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Appl Ergon. 1992 Feb;23(1):35-42.

Two key factors that belong in a macroergonomic analysis of electronic monitoring: Employee perceptions of fairness and the climate of organizational trust or distrust.

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  • 1Professor of Public Law and Government, Columbia University, Department of Political Science, 729 International Affairs Building, New York, NY 10027, USA.


Two microergonomic elements not usually discussed in treatments of electronic monitoring of VDT clerical work are employee perceptions of fairness (in work standards and measurement process) and the overall climate of employee trust in management. The author's field studies found these factors serving as major mitigating or intensifying elements in the stress that clerical employees can experience when they perform intensive heavy-duty VDT applications, and as central variables in distinguishing beneficial from harmful monitoring programmes. A case study involving change in supervisory monitoring policies for 200 customer service agents at one of Federal Express Corporation's telecommunication call centres in the USA in 1985-86 demonstrates how a Unit Head at a non-union company long known for its positive employee relations policies installed monitoring practices that the call agents considered unfair and a breach of the company's traditional climate of employee-employer trust. Employee protests, when communicated to top management, led to discarding the unilaterally-instituted and quantity-oriented monitoring policy and replacing it with a consensually-developed supervisory monitoring system balancing quality and quantity elements in a way that satisfied both employees and management. The present system of supervisory monitoring of customer service work at Federal Express (1991) enjoys broad employee support, suggesting that a fair system of monitoring, applied in an environment of earned trust between employees and employer, can meet critical productivity and quality interests of employers in clerical VDT work without creating harmful employee stress and discontent. It also suggests that empirical investigation of the fairness and trust factors represents an important and practical area of research in a macroergonomic analysis of employee monitoring programs and impacts.

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