published November 24, 2017

Doing the Work Yourself – 4 Ways to Gather First Hand Knowledge about a Job

Getting to know what a job entails may involve getting in there to do the work yourself. Find out more here.

Work sampling involves making instantaneous, random observations of what the worker is doing. If done properly, a fully accurate picture of what goes on can be derived at far less cost than with direct, continuous observation.
Actually an observer can spot-check at random, a camera can be used to take snapshots at random intervals, or workers can be notified at random intervals to record what they are doing. With any of these approaches, the essential data are acquired. A picture of how total time is distributed among work, non-work, and semi-work activities can be obtained over time. The keys are to make truly random observations (without forewarning the worker), and to make a sufficient number of observations over a complete work cycle.
Usually the analyst will select times, using a random number table or similar device, to observe the worker during each day over enough successive days to cover a work cycle. The analyst then has only to glance casually at the worker at each predetermined, selected time to determine what the worker is doing. A recording is usually made. This approach is fast, does not disrupt worker behavior, and is accurate. It obviously will not work well if the observer does not know where to find or how to contact the employee.
Films can be of great benefit when it is important not to miss a single task, when it is important to know precisely how long one spends on certain tasks, when a true picture of task detail is needed, or when information on task sequencing is required. Films are practical if the employee is relatively stationary in physical location since a camera can be positioned and left alone.
Films, of course, are not practical when employees move from location to location. They also can cause workers to operate abnormally because they either desire to impress the viewers or because they wish to build a case for changing certain parts of the job. Also films can be expensive to run over an extended period of time and expensive to review (because a review takes up considerable resources and time for the analyst). However, films are less expensive than direct observation because the analyst does not have to be there in person and can review the films during off hours.
Films are a superb tool for studying task detail because they can be slowed down, stopped, rewound, and replayed as often as is necessary to get an accurate task statement. They are also a superb tool for picking up unusual or unexpected events that tend to occur with some frequency but that data sources often forget to report by other means such as questionnaires and interviews. Films are better than direct observation because they do not rely on the analyst's interpretation and recording of tasks. Often analysts, though highly trained, are unfamiliar with jobs so sometimes they just do not know what should be recorded. The film is neither selective nor negligent in its recording.
Doing the Work Yourself
This is an excellent way to gather firsthand knowledge about a job. This method is workable when the job is easy to learn and is fairly structured. Complex jobs or jobs that involve considerable uncertainty in specific, day-to-day routines are really not amenable to this approach. It does not make sense to spend too much on training analysts to do a job they will perform only during the period of an analysis.
This method does make a lot of good sense when an organization finds itself faced with a type of job in which the details are left up to the incumbent. If the job involves a high degree of worker autonomy, involves relatively little interaction with others, is a one-of-a-kind role, and involves considerable movement from location to location, then there may be no other good way to gather accurate, valid data about the job. Each data-gathering data method has its place. The ones to choose will depend on many factors in the specific situation being addressed.
In addition to the major tools, analysts have at their disposal a wide range of other approaches for data gathering. One or more of these should usually be used in conjunction with a number of the major mechanisms just discussed.
Organization Charts, Process Charts, Layout Diagrams
Various charts and diagrams should be studied by any analyst prior to employment of other job data-gathering strategies. The understanding of the total organization provided by these devices will shape the nature of other strategies used and will help the analyst develop more worthwhile questions.
These charts and diagrams can provide insight into relationships among jobs-administrative and work relationships. They show flows of authority, of materials, of information. They can aid significantly in properly fitting a job into the overall structure of things. For example, if an organizational chart reveals a committee attached (authority-wise) to a particular position in the organization, this cues the analyst to find out who serves on that committee and to build that committee responsibility into the job descriptions for those members. Sometimes such responsibilities, which may not be highly time consuming and regular, are neglected by incumbents or supervisors providing job data.
Pocket Tape Recorders
Pocket tape recorders may be used in place of work logs. Incumbents can simply voice record what they are doing at different points in time. This may be less disruptive and less time consuming than stopping to fill in a work log sheet and thus may help to reduce resistance to keeping the log.
Such tape recorders can also be valuable to capture thoughts incumbents may have about their jobs while they are on the run without their questionnaires or work log sheets in hand. Later on, the worker can listen to the recorder and write down the important information. The problem with tape recorders is that you have to remember to turn them off and on. On occasion it may make sense just to leave the recorder on for a period of time during which there is a high volume of interpersonal interaction to capture a full vocal profile of what is happening on the job.
Pocket tape recorders are becoming more popular as a job analysis tool, but it does take time to listen to tapes and to record, in writing, what is heard on the tape. This is probably their major drawback.

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