Why is it Always THE PEOPLE?

Maybe it is because I turned 78 last week, but it seems that every day I read something or see something on TV that drives me crazy. Even though by the usual standards, I am at the age where people mostly chill out, I seem to be going down a different path. Today’s path to driving me crazy was a link sent to me by a friend, Drone pilot burnout triggers call for recruiting overhaul. The article starts with “Driving a war drone is a stressful business. Shifts up to 12 hours are stretches of dullness, watching and waiting, interrupted by flashes of intense activity in which pilots must make life-or-death decisions.” What boils my blood is that when performance or morale issues become uneven or lagging, the first assumption that is usually made by management is that “we have hired the wrong people.” Not that that can sometimes be the problem but that is the first conclusion from these problems. Is it just possible that it could be management or the job design? I would highly suggest that before the Air Force spends millions of dollars figuring out who to hire, they should look first at day to day supervision, policies and job design. Burnout is caused when the job requires more behaviors than are supported by the available reinforcers required to sustain the desirable performance. Long periods of looking for something and not finding it causes something known as extinction.  Staying alert in such conditions may be considered to be quite stressful.

These conditions can be modified quite easily with modern technology by programing more things to find. These things can then be an occasion for either built in reinforcement or social reinforcers delivered by peers or managers. It is my belief that every organization should use the best ways available to find employees who are likely to be successful. However, when positive reinforcement is not produced by the job and the people one works for and with, even the best candidate will not perform to his or her potential. Were I to be asked for my two cents worth of advice, I would suggest that the Air Force look first at the frequency of reinforcers produced by the job itself and then from supervisors and peers. Changing that will certainly be more cost effective for the tax payers and the Air Force than trying to find people who can tolerate “stretches of dullness, watching and waiting.”



Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.