Worker conflict and dynamics in a decommissioning setting
By David Biggs, University of Gloucestershire
The decommissioning process is a difficult business. Workers have to deal with dismantling large pieces of technical equipment as well as decontaminating the site from dangerous chemicals and radiological materials. At the same time, the decommissioning process is not directly involved with producing revenue and as such is seen as a necessary expense to clean up the environment as opposed to generating profit. Add to this mix substantial paperwork,
extensive contractorisation and excessive workload and difficulties emerge.
I was commissioned as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist to investigate these difficulties through a consultancy project. This project had a research phase followed by a feedback workshop. Research was conducted through interviews with permanent staff (n=18) and contractor representatives (n=2). In addition, permanent employees kept diaries, covering a total of 141 weeks (Mean=7.83 weeks per participant).
The research found a number of issues. Positive features such as medium levels of job satisfaction, good contractor relationships and encouraging management practices were found in the organisation.
High stress levels were found due to high workload coupled with lack of control. This put a strain on worker relationships; however, contrary to management opinion, these were generally amicable. Nevertheless, two project managers were at loggerheads with each other.
Permanent workers, their direct managers, the director for the site and contractor representatives were in attendance at the feedback workshop facilitated by myself and a colleague. Ground rules for discussion were presented, which were necessary to control any hostilities that may arise. Issues found in the research were raised and solutions for progress openly discussed.
One of the most important aspects discussed was the impact that stress had on the interaction between different staff members. This was aided directly by identifying nonsensical health and safety procedures in order to reduce them. Staff were also made aware of the connection between high work demand and low work control and its relationship to stress as suggested by Karasek (1979).
Stress coping strategies were also put forward for staff to discuss in a work-place context. Worker relationships were also highlighted giving the two conflicting managers an opportunity to resolve their differences in a controlled setting. This led to their differences being partially resolved and future recommendations for alleviating this were presented by both the consultant team and the director of the site. The project was considered a success by the site management, who commissioned us to complete similar projects totalling £250,000 to date.