Sharon Parker recognised as one of Australia’s leading researchers in business,economics &management
Published in The Australian on 23 September , Julie Hare
Sharon Parker was acknowledged in The Australian’s Lifetime Achievers Leaderboard, which lists the top 40 researchers from Australian universities and research institutions.
Organisational behaviour expert, Curtin University
Research leader in the field of human resources and organisation
Back in 1930, John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, wrote in an essay predicting the future of work: “For the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem; how to occupy the leisure (time).” Keynes’ utopian 15-hour week hasn’t eventuated. The opposite is true.
“Greedy jobs” eat up 15-hour days for some; the gig economy depletes financial security for others.
What is common in a surprising number of jobs – not matter how elite or pedestrian – is how badly designed they are, says Sharon Parker, an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and professor of organisational behaviour at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute. Her central focus is on the design of work: what makes jobs rewarding, meaningful, healthy, productive and stimulating.
“From a psychological perspective, when work is well-designed, workers have interesting tasks, autonomy over those tasks, a meaningful degree of social contact with others and a tolerable level of task demands,” Parker says.
For many, jobs are tedious, uninspiring, repetitive, dull and exhausting – whether we work in a high-end consultancy firm or an Amazon warehouse.
“Our research suggests, if you give people autonomy and agency and you trust them, they usually do a good job. They will be trustworthy and they will deliver on expectations.”
She says most jobs are a hangover from history – including the nine-tofive work day. Rarely, however, do managers ask the question: Could this job be done in a different, more efficient, more creative and better way?
To address the lack of design, Parker and her team have designed a framework called SMART. It embodies five key principles – stimulating, mastery, agency, relational and tolerable – that if adopted can guarantee fulfilling and rewarding work.
Parker’s research interests are now branching out into neuroscience: how different work design combinations impact cognitive functioning and whether SMART jobs can protect against Alzheimer’s.
Next year, she will launch what she hopes will be a 20-year study to track 10,000 individuals’ work experiences, with a particular focus on the impact of automation on jobs. It’s called WALC (Work Across Life and Careers).
Of course, the work revolution thrust upon almost the entire economy by the pandemic is rich pickings for Parker and her team. Their recent article in the Harvard Business Review explored how managers are coping with having staff working remotely during COVID. For many, not so well.
Parker and her co-authors found that 40 per cent of the 215 managers surveyed had low self-confidence in their ability to manage staff who were working remotely, and a similar number thought staff were slacking off, incompetent or lacked essential skills compared to in-office colleagues.
“The picture is a not a rosy one,” they write, with staff feeling distrusted and micromanaged by bosses who don’t feel in control.