- March 22, 2017
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Management
I saw a lot of things in my days as president and COO of Robroy Industries.
But never in my 21 years did I expect to see a naked man in the rafters.
It seems the man, we’ll call him Randy, had been doing the same job every day for 25 years. He was an associate out on the plant floor, and his job was to produce the same parts over and over again. It never changed, there was never any variety, and he never did anything else.
One day, he just snapped and decided that being naked up in the rafters was not a bad idea. In some ways, I can’t blame him. I might crack too if I had to do the same thing over and over for 25 years. Think about it — 2,000 working hours per year, 25 years. . . that’s 50,000 hours.
If Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours of practice to be a phenom at an activity, this man would have been the best in the world.
I was called out to the floor, and we got a scissors lift up to Randy, and talked him into climbing onto the lift so we could get him back onto terra firma.
After that, getting him professional help became our priority.
We All Need Variety In Our Work
The message that we took away from this is one thing I’ve always been a proponent of: cross-training your entire workforce so they can do more than one thing.
For one thing, it makes your staff flexible, and you aren’t caught in a jam if a key associate is sick or injured.
But more importantly, for people like Randy, it relieves the pressures of repetitiveness, whether those are physical or psychological. Randy had been repeatedly overlooked by the supervisors in charge of implementing our plan, and I believe that had a big part to play in his breakdown.
The physical result of repetitive functions is carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, tendonitis, and even gamer’s thumb. Repeating the same motions over and over again for days, weeks, months, and years can cause physical injury to joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
But the mental results of repetitive functions are that you end up zoning out and not paying attention. The environment can change around you while you zoned out, and you’re caught unawares by the changes.
Think about all the times you’ve driven on autopilot, only to be started back into awareness by a honk or something out of the corner of your eye. Zoning out because of repetitive procedures on a factory floor can be downright dangerous.
This is even why the TSA swaps people around their roles at the airport. They switch from bag checker to body scanner to bag scanner to tray retrieval several times throughout the day, so no one falls into a rut and overlooks something important.
In the end, it all worked out for Randy. We got him some help, and when he came back to work, we made sure he started cross-training on other positions and was much happier on the job than he had been in a long, long time.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: SparkLightingInc (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)