw me pushing 14 hour days and being under a lot of pressure.  At one stage my kids said to me sorry that you are having to work so hard, Dad, and stay at the office so late. I had to explain to them they must never feel sorry for me. I love what I do and I have such purpose in the job that I do that for me putting in the extra effort and dealing with the pressure is all part of it and I don’t mind it – for the most part I love it.

I guess I may be in the overall minority because I am in a wonderful opportunity to shape my environment and really make decisions about what I do and what I don’t do. The old  cliché of ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’ is being transformed into ‘create the job you love’.  Through one, two, or all of the above, job crafting proponents argue that we can redefine, re-imagine, and get more meaning out of what we spend so much time doing.  In this way it really could become ‘a labour of love’.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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