Granting autonomy to employees in a value-focused, trust based environment, is a powerful competitive differentiator today.
The benefits include reduction in employer overhead costs and improved employee engagement and retention. Providing a results oriented work environment–allowing employees to make their own schedules–can improve employee health and help reduce stress. It’s prime time for a change in thinking in considering post-recession stress levels.
According to the “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 75% of Americans say they are “stressed to the max.” Companies like IBM, Best Buy, Southwest Airlines and Chubb Insurance are reaping the benefits of flexible work environments and happier employees who can manage their own schedules.
Tony Swartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, explains in her book that a truly modern management methodology. In her book she discusses research proving 90 minute intensive work periods, with rest and recovery, improves productivity. In considering the recent Mashable Infographic on the danger of sitting for long periods of time without exercise, companies need to shift their thinking.
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Sitting for eight hours straight without breaks and exercise is detrimental to human health. Did you know that people who sit for most of the day are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack. In addition sitting for over six hours a day increases your risk of dying in 15 years by 40%.
Swartz encourages companies to give “employees more autonomy in the way they work–and then hold them more accountable for the value they deliver. Instead, the all-too-common dynamic in today’s workplace is parent-child.”
Fear-based cultures are everywhere–although no longer relevant. Management frameworks that are rooted in policies that are outdated will break as a result of social media.
We’ve been saying this for years–it’s actually starting to happen. Old management frameworks–grounded in command and control environments for employees–do not support the multi-channel 24-7 customer offering. Command and control management generally involves a top down hierarchy–and as Bryce Harrison illustrates, generally separates employees from the actual work.
“Treated like children, many employees unconsciously adopt the role to which they’ve been consigned. Feeling disempowered and vulnerable, they lose the will and confidence to take real initiative or to think independently.”
When companies don’t empower their customer-facing reps to make quick decisions on customer problems, it’s bad for the company culture and sales. Don’t you want to know your employees are doing the right thing when you aren’t looking? The only way to ensure this is to provide autonomy and the ability to solve a customer query without a long exhausting escalation process.
When you don’t create a culture with a clear set of values, your reps don’t know what they stand for and can’t make informed decisions that are in the best interest of the company, the process and the customer. Deductive reasoning is like a bicycle. When you don’t practice you forget how to use it.
Swartz reminds us of the employee conundrum that happens when employees are patronized.
“Doing what they’re expected to do often becomes more important than doing what makes most sense, what’s the most efficient, or even what might create the highest value. The real measure of people’s effectiveness in an organization ought to be based on the value they create, not the number of hours they work. That requires a relationship between consenting adults, grounded in rust, fueled by mutual responsibility, and regulated by periodic accountability.”
While in theory we know this, in practice many of us still operate in yesterday’s management environment.
IBM Speeds Up Product Software Updates
Companies reaping the benefits of a trust-based culture includes IBM. A thousand software developers from varying time zones were given the opportunity to work when they wanted. a lot of the workers chose to break up their days into smaller periods. In considering this work flexibility, the time it takes to update a product’s software was reduced from eighteen to twenty-four months five years ago to four to six months today.
The Best Buy ROWE Program
An early adopter of cutting edge ideas, Best Buy pioneered ROWE–the Results Oriented Work Environment. ROWE, was launched in 2001 and is now offered to more than 3,000 corporate employees in Minneapolis at their headquarters.
The ROWE creators Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson told author Tony Swartz, “The employer’s job is to create very clear goals and expectations for what needs to get done on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. The simplest definition of a Results Only Work Environment is each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Everything else-when they come in, how much time they spend in their cube, how long their lunch lasts-is no longer [the employer's] concern. The point here is to always redirect focus back to the work.“
The program resulted in a decrease in turnover by 90% in 2005. Best Buy estimates the average cost of turnover per employee to be $102,000 and they estimated the cost savings to be $6.7 million dollars.
Evidence shows employee retention, productivity and overall happiness sky-rockets when employees are measured by the value they create, not by what they have to do to create the value.
The author Tony Swartz says of her own consulting firm:
We ask no one to answer e-mail after hours or on the weekends. If there is an urgent need to reach someone, we’ll call, but that is rare….We have no sick days or vacation policy. Instead we assumed that our people are committed to getting their work done and that they’ll take a vacation when they need it. We invest almost no time or energy in monitoring how our employees get their work done–and they do.
When you support your employees, and you establish a culture of trust, the rewards are many.
Southwest Airlines Remote Agents
Early on a few companies clued in to hiring remote agents for their call centers. As companies fight to manage the volume of customer inquiries coming in through social channels, in addition to their traditional channels, they will understand the importance of flexible work conditions. Also this work option is very helpful for stay at home parents, VETs, the physically handicapped, or anyone who prefers to work from a home office.
Southwest Airlines is a company who was early to recognize how powerful it is to allow people to work remotely. People who appreciate the trust and freedom given to them by their employer will feel more ownership over their roles, and rise to the occasion of responsibility. If the employee is treated like a child he will act like a child. If the employee is treated like an adult he will act like an adult.
Another example in Swartz’ book of a flexible work environment is Chubb Insurance. Employees were given the choice to decide which hours best worked for them. 400 participants in the Chicago office, 75% of the employees participated and built their own schedules. The productivity gains jumped from 82 percent to 91 percent (measure was customers contacted within twenty-four hours) and from 90-100% in timely benefit payments to claimants.
Have I reminded you this is free?
We are all afraid to try these new management tactics–but what’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is it won’t work.
And you will go back to what you did prior to, and try something else.