Attacking Opioid Crisis at Work: Companies' Cultural Changes Could Stave Off Addiction, UT Resea
How can companies get more out of their employees?
By giving them what they need to be productive, a team of University of Tennessee industrial engineers has found.
As for what it is they need, the engineers have studied that, too. And they'll present that information Nov. 9 at an industry symposium, "Creating an Operational Excellence Culture for the Millennial Workforce," at the downtown Hilton, 501 W. Church Ave.
It's the second annual symposium the Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education has hosted, but their research goes back even further — and is broader, hitting other age groups and all kinds of industries, including manufacturing, government and health care.
"Generally, the No. 1 stressor in people’s lives is work," said professor Rupy Sawhney, executive director of the center. "It’s not because they don’t know how to do it. It’s because when they go to work, all of a sudden it’s, 'I don’t have this,' and 'somebody lost this,' and 'I need this and that.' It is that unreliability in the process that creates stress."
That stress, in turn, can lead to health issues — both physical, like body strain on a factory line, and mental, like depression. And both physical and mental pain can lead to the use of addictive opioid drugs, with East Tennessee being part of an epicenter for their use.
So Sawhney's team — which includes center director Carla Arbogast, industry liaison and research assistant Enrique Macias de Anda, and academic liaison and research assistant Ninad Pradhan — set out to identify those stressors and help companies make changes to reduce and eliminate them.
In UT's Tickle College of Engineering, the researchers have a simulated factory floor where they can run processes and look for ways to redesign processes to decrease stress and potential pain.
But most of their work is done out in the community with actual companies, Arbogast said, such as local hospitals and manufacturer Clayton Homes. Using different methods such as surveys and Fitbits, the researchers measure employees' stress levels.
"Generally, when you say, 'I want to increase your efficiency,' you think, 'They’re going to make me work harder,'" Sawhney said. "What we want to do ... is change that concept from efficiency to reliability. The idea is, if I can provide you with everything you need ... you would be able to do your job in a lot better way. I don’t have to get you to work harder; I simply have to make sure that everything you need is available to you."
Sawhney said making this happen is generally a result of changing a way of thinking, not necessarily spending a lot of money.
"How do we enhance productivity and yet not kill people?" he said. "Basically, we're trying to get companies to be nicer to people."
Arbogast said local companies have been "very receptive," with "great results." And Pradhan is working on papers outlining research so far, which he and Macias de Anda can present to employers with suggestions for change.
At the symposium, keynote speakers include executives from Clayton Homes, which has used some of the research to make changes; Knox Area Rescue Ministries President and CEO Burt Rosen, who will speak about treating people with dignity; Modeof8 founder and ex-military coach Christopher Coyne, who will discuss the differences between simply being a supervisor and being a leader; and professor Guilherme Tortorella of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, who will talk about millennials' role in the work force.
Registration cost is $250. Registration is open at casre.utk.edu through Nov. 7. A Nov. 8 workshop already has sold out.
Every year, it seems companies are pushing employees a little harder — with unhealthy results that can increase costs over the long term, the researchers said. They think their research can be used to avoid that.
"Companies that adapt, survive," Macias de Anda said. "Companies that don’t, just struggle. Sometimes for a culture to change, you need a crisis to motivate that change. But some companies decide to go ahead and change."