The Ugly Truth About The State Of The Workplace

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar December 03, 2017

This week we were interviewed by one of The Netherland’s leading newspapers. The interview focused on research we did into the progressiveness of organizations.

It compared a random selection of workplaces to the innovative pioneers we have visited over the past 2 years. In this blog we discuss the painful results we uncovered.

The 8 trends and employee engagement

One of our aims was to validate the 8 trends we derived from qualitative research into 60+ workplace pioneers. Now, we wanted to know if there was also a demonstrable link between these trends and employee engagement.

Independent market research firm Markteffect executed the study in the Netherlands. Hundreds of employees participated. All completed a survey to measure both their engagement, and the current and desired state of our 8 trends.

The study showed that 6 of the 8 trends have direct influence on employee engagement. The two trends that do not, distributed authority and freedom and trust, have an indirect influence. This shows (in general), that it is important for organizations to actively support the 8 trends in their workplaces.

State of the 8 trends

Below we share the most important findings on each trend.

1. Purpose and values


There is a clear difference between the current and the desired states when it comes to purpose and values The vast majority of employees want to identify strongly with them—but in practice they do not.

Other interesting outcomes:

  • 57% feel their personal values do not overlap with the values of the organization;
  • Only 45% feel their personal mission overlaps with the mission of their team and organization.

2. Network of Teams


The figure on organization structure show there is a big difference between the current and desired states. Only 36% score their organization a 4 or 5 when it comes to being organized as a network of teams, while 71% have the desire to work in such an environment.

Other interesting outcomes on network of teams:

  • Only 33% say there is good communication and collaboration between departments;
  • And a mere 40% believe organization structure helps them achieve their goals.

3. Supportive Leadership


When it comes to supportive leadership, not many are satisfied. In one of the most painful conclusions, 61% (!) of employees feel their managers do not listen to the team’s opinion. In general, employees desire more supportive leadership than they currently get.

Other interesting outcomes on supportive leadership:

  • 58% feel valued by their manager;
  • Only 36% say their manager sets the right example.

4. Experiment and Adapt


Almost half of the workforce (42%) is between plan and predict and experiment and adapt. However, half of them want to work (to a larger extent) on an experiment and adapt basis.

Interestingly, the fixed time dedicated to experimentation that we have seen in organizations like the Belgian Department of Social Security, Google, and 3M is a reality for only 17% of the workforce.

Other interesting outcomes on experiment and adapt:

  • 34% experience sufficient freedom to experiment and innovate in their job;
  • Only 27% are stimulated to experiment in their work.

5. Freedom and Trust

Freedom 1

Freedom and trust is revealed to be still far from the desired state. Where 27% presently experience a high degree of freedom and trust, a total of 73% want to have it. This is a big discrepancy.

Other interesting outcomes on freedom and trust:

  • Only 27% say their organization believes that people perform best when they have lots of autonomy;
  • Even the freedom to design your own workplace is low (only 14% have a say in this), while some show this to be a great way to engage employees.

6. Distributed Authority


Distributed authority is the trend that shows the biggest discrepancy between current and the desired states. Only 15% experience distributed decision-making, but 65% (!) want it.

Put another way: 54% experience centralized decision-making while only 8% want it; so much for the myth that most people don’t want to make decisions.

Other interesting outcomes on distributed authority:

  • 22% mention they don’t need to get approval to make decisions;
  • 80% disagree with the statement “everyone in the organization can make decisions”.

7. Radical Transparency

Transparency 1

A mere 42% of those surveyed are currently working in a culture of radical transparency. But 79% say it is the desired way to perform better at work. Moreover, only 6% prefer a culture of secrecy. Nevertheless, it’s the norm.

Other interesting outcomes on radical transparency:

  • 36% say they have access to all relevant information;
  • Only 31% prefer not to be transparent to all the stakeholders.

Only 6% of the workforce desire a working culture based on secrecy. Sadly, it's still the norm

8. Talents and mastery

Talents 1

The distribution of work on the basis of talents and mastery is reported by only 21%. But 67% of the employees would like to work this way!

Other interesting outcomes on talents and mastery:

  • 67% do not receive enough training to be able to perform their job properly;
  • Only 33% of the workforce can fully utilize their talents at work.

Only 33% of the workforce can fully utilize their talents at work

Gap between dreams and reality

Painfully, there is a serious mismatch between what employees experience and what they desire on every trend. This is especially true when it comes to decision-making, autonomy, leadership style and utilizing talents.

TrendCurrent stateDesired stateGap
Distributed authority2.453.851.40
Freedom and trust2.804.071.27
Supportive leadership2.964.111.15
Talents and mastery2.513.621.11
Purpose and values3.494.440.95
Radical transparency3.234.180.95
Experiment and adapt2.503.370.87
Network of teams3.073.920.85

Our conclusion? There’s a lot work to be done. Most organizations need a serious upgrade if they want to fully motivate and engage their employees.

Most organizations need a serious upgrade if they want to motivate and fully engage their employees

To do this, it might be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of one of the big management hypes of the moment, like self-management, holacracy or agile.

But this could be a mistake. Instead, we recommend you start by finding out what employees want. Then a truly people-centred workplace can be created.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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