Computer use @ work. Psychosocial work environment and attitudes toward computers from a work content perspective
Sammanfattning: This thesis aims at investigating computer use at work from a more holistic work content perspective by also studying non-computer work content, in contrast to the previous approach in occupational health research that focused almost solely on computer work content. It was argued here that non-computer work content has also become significant to the overall work situation for computer users. This is due to changes in computer use that have occurred over the past two decades, that is, from a small number of persons performing fulltime computer work (e.g., process operator work or terminal work) to the dramatically increasing number of employees who work with computers, but whose main work does not involve fulltime computer use. Instead, many employees today use a computer as an aid for performing their main work task. Therefore, when the computer is used as an aid, the question of for what kind of work is it used becomes more central, along with the question of how it is used. Computer work content appears also to have become more complex than traditional terminal work, yet methods for describing this content have not changed. One of the present purposes, therefore, was to create and test new methods in an attempt to capture this new computer work content (Paper II-IV). The papers collected in this thesis examined how psychosocial aspects and computer attitudes are related to both types of work content (computer work content and non-computer work content). In Paper II to IV where the employee's main work task was not primarily fulltime computer work, the main work task and the non-computer work content was identical. Paper I investigated and compared the psychosocial work aspects of two groups of process operators with fulltime computer work, but with different kinds of process-generated work tasks. Although the grid operators? work tasks mainly involved monitoring, which has previously been identified as problematic for operators, they assessed their work environment as being as favorable as did production operators who dealt with a flow of real-time tasks. The results were suggested to be due to the off-line tasks performed by the grid operators. Thus, the impact of a certain kind of computer work (monitoring) on psychosocial aspects appears to be reduced by other non-computer work tasks. Paper II investigated computer attitudes from a workplace (i.e., kind of workplace) and work content (i.e., how the computer is used ? the computer work content, and for what ? the non-computer work content) perspective, among employees who performed computer-aided work. This approach is in contrast to the predominant computer attitude research that investigated primarily individual aspects. The results showed that the employees working in a low-tech organization and who in addition had a departmental main work task of low-technical character had less positive computer attitudes than did employees working in either a high-tech organization or department, or both. This result remained significant also after the effect of extent of computer use, which was positively correlated with computer attitudes, was controlled for. Neither gender, age nor education was related to computer attitudes. Thus, these results indicate that both workplace and work content aspects are important to investigate more thoroughly when studying employees? computer attitudes. Another purpose in this study was to investigate whether the computer was used in several different ways. The result showed multifunctional computer use. The presences of multifunctional computer use imply that the computer work content was more complex than a single type of computer work task. Further, this multifunctional computer use took different shapes depending on, how many different types of computer work categories were used, which types, and how the work time was distributed between them. These results support previous suggestion that there is a need of new methods to describe and thereby also to be able to understand the computer use at work of today. Paper III investigated how psychosocial work aspects were related to computer work (?degree of variation? and ?extent?) among employees who performed computer-aided work, and whether these relationships differed depending on the technical character of the main work task for which the computer was used. The results showed that employees with less computer work experienced more variation and stimulation at work, and less machine dependency, than did those with more computer work. These differences were not found to interact with employees? main work task. Paper IV investigated whether a high or low extent of computer work and whether computer work content with high or low cognitive demands were related to psychosocial aspects. The results showed that social workers with a high extent of computer work reported less skill discretion than did those with less computer work. The present thesis constituted an attempt to address computer use using a holistic approach by looking at issues such as: labor market differences, where the computer is used (kind of workplace), for what it is used as an aid (main work task), how it is used (multifunctional use and the shape of this use) as well as the extent of computer use (the time distribution between computer work and non-computer work). The complex interactions between these aspects, illustrated in this thesis, ought to be addressed future research on computer use at work. Although the papers did not give answers to all issues addressed, they do reveal several aspects of computer use that may be investigated in future research on computer use at work and, thus, constitute one step on the way toward a better understanding of the phenomenon.
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