Service&Experience: Aliens at work—work Alienation and the Customer’s Experience (cont’d)

J. N. Halm

The study published in 2015 edition of the Journal of Management Inquiry titledDrivers and Outcomes of Work Alienation: Reviving a Concept” added four more potential causes of work alienation. These are:

Decision-making autonomy: This is related to the powerlessness referred to earlier in this piece. Human beings want to be in control. It is just the way we are made. No one wants to be treated like a robot—not even robots. Therefore, when the worker has no say in what is being done, no freedom to decide what must be done regarding the one’s work, the level of frustration skyrockets. This is what will lead to the work alienation.

Oftentimes, situations arise that call for a different approach to the one prescribed in the organisation’s policies and procedures. However, when decision-making is centralised and any other option taken away from the employee, the one feels disempowered and this results in the estrangement.

There are also those occasions when a particular customer’s problem calls for a slight bending of the rules. If the customer-handling professional is unable to help the customer out, the situation will lead to mounting frustration which will, in turn, lead to work alienation.

To curb work alienation, it will help for managers to solicit for views of employees, especially when it has to do with the work of that particular employee. Giving workers a bit of discretion in determining how the job is to be done can help the one overcome any sense of alienation at work. There are studies that prove that when individuals are given some degree of autonomy at work, there are positive psychological benefits. Empowering customer-facing employees is therefore one sure way to curb work alienation.

Task variety: Doing the same thing over and over again at work can also lead to frustration on the part of employees. Studies show that people become psychologically distressed when they are forced to do monotonous work. When the repetitive work turns out to be trivial, then the frustration escalates dramatically. The tedium of monotony at work can dampen even the brightest souls.

If an individual came to work and all that the one did was to stamp a pile of documents, it would not be too long before that individual begins to lose a love for that kind of job. It is this tedium emanating from doing monotonous work that causes employees to mentally logging out of work. Research shows that people who do more than a single thing at work enjoy their work because they claim their jobs are more interesting.

The ideal situation therefore is for the employee to perform a variety of tasks in a given job role. When designing jobs for employees, it is imperative that the organisation takes these issues into consideration. It helps if the individual is made to make an input into designing the job.

Task identity: People want meaning in their jobs. People want to know that what they come to work to do every single day is contributing meaningfully to a broader purpose. Researchers use the term “task identity” to refer to that “extent to which a job involves the completion—from beginning to end—of an identifiable and visible piece of work.” People want to see and touch the exact thing they have produced at the end of the day. Anything else can lead to feelings of alienation. If the one’s work is only a small part of a bigger project and therefore the one is unable to see the end result of the work done, the feeling of frustration arises.

To help curb alienation therefore, it is important that on a consistent basis, employees are reminded of the extent to which their individual jobs contribute to the greater vision of the organisation. This is something that many managers rarely do. It is taken for granted that every employee will automatically know that they are contributing to a bigger project. From what we have learnt so far, it is important that consistently affirming the importance of an individual’s job is not taken for granted.

Social support: People do not come to work just to work, take their salaries and go home. Things do not work like that. Colleagues end up connecting in a way that goes beyond just work. It is commonly believed that people must not bring their social lives to work. This is quite interesting because humans end up forming some kind of social connection with those they work with. Employees must be able to foster meaningful relationships with others on the job. It is not enough to produce a part of the larger product and just pass it on to the next person along the line. It is important that you have some sort of connection with the one. When people feel that connection to the next person involved in a common effort, there is a strong bond formed at the social level.

When individuals know that their colleagues have their interest at stake, these individuals tend to enjoy their work the more and feel a lot more comfortable on the job. Just having supportive colleagues at work is important for the wellbeing of the employee. It is therefore understandable that when people are unable to connect to others on the same job, they feel alienated.

From this, one can safely surmise that it is actually in every organisation’s interest to find ways of bringing employees together. Regular social gatherings should become a part of the organisation’s regular activities.

It has also been argued that another of the causes of work alienation is low use of capacity. When an individual believes he or she is capable of doing more but he or she is not allowed to use their abilities, frustration easily sets in. To be underutilised is to be underappreciated and no one appreciates being underappreciated. This is especially true if the one is convinced that he or she has the capacity to turn things around in an organisation that is suffering but is not being allowed to do so. Someone who has undergone years of training or education will definitely feel frustrated if they are not allowed to put their skills to work. This is akin to a star player being placed on the bench among the substitutes when the team is struggling on the pitch.

Resolving this would simply involve managers matching people’s capacity with their roles. From the onset of employment, managers must be able to match people’s skillset with the tasks to be completed.

As can be seen, work alienation can take a toll on any individual. It is therefore not surprising that such individuals do not make for great front line professionals. Dealing with customers can be quite challenging, even to the best of us, on the best of days. Therefore, when the one serving the customer is not in the right frame of mind, the task becomes even more arduous.

It is a known fact that dealing with customers, especially when attempting to get the customer to make a purchase, requires a transfer of enthusiasm. As has become evident in the discussions above, enthusiasm is the last thing you will find in an individual who feels alienated from work. You will notice such “aliens” by the listless manner they go about their duties, dragging their bodies around from desk to desk, office to office, all day long. Rather than be the ones to pep customers up, these individuals rather end up killing whatever excitement the customer brought in.

It is also going to be very difficult for individuals, who are disinterested in the work they do, to go out of their way—to go that extra mile—to give customers that “wow experience”. At best, what such individuals will do is to do just the barest minimum expected of them. In short, the customer’s experience definitely deteriorates when served by estranged front line employees.

From the on-going discussion, it is clear that all managers who supervise front line professionals have their work cut out for them. With all of the things that a manager has to keep an eye on and attend to, the manager must also ensure that there are no or very few “aliens” among the rank and file of the organisation.

Aside all the various avenues that the manager can use to help curb work alienation, it is also important for employees to also do their part. People have to know themselves well enough to know what makes them tick. On a personal level, it has been advised that individuals should develop hobbies that will serve as outlets for their creativity. These pastimes will help to push out any frustrations they might be having at work. If these pastimes can be done with colleagues from the same workplace, then all the better. This is because the one will not only be venting his or frustrations, but will also be bonding with the colleagues.

Lowering work alienation should however be the burden of each and everyone within the organisation. This is because work alienation can affect every single individual within the organisation. It is not limited to a particular schedule, unit or department. Work alienation has been found among managers as well as the rank and file. It is a concept that cannot be treated lightly.

Failure to curb work alienation will result in the organisation having to pay for all costs related to the phenomenon. To cut out work alienation is to cut out the medical costs of unusually-ill employees, the replacement for stolen items and even the costs associated with dissatisfied customers. Like a slow-working poison, work alienation seeps through the fibre of the organisation, causing destruction in its path. It therefore behoves on all to tackle aliens at the workplace just as the Men In Black did theirs—zapping them with powerful laser weapons, one alien at a time!

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