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Ergonomics of and for the government

Ergonomics , the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment, is something that’s almost NEVER applied to government functionaries. The efficiency of people working in any organisation, public or private, is highly dependent on their work environment, physical, psychological and social. I have experienced it and I believe in it.

One can argue that we have big enough problems to worry about in the country and as such even thinking over something like ergonomics is a luxury still. But let’s indulge in some negligence and give a minute to think of it. The only reason I can give to support this indulgence is that any minute change that we can bring in to improve the working conditions of the govt. staff can have a great impact on the overall efficiency and compassion of these staff towards the society. And not a ‘burden’ on the public exchequer.

I guess everyone has a fair imagination of the govt. offices and definitely the perception would be that govt. offices look and feel very bad, thought it can’t be generalised. I have myself seen many pathetically maintained offices (in Bhubaneswar) and was totally aghast as how the staff are living and working in such offices. The very ambience gives a feel of insensitivity and inefficiency.

Govt. Office

There are minimum levels that need to be maintained and we cannot expect those working in seriously bad conditions for the most part of their lives to be concerned about the concerns of the people. They treat a govt. job as a badly provided for, though a secure job. The same is the case with the govt. staff quarters. The salaries are unusually low even to sustain a dignified life, driving them essentially to find alternate means.

There is no separate budget allocation for any of the above (except for their construction!) and hence the problem. Though a minimal level of maintenance should be possible by the incumbent staff, even that’s not taken care of. Govt. officials always have to ‘find means’ to get some repair or maintenance done, and this would not go well with any of you reading this, why should public money be spent for their quarters? , would be the first reaction.

In my previous job (a private IT multinational), the team management used to take care of even the colours of the walls in the work area, the optimum distance between each cubicle, the amount of light that’s available, the AC levels, availability of tea n stuff and the list goes on. Obvious is the output. A separate allocation is always made for all such aspects, to build team camaraderie, coordination and etc.

Allotting some budget, improving and maintain govt. offices can sure bring a difference in their output.

Cognitive ergonomics, the improvements through application of mind and understanding through knowledge and action is something that is totally neglected in our govt. offices. In their total service period of 30-35 years, they are not trained even once to identify and improve on their skills and capabilities. And how can we expect them to take decisions, mostly in very critical situations. Almost all of the lower bureaucracy looks towards the IAS and other ‘officers’ to take decisions from the most trivial to the toughest.

Believe in the capacities of the lower staff, make them work for their salary, impart them training and provide them with decision making opportunities.

Adobe Interior

The third aspect is the social conditioning, the working of a govt. employee as a team player. I am surely thinking too much I guess :P. Team work is something that would not be possible by pumping money or training them extensively. It is a natural process of social cohesion to cooperate and coordinate. Except for kicking or saying each other’s asses, there is no camaraderie in solving issues or completing a task. Even in the times of elections and emergencies, there is just a grouping of staff but never a team.

There is no concept of HR management in the govt, if a corporate of 200 employees are almost mandated to have a separate HR team, why should not the govt. employees ? 

Any officer going to the a new posting should probably have to reinvent the wheel every single time trying to set right her office. But most of the times her efforts go beyond her own room (improving the physical ambiance) and to a select few who form her core and trusted team. And much of all this goes away with the officer.

The only improvements we can think for the govt. offices is automation or bringing in IT and technology. So ‘unhuman’ is our approach that we expect these cognitively challenged govt. staff to now happily adapt to the state of the art technology! Gross.

Team work has to be nurtured both for the lower bureaucracy and the higher services. It is still a one woman show when it comes to a Collector or SP or any other officer. It is never a team success that we talk of. Team spirit towards ensuring effective governance and development as a goal should be imbibed at all levels.

Groundwork is needed not just on the top, but on ground too.

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