The Workplace is Broken (and 3 Radical Ways to Fix It)

December 5, 2017 • 6 minute read • by Saeed

“Revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” ~ Ernesto Che Guevara

Workplace culture has a voracious appetite for command and control structures – an insipid left-over of the industrial revolution and Taylorized bureaucratic systems. In collusion, our K–12 system still adheres to this century-old, industrial-age mindset designed to help people survive a day at the factory not cope with the fast-paced mode of the modern day workplace or the even faster speed of living.

The modern day workplace is broken and we need radical change to fix it.

Stress at work…

For U.S. workers, the 40-hour, five-day work week became the standard in 1938. A recent Pew survey found that 35 percent of adults say the Internet, email and mobile phones have increased their hours worked. For office workers, the number rises to 47 percent. Consequently, nearly half of workers today say they routinely put in more than 50 hours on the job each week. As a result, job stress is far and away the major source of stress-related illness for American adults.

More work does not lead to more productivity…

The irony is that more work does not lead to more productivity. Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity has found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University.

We are not engaged and we are not happy at work…

According to Gallup, the percentage of U.S. workers who are engaged at work is a low 33% (29% if you are a Millennial) and worldwide that number is an even more paltry 15%. That means the majority of the workforce (more than 70%) is checked out!

Moreover, only 21% of workers feel they are managed in a motivating way and only half know what’s expected of them on a daily basis. Nearly three-fourths of American workers are actively hunting for a new job, and the vast majority don’t feel like they get enough recognition from their company. Skyrocketing stress, a lack of recognition, promotion opportunities, and collegial support were cited as some of the reasons.

The myth of work-life balance…

The concept of a work-leisure dichotomy first surfaced in the mid-1800s while the more modern expression ‘work–life balance,’ was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in the United States in the mid 1980s. In recent studies, The American Institute of Stress found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job but only 20% cited the juggling of work/personal lives as the reason for their stress. The majority cited workload (46%) and people issues (28%) as the source of their stress.

Meanwhile, workplace policies are taking a schizophrenic turn. When in 2013 Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took away employees’ work from home option, most saw the decision as regressive. After all, not far from the Yahoo campus, a Stanford study had reported that work from home policies boost worker productivity by as much as 13 percent. According to Gallup, 43 percent of U.S. employees work remotely all or some of the time. But Mayer was focused on another batch of studies that showed the opposite and was facing a sinking corporate ship.

If we were to listen to Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest business tycoons, we would shift to a three-day work week, put in 11-hour work days and retire at 75. But ironically, a 2008 survey of workers by the Families and Work Institute found that 46% of those offered the option of a compressed week declined it most of the time.

The bottom line is that for the knowledge economy and jobs that mainly require interactions with clients (consultant, sales etc.) or don’t require much interaction at all (columnist), the office has little to offer besides interruption.

We need radical humanization of the workplace…

So what’s the solution to all this malaise?

1.      Radical Leadership: change starts at the top. We need ‘change leadership’ and if your specific workplace is broken because of poor management practices, you may need a change in leadership. People, after all, don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors.  Some of us work for micromanagers. Some of us work for toxic bosses. Some of us work in chaos.  The deleterious costs of dysfunctional workplaces and dysfunctional management are high. They include low employee morale, high staff turnover, and reduction of productivity. Many managers are promoted into their roles without the requisite training needed to be able to coach and develop their employees into success. It’s time to significantly raise the bar on leadership requirements. If you are satisfied with mediocre performance and having 70% of your people checked out, then don’t invest in your leaders and once in a while remind yourself of the classic definition of crazy.

2.      Radical Culture: for the most part, organizational culture is set at the top.  It is the culture that shapes employee interaction, productivity, and loyalty to the company. Generally speaking, a positive work culture means greater productivity and a negative work culture is counterproductive or even toxic. People are values driven. Values are directly related to success and failure and directly related to culture. Values are in the DNA of your workplace culture. People are attracted to organizations where the culture is the same as their values. They gravitate towards others who share their values. This is why organizations become more homogeneous over time. That’s also why values can drive prejudice in a workplace or in society. So when a workplace is not values driven, engagement and retention tend to be weak. Instead of describing your workplace values, try prescribing them. By doing so you’ll bend your culture towards more pro-social behaviors creating an organizational environment that conveys positive emotions to all those within it and allowing positive feelings to emerge in turn.

3.      Radical Autonomy: Study after study has shown that work environments that are more autonomous in nature simply have higher levels of productivity, creativity, engagement and overall job satisfaction. This desire and drive towards autonomy and independence is innate in us as humans. Restrictions on our autonomy lie at the heart of a great deal of our unhappiness. That’s why prison, the ultimate punishment in our society, is an extreme form of restricting our freedom. Studies with physicians have shown that sources of dissatisfaction for that profession do not stem from having to deal with insurance companies or paperwork but rather from lack of control over their daily schedules. I would argue that the same is true for all workers. This explains the rise of results-only work environments, or ROWEs. In a ROWE, employees are allowed to work whenever they want with no set schedules. Employees are also allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as it gets finished. Guess what? Employees in these workplaces are more engaged and more productive.

One Final Word…

The key to a productive business is investing time and effort in understanding what makes people happy and engaged at work. Workers are the greatest asset any organization has. And while competitive pay and benefits are important, how we treat employees and how we manage work getting done are far more important factors that contribute to productivity. The best places are those that foster a healthy atmosphere and workplace culture and trust their employees to do and be their best. The best places are those in which people can flourish by flexing their creative muscles and believing they have the freedom and independence to be their best selves. This is how you develop the power of synergy, empathy and good will. And these synergies generated on a daily basis are unstoppable.

Now, is that a radical idea?

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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