Work Study at the Oxford University Press

SET­TING THE SCENE: Man­age­ment of print­ing came under increas­ing scru­tiny after the Second World War when resources were in short sup­ply and pro­duc­tion needed to be ramped up.  The UK espe­cially sought advice from the USA to improve pro­duc­tion.  This art­icle by Jim Chat­ting describes an approach to improv­ing pro­ductiv­ity at the Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press.

After the Second World war in the late 1940s there was a great deal of catch­ing up to do by way of print­ing and the amounts of work avail­able was far in excess of the capa­city of the Press. The first Incent­ive Scheme at the Press was in the Let­ter­press Machine Room about 1949 when in order to achieve great­er pro­ductiv­ity a simple scheme was devised, in House, based on the make read­ies and num­ber of sheets run. This scheme was dis­con­tin­ued after a short peri­od

Not long after­wards with con­sulta­tion between the man­age­ment and the com­pos­ing chapel a new scheme was agreed to be imple­men­ted based on a truly meas­ured basis.

To estab­lish val­ues time stud­ies were taken.  The job oper­a­tion or pro­cess was first broken down into defined ele­ments that could vary both with num­ber and time taken to per­form them. Some com­plex jobs involving a large num­ber of ele­ments to com­plete one cycle could take sev­er­al hours to study, such as was the com­pos­i­tion of math­em­at­ic­al equa­tions in hot met­al let­ter­press and at a later date let­ter­press make read­ies on large per­fect­or machines. Vari­ous ele­ments of work were stud­ied and these were observed by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent study­men on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent oper­at­ives when this was pos­sible using a stop­watch and record­ing on study sheets The expec­ted pos­sible range of work was covered for a par­tic­u­lar depart­ment or sec­tion.

Ana­lysed, charted and graphed to give a pat­tern of ele­ment fre­quen­cies and time that was required for a par­tic­u­lar ele­ment and with the addi­tion of allow­ances for per­son­al needs and con­tin­gen­cies the res­ult was a Stand­ard minute (SM ) value. These stand­ard ele­ment times were com­bined to give an over­all stand­ard minute value for an oper­a­tion or job. In some depart­ments ( for instance the Bind­ery) the three dimen­sions of a book had a bear­ing on the speed with which it was pro­cessed and so extens­ive SM tables were needed by the assess­ing staff to cred­it the appro­pri­ate SM’s for the work done. As far as pos­sible for easi­er under­stand­ing the SM val­ues were kept to as small a num­ber as was con­sist­ent with the accur­acy required.

Bonuses were cal­cu­lated from the SMs earned, wait­ing time, if any, and the hours worked in a par­tic­u­lar week includ­ing recon­cil­ing wrong clock card entries, missed entries and the miss­ing daily work sheets or dock­ets as they were known. Assess­ing work was car­ried out by a num­ber of mostly female assessors, though some crafts­men were involved for a time in the ini­tial stages. There was also a work­er rep­res­ent­at­ive elec­ted by the chapel work­ing in the work study depart­ment.

The Bonus scheme got under way with the Com­pos­ing room Maths ship the first sec­tion to start. At the end of the year the Mono­type key­boards and casters fol­lowed and over the next few months it was intro­duced pro­gress­ively in all the com­pos­i­tion areas.

Ori­gin­ally there had been quite strong res­ist­ance from the Machine room chapel after the first incent­ive scheme had bean dis­con­tin­ued and Bind­ery chapel was even more strongly opposed to the intro­duc­tion of an indi­vidu­al incent­ive scheme. How­ever now that they could see more money being earned by the Com­pos­ing depart­ments as a res­ult of the pro­ductiv­ity scheme the Machine Room asked for it to be exten­ded to them. Later the Bind­ery also reques­ted inclu­sion and this was done over a peri­od of time.

At a later stage the Litho­graph­ic depart­ment was included and with the applic­a­tion of the Engin­eers the scheme was com­pleted.

Vari­ous updates and main­ten­ance changes were made to the scheme when meth­ods and new equip­ment were installed and it con­tin­ued run­ning until the early 1980s.

At that point rad­ic­al new approach had to be made. The ori­gin­al scheme had mainly been on an indi­vidu­al basis but a com­pletely new scheme based on depart­ment­al per­form­ance rather than an indi­vidu­al per­form­ance was for­mu­lated much easi­er to main­tain and easi­er to run. This meant that all mem­bers of a depart­ment had the same rate of bonus accord­ing to class depend­ing on the pro­ductiv­ity of the whole over a spe­cified peri­od. This scheme when fully imple­men­ted took few­er people to admin­is­ter when com­pared with the num­ber of assessors that were required for the ori­gin­al one which had been so detailed due to indi­vidu­al bonus cal­cu­la­tions. By this time too the num­bers of people employed in the Print­ing House had reduced from the start­ing level in 1950