Stop Suppressing The Workforce
Rules. Procedures. Protocols. Organizations are full of them. Managers love setting them. Employees are, literally, sickened by them.
The overuse of rules to control behavior murders productivity, defies common sense, and kills motivation.
The no-trust workplace
Is trust in colleagues so low that we can’t let them make the tiniest of decisions? Do we mistrust the world so badly that we need procedures for every initiative? Do we believe it’s a good use of our time to write policies that no one reads? Should we punish everyone because of one individual’s mistake?
Traditional organizations seem to think so. They value rules over freedom and trust. They cling to control mechanisms that are counterproductive.
We experienced this in in our corporate careers; frustration with controls put in place to keep us in line, and approvals needed for trivial actions. The result? Every initiative was artfully crushed by childish rules. Common sense faded into oblivion.
The high cost of control
When we visited Jean François Zobrist, former CEO of car-part manufacturer FAVI in France, he told us a story about the reality of the no-trust workplace. It’s funny. It’s painful. But, it’s an instantly recognizable.
Jean François: “One day while walking around the factory I came across Alfred. He was waiting in front of the storage room. I asked him why he was there. He told me: “I have to change my gloves. I have a coupon from my boss and my old gloves.”
“The rule was: when an employee needed new gloves he had to show his old gloves to his boss first to get a coupon. With the coupon he then went to the storeroom. On the way he might chat a bit before ringing the bell. Then he would wait for the employee in charge of storage room. He’d exchange the coupon for new gloves. The whole process took around 10 minutes.”
“So I went to the accounting department and learned that the machine on which Alfred worked cost 600 Franc/hour, or 10 Franc/minute! The gloves cost only 5.80 Franc! We realized this process made them very expensive. And without promoting stealing, even if the employee took a pair from time to time for gardening, everyone would win hugely.”
This is one of many such anecdotes we’ve heard. But it illustrates something bigger.
Managing for the 3 percent
Gordon Forward, former CEO of Chaparral Steel, once described the overload of rules, procedures and protocols as “managing for the 3 percent”. By that, he meant we often create rules to control a small minority of nonconforming employees who misuse autonomy. Meanwhile, they suppress the innovation and creativity of the 97% who want to do a good job”.
These rules and procedures do not just frustrate good employees, they also employees still experience more bureaucracy by the day.
It makes us sick
It gets worse. The lack of trust in workplaces, combined with an outrageous desire for control, makes people sick. Not just figuratively, but literally. Research by TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research) found a growing number of employees experience burnout symptoms. In 2011, the percentage was high at 11%, but by 2017 had increased to a staggering 16% (!). The cost to the Dutch economy is a whopping €8.7 billion per year!
One of the main reasons more people experience burn-out is reduced levels of autonomy. They feel they have little control over their work. Apparently, organizations are getting worse at giving people freedom and autonomy. It seems we’re going back to the industrial era where people were told what to do—day-in, day-out.
Even more painful? While the Dutch burnout problem is unacceptable, it’s the lowest in Europe! Imagine what this means at European and global levels!
It’s time to stop suppressing people in the workplace. We should no longer accept that where we spend most of our waking hours is making people sick. Mental and physical pain, dissatisfaction, stress and abominable levels of motivation should no longer rule our workplaces.
It’s time to set our workplaces free; to unburden them of the weight of rules and procedures. It’s time to start treating adults like…well, adults.