The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)
Industrial Psychology — The Use of Psychology in Business — Relations between Output and Work Technique. Selection of Operatives
The Use of Psychology in Business
Relations between Output and Work Technique. Selection of Operatives.
The following is the first of a series of articles upon Industrial Psychology, prepared specially for the N.Z Railways Magazine by Mr. W. S. Dale, M.A. An examination of this subject has been made by Mr. Dale to exhibit the extent to which the theory of modern industrial psychology has been applied to the working of the New Zealand Railways system.
The use of the word psychology has fallen into disrepute since it has become the universal term for all sorts of studies. Charlatans, seeking to impress a gullible public, speak glibly of the psychology of this, that or the next thing. As a natural outcome of such conditions the word has lost much of its true significance, as well as being held in some contempt, if not fear, by certain sections. The aim of these articles is to show the very close connection between psychology and industry indicating, with actual examples, just how the two are interdependent.
It should be remembered that psychology is, briefly, the science of the mind. This definition, however, does not prevent a consideration of the physical side of life. Most readers will agree that mind, as we understand it, cannot be separated from body. The functions of the “mind” in seeing, memorising, paying attention and so on, cannot be divorced, in a satisfactory manner, from the physiological aspect. The acceptance of such a view will, therefore, make it plain that, in considering certain industrial problems, account must be taken of fatigue, health, muscular co-ordination and similar factors. Finally it must be realised that we have not, as yet, satisfactorily solved many psychological problems. What we know of the subject is not final. Take fatigue as an instance. Many books have been written, much investigation has been undertaken, but we have not reached the stage when we can say “It is the end.” The most we can say is that, so far as we know, our investigations indicate certain conclusions. All over the world investigations are being carried on, the work is being reduced to a practical basis, real measurements are being made in factory and in workshop, and it is this body of knowledge which indicates the why and the wherefore of much of our industrial procedure.
Efficiency the test of successful Business.
Having thus shown, briefly, the need for knowledge of the subject, let us direct attention to industry. The aim of any business organisation is to provide the public with a commodity of some sort. It may be goods, or it may be advice which the business man supplies; it does not matter which it is as long as it is given in an efficient manner. The adaptation of certain psychological laboratory data to business has made it possible to attain the end desired in a more practical manner because it has indicated in clear-cut terms the necessity for considering the intermediate factor between originator and consumer, namely the employee. It does not in any way alter the aim, that is business alone, but it does indicate how the aim can be attained without a useless expenditure of bodily exertion—which hereafter we shall term energy.
The Analogy of the Typewriter.
Perhaps the most interesting example of the application is shown in the typewriter, in which the mode of learning demonstrates the relation of psychology to business.
Of course the language is not scientific; engineers and others dealing with pressure and weights realise at once that the pressure must be expressed in, say, foot-pounds or some other technical measure. At the same time, however, the facts, as stated, convey the basic ideas to a non-technical individual. Just at this point there is a further factor. Scientific research has developed the “minimum effort” machine, but is there any resultant return to the individual, unless definite training is given in pressing the keys? The answer is, “No.” So the human factor enters. Girls are taught how to press the keys with the exact amount of energy. The gain is obvious, energy saved is a victory over fatigue.
But that is not all. No typiste is a standard individual. Differences creep in, differing rates of speed appear. To find out how remarkable these individual differences are, refer to anyone employed in a business college. A technique of work, therefore, has been evolved. Touch typing, the slower “sight” work, or a combination of both,—each system has its devotees, although the amateur, it must be admitted, uses a “one” finger sight system obviously slow and wasteful in practice. For reasons of efficiency, touch typing seems to be the most favoured, since it leaves the stenographer free to give her attention to the manuscript from which she is page 12 working, while her movements, through practice and training, have become thoroughly automatic. In any case she is, apparently, able to work at a greater speed with such a system. Ignoring for the time the differences in design due to scientific application of laboratory discoveries, we thus see that the use of psychology in industry aims at obtaining the maximum of output with the minimum of expenditure of individual energy.
Stress on the maximum of output has caused some workers to fear or to discredit these “new fangled” notions, and two arguments are conspicuously specious, although it must be admitted that, in general terms, they sound quite logical. The first is that Industrial Psychology means harder work—a speeding up on the day's output and, secondly, it must displace men because of added machinery.
At the Otahuhu shops, where applied psychology has been employed, the machines have not caused men to be displaced. Moreover, this is a question of men versus machinery rather than a question of refining and saving human effort. As for the relation between our subject and speeding-up it cannot be dismissed so lightly. Reverting to the typewriter for a moment it certainly seems that all improvements, whether mechanical, technical or in modes of use, aim at an increased output. This is not to be denied, but the employee must see that such an increase cannot be made unless the ultimate factor—human energy—is rightly directed. There cannot be an increase when fatigue makes itself felt. How this factor affects the output will be considered later. To put the relation between “speeding-up” and industrial psychology in another way: consider a working day as being a standard of eight hours. The factors which enter into the output may be classed as:—
(a) Technique of Work, or how the job is done.
(b) Employer's Returns, or The Output.
(c) Energy Expenditure, or amount of effort required to do the job by the employee.
(d) Employee's Returns, or Wages.
This analysis shows two aspects; (a) and (b) concern the employer while (c) and (d) affect more personally the employee. Under normal conditions the employer is anxious to increase the output during the unit of working time; on the other hand the employee is most anxious to page 13 secure a greater reward in the form of wages. Both, however, have a rather hazy idea about the relationship of (c) to the job and, until quite recently (a) was practically ignored. The outcome of this loose thinking was that the employee thought that he could do more by working harder while the employer devotedly hoped that his “hands” would increase the output by putting every “bit” they knew into the job. Strangely enough, both, in the light of modern research, are mistaken.
Results of Improved Working Methods.
Suppose the employer wishes to increase the output per working unit, how is he to stimulate Labour? The most general way is to offer increased wages on the understanding that the worker uses more energy. The better way, however, is to bring about better working methods—to improve the technique of the job—and to offer, as an inducement to those who will carry out the new technique, a rise in wages. The crux of the matter lies in the statement that he does not demand harder work or a greater expenditure of energy from his employees. There is the possibility, too, that a combination of both means an increase of effort and a new technique of work with an increase of wages, may be evolved.
The Worker's Time Unit.
To appreciate the differences which these methods involve, an examination of what they mean in the worker's time unit is essential. If the traditional method of merely increasing wages to obtain an increase in output is followed we may suppose that the result conforms with that desired end. Now, if prior to the difference, the employees were putting forth the greatest reasonable amount of effort in the time unit, then, under the inducement of extra pay “speeding-up” results. In some factories employees have stated to the writer that they felt they were “being driven” in order to complete the job “against time.” These are symptomatic of speeding-up and indicate the result of offering a spur or an incentive to the will, so that more than the greatest reasonable amount of effort is expended during the work unit. This evil result upon the feelings of the employees (with a train of attendant misfortunes to be considered when we discuss the worker) represents the very essence of “speeding-up.”
(To be continued.)