Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Recognizing our Psychological Resources

In 2003, an organizational psychologist and her team investigated the high level of employee turnover at an Australian Call Center (Lewig et al, 2003).  The workers presented with absenteeism, exhaustion and job dissatisfaction. Emotional Dissonance (EMDI) was at the root of the problems.  EMDI increased the emotional labour of the employees which in turn, increased the amount of emotional and mental effort required to carry out the job. 
In the presence of job stressors, EMDI is felt more acutely. It negatively impacts upon wellbeing and in the case of the ATCO,  safety performance is reduced. It is thus an important feature in industries that manufacture services. Since it is a psychologically derived issue, emotional dissonance and its coping response of indifference can be counteracted by the presence of psychological resources in the ATC unit. What then are our psychological resources in ATC? Please read on...
 From a previous post, we identified that resources can be "sources or supplies of wealth, or support, or aid that we can readily draw upon when needed" ( I invite you to look at the following illustrations and try to identify the psychological resources that will not only help with EMDI but also with other detractors to wellbeing:-

This first resource is Picasso's depiction of rest. Rest is important for the revitalisation of our psychocognitive abilities. Adequate rest facilities are not to be confused with the kitchen or the cafeteria or the washroom. There is a superabundance of information by the gurus of Occupational Safety and Health, pertaining to the importance of rest. Remember, the same part of the brain - the prefrontal cortex is responsible for situational awareness in ATC  as well as Fatigue.  ATCOs need to have a proper resting place as part of their psychological resources.  

How many ATC units have facilities that encourage ATCOs to take up a hobby or an extra-curricular activity? One ATC unit has a rooftop swimming pool.  Another has a recreational facility.  Hobbies increase our motivation, our enthusiasm for work. Managers of ATC units can do much to motivate ATCOs, or kill their enthusiasm.  An ATCO will be motivated more by the effects of her work environment and the culture of her managers (their actions and  their policies); rather than by company-sponsored activities, parties or public awards which only hide ambitious agendas. According to a Management Consultancy, the key is to create an environment that motivates the employee. What acts as a source of motivation for you from the ATC unit?
I used the example of music as the hobby because of the positive effects upon  or emotional wellbeing that can be derived from playing or listening to music.

Social interaction particularly with friends and family is important.  The increasingly indifferent person tends to enjoy her own company more than interacting with others. While solitude has its benefits, spending frequent time alone in isolation detracts from our wellbeing and we increase our risk for losing our joy of ATC as well as a loss of trust in our fellow ATCOs. 
The above is a painting of Les Deux Magots, a famous Parisian café established since the early 19th century and is still in existence. It is said that the writer Ernest Hemingway went there for tea and to think. The lesson here is that we need to keep interacting with others. If we need some time alone, then we can enjoy our moments of solitude outdoors. Remember the overall aim - to improve wellbeing so as to counter the negative effects of EMDI and other detractors.

What do you  think is depicted here? The artist called it The Freedom of Indifference.  The characters in the background are rendered free by supporting each other. Do you notice that their hands rest on the shoulders of one another? Also observe that they are standing tall and they are smiling. What else have we missed? Note that they are not the same. 
Coworker support is one of the best psychological resources in the workplace. According to studies by Kahn (1990) and Poon (2012), an abundance of psychological resources particularly coworker support, increases an employee's engagement towards work.  Can a fellow ATCO freely confide in you about issues outside of ATC? Do you treat your fellow ATCOs and assistants with respect and dignity? How many of your fellow ATCOs do you trust?

Informational support on an organizational level is another psychological resource (Schat & Kellway, 2003).  This includes adding a psychological perspective to the training schedules of ATCOs as well as promoting awareness about ATC wellbeing via workshops and presentations.  Doing this on an organizational level extends the responsibility of safety performance beyond the technical expertise of ATC and above the level of unit management. How prepared are the global negotiating bodies of ATC to incorporate ecological aspects of the profession into future governance policies?
To recap, can you recall the 4 types of psychological resources that can counteract EMDI and other detractors to wellbeing in the ATC unit? Which of these do you think is needed the most in your ATC unit? Are there any other psychological resources we can add to the list of the 4 resources above?
In the next post we will review the role of wellbeing in ATC....
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