Creating the Productive Workplace

By Derek Clements-Croome | Go to book overview

Chapter 14

Attention and performance in the workplace

Roy Davis
Most of our activities in the workplace involve exercising skills of various kinds. Control of these activities is organised at different levels in the nervous system, from relatively low levels (such as keyboard skills) to relatively high levels (such as overall planning of a project). Attention, the conscious awareness of the task in hand, may be focused at different levels. It is important for comfort and efficiency that it is focused at an appropriate level. For example:
• if one is preparing a computer spreadsheet one doesn't want to be distracted by a sticky key or a malfunctioning mouse
• if one is leading a discussion on company policy one doesn't want to be disturbed by an erratic air-conditioning system.

In this chapter I shall look briefly at the characteristics of skilled tasks from the point of view of their attentional demands, and give a few examples to show where better design could lead to improvement in both comfort and efficiency.

At the outset it is worth noting that it is not just in the workplace that we exercise our skills, but in all our everyday transactions with things and with people. As well as going to work we play games involving all kinds of mental and physical effort for enjoyment. The activity of playing the game is intrinsically satisfying. No external reward is necessary.

Sometimes the activities we carry out at work are intrinsically satisfying; often they are not. The work may be carried out solely for the reward or pay external to the task. Pay is clearly important for satisfaction at work, but there is no reason why we shouldn't attempt to make the skills we use at work as satisfying as those we use in play.

Hence my theme is not just a matter of making work comfortable, which was the intent of many of the old ergonomists, but that of making it more enjoyable.

-227-

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