Friday, March 12, 1999
2:15 pm - 3:30 pm
Overwork: Cause and Consequences
Anne S. Kasper, Ph.D., Symposium Chair
SPSSI Scientist in the Public Interest
Many individuals complain about overwork, loosely defined as the condition of too many responsibilities and obligations with too few hours in the day to complete them. Numerous behavioral and social scientists are observers and researchers of this troubling malaise. Overwork has a range of consequences for individuals, families, and society at large. Stress, and its psychological and physical health manifestations, is one consequence most of us are aware of. Others include work and family conflict or spillover between the two, loss of productivity and pleasure at work, reduced quality of life, and lack of leisure time pursuits. Some observers point to friction in interpersonal dynamics, a general lack of civility, reduced volunteerism, declines in the well-being of communities, and increases in crime to be due, in part, to overwork.
This symposium will address the causes and consequences of overwork as well as review some of the possible solutions to the widespread phenomenon of overwork in our workplaces, homes, and communities. Findings from a research workshop on overwork will be presented. Presenters will discuss the historical background that has produced a time famine and the evidence that hours of work have actually increased in recent years and why. During the 19th and early 20th centuries generations of workers struggled to and succeeded in achieving shorter work hours with the intention of enjoying the fruits of their labors. However, during this century work became more highly valued than leisure for its ability to provide "the good life" of consumer goods and services. According to a Louis Harris poll, today the work week has increased by 15% since 1973 and leisure time has decreased by 37%. A recent 1998 study by the Families and Work Institute demonstrates that Americans are working hard, with 13% holding second jobs and 70% of parents saying they do not have enough time with their children. A 1997 U.S. News/Bozell Worldwide poll reported that 49% of Americans believe too much importance is given to work and not enough to time away from work.
Other presenters will address the effects of long hours at the workplace and the spillover to personal and family life of the expectation and seeming necessity of our commitment to work. In his 1997 presidential address, the president of the American Public Health Association stated that because so many parents are now working two or more jobs, more childhood public health problems have been a direct result of overwork. A 1996 report by the U.S. Department of Education states that family involvement is more important to the success of students than family income or the level of education of parents. Psychologists will present their research on the effects of overwork on individuals and families that can result in burnout and social withdrawal. Another psychologist will present findings from research on parental leave, particularly the findings that women who feel compelled to take shorter maternity leave face more stress and are at risk for depression.
The stress of overwork may have multiple consequences, including such recent phenomena as "road rage." Road rage, often characterized as aggressive, hostile driving, has been suggested as a possible outcome of the time deficit faced by so many individuals. Two psychologists will present their data on road rage from a study of 260 communications workers in which job and home stressors were measured and their relationship with driving characteristics determined.
Some innovative solutions beyond the now-familiar family responsive policies such as flextime, job sharing, compressed work weeks, telecommuting, and corporate child care or the often unwelcome growth of part-time, contingent, and low-wage service work will be presented. Some observers challenge our current assumptions about the preeminence of work and are calling for a "dual agenda" whereby changes in the organization of work must begin from the perspective of the individual's personal life and the importance of integrating work with life beyond work. Others suggest more immediate practical solutions such as mitigating the difficulties in managing multiple roles by reducing certain forms of stress associated with specific roles, such as an income replacement policy for women taking maternity leave. Still others envision reductions in underemployment and the growth of part time and contingent work if many workers forego overtime, creating more full time jobs for those who want them and enabling employers to maintain a fully functioning workplace.
The Historical Origins of the Time Famine
Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, Ph.D. The University of Iowa
Recently there have been strong indications that work-time is expanding. According to recent studies, the average American works 20% more today than in 1973 (up from 40.6 hours to 48.8 hours) and has 32% less free time per week (down from 17.7 hours per week to 8.5).
Many economists welcomed this news. But the idea that "the more work, the better", is hardly a recent phenomenon--the idea has been around since the New Deal. The surprise is that there was a time not long ago when such news would have been seen by most as a retrogression--a time when most Americans saw human progress in continual work reduction, not continual work creation.
As historians have recently reminded us, work steadily decreased in America for over a century before World War II. The movement began in the early 19th century when workers saw liberty and progress in the expansion of free-time struggling for one hundred years to cut their work time by half. Articulate Americans believed work and material progress were means to higher ends-providing time for better things.
Generations of Americans shared this view and looked forward to the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor." In the early 1930' people such as George Bernard Shaw and John Maynard Keynes concluded that work would continue its decline- that the two hour work day would certainly come before the end of this century.
But work hours stabilized at around forty a week for more than fifty years and now appear to be lengthening. Instead of viewing progress as transcending work, necessity, and economic concerns, Americans now tend to view work as an end in itself; the ultimate measure of progress and definition of prosperity--the more of it the better. But why?
The possibility of the gradual reduction of human labor to its lowest terms force an increasingly secular people to confront traditional religious questions such as "what is worth doing for its own sake?" Something like a Theology of Work has ensued; Americans now tend to answer traditional religious questions (Who am I? Where am I going?) in terms of work instead of formal religions.
The results of "work itself" and the expectation of ever higher levels of consumption and work are easy to see. Overwork, declining families and neighborhoods starved for their members' time, neglected children, a collapse of free activities, and an emptying of the places of freedom-front porches, parks, etc.
The Catholic theologian Joseph Pieper pointed to a "spiral of seriousness" forming in this century; a whirlpool of work engulfing more and more of life. Religion, the life of the mind, liberal arts, and even amusement, play and leisure are transformed into work and sucked into the vortex.
Lightness, spontaneity, exuberance, and joy are drowned. The result is an age of hyper-seriousness; what Pieper called "the world of total work."
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, 109 FH, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52245 USA--Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt@uiowa.edu
Road Rage or Road Benefits? Relationships with Demographics, Home and Work Variables
Barbara Curbow, Ph.D. and Joan M. Griffin, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
Using data from an extensive study of work and home stress in a sample of 218 female communications workers, two commute scales were developed. The first, a 3-item scale with an alpha of .77, measured behaviors often associated with the construct of road range: "I drive aggressively during my commute," "While I'm commuting, I take out my frustrations from behind the wheel of my car," and "During my commute, I yell or gesture at other drivers." The second scale, which was comprised of 2 items and had an alpha of .63, measured constructive use of commute time: "I use my commute to think through my problems," and "I try to use my commute to plan my day." The two scales were not correlated with each other (r=.04, ns). All items were rated on the 5 response options of rarely, sometimes, often, usually, and always. Participants reported responses of "sometimes" or more frequently for the road rage items at relatively high levels: driving aggressively (56.1%), taking frustrations out (25.2%), and yelling and gesturing (40.9%).
Using multiple regression with a backwards solution, a wide array of demographic and psychosocial variables, work stressors, work control, and work resource variables, and home stressors, home control, and home resource variables were investigated for their relationships with negative and positive commute behaviors. Road rage was associated (R2= .26, F= 8.03, p< .0001) with being younger, married, and without children, and having a higher body mass index, higher levels of depression, lower home rewards, and lower home support. Additionally, the combination of high home responsibilities and low home rewards was significant. Road benefits was associated (R2= .13, F= 6.14, p< .0001) with being white, having low levels of depression, having low levels of emotional labor at work and having high levels of support at home.
These findings suggest that it is the emotional climates of family and work life that influence commute behaviors. Road rage appears to be associated with having an "empty" emotional home life in which rewards and support are low. Of interest, the significant interaction term for home responsibilities and home rewards suggests that the effects of high home demands (responsibilities) is moderated by the level of rewards attained from the work, with high responsibilities and low rewards leading to poorer outcomes. Conversely, road benefit was associated with a positive emotional climate at work and home. Experiencing high levels of emotional labor within customer interactions has been viewed as a significant workplace stressor in customer service occupations. It appears that high levels of emotional labor may impede workers from being able to make positive use of commute time.
Maternity Leave, Women, and Overwork: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Janet Shibley Hyde, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin--Madison
The Wisconsin Maternity Leave and Health (WMLH) Project, a longitudinal study of 570 women, their husbands, and children, collected data at 4 times: the 5th month of pregnancy (T1); 1 month postpartum (T2); 4 months postpartum (T3); and 12 months after the birth (T4). In this paper I consider both short maternity leave and long work hours as possible sources of overwork and psychological distress for women.
The data indicate that short maternity leave (6 weeks or less) is a risk factor that, when combined with another risk factor (marital concerns) is associated with increases in women's depression at 4 months postpartum, although this effect disappears by 12 months postpartum. Short leave is also associated with higher levels of maternal negative affect and behavior when interacting with the infant at T3. In terms of marital outcomes, short leave is associated with dissatisfaction with the division of household labor and interacts with dissatisfaction with child care arrangements in predicting marital dissatisfaction; women who are dissatisfied with their child care arrangements and took a short leave report the most marital dissatisfaction.
Work hours are not associated with depressive symptoms but they are associated with anxiety at 4 months postpartum; women employed full time (32 or more hrs/wk) show more anxiety than women employed part time or homemakers. This effect disappears at 12 months postpartum. Work hours are not significantly associated with the quality of the couple's sexual relationship. Work hours are not associated with the quality of mother-infant interactions. Our analyses show consistently that work-role quality is a far better predictor of psychological distress than the numbers of hours.
Our findings point to the importance of going beyond a definition of overwork that relies solely on the number of work hours, to include work-role quality. Moreover, the number of hours that constitutes overwork must be contextualized in terms of the individual's life circumstances. For example, 40 hr/wk of paid work probably does not constitute overwork for a single woman with no children, but it may for a woman who had a baby 4 months ago.
Care must also be taken in conceptualizing high work hours as an inevitable stressor. The enhancement hypothesis points to the benefits of employment and multiple roles for women and the data from our study provide evidence for this hypothesis.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Janet Shibley Hyde, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, 1202 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI 53706
Working Too Hard: A Mismatch Model of Burnout
Christina Maslach, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Organizations have been undergoing major changes as a result of shifting economic, social and political realities. The impact of many of these changes, such as downsizing, has been to require more work from fewer people in less time with fewer resources -- in other words, to shift workload from one that is sustainable to one that is not. When the problem is framed in terms of workload, possible solutions focus on how to change such workload dimensions as number of hours, quantity and quality of tasks, or workbreaks.
An alternative framework for this issue is a new model of job burnout, which focuses on the match, or mismatch, between the worker and the workplace. It builds on prior theories of job-person fit, but its unique contribution is the specification of six areas in which this match or mismatch can take place: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.
Overload represents a mismatch within the workload domain, but the other domains may be of equal, or even more, importance in combination with workload. For example, people may not experience as much stress from long hours of work if the job fulfills meaningful values, or if they have sufficient control over what they do, or if they are receiving good recognition for their accomplishments. On the other hand, if there is a great deal of conflict with colleagues, or if there is a lot of inequity or favoritism in the organization, then the key sources of stress, and the subsequent negative spillover into family life, lie not in workload per se, but in those domains that make the job so frustrating and unpleasant. The meaning of overload is better understood in terms of its relation to matches or mismatches in the other five domains, rather than in isolation from them.
Thus, the mismatch model of burnout argues that there are multiple domains of worklife which could lead to working too hard and experiencing burnout, and therefore multiple domains for potential interventions. For example, efforts to handle problems of value conflict or injustice at work may have just as much positive effect on experienced workload as efforts to change working hours. Another potential value of the model is that it could be applied to issues of family-person fit, as well as job-person fit. As such, it may provide a more productive way of understanding the impact of job overload on family life.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Christina Maslach, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720-1650, USA
Workload, Stress, and Risks for Injury in Hazardous Work Environments: Symposium
Ted Scharf, Ph.D., NIOSH (chair)*; Pam Kidd, R.N., Ph.D., Henry P. Cole, Ed.D., Univ. of Kentucky; and William Wiehagen, M.S., NIOSH.
Presenters: Pam Kidd, R.N., Ph.D., Univ. of Kentucky; Kathleen M. Kowalski, Ph.D., NIOSH; G.T. Lineberry, Ph.D., Univ. of Kentucky; Robyn Gershon, MHS, DrPH., Johns Hopkins Univ.; Ted Scharf presenting for Lorann Stallones, Ph.D., Colorado State Univ. Discussant: Daniel Stokols, Ph.D., Univ. of California, Irvine.
Summary: Heavy workload has been associated with increased stress, fatigue, and risks for injury in a variety of hazardous work environments, including construction, mining, health care, and farming. Often workers will select risky shortcuts over safe work practices if the safer practices are perceived to require additional time or to reduce productivity. Recent findings in these four very different hazardous industries are beginning to identify common issues and similar problems experienced by these workers. The purpose of this symposium is to explore these commonalities and to identify intervention pathways for reducing environmental hazards and promoting safe work practices among these workers.
The NIOSH - University of Kentucky (UK) model of farm workload, stress, and risks for injury was presented at the 1995 APA/NIOSH meeting based solely on qualitative analyses of farmer focus groups. Recent evidence from small construction companies, underground and open-pit mines, hospitals and other health-care settings, and family farms (including both qualitative and quantitative data) provide additional support for this model. The NIOSH-UK model is introduced as a collection of research and intervention hypotheses to be tested. The main pathways of interest concern the complex relationship between workload, decision-making, safe work practices, and future improvements to eliminate hazards or to reduce or control the workload. Following a brief introduction to the model, presenters describe their findings with respect to this model. Please refer to individual paper abstracts.
1. Application of the NIOSH-UK Stress and Injury Model to the Construction Industry.
2. Learning from Research and the Experience of Mine Workers: An Approach for Integrating Safety with Efficiency.
3. The Relationship Between Safety Climate, Injuries, and Exposures in Health Care Workers.
4. Workload, Decision-Making, and Safe Work Practices on Colorado Family Farms.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Ted Scharf, Ph.D., NIOSH, ms/C-24; 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226, USA; firstname.lastname@example.org
Application of the NIOSH-UK Stress & Injury Model to the Construction Industry
Pam Kidd,* R.N.,Ph.D., Mark Parshall, R.N., M.S.N., Tim Struttmann, M.S.P.H., and Susan Wojcik, M.S., University of Kentucky, Lexington
The purpose of this study is to test the efficacy of narrative simulations in creating and sustaining a change in safety practices. Six simulations (three targeting fall prevention and three targeting back injury prevention) are based on findings from a series of focus groups of owners, supervisors, and workers in small construction companies (no more than ten employees).
The interview guide for the focus groups was based on the NIOSH-UK Stress and Injury Model. Stressors in the work environment were associated with judgments that experience and skill were sufficient to mitigate the risk of injury. Work stressors were also associated with decision-making that valued productivity to the detriment of safety performance. These work environment stressors include: 1) competition with larger outfits for jobs and workers; 2) overbooking work in relation to quality and quantity of competent help; and 3) delays due to weather and site conditions (e.g. mud, clutter), or to scheduling around the work of other contractors.
Judgment and decision-making factors associated with inadequate safety performance include: 1) being in a hurry; 2) not realistically sizing up hazards or job and personnel requirements; 3) misusing or not setting up equipment properly; and 4) various lapses of work practices (e.g. not taking time to use protective gear or to move clutter out of the way, even when either could have been done easily).
The narrative simulations situate these stressors and responses in work environments of sufficient generality to apply across trades. As participants select options in response to dilemmas within the simulation, they receive immediate feedback about their choices and likely consequences. Economic, personal, and work unit ramifications of injury are emphasized in the feedback.
Companies are randomly assigned to a control or treatment group. Participants complete self-report measures of safety attitudes, self-efficacy pertaining to safety, and safety climate. These measures are administered before, immediately after, and 3-4 months post-intervention. The delayed post-test incorporates both concurrent and retrospective pre-test items. Participants in control group companies complete a modified version of the delayed post-test measures. Workers' compensation claims data are also compared between treatment and control companies. Preliminary analyses from the study will be presented.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Pam Kidd, R.N.,Ph.D., Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, Suite #202, 333 Waller Ave., University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40536, USA; email@example.com
Learning from Research and the Experience of Mine Workers: An Approach For Integrating Safety With Efficiency
Kathleen M. Kowalski,* Ph.D., NIOSH; G.T. Lineberry,* Ph.D., Univ. of Kentucky; and William J. Wiehagen, M.S., NIOSH
This research suggests a shift in thinking about safety. It attempts to explore practical ways to integrate safety with routine job demands during the performance of high risk tasks. This effort is founded on a simple notion - learning from a veteran work force and using that knowledge to better integrate safety with production. It seeks to enhance the entire socio-technical system within the mining industry. What is learned can be then reinvested into a variety of management and worker-driven interventions that are focused on solving specific work-related problems, especially as these problems relate to: 1) the performance of work crews, and 2) the skills involved in hazard recognition.
Work Crew Performance Model (WCPM): The lack of adherence to written job procedures is oftentimes cited or implied as a contributing factor to lost-time injuries. WCPM seeks to define performance variability within similar tasks of an underground work crew and to relate observed variability to a cost consequence. These observations can be useful in helping to better define (via visual detection) critical components of jobs that can carry high (social and economic) cost consequences to the individual, the work crew, and the mining organization. It was found that observed adherence to safe and proficient job procedures matches well with the consensus profiles (measured through a nominal group technique) with mining personnel. It was also found that experienced operators consistently outperformed less experienced, incidental operators in major task groups.
Hazard Recognition Skills: Difficulty in recognizing a hazard in the work environment results in the inability to take corrective action to eliminate or to avoid the hazard. This hazard recognition study of underground coal is based on a military training concept of presenting the hazard within a more realistic context (i.e. perceptually degraded). This method of training focuses on the sharing of information on hazard identification and perceived risk in the environment by work crew members. Miners from three states who were trained with the degraded stimuli had a significantly higher identification rate in subsequent tests of hazard recognition. Overall, degraded training classes can contribute to safer, more consistent performance in the perception and consequent response to hazards. These concepts have been expanded and applied to underground coal, underground limestone, and most recently, in the identification of hazards related to construction, maintenance and repair activities.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: William Wiehagen, M.S., Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, NIOSH, Mining Injury Prevention Branch, Cochrans Mill Road, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236, USA; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Relationship Between Safety Climate, Injuries, And Exposures In Health Care Workers
Robyn Gershon,* M.H.S., Dr.P.H., Christine Karkashian, M.A., Johns Hopkins Univ.; Jim Grosch, Ph.D., and Linda Martin, Ph.D., NIOSH
Safety climate has been found to be a significant correlate of safe work practices in the health care environment. Studies of both hospital-based and non-hospital health care workers have consistently found highly significant associations between workers' perception of the safety climate in their work place and their self-reported levels of compliance with safe work practices. This is an important finding because many work place exposures to bloodborne pathogens such as HIV, HBV, and HCV could be prevented through improved employee compliance. Improvements in safety climate may therefore help to reduce that risk.
Recently we examined subfactors of the safety climate construct in order to identify specific aspects of safety climate that are most strongly correlated with safety behaviors. Based on our findings, it will be possible to readily assess employees' perception of safety climate and equally important, provide direction for targeted interventions.
The presentation will conclude with results of a large scale intervention study which was designed to improve safety climate in an acute care, 1000 bed urban hospital. Safety climate was defined by six subscales: 1) demonstrable management support for safety programs, 2) the absence of workplace barriers to safe work practices, 3) cleanliness and orderliness of the work site, 4) minimal conflict and good communication among staff members, 5) frequent safety-related feedback/training by supervisors, and 6) availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). Of these six specific dimensions of safety climate, three were significantly related to compliance with safe work practices (demonstrable management support for safety programs, absence of workplace barriers to safe work practices, and cleanliness/orderliness of the work site, p<.05). Additionally, two of the safety climate aspects were also related to workplace exposures, (demonstrable management support for safety programs, and frequent safety-related feedback/training, p<.05). The single most important aspect of safety climate with respect to both compliance and exposure was demonstrable management support for safety.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Robyn Gershon, M.H.S., Dr.P.H., School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Univ., 615 North Wolfe St., Room 8503, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA; email@example.com
Workload, Decision-Making, and Safe Work Practices On Colorado Family Farms
Lorann Stallones, Ph.D., Colorado State Univ.; Ted Scharf,* Ph.D., NIOSH; Pam Kidd, R.N., Ph.D., Univ. of Kentucky; and Joyce Salg, Ph.D., NIOSH.
Research conducted through the NIOSH Farm Family Health and Hazard Surveillance Program (FFHHS) has established a strong association between workload, stress, and risks of injury on family farms. The NIOSH - University of Kentucky model of farm workload, stress, and injury specifies a few key pathways through which workload demands, task decisions, stress, fatigue, and work practices may exacerbate or reduce risks for injury on the farm. These pathways also represent access points for interventions to prevent illness and injury by planning and controlling the organization of the farm work.
Quantitative data from the Colorado FFHHS study are used to test these model pathways empirically. The Colorado FFHHS is one of six comprehensive state surveys of farm families conducted in the U.S. in the 1990's. While this study was not designed to test the NIOSH - UK model directly, measures of farm hazards, workload, safe work practices, stress, illness, and injury history are available in the data set. The causal pathways in the model will be described and the structural equation results will be reported.
The presentation will conclude with a discussion and comparison of the similarities and differences of the findings from the qualitative analyses of the Kentucky data and from the structural analyses of the Colorado data. In particular, attention will focus on the pathways related to Decision-making, Safety Performance, and changes to the farm Work Environment at a future time. These pathways appear to offer the most effective opportunities for interventions to re-fashion the organization of work on the farm. Such interventions facilitate direct control over the workload planning and execution, by the principal owner-operator and by other farm workers.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Ted Scharf, Ph.D., NIOSH, ms/C-24; 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226, USA; firstname.lastname@example.org
Conducting Work Organization Interventions: An IRS, NIOSH, and NTEU Collaborative Model
Chairs: Lawrence M. Schleifer, Ed.D., CPE, Internal Revenue Service, Naomi Swanson, Ph.D., NIOSH; Presenters: Lawrence M. Schleifer, Ed.D., CPE, Mark Gray, NTEU, John P. Martin, J.D., Internal Revenue Service, Traci Galinsky, Ph.D., NIOSH
This symposium presents a collaborative model of work organization interventions undertaken by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The first presentation discusses the rationale for and role of work organization interventions in modernizing the IRS. An innovative collaborative model is described, consisting of an IRS-NIOSH Interagency Agreement and an IRS-NTEU partnership. The second presentation provides an NTEU perspective on the labor-management process in conducting work organization interventions at the IRS. The historical context for NTEU advocacy of and participation in work organization interventions at the IRS is described and the advantages of a collaborative labor-management "partnership" over the traditional collective bargaining process are discussed. The third presentation provides an IRS perspective on the labor-management process in conducting work organization interventions. The need for and evolution of an unconventional labor-management strategy as an alternative to collective bargaining is described. The process by which labor and management "buy-in" was obtained for the collaborative model also is discussed. The fourth presentation describes the findings of three NIOSH studies of rest break interventions among IRS data transcribers. The collaborative model emphasizes the importance of labor-management cooperation in conducting work organization interventions and the utility of an "empirical" approach to addressing workplace issues.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Lawrence M. Schleifer, Ed.D., CPE, National Safety and Health Team, MF:S:RE:FS, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20224
Modernizing the Internal Revenue Service: The Role of Work Organization Interventions
Lawrence M. Schleifer*, Ed.D., CPE, Internal Revenue Service, John P. Martin, J.D., Internal Revenue Service
The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employs over 100,000 workers in more than 800 locations nationwide and has an annual budget of over eight billion dollars. Over the past decade, the Service has undertaken a modernization program to replace antiquated equipment, install and integrate state-of-the art computer and telecommunications systems, and establish new organizational structures that meet taxpayer needs. The recent report by the IRS Customer Service Task Force provides a framework for reinventing service at the IRS. This report underscores a commitment to improving service to all taxpayers and to enhancing productivity through a quality work environment.
In the achievement of these goals, the Service has recognized the importance of effective work organization interventions. In 1991, a practical guide was developed for implementing work organization interventions, especially in large information technology systems, that realize substantial gains in productivity and quality and at the same time promote employee safety, health and satisfaction. Emphasis was given to the ergonomic and social-technical aspects of work systems and to the application of "best practices" that optimize the human-technology interface. A hallmark of the IRS work organization intervention process is the active participation of its employees and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
An important impetus for undertaking work organization interventions was a joint IRS-NTEU survey of 10,000 workers who use computers. Survey results indicated that musculoskeletal complaints in the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands were a common occurrence, particularly among data transcribers who were engaged in sustained, repetitive work processing tax returns. In addition, there were indications of increasing worker's compensation claims due to musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
These occupational health issues reinforced the need to undertake work organization interventions. In 1993, the IRS established a partnership with NTEU to evaluate the safety/health and productivity effects of alternative rest-break schedules among data transcribers. In 1994, the IRS and NIOSH entered into a three-year Interagency Agreement to conduct work organization interventions. The Interagency Agreement provided for NIOSH technical assistance in the evaluation of the safety/health benefits and productivity effects of work organization interventions and in the formulation of recommendations for management and administrative actions to implement prototype interventions in support of IRS modernization and related job/organizational changes.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Lawrence M. Schleifer, Ed.D., CPE, National Safety and Health Team, MF:S:RE:FS, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20224
The Labor-Management Process in Work Organization Intervention: A Union Perspective
Mark L. Gray, Assistant Director of Negotiations, National Treasury Employees Union
Historically, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) has taken great pride in its aggressive representation of federal employees and its willingness to both defend and expand employee rights in the workplace. In order to pursue such activities, NTEU has traditionally relied on the grievance procedure, the collective bargaining process, and on the courts. The Union has been, and continues to be, extremely successful in these activities. In the late 1980's, the NTEU began to look for better ways to address employees' needs in the workplace. At the same time, federal employees represented by NTEU began to voice their desire to be more involved in the workplace decision-making process. As a result, NTEU began to expand its traditional advocacy efforts by engaging in collaborative labor-management partnerships.
During the early 1990's, the labor-management partnership between NTEU and the IRS became a primary focus of attention and of commitment for both organizations. The IRS viewed such partnership efforts as a means of engaging its employees in its business decision-making process much earlier than had previously been the practice, i.e., prior to the implementation of such decisions. NTEU viewed such partnership efforts as a means of expanding its employee advocacy efforts and providing its members with a meaningful voice in corporate decisions. In essence, the collaborative labor-management partnership between the IRS and the NTEU met the business needs of the employer, the union that represents its employees, and the employees themselves.
The work organization intervention efforts between NIOSH, the IRS, and NTEU involving data entry operators at the IRS Service Centers in Austin, TX and Cincinnati, OH provide an excellent example of a collaborative labor-management partnership in action. Data entry operators perform critically important tasks in the IRS tax return processing work system. The job is labor intensive, stressful, and is typically performed in ergonomically-challenged work environments. Employee work performance and compensation levels are directly related to quantity and quality indicators as measured by the number of keystrokes per minute and the number of errors per document. This direct connection between compensation levels and work performance measures make it somewhat more difficult to focus adequate attention on other environmental factors that clearly have an impact on employee productivity as well. The work that was done by the IRS, NTEU, and NIOSH in a collaborative partnership at the Austin and Cincinnati Service Centers helped to document the direct connection between productivity and ergonomic and musculoskeletal issues.
Such an effort would have been difficult to sustain using the traditional collective bargaining process. This process is typically an "act and react" model of decision-making. The employer acts and the union reacts. Employee involvement is limited. This model does not provide the kind of real and engaged involvement that is desired and necessary to produce the best outcomes. Engaging in an ongoing, collaborative discussion of workplace issues, e.g., work/rest practices of data entry operators in IRS service centers, led to a much more engaged and productive examination of the issues of concern to the employees involved and to a much more productive outcome for both the employer and its employees.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Mary L. Gray, National Treasury Employees Union, 901 E Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20004
The Labor-Management Process in Work Organization Intervention: An IRS Perspective
John P. Martin, J.D., Internal Revenue Service, U.S., Larry Schleifer, EdD, Internal Revenue Service, U.S.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a Federal Sector Employer, processes hundreds of millions of tax returns yearly at its Service Centers. To accomplish this it employs a large population of employees engaged in jobs with high ergonomic demands, i.e., extensive data entry computer terminal work. Numerous musculoskeletal complaints and injuries bolstered by a dramatic increase in workers compensation complaints motivated the IRS to take a pro-active approach to identify and isolate the problems and hopefully minimize the negative impacts of the potential problems. Senior IRS management endorsed a Intervention which called for the evaluation of a "Supplemental rest break schedule" for impacted employees. However, in order to accomplish significant hurdles were needed to be overcome.
First, the employees identified for the intervention, enjoy the protection of the Federal Labor Management Relations Statute. This law affords these employees the right to be represented by a "bargaining agent" who itself enjoys certain rights to engage the IRS (to negotiate) over conditions of employment, specifically those contained in the intervention. The negotiation process at times is costly, time intensive and a desired result not always obtained.
Second, at the time, the IRS was experiencing indecision and skepticism regarding its internal efforts to study and/or resolve human resources problems. Thus, an outside independent and credible resource was needed if any degree of success was to be achieved. The NIOSH was identified. Independent discussions with NIOSH had identified a common interest in becoming involved in such an intervention.
Additionally, independent consideration was needed regarding the exclusive bargaining agent, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), an aggressive Federal Sector Labor union. NTEU prides itself a federal sector champion regarding issues of employee well being. Care would need to be paid to NTEU's political concerns around this issue. Almost contemporaneously with this initiative NTEU on a similar but unrelated issue asserted, its right to "bargaining to impasse." This sent clear signals that, NTEU if not approached with care and deliberation, could become a roadblock to this initiative not the catalyst as hoped.
Thus, a controlled evaluation, desired by management, would require an unconventional labor management strategy. A strategy which would; provide management the flexibility to develop and learn from the intervention, provide a vehicle to engage the union pro-actively while ensuring the Union's statutory and contractual rights, and take full advantage the "independence" and credibility of NIOSH.
An additional element influenced the design process, NIOSH�s reluctance to participate without a completely open and acceptable plan for both labor and management.
The labor management strategy mandated the parties create a working relationship based to a great degree on trust. The strategy would represent for NTEU a significant political challenge and would need to ensure that NTEU could deal with certain political "sensitivities."
The result, a "partnership" with complete tri-lateral involvement of all interested parties IRS/NTEU/NIOSH.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: John P. Martin, J.D., Office of Labor Relations, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20224, USA
Three Studies of Rest Break Interventions for IRS Data Transcribers
Traci L. Galinsky, Ph.D., Naomi G. Swanson, Ph.D., Steven L. Sauter, Ph.D., Joseph J. Hurrell, Ph. D., National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Lawrence M. Schleifer, Ed.D., John P. Martin, Richard Sella, Internal Revenue Service, and Mark Gray, National Treasury Employees Union
This presentation describes three studies evaluating the effectiveness of a work-rest intervention for reducing musculoskeletal discomfort, eyestrain, and fatigue in data transcribers at the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Their jobs entail keying data from paper tax forms into a computer system. In each study, effects of the conventional IRS rest break schedule were compared with effects of a schedule containing supplementary rest breaks. The conventional schedule included two 15-minute breaks per shift -- one in the middle of the first half of the shift and one in the middle of the second half of the shift. The supplementary schedule included the same two 15-minute breaks, and also included 5-minute hourly breaks throughout the work shift. The first study was conducted in 1994 at the IRS Document Processing Center in Austin, TX. A repeated measures design was employed in which workers alternated between the conventional schedule and the supplementary schedule in 4-week intervals. Results, based on data from 42 workers, indicated that the 5-minute hourly rest breaks provided under the supplementary schedule were effective in reducing musculoskeletal discomfort and eyestrain. Data entry performance did not differ significantly from that observed under the conventional schedule. The second study was conducted at the Cincinnati, OH Document Processing Center in 1995 to determine if the results of the first study were replicable at a different worksite. The outcome, based on data from 51 participants, was consistent with that of the first study. Once again, supplementary rest breaks led to reduced symptoms without impairing performance. The third study, conducted in 1996, comprised a trial implementation of supplementary rest breaks for all transcribers at the San Antonio, TX Document Processing Center. Austin transcribers remaining on the conventional schedule served as a control group. Results, based on data from 176 workers, confirmed the findings of the first two studies. Musculoskeletal discomfort, eyestrain, and negative mood decreased under the supplementary rest break schedule in San Antonio, but not in the Austin control group who remained under the conventional schedule. Performance did not differ between the two worksites. It was concluded that the pattern of work-rest provided under the supplementary schedule in these studies reliably confers positive effects on worker comfort without compromising worker performance.
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Traci L. Galinsky, Ph.D., National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, MS C-24, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226