If the old adage is “Good help is hard to find,” there may never have been a time when that comment was more rhetorical—and in more areas than just labor. These days, it also adds insult to injury. At the same time, I would argue that a paradigm has risen, making it more accurate to say that good help is not only hard to find, but hard to please, as companies work harder to make and keep their employees happy. Let’s be honest, that’s not something everyone was focused on when workers were easier to come by.

On the employee side of the equation, I’d argue that when unemployment is even relatively high, folks are more likely to produce a good, old-fashioned effort to make things work with a company. When there are more jobs than people, however, it seems that folks will jump ship over just about anything in search of something better. I’ve heard this so many times recently.

As a result, in order to hold onto employees, companies are beginning to add layer upon layer of flexibility and special benefits—all of which is great, but not germane to every business plan or philosophy.

In years past, while many of us were skeptical (myself included) of the out-of-the-box and laid-back environments created by companies like Google and Zappos, these days businesses of every type are beginning to recognize how letting loose the reins a little on things like work hours and productivity not only increase the happiness of employees, but also increase retention and performance. Based on what I’m seeing, it’s the companies that refuse to embrace more work/life balance and instead insist on squeezing every ounce of productivity out of people that struggle with retention. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

As a writer, I’ve always made an effort to specialize, but also to spread my experiences across as many genres as possible. From legal writing and editing to marketing and advertising—I’ve always believed that the more forms you master in addition to your key focus, the better your work becomes in every area. In the process, however, I’ve found myself in what have proven to be some uncomfortable situations. Corporate America, as it turns out, was a little too systemized for my liking (though a terrific experience to have, as it taught me the value of planning and structure). State-funded organizations, I found, were so systemized that they bordered on bureaucratic (teaching me that there is also a proper balance between planning and structure, and productivity). At the opposite end of the spectrum, I found the creative world—mostly through experiences with advertising agencies.

Coming from a nose-to-the-grindstone background, when it comes to creative work, my approach has always been to lock the doors, roll up my sleeves and keep trying. But among creative firms, that farm-boy mindset isn’t always compatible. Conversely, the idea of halting a work project or a meeting in order to partake in a few rounds of foosball (or whatever) didn’t sit well with me. Over time, however, I came to realize that they might be onto something.

When people feel like you value more than just their productivity, they’re happier. In turn, they also feel more committed to you and your company. It takes a leap of faith to allow employees the freedom to slow down and smell the roses in the workplace, but in the current climate, I would argue that we’re all being forced to allow and even encourage it.

I recently drafted an assignment for a new contributing writer, asking him to look into how various door and window companies are becoming more people-centered in their work environments and resource management practices. They may not be playing foosball in between making doors and windows (though who knows, maybe some are), but I’ve gathered plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the industry is moving more in the direction of Google and Zappos, and away from a machine-like approach to managing human resources. I can’t wait to see what our reporting turns up. But I also know that it will take years to see if these changes are a matter of evolvement, or temporary concessions.

1 Comment

  1. Drew, excited to read that report. There is a classic HBR article called “one more time how do we motivate employees” Well worth the read for those interested. Great timeless content. Joe Vespa, former owner for Super Seal windows and I discussed this topic in one of my podcasts.

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