We did not have Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, or Edvard Munch in mind when we invited participants to take part in a little work design simulative experiment around producing i(ce) (s)creams....
In order to trial a work design simulation, the Centre for Transformative Work Design set up a small ice cream factory on Friday, 21st of April. What (most of) our participants did not know is that they had to work under systematic different conditions of work design.
In this social experiment (adapted from Karasek's Tzatziki game), we created four different work designs that we ordered along the two dimensions of Karasek’s (1979) job demands-control model. This model allows us to characterize jobs with respect to their physical, psychological, or social demands, that is, aspects of the job that require sustained effort, on the one hand, and the amount of control that the job allows workers to have over their working methods, decision-making, and work planning, on the other hand.
To give our participants a better understanding how the same job can be designed differently, we systematically varied the extent of both job demands on control and thusly created four different work design conditions (jobs with low demands/low control; low demands/high control; high demands/low control; and high demands-high control).
While our participants might have thought initially that producing ice creams should be a fun activity, they quickly had to learn that work design can have a significant impact on how enjoyable they perceived their job. One of the results from our debriefing at the end of the activity revealed that those participants that had the lowest level of autonomy in their jobs were also those that had the highest desire to quit their job.
Who would have thought that people would scream and run away if you’d ask them to make ice cream? Well, we knew (under which conditions) and we hope that those involved in the design of future jobs know this, too.
Karasek Jr, R. A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative science quarterly, 285-308.