Workload Management involves the proper allocation and distribution of tasks to individuals, avoidance of work overloads in self and in others and the use of resources to reduce stress and increase performance. This article expands on our existing series of topics on Threat and Error Management which we believe are key skills for our graduating Commercial Pilots to have.
Workload refers to the demands imposed on a user by the task, and the capacity of the user to meet those demands. Therefore, because of the high number of inputs received by the crew members it becomes critical to be able to manage this element of CRM.
Workload management is affected by multiple human factors such as stress, fatigue, illness and fitness in addition to the other CRM skills. Decision making is as essential to workload distribution as workload management is essential to good decision making.
It is important to learn to recognize either situations of high workload or low workload. Humans are more reliable under situations of moderate workload. Data shows that errors happen in both situations of low and of very high workload. A small error committed in a very low workload situation (more difficult to identify) is as important as one committed in very high workload situation and likely to become consequential later if undetected.
Overload occurs at very high levels of workload, when the individual or the crew’s workload exceeds their ability to cope with it. As highlighted previously, performance deteriorates when arousal becomes too high and we are forced to shed tasks and focus on key information.
Error rates may also increase. Overload can occur for a wide range of reasons based on the factors highlighted above. It may happen suddenly (e.g. if asked to remember one further piece of information while already trying to remember a large amount of data), or gradually. It is good practice to try to plan tasks such that the flight crews are not left with several things to be done at once.
Task management between flight crew members can reduce the likelihood of one pilot being overloaded. It is particularly important to ensure that in overload situations it is always clear who is carrying out the vital task of flying the aircraft.
Underload occurs at low levels of workload (when the pilot becomes under aroused). Underload can result from a task that a pilot finds boring or a lack of tasks. The nature of long-haul flights means that workload tends to come at the start and finish of a flight, with long periods of low workload in the cruise portion. Therefore, unless stimulating ‘housekeeping’ type tasks can be found, under load can be difficult to avoid at times.
List of Sub Skills
Recognize: Crew members recognize work overload or under load, capabilities and distractions to accomplishing tasks.
Assess: Using time and risk management to determine workload distribution and resources required.
Prioritize: Prioritization of tasks during high workload situation
Assign Work: Assign activities based on crew member experience and workload
Example of good practices | Pilot Training
- All tasks prioritized
- All tasks assigned to ensure safe operation
- Always adapt quickly to changes in workload
- Recognized and informed crew members of overload situations
- Manages low workload situation effectively to increase performance
- Essential tasks are not completed
- Crew performance severely degraded due to workload management
- Task saturation leading to violation of ATC clearance and/or undesired a/c state
- Crew focuses on present only
- Crew climate is poor
- Crew members fail to complete tasks
- The occurrence of micro management
This information was adapted to meet Transport Canada’s crew resource management standards.