Friday, August 7, 2009

Job Design of Maids

Two important dimensions of job design are the variety of tasks and scope of discretion and decision authority. Employers can observe the two dimensions in order to understand their maids' performance level.
The above figure illustrates four possible combinations (black dots).
Traditionally, many firms especially factories created jobs like Point 1, which involve few tasks and limited decision authority. Lately there has been a trend toward jobs like Point 4, which involve many tasks and broad decision authority. A prominent example of this would be the Chief Executive Officer or the Boss. However, it is easy to give examples of jobs like Point 2, which involve many tasks and limited decision authority – for instance certain clerical jobs. Similarly, it is also easy to point to examples for jobs like Point 3, which involve few tasks and broad authority – for instance, certain sales jobs.

As regards the job design of maids, as many would have pointed it out, the same is located at Point 2, which represent many tasks and few discretion and decision authority. The mismatch of the two could explain the inconsistencies of the maids’ performance.

The mismatch is a statement of observation and not a statement of problem as maids could not be granted massive discretion and decision authority very quickly without other considerations.

There are few ways that employers could do about this:

The first is to appreciate and understand the hurdles faced by the maids. An understanding is the precondition for a rationale and wise judgment.

The second is to break the tasks of the maid into smooth tasks and discretionary tasks. Smooth tasks are simple tasks that are routine in nature such as watering the plant, ironing the clothes and sweeping the floor. Discretionary tasks are tasks that require a bit of judgment such as cooking; imagine Maid A who has to cook a fish curry for Mr B who likes salty curry and Ms C who prefers healthy non salty cooking. The same also include a zero sum time-competitive tasks such as having to deliver demands of two persons at the same time, which one goes first?

By doing this, employers are then able to judge their maids fairly and wisely instead of a broad-brush generalisation. Underperformance in smooth tasks might infer tiredness, laziness, boredom or attitude issues. However underperformance in discretionary tasks might be due to lack of knowledge, fear of making mistakes or confusion.

The third is to slowly move the maid from Point 2 to Point 5, the red dot. However, the bridging of the gap is determined by trust which is a function of performance, consistency, time and personality. The maids are of course needed to show a consistent result of performance level over a period of time and time means periodic attempts and opportunities to learn and make mistakes. Personality is also key as no matter how good the person is, a bad personality does not normally yield trust.

The above dimension works within the clustered context of maids working environment. External issues such as family of financial problems of the maids, or the issues within the family of the employers, are also influential in determining their performance level.

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