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Part IV Policy Perspectives
314 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOl OG Y nonprofit organizations to explore four issues of concern: (1) how organizations are going about implementation of new office sys- tem technologies; (2) how women workers have been responding to these implementation policies, under both favorable and unfa- vorable circumstances; (3) what policies of "leading edge" organi- zations hold promise for long-term productivity and job enhance- ment; and (4) whether favorable adaptations by both workers and managers will likely occur on their own, or rather be enhanced by intervention. The discussion concentrates on women clerical workers, since clerical work is the area toward which most office system applica- tions have been directed in the past decade. In this kind of work, video display terminals (VDTs) are used most intensively, and for the longest period per day. Women make up over 90 percent of the clerical work force in the offices where the new technologies are being implemented. One conclusion from the larger study is that there is con- siderable variation at this point in the policies and procedures that employer organizations are using in implementing office sys- tems technology. We do not share the view that the technology somehow dictates one dominant implementation strategy, or that women clerical workers are encountering one set of "OA (office automation) impacts" wherever VDTs are being installed. In this paper, the focus is on the quality of work life and equality aspects of applying office systems technology to clerical work where female employees predominate. We did not study the employment-level impacts of office automation, nor the ejects on job security or insecurity. The 110 organizations that were visited on-site for the larger study were not a representative sample of corporations, govern- ment agencies, or nonprofits. They were chosen primarily on the universities, hospitals, and civic groups. At these sites, we conducted open- ended interviews with over 1,100 end users of VDTs, primarily at the clerical, secretarial, and professional levels, and with over 650 managers and executives. In addition, the project made visits to 15 large vendors of office systems and support equipment; interviewed officials at 40 U.S. labor unions concerned with VDT and OA issues; did a pilot survey and had follow-up meetings with information-system directors in 55 business and government organizations; and interviewed representatives of women's, religious, minority, industry, and user groups concerned with the impact of office technology. We also conducted interviews with 75 employees using VDTs in organizations to which we did not make site visits.
Employer Policies to Enhance the Application of Office System Technology to Clerical Work ALAN F. WESTIN SCOPE AND FOCUS In this paper, I draw on a recently completed study1 of office automation (OA) experiences at 110 business, government, and Financial support for the study was provided, in part, by IBM, Hewlett- Packard, NCR, OCLI, Control Data Business Advisors, Haworth, Kelly Services, and Northern Telecom. The research design, field work, and project reports were the responsibility of the Educational Fund, and the sponsors are not responsible for any of our judgments or positions. My senior colleagues on the project were Michael A. Baker, Heather A. Schweder, and Sheila Lehman. The first product of the study, 17`c Changing Workplace: A Guide to Managing the Pcopic, Organizational, and Rcg?datory Aspects of Office Technology (Westin et al., 1985), was published by Knowledge Industries, 701 West- chester Avenue, White Plains, NY 10604, in April 1985. A second book, The O§icc Automation Cor~troversy, will be published in 1987. ~ Between April 1982 and June 1984, the Educational Fund for Individual Rights conducted a study of "The Workplace Impact of Using VDTs in the Ounces The centerpiece of the research was a program of on-site visits to 110 organizations implementing office system technology. About 60 percent of these were business firms, in the insurance, manufacturing, financial services, media, transportation, retail, utility, distribution, energy, and consumer-services industries. About 40 percent were federal, state, and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations, such as private 313
314 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY nonprofit organizations to explore four issues of concern: (1) how organizations are going about implementation of new office sys- tem technologies; (2) how women workers have been responding to these implementation policies, under both favorable and unfa- vorable circumstances; (3) what policies of "leading edger organi- zations hold promise for long-term productivity and job enhance- ment; and (4) whether favorable adaptations by both workers and managers will likely occur on their own, or rather be enhanced by intervention. The discussion concentrates on women clerical workers, since clerical work is the area toward which most office system applica- tions have been directed in the past decade. In this kind of work, video display terminals (VDTs) are used most intensively, and for the longest period per day. Women male up over 90 percent of the clerical work force in the offices where the new technologies are being implemented. One conclusion from the larger study is that there is con- siderable variation at this point in the policies and procedures that employer organizations are using in implementing office sys- tems technology. We do not share the view that the technology somehow dictates one dominant implementation strategy, or that women clerical workers are encountering one set of "OA (office automation) impacts" wherever VDTs are being installed. In this paper, the focus is on the quality of work life and equality aspects of applying office systems technology to clerical work where female employees predominate. We clid not study the employment-level impacts of office automation, nor the effects on job security or · · . Insecurity. The 110 organizations that were visited on-site for the larger study were not a representative sample of corporations, govern- ment agencies, or nonprofits. They were chosen primarily on the universities, hospitals, and civic groups. At these sites, we conducted open- ended interviews with over 1,100 end users of VDTs, primarily at the clerical, secretarial, and professional levels, and with over 650 managers and executives. In addition, the project made visits to 15 large vendors of office systems and support equipment; interviewed officials at 40 U.S. labor unions concerned with VDT and OA issues; did a pilot survey and had follow-up meetings with information-system directors in 55 business and government organizations; and interviewed representatives of women's, religious, minority, industry, and user groups concerned with the impact of office technology. We also conducted interviews with 75 employees using VDTs in organizations to which we did not make site visits.
ALAN F. WES TIN 315 basis of their reputations as "advanced" and "active" users of office systems technology. Many were selected because of a reputation for having "good human resources policies, though this was not a prerequisite for selection. These reputations] characteristics were drawn from nominations by vendors, articles in the computer and business press, articles in the personnel and labor relations media, and suggestions from interest groups, OA experts, and academi- cians. About 10 percent of the sites were union-represented, about evenly divided between private and government employers. In the course of our site visits, we spoke with approximately 900 women that use VDTs at their jobs. About 15 percent of these women were professional, technical, or managerial employees, and about 85 percent were clerical workers. Four main types of clerical work were examined: word process- ing in both centralized and distributed settings; customer-service work via terminal and telephone; intensive data-entry work; and general secretarial functions. Most of the conversations were con- ducted with individual employees, but about 20 percent took place in small focus groups. We used a topic checklist for these interviews, made up of neutrally worded questions designed to minimize prompting or forcing of issues.2 Our questions asked how long the employee had been using a VDT; whether she had done this job previously without a VDT; what kind of training for the machine she had received; what personal involvement, if any, she had had in the process of using office system technology at her job; how the VDT was affecting "her job" and "her works; whether she had read or heard anything about "VDT issues"; how management supervised her performance; what problems, if any, she had encountered using the VDT and whether she had raised these with management; how 2 We guaranteed employees complete anonymity for their comments, and our interviews were done without supervisors or managers present. As a re- sult, we believe these women clermals were open and candid in their discussion of how they saw VDT uses affecting them, and their responses provided us with valuable reports on the reactions and problems of clerical workers doing intensive VDT work. However, since we did not conduct a representative- sample survey, or use a standardized questionnaire, our interviews do not provide the basis for making statistical statements about national trends, particular industries, or specific occupational groups. Therefore, we feel most comfortable reporting what we found for these 110 organizations, using broad terminology. Our conclusions must therefore be viewed as exploratory rather than representative.
316 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY she saw her future at this organization or elsewhere being affected by her VDT skill; and similar broad inquiries. In addition, ~ draw in this paper on two other interview sources. In the course of the larger study, we conducted in-depth interviews averaging about 1.5 hours each with 12 white, black, and Hispanic clerical workers in one large metropolitan area, and these have been used for our analysis of women clerical worker life situations, career aspirations, and orientations on "women's issues. We also obtained the transcripts of 10 excellent in-depth interviews with women clericals conducted in 1983 as part of a larger University of Connecticut Labor History project (Asher, 1983~. Both sets of interviews probed personal history, education, pre-VDT work experiences, career goals, social and family situ- ations, treatment as women on the job, and other key elements shaping the reaction of these women to the use of VDTs. OFFICE AUTOMATION AND WOMEN'S ISSUESEVIDENCE FROM CASE STUDIES The following are trends among organizations in our field study that relate most directly to the impact of office systems technology trends on women clerical workers (for the detailed data and full-scale discussions of these trends, see our study report, Westin et al., 1985~. Varied Application Among the organizations visited, we did not find the kind of unitary, deterministic application of office systems technology that some social analysts or group spokesmen have asserted to be taking place. Rather, we found significant variations in the design and implementation of VDT clerical work from industry to industry, among individual firms within indus- tries, from division to division, among different local work units, and even among specific types of jobs. In addition, there were often significant variations in how supervisors and unit managers were applying top management "OA policies to clerical work- ers. Such diversities affected both the experiences and attitudes of women clerical workers toward the institution of VDTs at their workplaces. Importance of Overall Human Resource Policy The overall hu- man resources or personnel philosophy of managements at the organizations we visited was the strongest single variable in how the quality of work life aspects and the women's equality issues of
ALAN F. WES TIN 317 OA were being perceived and addressed, both in general and as far as clerical work was concerned. We found firms with nearly iden- tical types of clerical operations, work force characteristics, lines of business or government activity, and economic circumstances whose policies toward the two issues of concern in this paper were dramatically different and were perceived as such by women cleri- cal workers we interviewed. (See the profiles of "Great Northern" and "National Services" later in this paper for specific illustrations of this contrast.) Significant Differences Among Women Attitudes toward VDT work among women clericals interviewed differed as a result of important individual and group characteristics, such as education, social class, race and ethnic status, age and life situation, economic needs, attitude toward "women's issues," experiences with sex discrimination, etc. (This will also be discussed in greater detail later.) Positive Perceptions of Office Automation Confirming the re- sults of various national office worker surveys conducted in the past 3 to 4 years, a large majority of the clerical women we inter- viewed (in the 80 to 90 percent range) expressed positive comments about having VDTs to use in their jobs. Specifically, they reported important quantitative and qualitative improvements in their job performance as a result of the new once systems, and they were glad to have VDT skills which they believed would make them more ~marketable" for jobs both within and outside the firms for which they were working. Furthermore, even those women cleri- cals who did not like the content of their jobs very much, or who were upset at the manner in which the new technology was intro- duced at their workplace, did not attribute the problems to The machine" as such, but rather to the way that their management was structuring jobs or work settings around the new technology. Problems of Office Technology Implementation Despite their initial positive attitude toward the technology, a majority of cler- ical women we interviewed reported a combination of significant VDT problems that they wanted their managements to address. (This also parallels the findings of national surveys of VDT use in offices.) Some of these were general problems growing out of how well or poorly VDT technology was applied (ergonomics, job design, computer-based monitoring), while other problems these clericals reported are issues specific to women workers (such
318 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY as pregnancy concerns from VDT use, pay equity for "women's work," etc.~. Job Reorganization Women clericals in each of the job sec- tors we examineddata entry, customer service, word processing, and secretarial were experiencing a significant reshaping of the content of their jobs compared with the way these jobs had been structured in recent decades. However, contrary to some commen- taries, we did not find this to be unidirectional in the organizations we studied. Some clerical jobs were increasing in variety, scope, and satisfaction and were perceived so by employees. For exam- ple, new capacities to search data bases and to perform complete on-line transactions for customers in banking, utilities, or news- papers were making customer-service work more interesting for these workers. Similarly, graphics capabilities in word processing were enhancing effectiveness and satisfaction in many secretarial operations. We found other clericals had moved into interesting pare-professional jobs, in which they were managing information collection and distribution for work teams in their organizations. However, some clericals, such as claims adjusters in insurance firms and back-office workers in financial institutions, were having the skilled and interesting elements of their jobs taken over by soft- ware, and these employees found themselves functioning largely as data-entry workers inputting routine customer information. The feelings of women we interviewed were significantly shaped by whether managements were providing task variety and interesting activities in the new VDT jobs, or whether they were providing re- tra~ning and new job opportunities for clerical employees for whom straight data-entry work would be an unsatisfactory job. In terms of the physical comfort of women clericals using VDTs, especially operators using terminals for data entry, customer service, and word-processing jobs for more than 5 hours per day, over three- fourths of the organizations we visited during 1982-1984 did not have the majority of their clerical-worker stations in "minimally corrects ergonomic conditions. We defined this as an adjustable chair, an adjustable terminal or work surface, and a nonglare work environment (however achieved, with antiglare screen, ad- justed workstation illumination, etc.~. As a result, a majority of women clericals we interviewed complained of recurring physical discomforts attributable to such weak ergonomic conditions for intensive VDT use.
ALAN F. WES TIN 319 Women's Labor-Force Experience A strong minority of women clerical employeesperhaps 25 to 35 percent expressed concern about the fairness of the pay they were receiving for working with VDTs in their jobs and about the discriminatory treatment they felt they were getting in promotional and career path opportuni- ties compared with men at their organizations. These attitudes were stronger among women clericals we interviewed who were under 30 years of age: they were more inclined to expect man- agement to provide such opportunities and were more ready to make an issue of this at their workplaces than older women. How- ever, "women's consciousness" was also present among some older women, especially those who had been employed a long time at their organizations and knew firsthand how men had been system- atically preferred over women in key job opportunities. Role of Popular Opinion and Activism Feelings about Fair treatment" of women in the high-technology office were being stunulated among women we interviewed by the growing critical discussion of these issues by women's activist and mainstream women's groups, the mass media, unions, and major religious bod- ies. Though worried about the availability of jobs and about voic- ing complaints in a time of job insecurity, especially at nonunion sites where there Is no protection against arbitrary dismissal, a strong minority (about a fourth) of women clericals we inter- viewed were convinced that only if they spoke up at the workplace would women's concerns about pay equity and fair promotional treatment be addressed by management. Variations at the Job- Type Level The executives and managers we interviewed described attracting and keeping good employees for customer BeT=ce and secretarial work, using VDTs as a major organizational need. In contrast, many managers believed that data-enl;ry work would be greatly reduced in the next few years by a combination of optical scanning and direct customer input, or else would be exported to cheap labor service bureaus abroad. Therefore, ensuring job satisfaction for dat~entry work seemed to be less important to these managements than for customer service and secretarial work. Although we visited some sites (about 10 percent) in which having a high-turnover, low-paid, and accepting work force for customer service and secretarial activities was the staffing approach taken by top management, this was not the policy we found being consciously pursued by 90 percent of these organizations. At most corporate and nonprofit organizations we
320 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY visited, considerable attention was being paid to how to balance management interests in cost control and head-count reduction with organizational needs for a highly motivated and effective customer service and secretarial work force. Managerial Responses to Women's Issues In about three- quarters of the organizations we visited, managements had not, by early 1984, developed direct and responsive strategies for dealing with the women's concerns and interests we cited. In some of these organizations, staff groups had recommended new policies to improve job quality for women clericals, reduce discriminatory effects, or take positive actions to enhance women's opportuni- ties, but these staff groups had not yet been able to persuade top management to implement the policies. In only a fourth of the organizations had top management set clear affirmative action goals for VDT clerical work and had line managers actually begun putting such policies into effect. Phases in Offlce Automation Implementation In the first era of OA implementation in the United States, which we would date from 1978 to 1983, vendors stressed productivity and reduction of labor costs and offered few ergonomically designed terminals and workstations. This was partly because they saw no user willingness to pay for such features. At the same time, purchasers of VDTs that we studied saw themselves as struggling to make OA appli- cations work and to achieve the promised productivity benefits; little serious attention was given by most of these managements to ergonomics, employee communication on health and safety issues, or employee involvement. The overall social climate supported such a focus. Despite the presence of occasional stories raising issues of possible adverse health or other harmful effects of "office automations on employee interests, overall media treatment in the first era was highly positive. However, 1983-1985 was the transition into a second era of office system utilization in the United States. This was marked by trends such as vendors responding to criticism and greater user consciousness by providing ergonomically sound products and ma- jor user-education campaigns; increased internal attention at most sites we visited in 1984 to sound VDT policies and practices; major media attention to VDT concerns; a very active regulatory and leg- islative debate over VDT interventions throughout the country, in at least 25 states; growing interest by academics and public inter- est groups in office automation trends and impacts; and a growing
ALAN F. YES TIN 321 concentration on special issues facing women clerical workers doing intensive VDT jobs. Follow-up calls we made in 1985-1986 to sites visited early In the project showed increased attention being paid by these managements to issues of ergonomics, training, employee communication, and other aspects of using VDTs, compared with 1982-1984. GOOD MANAGEMENT POLICIES AFFECTING CLERICAL WORKERS: THE GRAPHIC A REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE Among the 110 organizations we visited, there were sites at which objective work conditions for VDT use and management policies toward women's equality issues were both quite positive. To illustrate, we selected a medium-sized organization, with sev- eral thousand employees, largely because some analysts assume that good VDT policies In the interest of the users are only de- veloped by very large employers, with large staffs and substantial budgets for innovative policy experimentation. While measures of Aged user" need to be defined and applied by researchers, adopt at this point the subjective perceptions of women clericals as the primary basis for terming management policies as "good" for "women's interests. The Graphic is a nonunion newspaper located in a subur- ban area. It is technologically advanced, profitable, and highly regarded for both journalistic and business excellence. Adoption of office systems technology has not led to reduced employment in this firm over the past decade, but rather major expansion of business services (such as selling advertising inserts) that have been accomplished through greater productivity and effectiveness by the same-sized work force. The Graphic is well regarded locally for its employment of women ~d minorities, and its turnover rate is very low, compared to other newspapers regionally. We interviewed about 50 managers, editors, reporters, and administrative and clerical employees at The Graphic. Twenty-one of these were women clericab doing VDT-based customer-service work in the classified advertising and circulation departments, selected by us at random from the operators on duty the days we visited the site. The six customer-service operators whose office automation experiences we will describe are representative of female clericals working at The Graphic who use a combined VDT
322 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY and telecommunication system in a Unperson customer-service department. A new VDT system had been selected and was soon to be installed. It has an automated call system that distributes waiting calls to the next available operator, and also allows more detailed customer information to be displayed on the screen and updated by the operator. This department is presently housed in temporary quarters while a new, ergonomically advanced work site is finished. The employees have been in this makeshift area, with standard office desks and chairs, for about 6 months. The VDT system they operate allows the operator to call up a customer's account history on the screen, consult it while taking orders or handling complaints from a customer on the telephone, and then complete the transaction by keying in an action and updating the customer's file. Work gets extremely heavy at certain peak points in the week, and there are often delays and down periods in the present system that have caused this department to fall behind deadlines. The women working in this department are mostly in their twenties, though there are some older women and a few men also in the group. About a quarter of the operators are black or Hispanic. The positive experiences of six women clericals follow: ~ Norma, a black woman in her twenties, has worked for 4 years in this organization. Before that, she worked in a local graphics shop. She works 6.5 hours a day, 6 days a week on the VDT, and says, "I like it a lot. ~ like machines, period. It's fun. I'd like to program more, which ~ did at the other job ~ had in graphics, while here ~ just put in codes. It would be more interesting if could do more programming and this is something that ~ want to get into. Now we just type a few words in and the computer takes over and does all the rest." Norma attends school at night to study computer programming, an educational program that the employer pays for. She hopes to still be working here in the next few years, but in a job that involves computer programming: "I'd like to be able to do something with programming here, since it is a great place to work." Norma feels her opportunities here as a woman and as a black are very satisfactory, "much better than lots of my friends are finding." ~ Alice, a white woman in her mid-twenties, has worked at the VDT since she joined The Graphic 3 years ago. At her pre- vious job with a manufacturing company, she also worked on a
ALANF. WES TIN 323 VDT, entering orders. Alice comments ~! like working on the VDT very much. ~ like to see what ~ do come up on a screen right away. The only real problem we have is when the system goes down. Everything comes to a stop. Work backs up. She said management understands the problem and doesn't lean on employees unfairly, and that is what makes the situation accept- able. Although she feels that the spay could be betters at The Graphic, Alice says that the benefits are quite good, which makes a considerable difference. However, Alice also feels that customer- service representatives must cope with a lot of stress in dealing with customers who are sometimes angry and upset. In her last job, she didn't have contact with customers, she just input orders. She feels that dealing with customers and defusing people's anger are skills that ought to draw better pay. If she stays at this job, she will try to raise this issue seriously with management. Her goal is to become a district manager. To do that she must take courses in sales, and she plans to register for them next year. Since she is a parent with a very small child, she must work her education and career plans into her family responsibilities, and sees her advancement as a gradual process. Because she is "very happy" at her job, she says that she doesn't mind this. Alice reported no headaches or backaches and no problems with glare. She said some experts came in to check radiation levels some time ago, and thinks that such radiation checks have been conducted twice in the time she has been with the company. She has heard things about alleged dangers from VDTs on the news but she's not upset ("Oh, there's always something that's being discussed in the newspapers."~. But if it was a real problem, she feels her management would know about it and would do the right thing, so she isn't worried. ~ Rosa is a Hispanic woman in her mid-thirties who has been at The Graphic for 5 years, and went right into VDT work in this department. Previously, she worked for 3 years at a local Social Security office, where she was trained on the VDT and where she handled the issuance of checks for disability insurance. Of her present job, Rosa says "I love computers. But we could do more with the system. I'd like to see it upgraded so we can get more information out of it.... I'm looking forward to the challenge and the interest that the new system (which The Graphic has on order) will bring. ~ pick up easily on technological things and so ~ have no trouble learning and adjusting to a new system. Rosa spends 6 to
324 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY 7 hours a day on the terminal. She says that she hasn't had one day when she was bored in her work at The Graphic. "The work is very diverse here, she notes. fit challenges you and ~ love talking to people and dealing with the public. ~ guess ~ could adjust to doing just one function on the VDT all day, because ~ adapt easily, but like the variety of work that we have here." Rosa also feels that The Graphic has excellent working conditions and supervision, and enjoys her co-workers. She isn't looking to change her job or to upgrade herself because she feels she's happy with what she's doing. elf you're happy at the job, and the pay isn't bad and the benefits are good, why would you want to change? Rosa stresses that everybody is coping with the temporarily bad VDT working conditions now without too much complaint, because they know they'll be moving into excellent quarters soon. We make fun and games out of it; we laugh a lot and talk about how bad things are but nobody really minds it.n She's had no backaches, neckaches, or headaches, and has no problem with glare. She has 2~20 vision without glasses and has had no change in her eyes over the 5 years that she's worked on the VDT. You can always adjust your screen with the contrast; ~ don't have to do it but if ~ had any problems could certainly take advantage of that." ~ Pat, a young white woman, has been working at The Graphic for a few months, and came directly from high school. She said '`They threw me on the machine with a list of codes. You learn pretty quickly in the first 2 days. Another employee sits with you, shows you how to operate the terminal, and answers your questions. It worked fine because we're a small group and we all help one another." Pat says that she does have tiring of the eyes and she's bothered by the fact that her head has to go up and down constantly. "It's very annoying to look at the paper and then look up at the screen, she says, and she hasn't mastered that yet. However, she hasn't talked to other people about it and has not yet found a way to prop up pages on the machine because there's not enough room on the desk. She knows that "the new quarters that we will go into soon will provide better space on the desk to help solve that problem." She mentioned that she has no back, neck, or headache problems. However, she indicated that each terminal is slightly different, and when you move from one terminal to another, you should really do some adjustment. When people don't do that adjustment, she said, they begin to fee! a little extra tired from working on a different machine. Pat works
ALAN F. WES TIN 325 7 hours a day on the terminal. Since she's young and new, she ex- pects to stay at that for some time. She likes the job and likes the people and is very happy with the position that she has. Someday, she says she would like to be a supervisor in this department or become a district manager, though she knows she would have to go back to school for that. Since she just got out of school and was "sick of it," she expects it to be ha whiles before she will take courses to enable herself to apply for a district manager's job. Florence has been at The Graphic for 4 years. She is Flak woman who came to the company straight out of high ~ ~.~,% ,, ~ ^ , . _ _ school, and started working on the VDT. She feels that training was very easy: "tThe machinej is just like a typewriter and a big TV set. "I'm not crazy over computers," she comments, abut they do make the job more profession. She also says that she likes the status that working on the computer gives her. When she tells her friends she works on a terminal and is hooked into a computer, they regard her as having an interesting job, especially those that are working in low-status service jobs. Florence has no comfort problems and no eye strain. The only problem is that if she works a straight 2- to 3-hour shift, she sometimes gets finger cramps from keyboarding. Florence sees The Graphic as being somewhat low in pay but offering good benefits. She mentioned that there ~ an annual performance review in which management tells you your strong and weak points, your absence level, your . . . ~ ~ relations with other employees and so forth. The managers will tell you about your errors and whether your error rate is okay, but doesn't compare your volumes and rate of work with those of other employees: "I would hate to have something like that on a job; that would bring too much pressure." The thing Florence hates most is when the computer system goes down. However, she feels that management is very understanding when the system is down, and the situation is improving greatly. She likes her job and she likes keeping busy ald the time ~T would be bored out of my skull if there wasn't enough work to do." Jennifer is a supervisor in this department, and has held that post for the past 4 years. A white woman in her thirties, she joined The Graphic 7 years ago, and was trained in-house on the VDT as a customer service clerk. "I really like the VDT, and now ~ like helping to set up the new terminal system we're putting in." She is thinking about getting further systems education and
326 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY possibly getting a professional post in The Graphic 's EDP depart- ment. She participated on a task force that developed the new VDT system that The Graphic is installing, and liked that partic- ipation very much. Jennifer finds supervising VDT work highly challenging. She thinks the pay could be better for operators after the first year, and hopes to get an "upgrade" authorized when the new terminal system comes in. She notes that she "tried installing formal rest breaks a while ago, to relieve back and headache prob- lems, but the employees don't like that. When we get peak work periods they don't take the set breaks sin T t.nlA norms tm ares ', ~, ~~ ~ ~~~rarer ~~ you "P _ __1~__ al- ~ ~ . ~ ., ~ anytime. t~ tney want a lull 15-minute break, they just tell me and ~ arrange to have their work covered." Jennifer feels worried about radiation and possible effects on pregnant women, and thinks the management should tell the employees more about this "since we're hearing about it all the time. They should give us material to read up on, and answer our questions." She also wants to start an exercise program, and to have more discussion about physical problems and guidance for dealing with them in the training pro- gram. She sees herself as a Young professionals in the new field of VDT work, and finds the whole area of technology "exciting to work in." ELEMENTS OF GOOD USER PRACTICE Good user practices in office system implementation do not come from printed assembly instructions in boxes housing VDTs, nor do they arise through some kind of accidental serendipity. They will not occur in exploitive or repressive work environments, in the "sweatshops mold. Good user practices take place only when there is an existing structure of management policy and practice committed to organizational excellence and a progressive human resource philosophy, plus a recognition that a particular new activity or problem (in this case, implementing new office system technology) requires mobilization of m~nz'a~m~nt. a+-~;^~ and organizational resources. TO t.h ~ ~~ 1 ~~l ~1 ~~ my__ AL ~ L ~ or_ -^_~4u WE UA&UAV11 ^.. vend ^-c.4 VVV11" V1 ~~lllpOLlUlV~ ousmess pressures or pres- sures to reduce budgets in government, this requires recognition by top management of positive Bottom line" incentives to address VDT issues (increased productivity, reduced turnover) or some se- rious concerns about organizational "exposures if this is not done
ALAN F. WES TIN 327 (regulatory controls, legal liability, bad labor-management rela- tions, unionization of nonunion work forces, etc.~. Sometimes, an organization may be in the midst of a changeover in human resources policies from a traditionalist/authority-centered philos- ophy to a more participative quality-of-work-life approach. If this is happening usually because of a change in top management- applying the new human resources philosophy to office automation can be part of the transition process in such an organization. A CHECKLIST OF GOOD USER POLICIES At our site visits, we identified 10 basic ongoing policies that companies with good human resource philosophies were adopting to dead effectively with VDT implementation. Such organizations 1. Build employee satisfaction and organizational change re- quirements into the organization's overall office technology plan and obtain top management commitment to such requirements. 2. Create a task force, coordinating committee, or multifunc- tion group to guide people-technology aspects of office automa- tion. 3. Develop a program of employee involvement in office au- tomation that fits the organizational culture, or use joint union- management committees in union-represented companies, exper- imenting with different modes of involvement for different work settings. 4. Inventory ergonomic conditions in VDT uses, starting with the most intensive applications and creating a graduated program of ergonomic upgrades to acceptable standards in all facilities. 5. Examine techniques of performance evaluation for VDT work and install "fair work measurement" systems that avoid Big Brothers monitoring. 6. Monitor health and comfort responses of VDT employees, take measures to reduce problem areas, and have staff keep abreast of external research findings. 7. Conduct employee-centered rather than machine-centered training programs on using VDTs or installing new applications, and hold similar broad-based supervisor/manager training pro- grams on implementing new office systems. 8. Develop continuous employee communication programs covering both positive achievements and uses of the technology and ways to cope with expected problems.
328 APPLICATION OF OFFICE S YSTEM TECHNOLOG Y 9. Address women's equality and special workplace needs, es- pecially among clerical and professional employees heavily involved with VDTs. 10. Monitor interest group, media, regulatory, and academic developments relating to VDTs, to understand social concerns and proposals being voiced, and to bring the organization into anticipatory compliance with sound standards emerging from such dialog. Figure 1 identifies the organizational policies that user man- agements need to consider in their VDT implementation, and the basic employer, employee, and special women's interests that need to be taken into account in such policy making. JOB SATISFACTION AMONG WOMEN CLERICALS AT THE GRAPHIC Referring back to the vignettes of our representative customer- service operators at The Graphic, we can easily identify the sources of the generally high job satisfaction these women conveyed. Man- agement at The Graphic had instituted the following: ~ Excellent educational benefits for employees to pursue ad- vanced study and good in-house training in advanced VDT ap- plications. This provided women with opportunities for the skills acquisition needed for career advancement, at the employer's ex- pense. ~ Clear promotional ladders and structure within the organi- zation, well known to these women and discussed in performance planning sessions. Based on what they could see other women clericals having achieved at The Graphic, these women could, if their ambitions, needs, and life situations stimulated them, work toward supervisory posts in their own department, professional jobs in data processing (programming, data analyst), and middle management (district managers). ~ Performance evaluation of their VDT work that was con- sidered absolutely fair. Management knew that the systems went down periodically and output was affected. It knew that peak- period commitments needed to be balanced by rest time and at-will breaks. Supervisors did not use machine monitoring to compare one employee's call rates with another's in order to set quotas.
EMPLOYER ROLES AND INTERESTS Str~lc planning Godiva in~du~on Good bansiton ~ an op_n fin ad use Incm~d produ~v~ "Problem responded 10 ~vG'y Improved = poslDon Opel advantage 329 ORGANIZATIONAL POLICIES System Design H~dwars/~#a Sheldon nlng Job Design -s~ Coupon -Cup Oaken -~ E-mn_m (Economics) Health and Saw Conditions an ad Benefit Employ~n1 Policies -ma 1 I SPECI^L WO~EN'S ISSUES Pay Equal Equal Protons Oppo~nM~ Absence of Endued Sex -~on now HIM, Child Can, as. EMPLOYEE ROLES AND INTERESTS Involve~nl in now~hnology decisions ^-gu^ and bmad training ^ ~h^~l~ fob "Fag' pampas av~u~on~upe~i~on Good Sup support Fund e~ono^ conditions S^, unh_l rob "fir pea C._ oppo~n~- dewed and earned Refinable fob auk 1 1 FIGURE 1 Org~nlzatlon~1 polls for good Vim l~p~ment~t~n, and Interests to Be considered In developlog such policies.
330 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY ~ Ergonomics in most of The Graphic's facilities that were very good. At the location where these women worked, conditions were very poor, because temporary space was being used while top- of-the-line ergonomics were being prepared for this unit in new space. Because these women knew that excellent facilities were being prepared for them, and supervisors did not "lean on them" when performance sufl3ered because of poor ergonomic conditions, these employees retained a highly positive attitude toward their employer and their treatment as employees. Employees felt as involved in VDT implementation policies as each wanted to be. They had been given opportunities to test vendor equipment being considered ant] to give their reactions, and several employees from this unit had volunteered for planning task forces. . While there had been some educational sessions for employ- ees on health and safety issues in using VDTs, and some literature had been provided, several employees and the supervisor felt more should be forthcoming from management. After our site visit, ad- ditional employee communications on these issues were provided by management. The one significant problem at The Graphic, as we reported, was pay. Since customer-service work was primarily being done by women (about 90 percent), this seemed to be heading in the minds of the women we interviewed toward a "pay equity" con- cern. Because The Graphic offered what these women saw as excellent benefits, including education support, the pay question might not become acute. Or it might develop into a real grievance, in which case, based on its overall human resource philosophy, The Graphic's management might be expected to recognize the concern and act on it before it became a bleep grievance. Most important, in terms of identifying model-user practices, what characterized employee-employer relations at The Graphic was a condition of basic trust by employees in the good intentions and professional competence of management in the design and implementation of office systems in clerical work. And, business growth and the absence of fears about imminent layoffs provided a solid reflood to support such employee trust. Taking all these factors together, clerical workers at The Graphic were both eager and satisfied users of new office technology. Where there were problems in system design and applications (and there were some,
ALAN F. WES TIN 331 stemming from personal problems in the data-processing manage- ment group), or when ergonomics were pursued on an upgrade rather than an all-at-once basis, the basic trust of the clerical work force provided a vital support resource for management. EXPLOITIVE OR DISCRIMINATORY TREATMENT OF WOMEN CLERICALS The sites we visited, as already noted, were weighted in the di- rection of organizations with positive human resource philosophies and good labor-management relations. Nevertheless, we visited some sites and collected non-site-visit interviews with women cleri- cals in which a pattern of exploitive and discriminatory treatment of women clericals was demonstrated. Here, too, the advent of office system technology was almost never the source of the poor practices. These managements had applied harsh personnel prac- tices and engaged in sex discrimination before they had installed VDTs. Now, they were extending the* basic approaches into new- technology work settings. The following vignettes, drawn from our interviews and from the Asher (1983) transcripts, illustrate some of the main kinds of practices women clericals are encountering: ~ Sheila is a young woman just out of high school who had re- ceived basic training in word processing as a course in school. She obtained a job with a small mail-order jewelry firm in a metropoli- tan area that sells low-cost cliamond rings. Five operators verify customer orders, trace invoices, enter refund amounts, and perform similar operations at their VDT keyboards, accessing a customer data base. Their work is monitored by computer printouts and also by surveillance cameras used by this firm, both for security purposes and to watch employee performance. Sheila recalled that "they used the cameras to watch how hard you seemed to be work- ing, when you got up to stretch or take a break, and your 'attitude' at work. It was really a totally monitored place. This woman was not granted the stanciard raise after 6 months of Probationary work at minimum wage- even though this was recommended by her supervisor because the management said She didn't look like she wan working- that hardy when they observed her on the camera. She had no access to her own production figures or to those of other employees with which to challenge that judgment, nor were there stated production standards she could rely on even
332 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY if she had any complaint procedure. She quit in anger and disgust, as did many of the women working in this small shop after their first 6 months. The management saw such a heavy turnover as quite all right, since they had a steady supply of trained VDT operators willing to take "probationary pay, and the firm did not need operators knowledgeable about the business to do the data-entry work involved. Sheila decided to leave VDT work and is now employed in the food service business. ~ Marian worked for 10 years as a customer-service represen- tative for a city government transportation agency in the North- east. She used the telephone and manual files to handle calls reporting problems on the bus system, in an all-female depart- ment. When the agency put in a terminal system, a set of daily production quotas was set by the new male operations manager who took over direction of her unit. Training was weak, and most of the women in the unit had trouble meeting the quotas. Many of the women developed headaches, stomach pains, and muscle pains. Marian developed serious chest pains, and was told by her doctor that it would be "dangerous for a 55-year-old woman to continue working at a job that was creating such symptoms. When Marian discussed the chest pains with the operations manager, and her feeling that this was caused by the high quotas, he said that "the women will have to keep up or get out. When she tried to appeal his position to higher management, she was told that decisions concerning work quotas were up to unit managers, and maybe "it was time for her to retire. Marian left the agency and now works for a retail store. She feels that she is "a victim of the computer age, but especially because she and her colleagues were women. "I don't think they would get away with that if it was a new garbage truck that was developed, or if the terminal was brought into the accounting department, which is mostly men. . Claire, 57 years old, is chief clerk in the cash loan surrender department of a large insurance operation run by a national reli- gious organization. After graduating from high school, she entered the Army Air Corps for 2 years (serving in a motor pool in World War IT), worked in manufacturing, and later in an office job. She joined the religious organization as a clerk in 1960 and has been there for 20 years. She uses a VDT occasionally for calculating loans and cash-surrender payments, but does not work intensively on the terminal the way other clerks do. Claire is also the pres- ident of the local union of the Office and Professional Workers
ALAN F. WES TIN 333 that represents about 300 employees at this company, a post she has held since the early days of the local union, in 1962. Claire sees blatant sex discrimination as the long-time, regular policy of the organization. Men have all the executive and department manager posts; women stay in the clerical ranks. The best EDP job sectors systems positionsare held by males. Women work alongside men and "are being paid less. When new jobs open up that have higher salaries and status, they are supposed to be open to bidding by all, but a man always gets them. The union has filed sex discrimination complaints with the state comm~s- sion on human rights, but has lost its cases. Also, this company has been shifting the higher levels of VDT work into jobs that it now classifies as "supervisory work," which takes them out of the union bargaining unit. These jobs also are overwhelmingly filled by males. The union has filed charges contesting this with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and has raised the issue in contract bargaining talks, but has lost there as well. Claire sees this religious body as really conducting a commercial operation a very big one but running it under the cover of the religious or- der, and getting away with discriminatory practices "that it ought to be ashamed of." Claire feels that it runs as a "men's club," and that legal and union actions will be the only way to force change. Some women have been admitted to underwriting and professional jobs, but these have not been promotions for talented clerical women. It would be easy to multiply these vignettes many times over. What they have in common is that exploitive or discriminatory practices that were followed in pre-VDT work settings are now being applied in the context of VDT-based clerical work. THE CENTRAL ROLE OF MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY: "GREAT NORTHERN" AND "NATIONAL SERVICES Policy choices of user managements are key to whether women clericalsor any other VDT usersexperience good or bad work and are fairly or unfairly treated at the workplace. To illustrate this concretely, we present anonymous profiles of two large cor- porations we visited. We will call these "Great Northern and "National Services" and make only those alterations of fact nec- essary to prevent recognition of their identities (the profiles are
334 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY adapted from Westin et al., 1985~. Both of these are well-known national firms with successful products and services and currently profitable operations. Neither firm has had any significant sex or race discrimination findings against them by EEO agencies or courts over the past decade. Each is also well regarded in management circles and in general public reputation for its past employee-relations policies. Between 1982 and 1984, managements enjoyed almost total autonomy in applying office system technology, because there was no state or federal legislation in place and virtually no EEO agency attention to special issues of office technology impact. Less than 10 percent of clerical workers were represented by unions, and even in union-represented workplaces, neither collective bargaining contracts nor grievance systems exercised significant influences over management use of VDTs. In the Great Northern example we found evidence of sex stereotyping. Sex roles at Great Northern follow strict lines. About 95 percent of the nonexempt workers using VDTs to do customer-service work are women, primarily white. Supervisors of these women are mostly female. At the sales level, the jobs are 95 percent male. At the local-offices level, at which this company's work is primarily done, managers are virtually all male, except for the post of "Personnel Specialist,n which has been made into a female-typed position and is mostly occupied by women. When we interviewed women VDT operators, the absence of career paths into sales and management was often brought up. At Great Northern, about a third of the VDT operators have community college or even 4-year college degrees, and many of them would like to move up into sales and management ranks. There is no path for them to do that now, and their morale is low. In addition, when we met with women supervisors at Great Northern offices in five states, there was much banter about the "token woman" personnel specialist at their locations, and about the absence of promotional opportunities for these women super- visors into sales or middIe-management ranks. "We were the ones that put the new computer system in, worked out its bugs, trained the operators on the CRTs, and made the transition into the auto- mated system succeed. But none of us are consiclered good enough to go into management. That's the 'boy's preserve.' ~ Women supervisors revere bitter in their comments on Great Northern's male management. They fee} that headquarters people
ALAN F. WES TIN 335 Tap dance around questions" raised by women and that "staff doesn't have much credibility. Nothing is done about the com- pla~nt that women are not being allowed into field jobs that are a prerequisite for moving into management posts, nor are women well represented in Great Northern's Management Development Program. As a result of these policies, women we interviewed see com- munications between employees and management as poor, and management's basic posture as highly defensive, mostly concerned with averting unionization. There is an roped door" type com- plaint program at the company, but, as one woman put it, "The doors may be open, but their ears are closed. In some local of- fices, women told us that the atmosphere was annoying"women are called 'honey' and 'sweetie' or 'girls,' and the men are very condescending." Some members of the personnel staff at Great Northern's national headquarters are aware of this situation. In fact, concern over sex stereotyping and lack of affirmative action promotional opportunities for women ciericals and supervisors surfaced in one recent employee survey In which two-thirds of women said they weren't satisfied with their chances for advancement. However, when this firm underwent a recent reorganization and a reduction in staff, its sales and management ranks became loaded with men who had seniority, and top management doesn't want to "rock the boat. The alternatives it is considering include having more part-time employees (and getting some men for that work), and accepting a much higher turnover rate among its now dissatisfied female customer-service work force than this company would have accepted in earlier times. Very few of the upwardly striving women clericals or supervi- sors that we talked to felt anything would change soon at Great Northern. They like the company, they like the new VDT work, but they fee} like second-class citizens in terms of fair treatment as women. In contrast to Great Northern, when National Services decided to create a large customer-service center for ordering parts and supplies for its manufactured products In an all-VDT system, it set out to improve the work environment. Traditionally, those jobs had been women's work, done by telephone, and there was no shortage of female job-seekers in the exurban community in which the call center would be located.
336 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY In setting grade levels for this work, however, and in its adver- tising, recruiting, and mterview~ng processes, the location manager and personnel stab of National Services decided that it wanted a mixed work force- men and women, black and white, and older as well as younger workers. Its experience told it that morale is higher and employee satisfaction greater in such a diverse work- ing group, and this firm has an anticipative approach to equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action consider- ations. The location-staffing objective was aided by two other factors: the weak job market when they opened this facility and the strong national reputation of this firm as a good employer. These factors provided them with a large applicant pool of men as well as women, and people of varied backgrounds. In addition, the company was able to offer transfers to this location for a varied group of its own employees who were being affected by a major reorganization this firm had also undergone. The result was about as evenly balanced a customer-service work force at the VDTs as any political party convention manager or EEO visionary could imagine, by sex, race, and age. Since the pay levels at National Services are above average for customer-service work in the area, since there is a generous benefits policy, and since the firm has a history of providing strong job security, it was not surprising that individual VDT operators we interviewed considered working at this site an "outstanding job." They particularly liked the mixture of people they worked with. "l used to operate a VDT at an all-women's job," one young woman in her twenties commented, "and it was a sorority house all day. Here, there are men of various ages, and things are just more interesting. Of 10 women we specifically asked about their career plans at this company, 6 were working to go into supervision or pros gramming and felt they had good prospects of succeeding in these ambitions. One was entering a sales training course offered by the company. The other three said they expected to keep on working at their customer-service jobs for the near future. This firm has an annual career-planning exercise at which each employee and manager discuss the employee's skills, performance, and aspira- tions and develop a blueprint for advancement for those employees seeking it.
ALAN F. WES TIN 337 TWO COMPANIES, TWO PATHWAYS These two companies illustrate two different pathways to of- fice technology implementation. At Great Northern, because of its reorganization and consolidation, VDT customer-service work will probably remain almost all female, unsatisfying for the ca- reer concerns of many of these women employees, and likely to make Great Northern's employees less accepting of management progress on other VDT issues (ergonomics, work quotas, stress effects, etc.~. The attitude of top management and especially its information system experts has been highly deterministic; they feel that using the technology "requires that certain work force patterns be adopted to achieve maximum efficiency. They assume that repeople problems created by a need to rush in their new VDT system will disappear as employees "get used to the work." As of 1984, the concerns of some personnel staff at Great Northern had not led to any basic change in top management's blueprint or its attention to women's issues. At National Services, top management, its technical special- ists, and its personnel staffs have a philosophy that office systems technology should be used in ways that further the firm's basic em- ployee relations and "people policy, rather than undercut these. Management set out to create a certain kind of VDT work force at its new center, and they achieved it. They report that produc- tivity, the employee climate, and overall facility effectiveness have been excellent; and our interviews confirmed high employee sat- isfaction, especially among women. National Services follows the same policies as to equality and opportunity for all its employees: clericals, professionals, and managers. It has uniform policies in all its installations, in central cities as well as suburbs and rural areas, and it has facilities in all types of communities. Its am proach is also carried through in bad as well as good economic times, rather than being an approach that is tailored to exploit economic pressures. RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS The larger study on which this paper is based draws on data generated in an exploratory field study. We identified issues relating to office technology and women clerical workers which
338 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY should be fully explored and studied through structured and rep- resentative social research. However, there are many conceptual and methodological difficulties associated with trying to measure "technology impact," especially on the interests of women workers. First, the treatment of women at the workplace and their op- portunities to achieve good jobs, equal pay, and fair participation with men is shaped by very large social forces and not just of- fice technology applications. These forces include the following: overall econorn~c conditions, national and local labor markets, changing requirements for particular occupations or skills, and in- dustry employment and staffing trends. They also reflect patterns of sex discrimination in American society and institutions that have been built up over long periods of time and that are not eas- ily dismantled. Although some of these discriminatory attitudes and practices at the workplace are in the process of being changed in our time by new social values, women's rights pressures, and EEO law enforcement, they remain significant factors affecting most working women, especially in long-time sex-segregated areas such as clerical and secretarial jobs. Second, quality of work life and equality issues for women clericals are powerfully affected by the general levels of employ- ment available in our society. This wall be shaped significantly by the overall strength of the U.S. economy and competitiveness of American companies in a global economy marked by high-tech tools and low-wage work forces; by the levels of government em- ployment available in the next decade (and the fiscal strengths of the economy that undergirds this); by social policies in education and retraining of workers, job sharing, and work week length; and by the distribution of the rewards of achievement among various claimants in the social system. Finally, in terms of social impact, the introduction of new office technology can have one of several alternative effects on the equality and quality of work-life interests of women clerical workers: OA could produce important positive changes in the ob- jective condition of women clerical workers, along dimensions such as pay, job quality, working conditions, career opportunities, etc. ~ OA could have no appreciable effects one way or the other on the equality and equity interests of women, proving to be a weak
ALAN F. WES TIN 339 or even negligible factor when measured against larger economic, social, or legal forces unfolding in contemporary offices. . OA could reinforce existing negative aspects of the status quo, perpetuating patterns of differential treatment of women cler- ical workers in aspects such as pay, promotion, and participation. OA would therefore operate to retard or weaken social efforts to close the equality gaps between women and men office workers. . Finally, OA could actively increase discriminatory treat- ment of women clerical workers, by enlarging the differential treat- ment of women in office work under what were perceived by man- agements as imperatives for effective technological utilization and economic efficiency. Researchers therefore need to frame studies that set baselines of pre-OA conditions; measure changes in objective conditions and perceived worker satisfaction in OA settings and compared to non-OA work; factor in the presence of changing economic conditions, social values, and legal standards; and produce as solid an empirical description as can be assembled for all scenarios. THE FUTURE OF GOOD USER POLICIES Events are moving rapidly in the evolution of user policies to- ward the ~people" and equality of work life aspects of installing and expanding office system technology. Both the positive and negative incentives we noted earlier are increasing the motivation of managements to address these VDT issues. In addition, mod- els for management have been suggested by negotiated provisions on VDT work in collective bargaining contracts, such as those at Boston University, Equitable Life Assurance, and others. Fol- lowing the pattern in other areas of technology-society relations, such as privacy and databank issues in the 1964-1980 period, a set of value judgments, organizational policy frameworks, oper- ating standards, and implementation procedures have begun to emerge as Organizational software" for dealing with VDT appli- cations; and the successful experiences of pioneering~organizations are beginning to be made available for adoption by mainstream managements. There has been a surge of "how to do its educa- tional materials and seminars for user managements, developed by industry and government user associations, vendor organizations, university and consulting groups, and many others.
340 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY If we were to rank the breadth of adoption of good user policies involving VDTs among the 110 organizations we studied, our estimate as of mid-1986 would run something like this: The most widely developing management responses are directed at ergonomics better terminals, more user-friendly soft- ware, adjustable workstations, and proper work environments. This is the "nuts and bolts" aspect of better VDT policies, and while it involves significant costs, it ~ essentially noncontroversial. Ergonomics can be "solid within organizations on a combination of productivity gain, health claim avoidance, and decent treatment of employees arguments. Better employee communication on health and safety is- sues is next in rank. Because the great weight of scientific evi- dence supports the position that VDTs cannot be shown to cause disease, managements are increasingly communicating with em- ployees on this issue, preparing briefing booklets and stories in employee newspapers that report scientific findings and explain their conclusions. The "don't make waves" concept of not talking to employees about VDT health issues has given way in most orga- nizations we visited to direct communications, including practical guides for exercises to relieve muscu1Q-skeletal tensions, resting the eyes from intensive VDT work, dealing with job stress, and so on. Reducing potential worker compensation claims, absences and high turnover provide important employer incentives here. Next in order of emerging policies would be matters of job design and performance evaluation. Providing variety in tasks, al- Towing employees some discretion in work pacing, setting fair work standards, giving employees access to- work records, and similar matters are being considered, as more powerful office system ap- plications are applied to claims processing, customer-service work, and secretarial-adm~nistrative functions. The key here is usually whether the personnel or human resources function is brought into the application planning, as opposed to having this done exclu- sively by a DP or OA function. Increasingly, personnel depart- ments were being brought into VDT planning in the organizations we visited. Employee involvement seems to be the next most wide- spread policy we saw being adopted. Clerical work has not been an frequent an occupational sector for equality circle" or other employee participation programs as factory work has been in the . .
ALAN F. WES TIN 341 past 6 to 8 years. This was changing at the sites we visited. In 1984-1986, use of employee involvement mechanisms for clerical groups was clearly growing and almost half of the organizations we visited were making some use of formal employee involvement programs in office automation. ~ As far as unique women's issues in clerical VDT operations are concernedsuch as pay equity, internal career opportunities, and sex-segregated work grouping innovative management poli- cies in this area were not developing as fast ~ 1984-1986 as the other aspects of VDT-based work. Only 25 percent of the sites we visited were addressing women's issues directly. This is probably due to a combination of factors: the deeply institutionalized na- ture of organizational policies in these areas; the absence of clear or relatively cheap "fixes" for these problems; the absence of reg- ulatory pressures on these issues from the Reagan administration, federal or state EEO agencies, or the courts; and labor-market conditions that currently provide employers with ample supplies of willing women clerical workers. As of 1986, then, new policies addressing the quality of work life aspects of VDT use were developing widely among the organi- zations we studied, following the most common to least common patterns we have just estimated. Our observation of user publica- tions and educational efforts suggests that this trend is also taking place among most substantial users of VDTs, especially in the clerical sectors which have generated the greatest publicity and controversy. These data are reported in Westin (1987~. However, it is not clearly established whether these employer initiatives are coming primarily from users' own learning as to sound employee-relations policies for using office systems technol- ogy effectively, or whether employers are acting primarily to head off threats of regulatory action and to defuse attacks by unions and activist groups. Our own judgment is that the office automa- tion controversy has not caused the development of good policies among leading-edge organizations, such as the company we called Functional Services. However, the controversy has accelerated the process of mainstream-user consideration of quality of work life as- pects of office automation and has also strengthened the position inside mainstream organizations of those staff and management groups that believe such policies should be pursued.
342 APPLICATION OF OFFICE SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY Since policy initiatives ace under way in the user community, regulatory action may not be necessary. However, at this time, attitudes toward the need for regulation depend more on the ana- lyst's philosophy about the scope and timing of social regulation than on any objective or empirical measures of VDT usage condi- tions. The key questions in deciding about regulatory proposals will be (1) whether the need for regulation can be preempted by widespread usage of effective, substantive measures in the user community and (2) whether regulatory advocates can produce ev- idence of harm to employee health or well-being that convinces policy makers that the substantial costs employers would have to bear would be worthwhile. We have shown that there are good policies present among some user organizations we studied, addressing both the quality of work life and women's equality issues of concern to millions of women clericals in business, government, and nonprofit organiza- tions. These policies work well, are not prohibitively expensive, contribute to strong employee job satisfaction and women's equal- ity interests, and support the productivity goals of organizations in a time of challenge and competition. How widely and well these approaches will be adopted in the next few years is therefore an issue of enormous importance, not only to women clericals but to all employees and employers in the United States and to American society as a whole. REFERENCES Asher, R. 1983 Unpublished transcripts of interviews for the Project on Connecti- cut Workers and Technological Change. Storts: University of Connecticut. Westin, A.F. 1987 VDT Update Report: Uacr Policies and Practices in Applying Office System Technology. New York: The Educational Fund for Individual Rights. Westin, A.F., H. Schweder, M. Baker, and S. Lehman 1985 The Changing Workplace: A Guide to Managing the People, Organiza- tional, and Regulatory Aspects of Office Technology. Westchester, N.Y.: Knowledge Industries.