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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Strategic CSR - Meaningful work

The article in the url below challenges the idea that work, for human beings, is merely a transactional process. This effort, however, appears to fly in the face of the available data:
"How satisfied are we with our jobs? Gallup regularly polls workers around the world to find out. Its survey last year found that almost 90 percent of workers were either 'not engaged' with or 'actively disengaged' from their jobs. Think about that: Nine out of 10 workers spend half their waking lives doing things they don't really want to do in places they don't particularly want to be."
The article explores the argument that, contrary to what these data suggest, we actually seek meaningful work:
"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 work 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."
The danger is that, if the firms that employ us assume that we only show up because of the money, this ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy that decreases, rather than increases, our productivity:
"Work is structured on the assumption that we do it only because we have to. The call center employee is monitored to ensure that he ends each call quickly. The office worker's keystrokes are overseen to guarantee productivity. I think that this cynical and pessimistic approach to work is entirely backward. It is making us dissatisfied with our jobs — and it is also making us worse at them. For our sakes, and for the sakes of those who employ us, things need to change."
In contrast, the author argues that, for the organizations that provide it, the benefits of creating meaningful work far outweigh any costs involved:
"In his 1998 book, 'The Human Equation,' which reviewed numerous studies across dozens of different industries, the Stanford organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer found that workplaces that offered employees work that was challenging, engaging and meaningful, and over which they had some discretion, were more profitable than workplaces that treated employees as cogs in a production machine. For example, he cited a study of 136 companies across many different industries that had initial public offerings in 1988. It found that companies that placed a high value on human resources were almost 20 percent more likely to survive for at least five years than those that did not. Similar differences in success were found in studies that compared the management practices of steel mills. And a study of United States apparel manufacturers found that sales growth was more than 50 percent higher in companies with enlightened management practices than in those that did things the old-fashioned way."
Going back to the Gallup survey results—if 90% of us truly are unhappy in our work, we need to ask why that is. That we structure our society in a way that fails to take advantage of the innate creativity and enthusiasm that exists in all of us is mindboggling. I tell my students that the two things we do most of in our lives are sleeping and working. As such, after graduation, they need to make sure they buy a good mattress and get a good job. But that advice assumes there are good jobs (and mattresses) to be found. The data suggest that, for jobs, this is not the case. If true, why is it so difficult to build organizations that fulfill, rather than depress? Isn't that what we are supposed to be doing in business schools—identifying how to create managers that are capable of getting the most out of their employees (along all kinds of metrics)? If managers are failing to do this, then we have also failed (at least partly) in what we are supposed to be doing.
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Rethinking Work
By Barry Schwartz
August 30, 2015
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final