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Research addresses whether or not workers are in ‘the zone’

Dr. John Whiteoak talks to Roads & Civil Works about his research into frontline asphalt crews and whether or not they are engaged at work.

Dr. John Whiteoak talks to Roads & Civil Works about his research into frontline asphalt crews and whether or not they are engaged at work. Mark Coyne’s last-minute try in Game One of the 1994 State of Origin Series was a defining moment in rugby league.

Trailing 12-10 to New South Wales, and with less than a minute on the clock before full-time, Queensland went on the attack. Halfback Allan Langer initiated the play, which involved eight successive quick-fire passes between Maroons players before landing in the hands of Coyne, who went on to score the match-winning try.

Match commentator Ray Warren dubbed the effort a “miracle”. Dr. John Whiteoak from the University of the Sunshine Coast calls it crew synergy.

For a sports team, the cooperation and synergy between players is a key factor in productivity. It’s also a major element Dr. Whiteoak has taken into account in his research measuring whether or not an individual is productive or in ‘the zone’ on the job.

Dr. Whiteoak explains that an individual in ‘the zone’ is flourishing at work and kicking goals: “Work is something they actually enjoy as well.”

Queensland players were in ‘the zone’ when they scored that game-winning try over a decade ago, however, Dr. Whiteoak’s isn’t researching the productivity of sportsmen but the productivity of road crews in the asphalt industry.

In August and September last year, Australian Asphalt Pavement Association (AAPA) asked Dr. Whiteoak to conduct a study of the asphalt industry to investigate issues in productivity. The research began with focus groups involving frontline supervisors, “the guys with sticky stuff on their boots,” as Dr. Whiteoak puts it. The aim was to address the issues these supervisors were facing in the field with their crews. Individuals in the focus groups identified productivity and disengagement as the major issues. As a result, Dr. Whiteoak put forward his ‘Zone of Engagement’ (ZE) concept for use in the study.

The ZE model was established during Dr. Whiteoak’s research into the mining sector, regarding the productivity of dragline operators. The study directly involved the workers themselves and found that disengagement and boredom were the main factors affecting productivity. The ZE model measures the engagement of individuals and whether or not they are in ‘the zone’ at work.

Under the model, an individual is surveyed and measured by their Personal Qualities (PQ): crew synergy, foresight, situational awareness, practical intelligence, openness and conscientiousness. An individual’s Personal Qualities are then measured against their Cultural Fit (CF): performance management, job involvement and their relationship with the company.

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