”Measuring without monitoring is pointless”

How are people onboard – really? The question is of more and more interest. Measuring the psychosocial work environment, however, requires good preparation as well as professional questions and follow-up. This is claimed by psychologist and researcher Anders Pousette from the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg.
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To find out how the crew feels is worthwhile.
To find out how the crew feels is worthwhile.

How are people onboard – really? The question is of more and more interest. Measuring the psychosocial work environment, however, requires good preparation as well as professional questions and follow-up. This is claimed by psychologist and researcher Anders Pousette from the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg.

For a long time, the focus in work environment management was on the ”hard” issues. It was concerned with reducing the risk of accidents and physical injuries and improving the interaction between man and technology. But in the 2000s, interest in psychosocial issues increased. The connection between a good atmosphere onboard, work performance and safety has become clearer and more studies show that personnel who feel good do a better job.
But identifying and righting problems rooted in personal conflicts and dissatisfaction is often felt to be difficult. Anders Pousette at Sahlgrenska has many years of experience in measuring the psychosocial work environment. According to him it is not particularly complicated, but still requires a certain amount of knowledge to get it right.
“The first thing to do is to ask ourselves why we want to measure something. Measuring for its own sake makes no difference – you have to put things into a context and make them part of the systematic work environment management, with clear objectives and follow-up work.
At a large shipping company, a questionnaire is the most effective method of measurement according to Anders Pousette. Putting together a questionnaire on your own is not something he recommends, and he recommends using one of the providers that are available for this type of service.
The right questions
“Designing a survey is a major job that requires good knowledge of how to formulate questions and answers to find out what you really want to know. A small change in wording can give significantly different results.
As an example, he takes the statement, ”I enjoy my job”, with five possible answers from ”do not agree at all” to ”completely agree”. Anyone who really likes their work will tick option five. But if the statement is formulated as ”I love my job,” the response from the same person will probably be ”agree”, which only represents a 4.
“In the latter case there is a superlative already in the statement, resulting in a lower number in the response. In an evaluation of measurement results there is a big difference between a 4 and a 5,” he says.
“There must also be the right number of questions,” continues Anders Pousette. ”If there are more than 80 questions, there is a great risk that respondents will get tired or that they will not consider each reply thoroughly. If there are too few questions, on the other hand, the data will be too poor to draw the right conclusions. Around 60 questions are usually required to gain a comprehensive picture of the situation. ”
“We usually reckon on three to seven questions per area to be investigated. One should never use a single question to draw general conclusions.”

It can be difficult to sort out problems onboard alone. It is important to have support from the onshore office. Illustration: Jennie Ericsson.
It can be difficult to sort out problems onboard alone. It is important to have support from the onshore office. Illustration: Jennie Ericsson.

Compare with others
When questionnaire responses are delivered and summarised, they need to be compared with reference material in order to assess what are good and what are bad results. In a large shipping company, the total material can serve as a reference where you can compare the responses from one ship with the overall result. A small company may need external reference material.
“Try to find a target group that is as close to your own as possible. Reference material is something a supplier of measurement services should offer, but it may be useful to find out which reference group they intend to use,” says Anders Pousette.
Anders Pousette
Anders Pousette

Repeating the same measurement from year to year is also a way of obtaining reference material and monitoring developments.
“People like their work in general – there is always something that you think is good. If things are really bad, the responses drop one whole mark, and if you have a fall like this you should definitely see it as a warning. ”
According to Anders Pousette, you should avoid giving questionnaires on ships with fewer than ten people in the crew. The reasons for this are several. Firstly, the group is too small to draw general conclusions. Secondly, it may create confidentiality problems because with fewer respondents the risk increases that you can see who wrote what.
”On smaller ships, it is better to sit down together and talk about how crewmembers feel and whether they enjoy their work. It may still be good to have a list of questions to follow in order not to miss anything, though,” he says.
Regardless of whether you use a questionnaire or hold group discussions, it is important to follow up responses. The results will be reported back to the crew and you must be prepared to adopt measures to improve any problem areas identified.
”My experience is that there are sometimes gaps in the follow-up and that people do not really know what to do with the results. But it is very important to follow up. If people take the time to fill out a questionnaire and give their opinions, they will be disappointed if nothing happens. Then measuring can have exactly the opposite effect,” says Anders Pousette.

According to work environment research, the following factors need to be fulfilled for us to enjoy our time at work
• Control over the work situation. To be able to control the pace of work and the content of tasks.
• Stimulation and development. To have the opportunity to learn new things and to develop our abilities.
• Effective leadership. It should be characterized by transparency and involvement in work tasks, but also care and focus on employees’ personal aspects and relationships.
• Good work teams. Good atmosphere in the work group. Everyone knows they are part of the group and feel that they are doing a good job together.
• Balanced workload. We should not have too much or too little to do. This applies both physically and mentally.

Support for the questionnaire
Crews often need help from the shore-based office to follow up the results. Solving the problems that are revealed without external help is often problematic.
“If, for example, it becomes clear that interaction onboard is not working, that in itself may make things difficult to discuss together,” says Anders Pousette.
A good time interval for making measurements is once a year, according to Anders Pousette. If there are major difficulties more frequent measurements may be needed. An alternative is to pick out the part of the questionnaire that you want to follow up more closely.
“But this assumes that the supplier of the questionnaire is happy about that. It is a good idea is to find out beforehand whether they will allow it.
According to Anders Pousette a good response rate is around 60 % or more. Much fewer responses may be an indication that something is not right, but careful preparations tend to give better feedback.
“The survey should not be something that suddenly comes like a bolt from the blue. You need to get the support of the captain and crew, explain why you are doing it, that it is optional to participate and explain who will have access to the results. The ethical aspect is very important. People should feel confident that their responses will not fall into the wrong hands. ”
Linda Sundgren

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