Human Side of Engineering
Does goal setting boost job satisfaction?
The performance of Project Leader Burt Fiske’s group had been at best lackadaisical of late. When Plant Engineer Bill Stratton summoned Fiske to his office, his first move was to wipe the frown from his face.
“I’m not here to lay blame or be critical,” he said. “But we both know things haven’t been up to snuff lately. Hopefully, we can talk it out and come up with an answer or two.”
Fiske knew what he was talking about. The group’s idea mill seemed to have ground to a halt. Attendance had been off for months. Grumbling and gripes were on the increase. Good people had resigned to take other jobs.
“What do you think is happening?” Stratton wanted to know.
Fiske sighed. “Wish I had the answer to that. I don’t know, Bill, the spark seems to have gone out of the group.”
“Job burnout? Are they unhappy with their assignments?”
Fiske nodded thoughtfully. “Some of that, probably. The work hasn’t been very exciting lately. Too much of the same thing over and over again.”
“In a nutshell, there’s no challenge?”
Fiske took his time answering. “I guess you could say that.”
“I suspected as much,” Stratton said. “Tell me, what kind of goals do you give your employees?”
The frown was back. “Goals? I’m not sure what you mean. There are regular standards I try to adhere to.”
“Beyond that. Let’s review a few specific situations one-by-one.”
Question: Can you guess what Stratton might have in mind?
Stratton’s strategy: “Standards are goals, of course,” the plant engineer said, after reviewing several job sheets. “But I think they are too easy and simplistic as applied to your group. Goals to be effective must be neither too high nor too low. On the one hand, they should be within the individual’s functioning capability. On the other, they should be slightly higher than accustomed performance. They should also be more specific: Not ‘Let’s do better,’ but ‘Let’s shoot for 5% less time to do this or that job.’ “Finally, while it’s important for management to be a leading force in goal setting, the individual should have a voice as well, with a consensus reached that the goal is realistic and achievable. If you tighten up on goal setting, Burt, it may help raise the job satisfaction level and, at the same time, the group’s performance level.” Fiske nodded. “I’ll give it a shot.”
Can you make an employee pay for carelessness?
The company issued Instrument Repairman George Karlitz a precision gauge used in inspection procedures. A year ago, Karlitz reported the loss of his gauge to Maintenance Supervisor Andy Graham. Graham helped him look for the gauge, but it was nowhere to be found.
“You gotta be more careful with your tools,” Graham chided, and authorized withdrawal of another gauge from the supply room.
Six months later, Karlitz reported that a spanner wrench he had been issued was missing.
“What do you mean, missing?”
“Beats me,” Karlitz said. “It was there when I went out to lunch. When I returned, it was gone.”
“Did you lock it up in your tool box when you went out to lunch?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Was the tool box pried open?”
Karlitz hesitated. “No.”
“Then you couldn’t have locked it up. George, this is the last tool the company is replacing because of your carelessness. It’s your responsibility to take care of your tools.”
Karlitz promised to be more careful in the future.
Four months later, it was a second precision gauge that disappeared over the lunch break.
Graham checked his price list. “You’ve been warned, George. That’ll cost you $68.70.”
Karlitz protested. “No way am I gonna pay for the loss of a company-issued tool. It’s not my fault that there’s a crook around here.”
Question: Can Karlitz be forced to pay for the instrument?
Lynton’s ruling: “Karlitz pays for the gauge,” Plant Engineer Karl Lynton ruled. “Whatever the reason for the loss, the underlying cause was the employee’s carelessness. The company can’t be expected, after having picked up the tab twice in the past, to continue turning a blind eye to his failure to take the simple precaution of safeguarding his tools in a locked toolbox when he’s away from his workstation.”
Violation of “no strike” clause: Is discharge warranted?
No Strike clause or not, Carpenter Grade I Joe Adamoff was livid when management’s announcement of a third shift hit the bulletin board. The hot-tempered union activist wasted no time recruiting allies to fight the decision.
“What do you think we should do?” his crony, Welder Frank Matthews, asked.
“Strike, what else?”
Matthews frowned. “Just like that?”
The question caused Adamoff to pause. “No, not just like that. A graveyard shift would be murder on most of the crew. We gotta talk it up. Get the guys to go along.”
Matthews reluctantly agreed. When Maintenance Supervisor Chuck Drimmer got wind of what was going on, he warned the men to cut out the unauthorized propagandizing. They laughed derisively. Within days Adamoff and Matthews got 10 men to agree to a wildcat strike. The following Monday morning, they pulled the strike.”
“I’ll give you guys 10 min to get back to work,” Drimmer threatened. The threat was ignored.
The strike, quelled by the union, was short-lived; normal operations resumed the following day.
Question: In management’s place, what — if any — response to the wildcat strike would you make?
Jordan’s decision: “My recommendation is to fire Adamoff and Matthews,” Plant Engineer Greg Jordan told Plant Manager Ed Chekoff. Chekoff agreed. In response to the union’s protest, Chekoff reasoned, “The day’s work loss and disruption cost the company a lot of money. The action was unauthorized and in violation of the contract’s ‘No Strike’ provision. These men were warned beforehand of the consequences. Their refusal to heed the warning was gross insubordination.” The union had no choice but to agree that a rational basis for the selective discharge existed.
Murphy — super; Shaeffer — so-so: Who gets promoted?
Service Mechanic Class II Jack Shaeffer was getting on. After 30 yr on the job, he was rated “so-so” by his boss, Maintenance Foreman Steve Force. He had slowed down somewhat, Force felt, but was still holding his own. Class II Mechanic Mike Murphy, on the other hand, was little more than half Shaeffer’s age, hard working, and ambitious. More productive than the older man, Force rated his potential high. He would go places in the department.
One of those places, Force decided when a promotion opportunity opened up, was a boost from Grade II to Grade I with the resultant earnings rate hike.
Shaeffer, who also had bid for the job, protested. “I have years of seniority over Murphy,” he claimed, “and years more experience. According to the contract —.”
“I can’t dispute that,” Force cut in, “but it’s my responsibility to make decisions based on productivity potential. From that standpoint, Mike has you beat to a frazzle.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my productivity,” Shaeffer persisted. “I’ve gotten no complaints.”
“Or compliments either,” Force said. “Sorry, Jack, the decision stands.”
“We’ll see about that,” Shaeffer threatened.
Question: Is Force within his rights selecting Murphy instead of the older man?
Dorfman’s decision: “The job goes to Shaeffer,” Plant Engineer Manny Dorfman ruled after reviewing the facts. “I can’t argue that you’d probably get better productivity out of Murphy. But although Mike’s promotion would benefit the operation more, Shaeffer’s in line for the boost. The seniority clause in the labor agreement has to be the determining factor. It would be a different matter entirely if Shaeffer weren’t qualified for the job.”
Can company change longstanding vacation scheduling?
When a notice appeared on the bulletin board designating the week of July 4 for a plant-wide vacation shutdown, scores of employees were up in arms.
A three-man committee with Tony Pearson as spokesman appeared at Maintenance Foreman Bill Cristol’s desk.
“The company can’t unilaterally change a system that’s been in effect for years,” he claimed. “A lot of people are entitled to only one week’s vacation. They made plans for other weeks.”
Cristol shrugged. “My hands are tied. That’s the ruling.”
“We’re not gonna take this sitting down,” Pearson threatened.
“I appreciate your feeling,” the foreman replied. “But you have to consider management’s need as well. Circumstances have changed in recent years. The plant and work force expanded, and vacation requirements and requests have grown more complex.”
“Past practice is still past practice.”
“I’m sorry about that. The decision has already been made.”
“It can be unmade just as easily.”
Question: Is management bound by past practice in this case?
Plant engineer’s verdict: “Nothing in the labor agreement challenges management’s inherent right to set vacation scheduling in the company’s best economic interests. The purpose of the ruling is not to inconvenience our employees, but to accommodate changing conditions and eliminate the work disruption experienced by vacation arrangements of the past year or two.”
Demeaning demotion: Is it age discrimination?
Under the maintenance department’s restructuring, staff supervision was divided among three men who reported to Maintenance Manager Henry Boone. As a result, Arthur Greene’s job as assistant to Boone was eliminated. At age 63, Greene made it clear to his boss that he had no intention of accepting the company’s retirement package offer.
The manager scratched his head. “Art, the best I can do is for you to bump down to group leader. This move would put you in charge of Frank Furst’s operation. Your salary and benefits wouldn’t change.”
Greene pointed out that the bump-down would substantially reduce his responsibilities and status, and would provide no opportunity for wage increases or advancement. Not only that, he said, “it would be humiliating as well. I’d be reporting to Phil Frawley, a guy I supervised for more than 5 yr.”
Boone shrugged. “That’s the best I can do.”
“It’s not good enough,” Greene snapped back. “If I have to bump down, the least it should be is to one of those three supervisory jobs.”
When Boone refused to back down, Greene said he had no choice but to accept early retirement, and threatened to sue on the grounds of age discrimination.
Question: Does Greene have a viable case?
Mantone’s verdict: When Boone described his run-in with Greene to Plant Engineer Vince Mantone, the two men paid a visit to attorney Jan Tarnoff’s office to get her opinion. Tarnoff replied thoughtfully, “I doubt if Greene has much of a discrimination case since the department’s restructuring wasn’t effected with his job in mind, and he has no way of proving that his retirement decision was predicated on age. His only viable case may be one of ‘constructive discharge,’ which applies when working conditions are made so hostile or embarrassing they provoke the person to leave.” Tarnoff smiled. “But that’s just one lawyer’s opinion. There’s no guarantee on how a particular judge might rule.”
Laid off: Who, me?
When Utility Man Ed Firth showed up for work Monday morning, he found his time card missing from the rack.
“What’s going on?”
“You’re on layoff,” Maintenance Supervisor George Cable informed him. “Telegrams were sent to you and two other guys on Saturday.”
“That’s news to me,” Firth replied. “I never received one.”
The labor agreement stated that employees must receive at least 24-hr advance notice prior to layoff.
“I don’t know what happened,” Cable said. “My record shows that the wire was sent. Were you home all day Saturday?”
“Yes, except for an hour or two. If a telegram was delivered when I was out, there would have been some kind of notice. Does your record show that I received the wire?”
“It doesn’t, and I don’t know why not,” Cable said. “But whatever the case, you’re on layoff. I’m sorry, but hopefully, there will be a recall in the next week or two.”
Firth was unwilling to settle for that. “I have a phone. If I couldn’t be reached by telegram, I should have been called.” He insisted that at the very least, he was entitled to be paid for coming in to the plant.
Question: Do you agree that Firth should be paid for the inconvenience?
Plant engineer’s ruling: “Give him 4-hr reporting pay,” Plant Engineer Joe Marco instructed Cable when informed of the controversy. “He’s right that he should have been called if the telegram wasn’t received. According to the contract, 4-hr pay is standard when an employee reports to work and no work is available.”
Get on the ball when OSHA calls
The day the inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited the plant, Maintenance Foreman Joe Bell was at an out-of-town meeting. His assistant, Ed Carlin, less than 6-mo on-the-job, was the first to greet the inspector. It was a repeat visit, a follow up on a previous call when the company received a slap on the wrist for an infraction related to an electrical wiring setup.
Carlin conducted the OSHA investigator to the site requested and responded to several questions. The inspector then asked to see work sheets and other documents. Carlin complied and was thanked. At the end of the visit, the company was slapped with another reprimand and $2000 fine for “inadequate compliance.”
When Foreman Bell returned the next day, he was furious due to Carlin’s unauthorized response to the OSHA visit. He berated his assistant for failing to follow the prescribed procedure of immediately referring the inspector to the company’s safety manager. Plant Engineer Carlos Valdez was even more furious at the inept handling.
Question: In Valdez’s shoes, what action would you take?
Plant engineer’s response: “The visit was bungled from square one,” Valdez told Bell. Carlin was no more at fault than you or I were. In fact, the inspector should never have been referred to him at all by the receptionist. No company executive or supervisor other than John Gorste in, the safety manager or, in his absence, Gorstein’s assistant, should ever be designated to deal with an OSHA inspector. As the saying goes, ‘The buck rests here.’ I accept full responsibility for this mishandling and fine, which I think could have been avoided. A communications program designed to clarify for all personnel the company’s proper response when OSHA calls is long overdue and will be initiated at once.”
Can an employee demand day shift recall?
When business picked up, several employees on layoff, among them Grade II Mechanic Joel Dunning, received recall notices. Dunning was elated until he noticed that his recall specified the 4:00 p.m.%%MDASSML%%12:00 a.m. shift.
The mechanic telephoned his supervisor. “Thanks for the recall notice, but I think a mistake has been made. I’m a day shift worker; this calls for the second shift.”
“It’s no mistake,” Maintenance Foreman Al Hartley replied. “That’s the only Grade II job open.”
“I can’t work second shift, Al. It would knock my family for a loop.”
“That’s rough, but as I say, it’s the only thing open. You’ll have to make some kind of adjustments. There’s a plus side as well; you’ll get the swing shift pay differential.”
“That’s secondary; I still can’t do it.”
“I’m sorry, it’s the best I can do.”
“Then I’ll have pass on the recall. Just keep my name on the list for the next day job that opens up.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that either,” Hartley said. “If you pass on the recall, your name automatically goes to the end of the list. We can’t deviate from normal procedure to suit one person’s preference.”
Unwilling to settle for that, Dunning threatened a grievance in response.
Question: If Dunning follows through on his threat, how do you rate his chance of success?
Gordon’s verdict: “I can appreciate Joel’s dilemma,” Plant Engineer Hal Gordon told Hartley when informed of the threat, “but we will have to stand firm. We can’t violate normal procedure to accommodate an individual need If the contract spelled out an exception, or if the recall job paid less than his former job, Dunning might have a better case.”
When productivity is the name of the game
In the interest of increased accuracy and fair work evaluation,” the bulletin board notice read, “The plant is scheduled to be equipped with electronic measurement devices to gauge employee productivity.”
The announcement didn’t create much of a stir until the gadgets were installed and time and speed records reported. The devices measured more precisely than ever before how long it took to complete assignments from start to finish. Soon after the first report appeared, Maintenance Supervisor Chuck Giles had a visitor.
“Those gadgets are unacceptable,” bargaining unit committee leader Ed Markoff protested.
Giles disagreed. “Management has the right to improve efficiency and productivity any way it can.”
“That’s baloney!” Markoff rebutted. “Those gadgets are speed-up devices, pure and simple.”
When Giles refused to back down Markoff threatened to file a grievance.”
Question: What do you think? Can management be compelled to uninstall the gadgets?
Esposito’s verdict: “The gauges stay,” Plant Engineer Fred Esposito ruled when informed of the committeeman’s threat. “For one thing, there’s nothing in the labor agreement forbidding their use. For another, there’s no evidence to prove that management’s purpose in applying the measurement results is to accelerate the work pace unreasonably. Unless a contract specifically prohibits measurement instruments, they are legal and permissible.”
Reverse discrimination: Take care
Maintenance Supervisor Ben Hoagland took the concept of a balanced workforce seriously. In fact, he often sounded off on the subject. His wife was a crusader for women’s rights and Ben backed her all the way. He felt it was time women and other minorities received a better break where wages and jobs were concerned.
It was with this thought in mind that Ben chose Anna Worth over Doug Mellon when a Mechanic Grade I vacancy occurred. Worth was not only female, but she was also black. Mellon was white. True, he had a little better seniority, and a bit more experience, but there was no question in Hoagland’s mind that Worth could do a competent job. Here was a chance to put his money where his mouth was.
The announcement met with mixed reactions. Several minority employees praised Hoagland’s selection. Others felt it was a clear case of reverse discrimination. Mellon, not surprisingly, blew a gasket.
The mechanic didn’t even bother to plead his case to Hoagland; he marched straight to Grant Nicholson’s office.
Question: In the plant engineer’s place, how would you handle this case?
Nicholson’s response: “I’m not questioning your motives,” Nicholson told Hoagland. “What I do question is your understanding of how affirmative action works. Although Anna Worth may be qualified for the Grade I job, the record is clear that Doug Mellon is better qualified in terms of both experience and seniority.” “I realize that,” Hoagland replied. “But there isn’t that much difference between them. Either one could do the job.” “That’s not the point. The point is that the deciding factor in your choice was based on race and gender. While your intention was good, the reality is that such consideration becomes valid under one circumstance only: Where prior discrimination can be demonstrated in the operation involved. Can you show such evidence to justify your choice?” Hoagland hesitated. “No sir, I guess not.” “Then I suggest you reverse your selection and give Mellon the job. Send Ms. Worth to my office; I’ll try to explain.”