The culture-change bandwagon keeps rolling. More and more companies are making fundamental alterations to the way they work. Some of this is driven by management wanting a more productive and competitive organization. However, some of this is a recognition that employees will not be engaged in their work unless the work environment is one of involvement and respect for all.  

In a New York Times column titled “Rethinking Work”, Barry Schwartz writes:

We want work that is challenging and engaging, that enables us to exercise some discretion and control over what we do, and that provides us opportunities to learn and grow. We want to Bandwagonwork with colleagues we respect and with supervisors who respect us. Most of all, we want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way…We want these things so much that we may even be willing to take home a thinner pay envelope to get them.

…when given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder. Such cases should serve to remind us there is a human cost to routinizing and depersonalizing work. Too often, instead of being able to take pride in what they do, and derive satisfaction from doing it well, workers have little to show for their efforts aside from their pay.

Study after study reports evidence that routinized and depersonalized work is the norm rather than the exception. Chris Edmonds, after reviewing a number of employee studies concludes:

The sobering data from all of these sources means leaders have a lot of work to do to create productive, meaningful work environments that also treat employees with trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction.

This data also describes these dismal workplace conditions as “normal.” They are much more prevalent than engaging and inspiring work environments! If leaders are not intentional about both performance and values, their work environments will fall into these norms.

 In an effort to make work more meaningful and engaging, companies are implementing dramatic changes in their policies and structure. LinkedIn recently announced a new policy of unlimited vacation days for its employees.

HEB, a regional grocery chain, is giving most of its 85,000 employees shares of the company. Adding shares to employee compensation is not unusual, but the scale of this action by HEB and the purpose for doing so, are unusual. Craig Boyan, CEO said, “We think there is great benefit in a more empowered, inspired, proud, trained work force.”

TCC, a cell phone and related services provider, makes “doing good in local communities” part of its mission, engaging all of its employees in community service activities. For example, in 2015, TCC will donate 100,000 school-supplies filled backpacks to disadvantaged students in schools across the country. This is good for these communities but also brings meaningful engagement to the work lives of TCC employees.

Dan Price, concerned about the emotional well-being of the employees at his privately-held company, Gravity Payments, decided to do something about income inequality. He is raising the minimum salary in the company to $70,000 dollars over the next three years. Needless to say, he has made many employees very happy.

Each of these companies is trying to shake up the status quo to create a better work environment and a happier, more motivated employee. In each case, the policy changes should be treated as experiments with learning as a goal. They should evaluate the changes and have regular discussions about the implications of their observations for what should be continued and what should be modified to ensure that they are creating the positive culture that they seek.

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