Behavioral Aspects of Warehousing Defended on Thursday, 18 February 2016

Operations Management (OM) is usually described as a broad field of study, covering not only the “design and management of the transformation processes in manufacturing and service organizations that create value for society”, but also “the search for rigorous laws governing the behaviors of physical systems and organizations” (Chopra et al. 2004).Encompassing such a broad range of topics, OM frequently overlaps with other academic streams and employs methods from these particular streams. As could be expected based on the “rigorous laws” in the aforementioned description of the OM field, these other academic streams are generally oriented towards mathematical modeling and normative decision making. This approach has proven to be highly valuable for the advancement of the field of OM in the past and will continue to be critical for the field in the future, but at the same time it is vital that OM allows itself to depart from the assumption that all agents participating in operating systems or processes – ranging from decision making managers to workers – are fully rational or at least act that way (Gino and Pisano 2008).
After Simon (1955, 1991) and Tversky and Kahneman (Tversky and Kahneman 1974) pointed out the limited capabilities and biases of humans in learning, thinking and acting, their theories have found their way into a variety of scientific disciplines. Fields such as economics, marketing and finance have successfully incorporated behavioral aspects. They have departed from complete rationality and can all boast thriving behavioral research streams. The field of OM has been relatively late in following this trend, and the field of behavioral operations has only recently been able to achieve the status of an established area within the discipline of operations management (Croson et al. 2013).
As with every field of study, a necessary condition for achieving the ‘established’ status has been the provision of a clear definition of the area of behavioral operations and its boundaries. According to Croson et al., behavioral operations can be defined as “the study of potentially non-hyper-rational actors in operational contexts” (2013). Gino & Pisano define the field as “the study of human behavior and cognition and their impacts on operating systems and processes” (2008). Even though these two definitions differ slightly in their wording, they are overlapping in essence: research in behavioral operations covers topics that entail behavioral as well as operational elements. Behavioral operations is focused on operations in the sense that the main goal is understanding and improving operating systems and processes, and is employing the potential effects of human behavior in achieving this goal (Gino and Pisano 2008). Furthermore, as Loch and Wu (2005) point out, some specification of the aforementioned ‘effects of human behavior’ in behavioral operations research is appropriate to illustrate the broadness of the field in itself. Even though early definitions might have suggested that these effects are almost
exclusively biases in the decision making of individuals, it is important to realize that social interactions on the level of groups, and even on the level of cultures, can play a role as well (2005). With so many largely unexplored directions and topics to choose from, it is important to carefully consult the existing body of literature to identify research opportunities and to effectively position the studies forthcoming from this project.
The main research context of this PhD project will be warehousing, a vital link in the supply chain and a dynamic environment that boasts plenty of research opportunities. The first topic that will be dealt with within the scope of this project is order picking: the retrieval of a number of products from their storage locations in the warehouse to satisfy orders of specific customers (Tompkins 2010). Even though an extensive body of literature on this topic exists, the role of the human factor in order picking has been largely neglected while this area provides ample opportunity for research. The second topic that will be dealt with is occupational safety in warehouses. Unfortunately, occupational accidents in warehouses occur quite common, and companies are trying to improve occupational safety by implementing a large number of safety measures. Usually, companies invest substantial amounts of money in physical safety measures without having a clear idea of the effect of these measures. Furthermore, the effect of the manager on occupational safety is unclear and provides an interesting opportunity for research. A third planned study is briefly mentioned as well, although this study is still in a developing phase and subject to change.
In the following section, the relevant literature per topic will be presented. The 3rd section outlines the main research questions regarding these topics and presents the methods that are used to address these questions, together with the scientific and managerial relevance per topic. Section 4 summarizes the planned publications and outlets of this project, in section 5 potential options for cooperation will be mentioned and section 6 provides a global time schedule of the project as a whole.


  • Share on