Since my last post on Happiness at Work I’ve been researching happiness, motivation and work. In my search for the ideal workplace, what it looks like, and how that compares to my own experience and that of my colleagues, I’ve had to question my own assumptions about work.
Why does work (sometimes) suck?
Why do many of us believe that work should be filled with drudgery? That it’s somewhere we go, not something we do? Why do we get paid for our time, instead of outcomes we achieve for the organization? Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson explore these questions in their book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. Ressler & Thompson are the accidental founders of Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). ROWE is a movement borne out Best Buy’s corporate headquarters to become an Employer of Choice for talented people. Employer of Choice….hmmm, where have I heard that before?
So what is ROWE anyway? It’s a shift in the way we think about work – it’s the move from not just a results-oriented workplace, but to a results-only workplace. It’s a workplace where -
Employees can do whatever they want, whenever they want, AS LONG AS THE WORK GETS DONE.
If that sounds like Heaven to you, read the book.
Why does work (actually) suck?
You walk by a colleague, they’re sitting at their desk staring at their computer, lost in thought. They might be surfing the ‘net, emailing colleagues or friends, reading or writing. None of these things actually guarantees they’re working. None of this means they’re not working either.
In an environment where we use the same tools to communicate with friends as we do to work on high priority projects, and the line between friend and colleague blurs, it’s increasingly difficult to manage staff by walking around and looking at them.
If we can’t tell if people are working by looking at them, how can we tell? Why do we continue to insist that butts are in chairs from 9-5 if it doesn’t actually mean they’re working?
According to Ressler and Thompson, managing time is easier than managing results. Policies and practices reinforce these ideas about time and work, even those meant to increase work-life balance, for example, ‘flex time’. They argue that these programs don’t work because the premise is flawed – these alternatives are still based on monitoring time and activities rather than results.
So what’s the real issue? Managing employees by controlling their time and activities tells them they are not trusted. It says “Left to your own devices, you would goof off rather than work.” ROWE is about managing results. Research done by Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly demonstrates that increased control over work increases employee satisfaction and team productivity while reducing staff turnover.
Hold on, does work (really) suck?
Ironically, research on optimal performance by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, reveals that work is one of a number of paths to an enjoyable life. Anyone with a hands-on hobby, or has spent an entire career focused on one task or mission, knows that work can result in pure joy. Certainly we know from experience that work doesn’t have to be dismal.
So, if work can be so enjoyable, why isn’t it? Survey results presented by Ressler and Thompson revealed that the problem wasn’t the tasks that people were asked to perform – it was the workplace culture. In a nutshell, our outdated beliefs about work keep us in a cycle of mindless busy-ness and anxiety.
Not surprisingly, the authors of Why Work Sucks found that employees who have control over their time perform better, not worse. The fears were mostly unfounded; those that preferred to goof off promptly left the organization (or were fired).
What are we going to do about it?
Think ROWE is impossible for government? These government organizations are working in ROWE:
- The Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, Minnesota (County)
- Office of Personnel Management (Federal)
- Office of the Chief Technology Officer (Municipal) – currently on hold pending new mayor
That said, I’m a realist, and I know most of the people reading this probably don’t have it in their control to implement ROWE in their workplace. What can we do today to move towards, at minimum, a results-oriented workplace?
Let’s do what every entrepreneur or self-employed person already does – question every activity we typically do in the context of whether or not it advances the goal of the organization. Meeting mania? Consider declining. Judging (or “Sludging”) your colleague for coming in at 10am? Mind your own beeswax. Ask yourself and your colleagues if you need to be together to work together.
If you’re a manager, reward based on results. Don’t reward people solely for spending time in the office. Rewarding people for being there promotes presenteeism. It de-motivates high performers. If there’s no reward for working quickly, efficiently or more effectively, than why bother? Set performance targets that are related to visible outputs* and outcomes rather than time. Be brave: address performance issues head-on.
(*What are visible outputs? Probably anything you’d put on your “Shipped” list.)
You can also join ROWE & Federal Government group on GovLoop, if you’re interested in being kept in the loop, at least with what’s going on in the U.S.
I’m curious though – do you know how to distinguish between activities and results that are your responsibility? As knowledge workers and specialists in process and policy-based roles, what do your visible outputs look like? What have you shipped this year?