Letting Our Bodies Do the Office Work for Us

New study aims to create computational tools to model worker well-being



By Olivia Dimmer
Letting Our Bodies Do the Office Work for Us

Illinois Tech Assistant Professor of Psychology Mahima Saxena wants people to work smarter—while also taking care of their health and well-being.

Her newest topic of research, which secured funding in December 2017 through the first seed grant from Illinois Tech’s Center for Interdisciplinary Scientific Computation, seeks to identify how individuals engage in self-regulation over the course of day and through the week.

“Scientifically, [the research] will make a major contribution in trying to understand if our ability to monitor our behavior and exercise restraint over our inner states is a fluctuating or a static ability,” Saxena says. “Overall, my goal is to support employee well-being. One of the ways we can do this is by restructuring work-tasks and allowing people to use their bodies’ natural ability to work best, so as to generally be healthier individuals.”

In the study Saxena gives a series of tasks of mental performance to workers to complete on a computer during a traditional work day. This allows her to understand many layers of behavior and cognition in human beings while they are at work. Saxena and fellow investigators will apply the data gleaned from this study to the development of new computational tools that will inform employee health and well-being. The project’s collaborators are Sonja Petrović and Lulu Kang, associate professors in Illinois Tech’s Department of Applied Mathematics.

“The data sets that emerge from these types of research questions are actually quite complex in nature,” Saxena says. “We’re tracking real-time employees on microsecond levels of performance over the course of the day or the week. Accurate, rigorous statistical analysis and computational models that speak to such data are critical.”

While still in the process of collecting data, an interim report on some of the research is expected later in the year.