Simple operational decisions can have a large impact on worker's performance and well-being

Managers may influence the productivity and well-being of their workers with a large array of simple decisions. Setting challenging production goals (even without direct rewards), deciding on the location of products on a warehouse, and inserting strategic rests are all simple solutions that give measurable results in terms of performance and the worker’s well-being. These are some of the findings in José Antonio Larco Martinelli’s PhD thesis entitled Incorporating worker-specific factors in operations management models.

Interestingly, setting challenging production goals induces predictable and steady work speeds, something that monetary incentives do not often accomplish. In addition, intelligent decisions on the location of products on a warehouse can yield simultaneous benefits in warehouse efficiency and the worker’s well-being.

The operational performance of a firm is ultimately based on the worker’s performance. At the same time, workers are part of a firm and as such, should be considered as important stakeholders of a firm. Larco finds that even in the case of very monotonous work, workers are decision makers, as they decide on the effort. Moreover, workers’ well-being is affected by operational decisions. Hence, operations managers should consider both: how they may affect workers’ efforts and how they can affect their well-being through their decisions.

José Antonio Larco Martinelli defended his dissertation on November 25, 2010. His promoters were René de Koster, Professor of Logistics and Operations Management, and Jan Dul, Professor of Technology and Human Factors. Co-promoter was Dr. Kees-Jan Roodbergen.

About José Antonio Larco Martinelli

José Antonio Larco Martinelli (Peru,1979) received his Bachelor in Industrial Engineering from the Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas in 2001 and he obtained his Research Master degree in Marketing from ERIM in 2007. In February of 2007, he started as a PhD candidate at the Department of Management of Technology and Innovation of the Rotterdam School of Management. His research interests include behavioural operations (for both, workers and planners and schedulers), warehousing, vehicle routing of service engineers and supply chain horizontal collaboration. He has presented in several international conferences, including INFORMS (2008, 2009), POMS (2009), EURO (2009), EUROMA (2008) and has been an invited speaker at the Zaragoza Logistic Center, the Technical University of Eindhoven and at EURANDOM’s Stochastic models for warehousing systems workshop. One of his articles has been awarded the TRAIL 2009 Best Practice Paper and 2nd Best Student Paper in Supply Chain Management at POMS 2009. In addition, he has three years of industrial experience as a production planner and controller in the steel-works industry. He is currently a Postdoctoral fellow at the Technical University of Eindhoven. His research is part of an industry funded project (4C4More at the Dinalog institute) investigating the decisions, activities and performance of production and distribution planners.

Abstract of 'Incorporating Worker-Specific Factors in Operations Management Models

To add value, manufacturing and service operations depend on workers to do the job. As a result, the performance of these operations is ultimately dependent on the performance of individual workers. Simultaneously, workers are major stakeholders of the firm. Workers spend a considerable amount of time in their lives at their job and depend on that job to sustain themselves and their families. As a result, firms wishing to satisfy their primary stakeholders should consider workers’ job satisfaction in the design of their operations. Especially given that job satisfaction can promote other positive outcomes for the firm, including lower personnel turnover and accident rates.

This thesis addresses the key question of how common operations management decisions may have an impact on a worker’s individual performance and his job satisfaction. In particular, Larco first provide a literature survey of psychology and ergonomics linking operations decision variables with performance and job satisfaction. Next, he studies the effects of assigning goals on performance and work pace regulation. We identified steady work pace regulation patterns associated with challenging goals. Finally, he studies the problem of where to store items in a warehouse such that efficiency (cycle time) and well-being (discomfort) criteria are balanced. He found that both criteria have a certain degree of alignment and that simultaneous improvements in both criteria are possible.