There is an interesting article in today’s New York Times (registration required, I believe) that asks the question; do organizations really know what their employees think about their jobs and work environment? Not surprisingly, the answer is, no, for the most part they don’t.
“Some 86 percent of the 262 employers in a study by Watson Wyatt, the consulting firm, said they believed that their organization was treating employees well, and more than half expected to do a better job of treating employees well in the future. But only 55 percent of the 1,100 employees in the study believed they were well treated, and just 24 percent thought they would be treated better in the future.”
As the article points out, the primary cause of this disconnect is very simply a lack of communication. Most companies don’t make the effort or, at the very least, an appropriate effort to find out what is important to their employees. This is not to say that companies aren’t trying to do things to make their employees happy – although this is sometimes the case – but it often means that they are doing the wrong things.
An example of this is a company that continues to offer free daycare to an aging population of employees that no longer requires or appreciates the service. It costs the company a lot of money and delivers no benefit as perceived by the employees. Of course, a modicum of thought could easily deal with this specific problem, but other problems (opportunities?) are less obvious – sometimes involving subtle differences between the value of pay increases versus the addition or change of benefits.
How does one root out what’s going on? The old fashioned way . . . ask. Sure, it’s sometimes difficult to get straight answers, but if you ask often enough, eventually well-thought out responses begin to flow. Why waste time and money on programs that end up failing to achieve their goals?
The subject of this article and its conclusions only refer to hygiene factors in management, not motivation. Motivation is a much more difficult beast to slay and asking rarely gets you very far in doing so. Nonetheless, optimizing hygiene factors is critical to running a productive organization and, like many management solutions, can be pretty much taken care of with a high levels of communication.