This week we are looking at the impact that technology is having and will have on people at work. We know that technology is an increasing part of how most people work, from email, to online collaborative tools to working from home, is technology making work better for people or worse? What aspects of technology might be making people’s lives more difficult at work and what might be making it better? Some people argue that the technology based workplace is a better place. Google are known for their efforts to create a workplace that technology professionals will find attractive:
Managers often have widely varying managerial styles and it is useful in understanding approaches to the quality of working life, to understand the different views that managers have of what working people are like or what their “human nature” is. Please complete the following questionnaire which analyses the way you are now or have recently been managed and how you prefer to be managed.
Douglas McGregor (1958) argued that there were two main beliefs that were reflected in the dominant approaches that most managers use, Theory X and Theory Y. He argued that managers adopting a theory X approach believed that those who worked for them were mainly lazy and required constant pressure to perform in their jobs. Managers adopting a theory Y approach believed that people sought self fulfilment in their work and so work could be designed and organised in ways that would better motivate people to perform well. Many writers since McGregor have sought to develop this approach further or to modify or criticize his approach. The importance of his work is that it highlighted that our approach to how work is designed and organised is based on what we believe about people. In our consideration of the impact of information technology on people at work we will wish to reflect on McGregor’s theory and how different applications of technology at work might reflect either theory X or theory Y.
We’ll begin in our understanding of the impact of information technology on people at work by looking at a study of the quality of working life in Europe and the factors that influence this. We’ll next look at the relationship between quality of working life and job performance – is it possible to improve the quality of people’s working lives and at the same time improve company performance? Next we will look at a study that considered the impact that the internet is having on organisational productivity – is the internet making organisations more or less productive?
Modern organisations have placed more emphasis on people working in teams and it is likely that you will frequently work in teams during your career. We will look at whether this is likely to increase the level of stress that you have in your job. What impact does IT at work have on women – are they affected differently than men and if so how? Understanding this will be important in how you behave as an employee or manager. Much has been made of the levels of stress that the constant pressure for IT professionals to update their skills creates. We’ll look at what might be done about this. Finally we’ll briefly consider the impact of IT on older people and people with disabilities – what has the internet meant for them and what might it mean in the future?
What influences quality of working life?
A recent study by Drobnic, Beham and Prag (2010) examined influences on how people perceived the quality of their working life in European countries. It found that there were six main factors that affected how people felt about their jobs. Security of employment was the first major factor. People who were in jobs that they felt were secure were more likely to express job satisfaction while people who were in insecure jobs were less likely to be satisfied. Pay was the second factor – if people felt that they were being well paid they were more likely to be happy than if they did not.
Overall people in more affluent countries had a stronger sense that they had a good quality of working life – people in poorer countries felt that their jobs were less satisfying. The amount of autonomy that people had on their jobs – the ability to choose when and how a job was completed was also important. More autonomy usually meant more satisfaction.
People were also concerned about their career prospects. Where these were greater, so too was there perception that their quality pf working life was higher. Finally their level of interest in the job that they were doing was also important. If they had a genuine interest in what they were doing this had a positive impact.
The study also looked at whether bad jobs would influence negative perceptions of work, more or less than good jobs (according to these factors) would influence positive perceptions of work. They found that a bad job would have more impact than a good job – people could be more dissatisfied with a bad job than positively satisfied by a good job. The approach to increasing a population’s overall job satisfaction would be to focus on improving bad jobs.
Are there factors that are designed to improve quality of working life that will also improve organisational performance?
Ramstad (2008) looked at whether there were factors that organisations could implement that would both improve employees’ quality of working life and improve company performance and found that there areas where this was possible. Overall. she found a relationship between efforts to improve quality of working life, specifically cooperation between management and staff, team like working methids, improvements in social relations, improvements in mental wellness and development of vocational skills and improvements in organisational performance.
Ramstad concluded that improvements in the quality of employees’ working lives could also lead to improvements in organisational performance. There is debate on the factors that will influence this but it is important to understand that there is some justification for the belief that it can be made to happen.
However, Ramstad also argued that the success that might be achieved here would be specific to the history of each organisation. The context that changes were made in would be important – there may be other factors that would influence whether quality of working life was improved, such as job security and pay. Instead we need to understand how a whole system of work organisation and management fits together and what the influence on this system will be when changes are made.
The following video considers the importance of a good work – life balance:
Does companies’ use of the internet result in higher productivity?
Sanchez et al (2006) conducted a study to look at the impact of the internet on companies’ productivity and identified five main areas that it was having an impact. The first area that they looked at was transaction costs. The internet allows companies to make purchases and sales much more inexpensively, frequently automating these transactions and eliminating the need for human activity in these processes resulting in significant productivity improvement.
The second area that they identified was in management efficiency, especially in relation to supply chain activity. Management activity to coordinate the relationships between customers and suppliers throughout supply chains has often been necessary to ensure efficient operation. The internet enables greater visibility of supply chain activity as data can more easily be shared between organisations, It also allows better communication at a distance, reducing the need for travel and speeding supply chain decision making – where issues exist they can be identified more quickly and acted on earlier.
The internet also has increased competition in product and service markets which has caused organisations to focus more on increasing their efficiency in order to remain competitive which has increased productivity.
Better marketing and product pricing has been possible due to the internet as it has increased access to market data and enabled companies to gain more knowledge on competitors and to better target their own marketing efforts. As a result, pricing has been made easier.
Overall, the internet has also increased customer choice by giving them access to more market information, increased convenience as shopping can be done directly from your computer and increased satisfaction due to the increased access to product information.
Sanchez et al (2006) argue that the internet has clearly increased company productivity. They also looked at what influenced companies’ success with the use of the internet and found that companies with more research and development and those with more information technology training were more successful. We do not yet know what impact this has had on the quality of working life. Studies will hopefully address this issue in the future.
Does teamwork increase job stress?
Teamwork is increasing in organisations today and we know that information technology makes it easier for people to work together, so we might anticipate that this will continue to feature in the future. There is a vigorous debate over whether this increases people`s stress levels.
Kalleberg, Nesheim and Olsen (2009) discuss the impact that teamworking has on the quality of working life. They define teamwork as any kind of decision making power for workers and cite evidence that there is a link between employee participation and the quality of their job and also between participation and job performance. They also point to disagreement over the impact that this has on `èmployee wellbeing.
Their discussion considers the positive and negative aspects of employee participation. They state that increases in work task autonomy (the ability to decide how and when to work) can increase employee control but may also increase accountability for results which may increase job stress. Increases in consultations with workers may mean that they have more influence to make work better while teamwork, while providing more social support may also mean that team members exert more pressure on each other to perform. It is important to consider the impact that technology may have here – will it make teamwork more or less stressful. Evidence does not yet exist here and this should be an important area for future research. Some recent research at the University of Sydney is discussed here:
What about women – is work different for women with IT?
It is often argued that technology has a different impact on women at work than men. Certainly, far less women occupy technology oriented jobs than men. Only 19 % of the world’s software workers are women. Part of the reason for this is that there is a poor supply base. Fewer women choose science and engineering programmes than men. This is recognised at the University of Waterloo and efforts are made to address it but we still see more men than women in these areas.
Another reason that there are less women in IT is that jobs in this field often have long hours and this is thought to be bad for family life. It is also thought that women lack female IT role models due to the lack of women and so lack roles that they can aspire to. Finally, there is some evidence that an IT “glass ceiling” may exist with men occupying most senior IT positions.
A study of the software industry in India (Ilavarasan, 2006) looked at the jobs of women here and compared them to men’s jobs as it has often been thought that women are disadvantaged in IT jobs. The study found that women performed similar tasks to men. They did not perform low skilled activities as compared to men and they had the same core job characteristics.
They also found that women did not feel marginalised in predominately male work teams and that they tended to work the same hours as men in their jobs. The study concluded that women were not disadvantaged in IT jobs. It would be reasonable to conclude from this that attracting more women into IT roles depends on addressing the issues that cause women to choose not to work in IT, rather than being concerned about their roles once they arrive.
The following video shows women in IT at NASA:
IT Skills Updating and Stress
An important area of impact of IT on people at work is rapidly changing nature of IT skills. As technologies develop and improve there is now significant pressure on IT workers to ensure that their skills remain up to date and valued by employers. The pace of change here is increasing and stress levels are thought to be increasing.
The skills needed are both general, in specific technologies and also specific to individual organisations, who have their own circumstances and applications. This may be resulting in the turnover of IT workers increasing – the amount of time they spend in a job may be decreasing as this pressure mounts and some choose to leave the IT skilled sector altogether.
It can be seen here that there are various approaches to this stress that can be taken to reduce its impact, not all of which will have a positive outcome and may result in employee burn out.
There are various approaches that are recommended for companies to cope with this such as allocating more time for employee training and research and recruiting employees who are more adaptable The article also discusses whether it would be useful to teach people strategies of how to cope with the pressure but there is some uncertainty as to its value – can people be taught to cope?
In addition to technical skills updating, it is important to recognise the value of communication skills for scientists and engineers:
What is the impact of information technology on older people?
There is some literature (Hernandez-Encuentra, Pousada and Gomez-Zuniga, 2009) that expresses concern about the impact that information technology will have on older people – will it mean that they become “disenfranchised” as social participation becomes more dependent on the internet.
There is some evidence that those older people who venture onto the internet find it to enhancing to their lives. It allows them to stay connected to the world and to interact with others – often difficult for those with mobility problems. The internet is also seen as an assistive technology in that it can help people maintain their independence in ways that were not previously possible, such as ordering groceries, shopping more generally, gaining knowledge and interacting with others on health issues etc.
While it appears clear that the internet can have a positive impact with older people we also know that there are hurdles to overcome for many who have negative views about it. Many fail to understand the value that the internet can have to them feeling that it is “not much use to me”. Others are nervous to use it because they lack experience an knowledge of computers – believing that they “can’t do it” or are “too old”. They also appear to have a low level of confidence in the reliability of the internet, believing that it is prone to outages and technology failure.
These issues highlight a need for training and support for older people on their internet usage which is likely to enhance their quality of life.
What about people with disabilities?
There is a concern that people with disabilities will be left behind by the internet and there is some evidence to support this (Dobransky and Hargittai, 2006). They point out that the potential of the internet for disabled people is great, improving their accessibility to interaction and functionality that they did not possess before.
Research shows that there are issues in disabled access to the internet. Disabled people are less likely to live in a house with a computer in it than able bodied people. They are less likely to use a computer and they are less likely to be online. This is all very worrying as there is the potential for a significant digital divide here.
The literature also shows that when the study is controlled for socio economic background, those with hearing and walking difficulties are not disadvantaged. This conclusion of the study also raises concern – it appears to suggest that disabled people’s access to the internet is restricted due to their socio economic status.
This week we have looked at the impact of the internet on people at work and also at some other groups that might traditionally have been thought to be affected due to their nature.
We began by examining the factors that are thought to contribute to quality of working life – what makes people lives at work satisfying and what causes people not to enjoy their jobs. We then looked at whether a concern for quality of working life would conflict with achieving good organisational performance and found that there is some evidence to suggest that these can be complimentary.
We then looked at the impact that the internet is having on corporate productivity and considered what this might mean for people’s jobs, in particular how team work might affect job stress and what impact IT might have here.
We also considered why women are less likely to take on IT related occupations and discussed a study from India that shows that women are treated equally in their IT jobs – they just are less likely to choose to work in this area. Action is needed to address the reasons for this.
Job related stress due to the rapidly changing pace of skills for IT workers was examined. This appears to be an increasing issue and we discussed strategies for individuals and organisations to deal with it.
The position of older and disabled people was our final focus, where we acknowledged that the internet could be beneficial but that action was needed to enable its full potential to be realised.
The articles referred to in this posting are available for University of Waterloo students to download from our learning management system UW-ACE. Copyright restrictions prevent me posting them here.
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