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WS/ OM – Work Study

  • Sometimes, repetitive manual or clerical tasks need to be analysed in detail to identify how to improve them
  • Work Study, a scientific management approach, can be the answer
  • WS engineers determine the right way to perform a manual or clerical task, and then calculate the time it should take an experienced operative to complete it, measured in SMVs  – Standard Minute Values – which are then used to calculate ‘ideal’ manning levels and bonuses earned
  • Up to the 60s, pioneering WS techniques to improve productivity included:
    • Time and method study from Frederick W Taylor in the 30’s – “The Principles of Scientific Management” – Philadelphia steel
    • Move product to workers and their gear – Charles SorensenFord
    • Hawthorne experiments and impact of rest breaks – George Elton Mayo GE
    • Motion study from Frank & Lillian Gilbreth
    • Rating assessment from Charles Bedaux
  • These techniques evolved from the productivity improvement initiatives taken by US manufacturing companies such as Bethlehem Steel and Henry Ford’s car factories – both were capital and labour intensive – both focused on output volumes and labour productivity
  • Much success came from:
    • Subdivision of manual work into small groups of simple, repetitive tasks:
      • Henry Ford claimed “nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”
      • Only later was it realised that this so bored and demotivated employees that output volumes would eventually fall
    • Detailed measurement of manual work to reduce wasted time
    • Tighter control of labour numbers, grades and so costs
    • Work-measured bonus schemes paying an extra 1/3 of pay for 1/3 extra effort
    • Standardisation and interchangeability of parts
    • More efficient layouts of assembly lines
  • It was not too difficult to achieve major productivity improvements at the time – many work practices were disorganised, largely because employees had been left to devise their own ways of working
  • Work study thus had a good run, for at least 50 years, up until the 80s
  • However, its connection with job losses always made it despised by the Unions
  • And its focus on manual and clerical tasks made it disregarded by those wanting to study ‘higher’ levels of work e.g. brainwork




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