And the survey says…

first_imgAnd the survey says…On 9 Jul 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Why does working life require so many surveys? Is it because there aresimply more issues that need surveying, asks Stephen OverellI propose a survey. I would like to know what proportion of media storiesabout the subject of work are derived from surveys. Five out of 10, maybe? Sixout of 10 in slow weeks? The survey acts as a social mirror, mesmerising people with their ownreflections, while at the same time giving statistical credence to feelingsthat would otherwise remain a hunch. Ergo, half of the UK’s workforce meet their long-term partner at work (OfficeAngels); half of British workers suffer from worsening stress levels(International Stress Management Association); 49 per cent of successfulAmerican career women mourn being childless (Baby Hunger by Sylvia AnnHewlett); 80 per cent of small businesses are dissatisfied with the volume ofemployment legislation (Federation of Small Businesses)É the list is endless. Surveys, of course, are not always honest attempts to gauge what peoplereally think. Often, they are used to painlessly inject a message into thebloodstream of public consciousness; or worse, used to sell anxieties for whichthe survey-commissioner has solutions. Like satellites orbiting the earth, campaigns and bodies whose veryexistence relies on being noticed now encircle the world of work. How better toelectrify public concern than by showing that a particular workplace evil isalready of massive concern to the public? There is a secondary worry, too. The downpour of surveys can distort andover-simplify policy questions. For example, on 8 April 2002, a Work Foundation report found thatsatisfaction at work had plummeted over the past decade and that this was inturn harming productivity.1 The foundation has a slick press operation and itquickly solidified into fact that work was definitely getting worse. Only in ahandful of outlets and the specialist press like Personnel Today, was itpointed out that this survey contradicted most others. The CIPD has equally pristine findings that two out of three people arefairly satisfied at work and work satisfaction is static.2 The UK’s premier expert on measuring work satisfaction, Andrew Oswald,professor of economics at Warwick University, has also found work satisfactionto be flat. It does not mean anyone is wrong, just that the surveys havereached contradictory conclusions. On the other hand, it is good that work is so well surveyed: the moreinformation, the better. Public opinion matters, and all of the surveys listedabove say something interesting and arresting about work (to some of us,anyway). It’s easy enough to discriminate between the serious and the trivial,the rigorous and the flaky, the self-interested and the public-spirited.Quality, as ever, will out. For journalists, meanwhile, surveys are easy copy. They don’t take muchpolishing to get a serviceable story; they furnish striking headlines; providea simple route into complicated issues; and, it should be said, are often agood read, too. But back to my survey. My survey would not be an honest project of finding somethingout, but an attempt to back up my hunch that the workplace is surveyed so oftenbecause it generates more new messages, ideas, suggestions and issues thanother parts of life. It sounds preposterous, I know, but I am not alone. In the quasi-academicfield of ‘social epidemics’ or ‘meme-theory’, which examines how ideas catch onin society, the workplace is the favourite arena of discussion. According to the consultancy Brand Genetics, work is uniquely connective andviral ideas tend to replicate rapidly through workplace networks.3 Hencemanagement fads, which come and go with far greater frequency than, say,political movements. Another result is the spread of ‘mass psychogenic illnesses’ such asexecutive burn-out. And the speed with which things take hold at work means aconstantly fluctuating currency of new issues – work-life balance, creativity,corporate social responsibility, servant leadership, bullying at work, deskrage and so on – all supported by surveys. Among management fads, business process re-engineering (BPR) is the mostfamous example. Precisely why the ber-fad of the 1990s caught on as it did hasbeen the subject of several dense books. Given the post-recessionary mood ofthe early 90s, BPR had a kind of macho appeal. But that does not really explainthe phenomenon. Re-engineering the Corporation, the movement’s manifesto, sold 250,000copies in the first three months. By 1994, a survey found that 68 per cent ofBritish companies were doing it.4 Professor Price, of Sheffield Hallam University, argues that”epidemic” is the right word. Price says: “There were otherideas dealing with white-collar productivity competing for space in themanagement conversation of the early 1990s. For the pioneers, re-engineeringwas highly successful, but as the idea replicated, it became more virulent andless beneficial. Probably 70 per cent of re-engineering programmes were adisaster.” In The Tipping Point, a best-selling book by New Yorker journalist MalcolmGladwell, successful social epidemics like BPR are a mixture of the people, theinfectious agent itself and the environment. The message has to be ‘sticky’ (memorable). But to infect its way into acultural mood, it needs a helping hand from ‘mavens’ (pundits, informationbrokers), ‘connectors’ (people who know people) and ‘salesmen’ (persuaders).And then, finally, the context in which the message is sown needs to befertile. The workplace is a veritable Eden for such things. It is true that thinking of new issues as ‘epidemics’ carries the risk oftrivialising serious concerns and that is not the intention. But what thesocial researchers have usefully captured is a sense there is something aboutworking life that throws up new messages, concerns and possibilities withastonishing regularity. Why is that? Maybe it is because work is an emotionalsubject that is also a highly technical subject, a subject where individualconcerns overlap with corporate ones; because what people do has a bearing onwho they are. Whatever. News is increasingly driven by surveys and surveys aredriven by issues. Surveys multiply. References 1 Press release; www.theworkfoundation.com/newsroom2 Public and Private Sector Perspectives on the Psychological Contract,CIPD, 2001 3 www.brandgenetics.com: interviewwith director Paul Marsden 4 Survey by Price Waterhouse, taken from The Witch Doctors by JohnMicklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, Heinemann, 1996 Research Viewpoint plusRead related articles on this topic from XpertHR’s extensivedatabase free. Go to www.xperthr.co.uk/researchviewpointJoin the Xperts take a free trialBy calling 01483 257775 or e-mail: [email protected] is a new web-based information service bringing together leadinginformation providers: IRS, Butterworths Tolley and Personnel Today. It featuresa new Butterworths Tolley employment law reference manual, a research databaseand guidance from 13 specialist IRS journals, including IRS Employment Review. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more

"And the survey says…"