Pitfalls of Traditional Approaches: The Need for Macroergonomics

July 2, 2021

Macroergonomics, a subdiscipline of ergonomics, focuses on designing and improving overallwork systems in order to increase the performance and effectiveness of companies. Macroergonomics is implemented to improve situations where dysfunctional attempts at re-engineering or redesigning a system leads to poor system performance.

Traditional work system design typically has 3 main pitfalls:

1. Technology-centered design

2. Left-over approach to function and task allocation

3. Failure to consider an organization’s socio-technical characteristics

With technology-centered design, the focus is placed on the technology and what the machine can do, treating humans as impersonal components of the system by leaving only the leftovers for them to perform.

This leads into the second pitfall, the left-over approach to function and task allocation. The technology-centered design practice fails to create a task allocation between technology and humans that is intrinsically motivating and that enhances interaction between the human and the machine. As a result, humans often end up just monitoring the system and are not involved in decision making. This poor utilization of humans’ skills and lack of intrinsic motivation are central reasons for the faulty job design of these traditional approaches.

The third pitfall is a failure to consider an organization’s socio-technical characteristics, including the technological subsystem, personnel subsystem and external environment. When these characteristics are not coordinated or there is a change in one of them the whole work system structure is thrown, and its processes suboptimal.

When a system experiences these pitfalls, it results in a macroergonomic model with inputs and outputs misaligned and therefore not supporting the attainment of the business goals. Misalignment can stem from, for example, changes of the internal environment due to psychosocial issues such as a change in leadership or technology. When combined with the competitive pressure of the organization’s external environment, the work system and the individual members may suffer greatly. That is why it is important to recognize not only the pitfalls of traditional approaches, but how all parts of a work system interact in order to ensure a healthy working environment and successful achievement of organization goals. Studying macroergonomics shows the necessity to go beyond the elements of the human work system, such as physical and cognitive capabilities, to integrate all of the system's components to reveal that the whole is greater than the sum.

Want to learn more about how macroergonomics improves work system design? Sign up for our upcoming course ERG150 - Macroergonomics: A Systems Approach to Human Factors and Ergonomics (HF/E), led by Michelle Robertson, PhD, CPE

Learn more & register here: https://www.coeh.berkeley.edu/erg150
Note: The Online HF/E Program is open to the public and does not require admission to UC Berkeley.