If you don’t recognize those terms, you’re not alone. Sociotech and human factors are specialities within industrial engineering.
I design initiatives to improve people’s quality of life, quality of work and quality of working life. I spent 10 years in college (some of them fun) earning a BS, MS and PhD in industrial & systems engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It turns out, I’m built for this work. My personal psychology and life experiences all led me to healthy work. For myself. For the people I care about. For all our sakes.
I grew up with career-oriented parents who LOVED (with a capital L) their work. They were also first generation college graduates. My father was a research scientist in a corporate R&D group, and my mother a coronary care nurse in an urban county hospital. They threw themselves into their work – their creativity, passion, and considerable energy.
They taught me early on, by example, that work is something that can help us express ourselves. We can make important contributions to society. Develop new products and processes, marked by patents. Literally save lives. Work matters. Not only to the people doing it, but to the people who benefit from our energy and creativity.
But both of my parents chose to take early retirement in their mid-50s. Not because they were asked to. Not even because they really wanted to. They chose early retirement because a) their organizations’ leadership was erasing the JOY of doing the work, and b) they could afford to.
Those organizations prematurely lost passionate high-performers. My dad went on to build a lab in the yard and continue his experiments. My mom began volunteering for hospice and the local nursing home. She still gets excited when she hears an ambulance pass by.
My parents have been retired for over 20 years now. They’ve found a number of ways to contribute to society and live fulfilling lives. But to me, it seems sad that their organizations lost their talent so early on. And I wonder how many other folks took early retirement to escape unhealthy work systems, or worse yet, had to stay and suffer because their finances didn’t allow an exit.
Healthy work is important for everyone. Work has the potential to help people live better lives, not only because of the ways it provides for our safety and security, but because it can help us express our creative talents and social gifts.
I’ve worked in groups where I felt I was contributing to something meaningful. I worked hard and felt great about it.
And I’ve worked in groups where it all felt like a big, exhausting waste of time. I eventually quit, or was told I wasn’t a fit… which was, indeed, a blessing. Because they were right. I wasn’t a fit, and didn’t want to fit into an unhealthy dynamic.
My message to everyone is: We can design work with intention, to have a positive impact on people’s lives, while helping organizations produce their best products and services. It’s possible. We know what to do. We just need to put the research to work for us, so we can all enjoy healthier working lives and just plain healthier lives.
For more information about my career and work experience, see my LinkedIn bio