Industry News

A Personal View Expressed by Prof. Dr. Adrian Schwaninger

For several reasons, I feel the need to tell you the story of Bob. He started working as an airport security officer (screener) a while ago. Initially he was very motivated and enthusiastic. Helping to secure air transportation for protecting passengers seemed to be an important job to him. In the first few months he was fascinated by the machines at the checkpoint even though it was rather old equipment. Machines did not depend on mood and motivation, they were not driven by goals, they did not need feedback, and they could do exactly the same thing every day for many years.

Unfortunately, it took only some months until Bob started having feelings of demotivation and decreasing performance. His job quickly became monotonous. Screeners were treated as extensions of machines being paid for doing the same tasks for all passengers, always the same way, defined by very detailed standard operating procedures. Performance was not measured and regular feedback did not exist. When Bob was friendly to passengers and aiming at high throughput at the security lane, his supervisors did not notice (they showed up rarely and when they did, it was not pleasant).

Bob started having doubts on the system in place. He searched the internet looking for innovations in airport security screening. He got excited about new developments like outcome-focused, risk-based and smart security initiatives using a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach including unpredictability. He also found interesting theories on work motivation like the job characteristics model by Hackman and Oldham. And he was impressed by the results of modern socio-technical systems design. After some time, Bob decided to change country and he succeeded at getting a screener job abroad at a very innovative airport offering better salaries and more appealing working conditions.

Bob can now work every day for some hours in a remote screening room near the checkpoint. This is a nice office space with a good supervisor who knows the screeners, their performance and how to motivate by providing effective feedback. Bob realises that this is definitively a better work environment for X-ray screening than noisy checkpoints with often stressful passengers. Remote X-ray screening is conducted only some hours a day in addition to the other tasks at the checkpoint nearby. This ensures that psychological proximity and task variety are preserved, which are important for work motivation and performance.

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