Thursday, September 27, 2012

Work Environment Essay

Work Environment Essay

1. Introduction 
The span of responsibilities, assignments and fields of specialization within the Naval command is naturally the widest and most diverse in the corps. Even rather narrow tasks often depend on the proper and synchronized performance of different people, teams and technologies. This requires breathtaking efforts of coordination, documentation and feedback, which may be significantly compromised when the workforce lacks sufficient infrastructure and/or clear work processes. The victims in such cases are not only the tasks themselves but also the workforce, whose inferior performance directly affect personal and team morale. 

A recent study carried out by navy officials (Dellinger, 2008) shows great concern regarding possible influences of poor documentation of processes on a variety of performance indicators, including workforce morale, ineffectiveness and organizational inefficiency. Moreover, the author poor documentation and metrics also cause more problems and call for crisis management, thereby putting more mental pressure on the workforce. The human price for such pressures can vary from fatigue to depression and intention to leave, with dramatic effects on short- and long-term performance.       

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2. Poor Process Documentation as a Cause for Low Morale and Performance 
Morale stems from an array of personal and organizational factors. It is therefore obvious that depletion of morale (and solution to the problem) cannot be traced down to a single phenomenon or change. That being said, Dellinger’s (2008) findings may indicate a key cause for low workforce morale, especially when considering the fact that organizations such as Naval command function in a manner that stand somewhere between armed forces traditions (which have perfected the art of esprit de corps) and a civil workforce. Hence, a sound analysis of the problem must consider both aspects of the organization and its workforce.

Morale and related positive aspect of job performance such as stability, productivity and achievement “depend on the fit between one’s personality and one’s work environment” (2003, p. 132). Whereas the former criterion might indeed be managed to a great extent by more adequate staffing, it seems that the latter, i.e. the means by which work environment affects morale and performance, should receive greater attention from commanders as improvements in the workings of the units have a greater effect than trying to adjust people to a poorly managed process.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and rapid changes (e.g. an immediate need to reprioritize tasks) are a natural and unavoidable component of any military environment. It seems, however, that the Naval command does not do enough to create a clearer and smoother work environment. Lepore (2010), for example, finds that the Naval command has inferior process management protocols (compared to the Army and the Air Force), which are often vague and lead to poor allocation of tasks and responsibilities. 

His findings include, among others: 

  • Strategic plans do not elaborate on who is responsible for some actions and how these are to be carried out;
  • Guidance documents are not synchronized and even contradict each other in some cases; and
  • Lack of clarity regarding standards of reporting and evaluation.  
Simply put, it is not unlikely that a considerable number of tasks are performed without being subject to a coherent set of instructions. This implies that the people who perform such tasks (as well as people whose work depend on the performance of these tasks by others) work in a confusing atmosphere and do not have the means to evaluate their performance. It might be that such tasks are performed in a reasonable manner even without proper documentation of work processes, but the lack of the latter opens a wide window for personal interpretation and fragility when one or more components of work environment (such as supervisors and priorities) change. A further decline in morale is very likely to occur due to the fact that processes that are very difficult to manage also tend to fail more often, thereby causing a decline in people’s perception of the purpose and quality of their own work (Boyd, 2004). 

It is important to emphasize at this point that the flaws discussed here may have a tremendous effect to the proper functioning of the organization has a whole. Notwithstanding the importance of these effects, this report focuses on the specific dimension of morale and therefore does not cover the whole array of possible implications associated with poor process documentation in the Naval command. Thus, the recommendations provided below remain in the narrow context of improving workforce morale to enhance organizational performance. 

3. Suggestions for Improvement 
There is a great sense in the claim that although the U.S. Naval command can greatly benefit from more comprehensive structuring of tasks and processes, it must also make sure that such actions will not lead to rigidity. A certain degree of ambiguity in the command’s processes is indeed necessary, but possible negative effects on workforce morale can and should be prevented. The relevant literature suggests more than a few ways to deal with this situation. These ways can be broadly classified into two main categories:

First and foremost, the Naval command should reengineer quite a few of its decision-making and process management documentation. This must be done rigorously and decisively, but in a manner that will not create a sense of mistrust and unwillingness to cooperation of behalf of the workforce. In order to do so, the change agents (that are responsible for analyzing the current situation, prescribing solutions and implementing them) should exhibit openness, explain the merits of changes and demonstrate tangible benefits to individual (as opposed to merely organizational) performance, time management and flow of work (Spears, 2007).  

Second and almost as important as the latter, efforts should be made to teach and develop coping strategies for the workforce. As discussed above, the Naval command cannot and should not eliminate quite of few loci of flexible process management and documentation. On the other hand, narratives such as ‘this is simply a part of the job’ are not effective to prevent decline in morale. Garrido and Muñoz (2006) argue that coping strategies should be customized to specific individual and task characteristics and offer strategies such as:

  • Focalization: e.g. by directly confronting the problem, with a guided intent to rationalize its causes and inevitability;
  • Cognitive efforts: capitalizing on one’s ability to adopt in order to develop individual and/or organizational strategies to handle the problem without emotional costs; and
  • Behavioral efforts: using social tools such as humor, organizational folklore and identification with the organization’s causes to bypass possible negative effects of the problem on morale.   

The U.S. Naval command and its workforce suffer from an array of inherit problems, which might affect morale and performance. A comprehensive approach that combines process reengineering and psychological interventions is likely to be the key to solve possible decline in performance. As it managed to sustain esprit de corps in much more challenging eras than today, the Navy can and should carry out the needed effort to bring about such a change.  

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