Can Agile Working Fix a Broken Workplace?
With global employee disengagement levels riding at about 87 percent, it’s probably fair to say that talent management teams are facing a bit of motivational crisis, which is leaving productivity and profit levels in a depressed state, relative to what would be achievable with a more engaged organization. But, this is not to say that talent management teams haven’t tried to fix these problems; they’ve thrown everything but the proverbial “kitchen sink” at this problem and are barely scratching the surface of the problem if these depressing disengagement statistics are to be believed.
In fact, you could argue that the current strategies are actually driving employees away as research shows that in the UK at least self-employment levels have continued to rise at a time when job vacancies are growing. It seems that the so-called job security that comes with employment is no longer a winning hand. Some employees are ready to trade in their job security to work in the self-employed world; such is the discontent with the workplace.
This suggests to me that something is fundamentally broken in the workplace and the clue for what is wrong exists in the self-employed world where self-employed workers are more engaged and happier with their jobs than employees, suggests this study. What is the secret of their contentment and can this be transferred or injected into the workplace like a vaccine to cure it of the plague of disengagement? Well, the study found that it was the self-employed worker’s freedom and discretion to decide when, where and how to carry out their job and the diversity of skills and tasks which underlay this superior engagement and satisfaction.
This doesn’t surprise me since we have all become used to relating to the world in a more flexible, on-demand, self styled and self determining way – and now we want to do that in the workplace too. We don’t want to be confined by rigid working practices, hours, hierarchies and career ladders, which is the norm in many workplaces and must be partially responsible for deflated engagement levels. We want more than just flexible working; we are in a post-flexible working age, which may sound incredulous given the fact many organizations haven’t kept pace with this concept. This new world should be characterized by agile working, which is much more than giving the staff the opportunity to request flexible working. It’s about rebuilding your organization from the ground up so that it’s practically possibly for workers to enjoy much of the freedom/discretion, diversity of work and relationship with the end product that self-employed workers do.
Deloitte in the UK has been pioneering in this area with its agile working program. The company now allows all employees to request a formal flexible working arrangement, and to request a four week unpaid leave block each year without having to justify it. Also, by using collaborative technologies and collaborative and adaptable work spaces, Deloitte is beginning to give employees the means to work how and where they want, in a way that suits them, much more like the self-employed workers.
This is just the beginning as employers can replicate more aspects of the self-employed experience in the workplace, in particular, the diversity of tasks and projects. Can you move away from totally rigid departments and be more project focused, meaning that workers can reform in new teams when a project is finished? Also, bringing a more project, end-to-end focus replicates the project by project working style of the self-employed where they get to the see end product and derive satisfaction and self worth from that.
I realize that moving toward agile working may be a tall order for many organizations, and does require a re-engineering of your business over the medium term. But, if you don’t move toward a more agile working model, given the fact that the world is becoming more agile, top talent may soon start moving away from you to more agile working environments.