Are Bosses Necessary? – The Atlantic

A radical experiment at Zappos may herald the emergence of a new, more democratic kind of organization

Deeply strange reports have been emerging from the Las Vegas headquarters of Zappos, until recently the world’s happiest shoe store. This spring, by order of the CEO, Tony Hsieh, the company abolished managers, eliminated job titles, denounced its own organizational hierarchy, and vested all authority in a 10,000-word constitution that spells out a radical new system of self-governance. Holacracy, it’s called, and it makes all previous moves toward “employee empowerment” look like the mild concessions of an 18th-century monarch. Freed from direct supervision, employees are expected to join various impermanent democratic assemblies called “circles” (headed, but notrun, by a “lead link”), in which they will essentially propose their own job descriptions, ratify the “roles” of others, and decide what projects the group should undertake.

The constitution was written by Brian Robertson, a Philadelphia entrepreneur unaffiliated with Zappos who’d grown disaffected with standard management practices. Hsieh had heard him speak about holacracy at a 2012 conference, and was captivated. “We adopted it wholesale with zero changes,” says John Bunch, who used to be a technical adviser at Zappos but is now title-less. (He is, nevertheless, heading the implementation of holacracy.)

The media has so far reacted with a mix of understandable skepticism and outright derision. “Mr. Hsieh’s hot hand appears to be at risk of going cold,” The New York Times reported in July. Employees at Zappos, the paper said, have met the development “with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion.” The tech site Pando was less measured: “Holacracy of Dunces,” a headline snorted that same month.

Holacracy’s implementation at Zappos, still in process, has undoubtedly caused problems (more on those later). But such reports risk missing the larger picture. However fraught it may be, Zappos’s experiment with holacracy is just the latest sign that information technology is allowing the emergence of a new form of organization.

For years, pockets of the U.S. military have been slowly taking decisions out of the hands of high-ranking commanders and entrusting them to teams of soldiers, who (armed with the concept of “commander’s intent”) are told what problems to solve—but not how to solve them. “The organization as a rigidly reductionist mechanical beast is an endangered species,” General Stanley McChrystal writes in his new book, Team of Teams. “The traditional heroic leader may not be far behind.” At the video-game maker Valve, new employees are told not to expect instructions, because even the managing director “isn’t your manager,” says the employee handbook. “You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.” And so they do

What’s enabling this shift, argues Thomas Malone, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, is simple: falling information costs. In his 2004 book,The Future of Work, Malone broke the history of organizations into three stages. In stage one, information is expensive to convey, so most decisions are made face-to-face in necessarily small firms. As communication costs begin to fall, Malone explained to me, we reach stage two, in which “it becomes economically feasible to send information to a single, central place for decisions to be made.” That is, the large, centralized hierarchy becomes possible. Then comes stage three: “As communication costs continue to fall, there comes a time when it’s economically feasible to bring information to all points, so in some sense, everyone can know everything.” In this third stage, the benefits of bigness can persist, but its traditional handmaiden, hierarchy, doesn’t have to. (Indeed, when the volume of information grows large enough, trying to direct its flow upward for evaluation can slow everything down.)

Malone points to the history of government. We lived most of our existence in small, fairly egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers, until the advent of written language, which arose in tandem with record-keeping, taxation, and the founding of the first kingdoms, around 3000 B.C. Large-scale democracy did not appear until an equally momentous information technology, the printing press, enabled the “reading revolution” of the 18th century.

In business, the transition from bands to kingdoms came courtesy of the telegraph in the mid-19th century. And what it begat—the large, managerial hierarchy; the salaried manager; the modern definition of a job—has endured, with occasional pushes to prune and flatten management, until now, a good two decades after the Internet radically altered the volume, velocity, and direction of information flows. (Doubters, check your inbox.)

Why the lag? A look back at the mid-19th-century transition suggests an answer. After a new information technology appears, the organizational innovation that it allows doesn’t knock at the front door and present itself. People have to invent it. The ones who did last time around aren’t as celebrated as Morse, or before him Gutenberg. But what they arrived at looks obvious only in retrospect.

In 1854 the Board of the New York and Erie Railroad promoted Daniel McCallum, a Scottish-born bridge builder, to general superintendent, hoping he could address the railroad’s mysterious ills. As the railroad grew larger, it was growing not more efficient per mile, as Adam Smith would have predicted, but less so. Had the company hit some sort of natural size limit? No, McCallum concluded. What was breaking down was its stage-one organizational system.

At a small railroad—and all railroads up to then had been small—the superintendent could give every aspect of its business his personal attention, McCallum wrote. “Each employee is familiarly known to him, and all questions in relation to its business are at once presented and acted upon.” But as The Atlantic marveled in an 1858 article featuring McCallum’s ideas, the New York and Erie had to coordinate the movements of some 200 locomotives, 3,000 cars, and 4,700 employees dispersed over hundreds of miles. What was needed, McCallum wrote, was “a system perfect in its details, properly adapted and vigilantly enforced.”

The system he spelled out—in great detail—delineated who had the authority to decide what, and even what words to use in communicating that decision back to their superiors on the telegraph. (“All subordinates should be accountable to, and be directed by their immediate superiors only.”) In the elaborate diagram that McCallum created—widely considered the first modern organizational chart—17 spokes, each representing a different division, radiate from a central hub that is the office of McCallum himself. Thanks to a system of hourly reports, The Atlantic wrote,

“the General Superintendent at his office can at any moment tell within a mile where each car or engine is, what it is doing, the contents of the car, the consignor and consignee, the time at which it arrives and leaves each station, (the actual time, not the time when it should arrive,) and is thus able to correct all errors almost at the moment of commission … The great regulator … is the electric telegraph, which connects all parts of the road, and enables one person to keep, as it were, his eye on the whole road at once.”

The most striking aspect of McCallum’s system comes near the top of his report. For all the rigidities, he admitted, the system was an improvisation—one man’s attempt to bring his organization into better alignment with a rapidly changing environment. It would “require amendment,” he wrote, “and a reasonable time to prove its worth.”

Which sounds a lot like the commentary of Brian Robertson, the entrepreneur who created holacracy. Like McCallum’s, his decision to put pen to paper was not utopian but pragmatic. The idea was born out of his own frustrations as the CEO of Ternary Software, which he founded in 2001. “When I tried to design organizations purely from my own intellect,” Robertson says, “I always got it wrong. I’d design solutions for problems that didn’t exist. Other parts were overdesigned. We’d end up solving problems that would never come up in practice, and then you’d miss the ones you actually needed to solve. You can’t know enough.”

He didn’t start with any radical notions of overturning hierarchy. He just wanted his company to function better. After exhausting the most-obvious solutions—hiring better managers, attempting to nail the perfect org chart—he finally concluded that the problem was the very concept of a rigid org chart. And so, as McCallum had a century and a half before, he wrote out a new set of rules delineating a new system.

Like McCallum’s, it is very, very complicated—too complex to describe fully here, and too complex for the liking of some at Zappos. (The constitution Robertson drafted runs more than twice the length of the Founding Fathers’.) But its basic principles go something like this: Instead of being assigned job descriptions from on high, employees take on mutable roles where they see a need. The hierarchical org chart is replaced by an ever-changing array of circles that can form, merge, or collapse in response to opportunities and threats in the marketplace. Reorganization, in effect, becomes a permanent way of life. The rigid forms invented in the steam age give way to something more organic—a jellyfish, perhaps.

It makes some sense on paper. But in practice? Holacracy’s first laboratory, Ternary, was a tiny company that didn’t survive the Great Recession. And at Zappos, given the choice of embracing holacracy or taking a buyout this past spring, 210 employees, or 14 percent of the company’s workforce, chose the latter. John Bunch notes that holacracy has created a whole set of new problems that have to be addressed. How to evaluate people’s performance is one. (Zappos is working on a system called “badging,” whereby employees earn badges for acquiring new skills.) How to compensate someone who splits her time among three different roles (say, customer care, event planning, and brainstorming a new Zappos product line) is another. The list goes on. How do you stop people from trying to exercise power they no longer have? And how does a system conceived to reduce information overload (“the goal,” says Bunch, “is to find the optimal circle structure where the need for communication between the circles is the least”) not add to it instead, in the form of endless meetings?

But just because solutions don’t yet exist doesn’t mean they won’t be found, says Robertson, who likens holacracy to a computer’s operating system and the solutions to apps. Remember when the App Store first opened? It didn’t have a lot on offer. Bunch told me that it’s too soon for Zappos to begin making amendments to holacracy; the company needs to finish the difficult process of understanding it first. “If someone comes to me super-frustrated, borderline angry,” he says, “that’s actually a really good sign to me, because it means they’re at least trying to understand it.”

The important point is this: To pronounce holacracy unworkable now would be akin to pronouncing democracy unworkable in the midst of the French Revolution. And should holacracy at Zappos fail, which it well may, neither should its principles be pronounced dead. The New York and Erie Railroad was in receivership within a few years of McCallum’s report—but the system he pioneered there became utterly commonplace by century’s end.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which the only thing strange about what’s going on at Zappos is that it ever seemed strange at all.

3 Reasons Millennials Are Getting Fired – by J.T. O’Donnell

Recently, I wrote this article explaining why Millennials aren’t getting promoted. In response to Millennial readers’ requests for a deeper understanding of how being misperceived can negatively affect their careers, I’m taking it a step further and outlining exactly what’s getting them fired.

Employers are seriously fed up.

To get a sense of how heated this has become, read this article by one irate employerand his prediction of the backlash that will soon ensue from the Millennials’ attitudes toward work.

Additionally, this survey by SmartRecruiter of 28,000 bosses detailing where Millennials are falling short is just one example of the data to support the huge disconnect costing some Millennials their jobs. Here are the key takeaways Millennials need to know.

1. Employers don’t want to be parents.

Growing up, Millennials were coached their entire lives and they unknowingly assumeemployers will coach them too. However, the relationship isn’t the same. An employer pays us to do a job. We are service providers. Expecting extensive training and professional development to do the job doesn’t make financial sense. In many employers’ minds (especially, small to midsized businesses with limited budgets and resources), Millennials should foot the bill to develop themselves and make themselves worth more to the employer.

Tip: Millennials should do their best to proactively seek resources on their own to help them close gaps in skills and knowledge in the workplace. There are plenty ofonline tools and resources to help them put their best professional self forward. Additionally, they should seek out a mentor to privately ask questions and get guidance on how to make the right impression.

2. The anti-work attitude isn’t appreciated (or tolerated).

As explained here, Millennials tend to work only the minimum time expected–and will push for flexibility and a reduced work schedule to create more time for other pursuits. Being demanding about when and how they want to do their job can be viewed as disrespectful. A great way to look at how some employers feel is the way the dysfunctional phone/cable companies work. It’s annoying when they announce they can come out only on a certain day. They can’t tell you what time, and then they say they’ll call the day of and give you a four-hour window when they’ll arrive. While the phone/cable companies have us trapped, employers don’t feel the same about Millennials. They’ll fire the Millennial worker and find someone who can work when they need them to–and without the attitude.

Tip: In the early days and weeks of a new job, Millennials can make up for what they lack in skills by being consistently on time. When an employer sees their commitment to their work, they will earn her trust and respect, resulting in her being comfortable with their taking time off, and even providing them with a more flexible work schedule. When Millennials prove they can deliver on their company’s terms, their company will give them more of what they want.

3. Millennials’ happiness isn’t the employer’s responsibility.

Millennials are pretty vocal about wanting work to be a “fun” place to go. Besides career development, they also desire lots of cool perks and benefits to make their job feel more rewarding. Besides nice work spaces, amenities like gym memberships, healthy meals on-site, in-house parties, etc., are being used in an effort to attract and maintain Millennial workers. Unfortunately, this is backfiring on employers–and that makes them angry. In spite of all the perks to keep them happy, Millennials are getting to these jobs and quickly showing visible signs of disappointment and dissatisfaction within months of joining the company.

Why are Millennials so tough to keep happy?

Part of the problem is how much external motivators were used on Millennials growing up. In the book Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn argues that Millennials have an addiction to praise, perks, and other incentives to learn–better known as bribes. Thus, when they get to the job and the newness wear off, they think it’s the company’s job to fix it with more incentives. But, this is where the cycle of bribing has to stop. A company can offer only so much in the form of compensation and benefits. The reality is that Millennials (like all workers) must learn to find intrinsic motivation (internal drive for work), so they can find real satisfaction and success in their careers. Since Millennials haven’t learned this yet, they’re experiencing sadness and confusion in the workplace. Unfortunately, their unhappiness is transparent to employers who have no desire to pay for what they perceive as a bad attitude at work.

Tip: Millennials who feel confused and unhappy in their job should not blame the employer (yet). First, they should seek some career coaching. Many Millennials just need help understanding some of the basic elements for finding an internal motivation for work. They need to know their professional strengths and workplace personas, and the defining skills they’d like to grow so they can build up their specialties and find direction and motivation at the job.

Millennials, don’t get mad, get ahead!

While the rest of their peers continue to be misunderstood, smart Millennials can make some simple changes and set the standard for what an outstanding young professional looks like to employers today. As this article points out, doing so could lead an employer to fast-track a career as an example to other workers. Why not benefit from the opportunity?

One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? – by Frederick Herzberg

Ask workers what makes them unhappy at work, and you’ll hear about an annoying boss, a low salary, an uncomfortable work space, or stupid rules. Managed badly, environmental factors make people miserable, and they can certainly be demotivating. But even if managed brilliantly, they don’t motivate anybody to work much harder or smarter. People are motivated, instead, by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors answer people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.

Herzberg’s work influenced a generation of scholars and managers—but his conclusions don’t seem to have fully penetrated the American workplace, if the extraordinary attention still paid to compensation and incentive packages is any indication.

How many articles, books, speeches, and workshops have pleaded plaintively, “How do I get an employee to do what I want?”

The psychology of motivation is tremendously complex, and what has been unraveled with any degree of assurance is small indeed. But the dismal ratio of knowledge to speculation has not dampened the enthusiasm for new forms of snake oil that are constantly coming on the market, many of them with academic testimonials. Doubtless this article will have no depressing impact on the market for snake oil, but since the ideas expressed in it have been tested in many corporations and other organizations, it will help—I hope—to redress the imbalance in the aforementioned ratio.

“Motivating” with KITA

In lectures to industry on the problem, I have found that the audiences are usually anxious for quick and practical answers, so I will begin with a straightforward, practical formula for moving people.

What is the simplest, surest, and most direct way of getting someone to do something? Ask? But if the person responds that he or she does not want to do it, then that calls for psychological consultation to determine the reason for such obstinacy. Tell the person? The response shows that he or she does not understand you, and now an expert in communication methods has to be brought in to show you how to get through. Give the person a monetary incentive? I do not need to remind the reader of the complexity and difficulty involved in setting up and administering an incentive system. Show the person? This means a costly training program. We need a simple way.

Every audience contains the “direct action” manager who shouts, “Kick the person!” And this type of manager is right. The surest and least circumlocuted way of getting someone to do something is to administer a kick in the pants—to give what might be called the KITA.

There are various forms of KITA, and here are some of them:

Negative Physical KITA.

This is a literal application of the term and was frequently used in the past. It has, however, three major drawbacks: 1) It is inelegant; 2) it contradicts the precious image of benevolence that most organizations cherish; and 3) since it is a physical attack, it directly stimulates the autonomic nervous system, and this often results in negative feedback—the employee may just kick you in return. These factors give rise to certain taboos against negative physical KITA.

In uncovering infinite sources of psychological vulnerabilities and the appropriate methods to play tunes on them, psychologists have come to the rescue of those who are no longer permitted to use negative physical KITA. “He took my rug away”; “I wonder what she meant by that”; “The boss is always going around me”—these symptomatic expressions of ego sores that have been rubbed raw are the result of application of:

Negative Psychological KITA.

This has several advantages over negative physical KITA. First, the cruelty is not visible; the bleeding is internal and comes much later. Second, since it affects the higher cortical centers of the brain with its inhibitory powers, it reduces the possibility of physical backlash. Third, since the number of psychological pains that a person can feel is almost infinite, the direction and site possibilities of the KITA are increased many times. Fourth, the person administering the kick can manage to be above it all and let the system accomplish the dirty work. Fifth, those who practice it receive some ego satisfaction (one-upmanship), whereas they would find drawing blood abhorrent. Finally, if the employee does complain, he or she can always be accused of being paranoid; there is no tangible evidence of an actual attack.

Now, what does negative KITA accomplish? If I kick you in the rear (physically or psychologically), who is motivated? I am motivated; you move! Negative KITA does not lead to motivation, but to movement. So:

Positive KITA.

Let us consider motivation. If I say to you, “Do this for me or the company, and in return I will give you a reward, an incentive, more status, a promotion, all the quid pro quos that exist in the industrial organization,” am I motivating you? The overwhelming opinion I receive from management people is, “Yes, this is motivation.”

I have a year-old schnauzer. When it was a small puppy and I wanted it to move, I kicked it in the rear and it moved. Now that I have finished its obedience training, I hold up a dog biscuit when I want the schnauzer to move. In this instance, who is motivated—I or the dog? The dog wants the biscuit, but it is I who want it to move. Again, I am the one who is motivated, and the dog is the one who moves. In this instance all I did was apply KITA frontally; I exerted a pull instead of a push. When industry wishes to use such positive KITAs, it has available an incredible number and variety of dog biscuits (jelly beans for humans) to wave in front of employees to get them to jump.

Myths About Motivation

Why is KITA not motivation? If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.

With this in mind, we can review some positive KITA personnel practices that were developed as attempts to instill “motivation”:

1. Reducing Time Spent at Work.

This represents a marvelous way of motivating people to work—getting them off the job! We have reduced (formally and informally) the time spent on the job over the last 50 or 60 years until we are finally on the way to the “6½-day weekend.” An interesting variant of this approach is the development of off-hour recreation programs. The philosophy here seems to be that those who play together, work together. The fact is that motivated people seek more hours of work, not fewer.

2. Spiraling Wages.

Have these motivated people? Yes, to seek the next wage increase. Some medievalists still can be heard to say that a good depression will get employees moving. They feel that if rising wages don’t or won’t do the job, reducing them will.

3. Fringe Benefits.

Industry has outdone the most welfare-minded of welfare states in dispensing cradle-to-the-grave succor. One company I know of had an informal “fringe benefit of the month club” going for a while. The cost of fringe benefits in this country has reached approximately 25% of the wage dollar, and we still cry for motivation.

People spend less time working for more money and more security than ever before, and the trend cannot be reversed. These benefits are no longer rewards; they are rights. A 6-day week is inhuman, a 10-hour day is exploitation, extended medical coverage is a basic decency, and stock options are the salvation of American initiative. Unless the ante is continuously raised, the psychological reaction of employees is that the company is turning back the clock.

When industry began to realize that both the economic nerve and the lazy nerve of their employees had insatiable appetites, it started to listen to the behavioral scientists who, more out of a humanist tradition than from scientific study, criticized management for not knowing how to deal with people. The next KITA easily followed.

4. Human Relations Training.

More than 30 years of teaching and, in many instances, of practicing psychological approaches to handling people have resulted in costly human relations programs and, in the end, the same question: How do you motivate workers? Here, too, escalations have taken place. Thirty years ago it was necessary to request, “Please don’t spit on the floor.” Today the same admonition requires three “pleases” before the employee feels that a superior has demonstrated the psychologically proper attitude.

The failure of human relations training to produce motivation led to the conclusion that supervisors or managers themselves were not psychologically true to themselves in their practice of interpersonal decency. So an advanced form of human relations KITA, sensitivity training, was unfolded.

5. Sensitivity Training.

Do you really, really understand yourself? Do you really, really, really trust other people? Do you really, really, really, really cooperate? The failure of sensitivity training is now being explained, by those who have become opportunistic exploiters of the technique, as a failure to really (five times) conduct proper sensitivity training courses.

With the realization that there are only temporary gains from comfort and economic and interpersonal KITA, personnel managers concluded that the fault lay not in what they were doing, but in the employee’s failure to appreciate what they were doing. This opened up the field of communications, a new area of “scientifically” sanctioned KITA.

6. Communications.

The professor of communications was invited to join the faculty of management training programs and help in making employees understand what management was doing for them. House organs, briefing sessions, supervisory instruction on the importance of communication, and all sorts of propaganda have proliferated until today there is even an International Council of Industrial Editors. But no motivation resulted, and the obvious thought occurred that perhaps management was not hearing what the employees were saying. That led to the next KITA.

7. Two-Way Communication.

Management ordered morale surveys, suggestion plans, and group participation programs. Then both management and employees were communicating and listening to each other more than ever, but without much improvement in motivation.

The behavioral scientists began to take another look at their conceptions and their data, and they took human relations one step further. A glimmer of truth was beginning to show through in the writings of the so-called higher-order-need psychologists. People, so they said, want to actualize themselves. Unfortunately, the “actualizing” psychologists got mixed up with the human relations psychologists, and a new KITA emerged.

8. Job Participation.

Though it may not have been the theoretical intention, job participation often became a “give them the big picture” approach. For example, if a man is tightening 10,000 nuts a day on an assembly line with a torque wrench, tell him he is building a Chevrolet. Another approach had the goal of giving employees a “feeling” that they are determining, in some measure, what they do on the job. The goal was to provide a sense of achievement rather than a substantive achievement in the task. Real achievement, of course, requires a task that makes it possible.

But still there was no motivation. This led to the inevitable conclusion that the employees must be sick, and therefore to the next KITA.

9. Employee Counseling.

The initial use of this form of KITA in a systematic fashion can be credited to the Hawthorne experiment of the Western Electric Company during the early 1930s. At that time, it was found that the employees harbored irrational feelings that were interfering with the rational operation of the factory. Counseling in this instance was a means of letting the employees unburden themselves by talking to someone about their problems. Although the counseling techniques were primitive, the program was large indeed.

The counseling approach suffered as a result of experiences during World War II, when the programs themselves were found to be interfering with the operation of the organizations; the counselors had forgotten their role of benevolent listeners and were attempting to do something about the problems that they heard about. Psychological counseling, however, has managed to survive the negative impact of World War II experiences and today is beginning to flourish with renewed sophistication. But, alas, many of these programs, like all the others, do not seem to have lessened the pressure of demands to find out how to motivate workers.

Since KITA results only in short-term movement, it is safe to predict that the cost of these programs will increase steadily and new varieties will be developed as old positive KITAs reach their satiation points.

Hygiene vs. Motivators

Let me rephrase the perennial question this way: How do you install a generator in an employee? A brief review of my motivation-hygiene theory of job attitudes is required before theoretical and practical suggestions can be offered. The theory was first drawn from an examination of events in the lives of engineers and accountants. At least 16 other investigations, using a wide variety of populations (including some in the Communist countries), have since been completed, making the original research one of the most replicated studies in the field of job attitudes.

The findings of these studies, along with corroboration from many other investigations using different procedures, suggest that the factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction. (See Exhibit 1, which is further explained below.) Since separate factors need to be considered, depending on whether job satisfaction or job dissatisfaction is being examined, it follows that these two feelings are not opposites of each other. The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but, rather, no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction.

Stating the concept presents a problem in semantics, for we normally think of satisfaction and dissatisfaction as opposites; i.e., what is not satisfying must be dissatisfying, and vice versa. But when it comes to understanding the behavior of people in their jobs, more than a play on words is involved.

Two different needs of human beings are involved here. One set of needs can be thought of as stemming from humankind’s animal nature—the built-in drive to avoid pain from the environment, plus all the learned drives that become conditioned to the basic biological needs. For example, hunger, a basic biological drive, makes it necessary to earn money, and then money becomes a specific drive. The other set of needs relates to that unique human characteristic, the ability to achieve and, through achievement, to experience psychological growth. The stimuli for the growth needs are tasks that induce growth; in the industrial setting, they are the job content. Contrariwise, the stimuli inducing pain-avoidance behavior are found in the job environment.

The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene (KITA) factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.

A composite of the factors that are involved in causing job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, drawn from samples of 1,685 employees, is shown in Exhibit 1. The results indicate that motivators were the primary cause of satisfaction, and hygiene factors the primary cause of unhappiness on the job. The employees, studied in 12 different investigations, included lower level supervisors, professional women, agricultural administrators, men about to retire from management positions, hospital maintenance personnel, manufacturing supervisors, nurses, food handlers, military officers, engineers, scientists, housekeepers, teachers, technicians, female assemblers, accountants, Finnish foremen, and Hungarian engineers.

They were asked what job events had occurred in their work that had led to extreme satisfaction or extreme dissatisfaction on their part. Their responses are broken down in the exhibit into percentages of total “positive” job events and of total “negative” job events. (The figures total more than 100% on both the “hygiene” and “motivators” sides because often at least two factors can be attributed to a single event; advancement, for instance, often accompanies assumption of responsibility.)

To illustrate, a typical response involving achievement that had a negative effect for the employee was, “I was unhappy because I didn’t do the job successfully.” A typical response in the small number of positive job events in the company policy and administration grouping was, “I was happy because the company reorganized the section so that I didn’t report any longer to the guy I didn’t get along with.”

As the lower right-hand part of the exhibit shows, of all the factors contributing to job satisfaction, 81% were motivators. And of all the factors contributing to the employees’ dissatisfaction over their work, 69% involved hygiene elements.

Eternal Triangle.

There are three general philosophies of personnel management. The first is based on organizational theory, the second on industrial engineering, and the third on behavioral science.

Organizational theorists believe that human needs are either so irrational or so varied and adjustable to specific situations that the major function of personnel management is to be as pragmatic as the occasion demands. If jobs are organized in a proper manner, they reason, the result will be the most efficient job structure, and the most favorable job attitudes will follow as a matter of course.

Industrial engineers hold that humankind is mechanistically oriented and economically motivated and that human needs are best met by attuning the individual to the most efficient work process. The goal of personnel management therefore should be to concoct the most appropriate incentive system and to design the specific working conditions in a way that facilitates the most efficient use of the human machine. By structuring jobs in a manner that leads to the most efficient operation, engineers believe that they can obtain the optimal organization of work and the proper work attitudes.

Behavioral scientists focus on group sentiments, attitudes of individual employees, and the organization’s social and psychological climate. This persuasion emphasizes one or more of the various hygiene and motivator needs. Its approach to personnel management is generally to emphasize some form of human relations education, in the hope of instilling healthy employee attitudes and an organizational climate that is considered to be felicitous to human values. The belief is that proper attitudes will lead to efficient job and organizational structure.

There is always a lively debate concerning the overall effectiveness of the approaches of organizational theorists and industrial engineers. Manifestly, both have achieved much. But the nagging question for behavioral scientists has been: What is the cost in human problems that eventually cause more expense to the organization—for instance, turnover, absenteeism, errors, violation of safety rules, strikes, restriction of output, higher wages, and greater fringe benefits? On the other hand, behavioral scientists are hard put to document much manifest improvement in personnel management, using their approach.

The motivation-hygiene theory suggests that work be enriched to bring about effective utilization of personnel. Such a systematic attempt to motivate employees by manipulating the motivator factors is just beginning. The term job enrichment describes this embryonic movement. An older term, job enlargement, should be avoided because it is associated with past failures stemming from a misunderstanding of the problem. Job enrichment provides the opportunity for the employee’s psychological growth, while job enlargement merely makes a job structurally bigger. Since scientific job enrichment is very new, this article only suggests the principles and practical steps that have recently emerged from several successful experiments in industry.

Job Loading.

In attempting to enrich certain jobs, management often reduces the personal contribution of employees rather than giving them opportunities for growth in their accustomed jobs. Such endeavors, which I shall call horizontal job loading (as opposed to vertical loading, or providing motivator factors), have been the problem of earlier job enlargement programs. Job loading merely enlarges the meaninglessness of the job. Some examples of this approach, and their effect, are:

  • Challenging the employee by increasing the amount of production expected. If each tightens 10,000 bolts a day, see if each can tighten 20,000 bolts a day. The arithmetic involved shows that multiplying zero by zero still equals zero.
  • Adding another meaningless task to the existing one, usually some routine clerical activity. The arithmetic here is adding zero to zero.
  • Rotating the assignments of a number of jobs that need to be enriched. This means washing dishes for a while, then washing silverware. The arithmetic is substituting one zero for another zero.
  • Removing the most difficult parts of the assignment in order to free the worker to accomplish more of the less challenging assignments. This traditional industrial engineering approach amounts to subtraction in the hope of accomplishing addition.

These are common forms of horizontal loading that frequently come up in preliminary brainstorming sessions of job enrichment. The principles of vertical loading have not all been worked out as yet, and they remain rather general, but I have furnished seven useful starting points for consideration in Exhibit 2.

A Successful Application.

An example from a highly successful job enrichment experiment can illustrate the distinction between horizontal and vertical loading of a job. The subjects of this study were the stockholder correspondents employed by a very large corporation. Seemingly, the task required of these carefully selected and highly trained correspondents was quite complex and challenging. But almost all indexes of performance and job attitudes were low, and exit interviewing confirmed that the challenge of the job existed merely as words.

A job enrichment project was initiated in the form of an experiment with one group, designated as an achieving unit, having its job enriched by the principles described in Exhibit 2. A control group continued to do its job in the traditional way. (There were also two “uncommitted” groups of correspondents formed to measure the so-called Hawthorne effect—that is, to gauge whether productivity and attitudes toward the job changed artificially merely because employees sensed that the company was paying more attention to them in doing something different or novel. The results for these groups were substantially the same as for the control group, and for the sake of simplicity I do not deal with them in this summary.) No changes in hygiene were introduced for either group other than those that would have been made anyway, such as normal pay increases.

The changes for the achieving unit were introduced in the first two months, averaging one per week of the seven motivators listed in Exhibit 2. At the end of six months the members of the achieving unit were found to be outperforming their counterparts in the control group and, in addition, indicated a marked increase in their liking for their jobs. Other results showed that the achieving group had lower absenteeism and, subsequently, a much higher rate of promotion.

Exhibit 3 illustrates the changes in performance, measured in February and March, before the study period began, and at the end of each month of the study period. The shareholder service index represents quality of letters, including accuracy of information, and speed of response to stockholders’ letters of inquiry. The index of a current month was averaged into the average of the two prior months, which means that improvement was harder to obtain if the indexes of the previous months were low. The “achievers” were performing less well before the six-month period started, and their performance service index continued to decline after the introduction of the motivators, evidently because of uncertainty after their newly granted responsibilities. In the third month, however, performance improved, and soon the members of this group had reached a high level of accomplishment.

Exhibit 4 shows the two groups’ attitudes toward their job, measured at the end of March, just before the first motivator was introduced, and again at the end of September. The correspondents were asked 16 questions, all involving motivation. A typical one was, “As you see it, how many opportunities do you feel that you have in your job for making worthwhile contributions?” The answers were scaled from 1 to 5, with 80 as the maximum possible score. The achievers became much more positive about their job, while the attitude of the control unit remained about the same (the drop is not statistically significant).

How was the job of these correspondents restructured? Exhibit 5 lists the suggestions made that were deemed to be horizontal loading, and the actual vertical loading changes that were incorporated in the job of the achieving unit. The capital letters under “Principle” after “Vertical Loading” refer to the corresponding letters in Exhibit 2. The reader will note that the rejected forms of horizontal loading correspond closely to the list of common manifestations I mentioned earlier.

Steps for Job Enrichment

Now that the motivator idea has been described in practice, here are the steps that managers should take in instituting the principle with their employees:

1. Select those jobs in which a) the investment in industrial engineering does not make changes too costly, b) attitudes are poor, c) hygiene is becoming very costly, and d) motivation will make a difference in performance.

2. Approach these jobs with the conviction that they can be changed. Years of tradition have led managers to believe that job content is sacrosanct and the only scope of action that they have is in ways of stimulating people.

3. Brainstorm a list of changes that may enrich the jobs, without concern for their practicality.

4. Screen the list to eliminate suggestions that involve hygiene, rather than actual motivation.

5. Screen the list for generalities, such as “give them more responsibility,” that are rarely followed in practice. This might seem obvious, but the motivator words have never left industry; the substance has just been rationalized and organized out. Words like “responsibility,” “growth,” “achievement,” and “challenge,” for example, have been elevated to the lyrics of the patriotic anthem for all organizations. It is the old problem typified by the pledge of allegiance to the flag being more important than contributions to the country—of following the form, rather than the substance.

6. Screen the list to eliminate any horizontal loading suggestions.

7. Avoid direct participation by the employees whose jobs are to be enriched. Ideas they have expressed previously certainly constitute a valuable source for recommended changes, but their direct involvement contaminates the process with human relations hygiene and, more specifically, gives them only a sense of making a contribution. The job is to be changed, and it is the content that will produce the motivation, not attitudes about being involved or the challenge inherent in setting up a job. That process will be over shortly, and it is what the employees will be doing from then on that will determine their motivation. A sense of participation will result only in short-term movement.

8. In the initial attempts at job enrichment, set up a controlled experiment. At least two equivalent groups should be chosen, one an experimental unit in which the motivators are systematically introduced over a period of time, and the other one a control group in which no changes are made. For both groups, hygiene should be allowed to follow its natural course for the duration of the experiment. Pre- and post-installation tests of performance and job attitudes are necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the job enrichment program. The attitude test must be limited to motivator items in order to divorce employees’ views of the jobs they are given from all the surrounding hygiene feelings that they might have.

9. Be prepared for a drop in performance in the experimental group the first few weeks. The changeover to a new job may lead to a temporary reduction in efficiency.

10. Expect your first-line supervisors to experience some anxiety and hostility over the changes you are making. The anxiety comes from their fear that the changes will result in poorer performance for their unit. Hostility will arise when the employees start assuming what the supervisors regard as their own responsibility for performance. The supervisor without checking duties to perform may then be left with little to do.

After successful experiment, however, the supervisors usually discover the supervisory and managerial functions they have neglected, or which were never theirs because all their time was given over to checking the work of their subordinates. For example, in the R&D division of one large chemical company I know of, the supervisors of the laboratory assistants were theoretically responsible for their training and evaluation. These functions, however, had come to be performed in a routine, unsubstantial fashion. After the job enrichment program, during which the supervisors were not merely passive observers of the assistants’ performance, the supervisors actually were devoting their time to reviewing performance and administering thorough training.

What has been called an employee-centered style of supervision will come about not through education of supervisors, but by changing the jobs that they do.

• • •Job enrichment will not be a one-time proposition, but a continuous management function. The initial changes should last for a very long period of time. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The changes should bring the job up to the level of challenge commensurate with the skill that was hired.
  • Those who have still more ability eventually will be able to demonstrate it better and win promotion to higher level jobs.
  • The very nature of motivators, as opposed to hygiene factors, is that they have a much longer-term effect on employees’ attitudes. It is possible that the job will have to be enriched again, but this will not occur as frequently as the need for hygiene.

Not all jobs can be enriched, nor do all jobs need to be enriched. If only a small percentage of the time and money that is now devoted to hygiene, however, were given to job enrichment efforts, the return in human satisfaction and economic gain would be one of the largest dividends that industry and society have ever reaped through their efforts at better personnel management.

The argument for job enrichment can be summed up quite simply: If you have employees on a job, use them. If you can’t use them on the job, get rid of them, either via automation or by selecting someone with lesser ability. If you can’t use them and you can’t get rid of them, you will have a motivation problem.

Frederick Herzberg, Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, was head of the department of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland when he wrote this article. His writings include the book Work and the Nature of Man (World, 1966).

The Best Leaders “Talk the Walk” – by Bill Taylor

One of the most ubiquitous aphorisms in business is that the best leaders understand the need to “walk the talk” — that is, their behavior and day-to-day actions have to match the aspirations they have for their colleagues and organization. But the more time I spend with game-changing innovators and high-performing companies, the more I appreciate the need for leaders to “talk the walk” — that is, to be able to explain, in language that is unique to their field and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win. The only sustainable form of business leadership is thought leadership. And leaders that think differently about their business invariably talk about it differently as well.

I saw the power of language come to life earlier this summer when I made an eye-opening visit to a day-long orientation held every six weeks or so for new employees of Quicken Loans, the online mortgage lender based in Detroit and owned by high-profile billionaire Dan Gilbert. Quicken Loans is known for lots of things, from torrid growth (the company closed a record $80 billion worth of home loans last year, up from $70 billion in 2012), to much-praised customer service (it is a perennial JD Power customer-satisfaction winner), to its intense and outgoing corporate culture. But behind it all, at the heart of the company’s approach to strategy, service, and culture, is a language system that defines life inside the organization and reminds everyone what really drives success.

Founder Dan Gilbert and CEO Bill Emerson call this language the company’s “Isms” — which is why the rollicking, fast-paced, eight-hour orientation session is called “Isms in Action.” Gilbert and Emerson, who present separately and together over the entire eight hours — an executive teaching marathon unlike anything I have seen before — march employees through the company’s 18 Isms, with a combination of slide shows, stand-up humor, war stories from the trenches, and unabashed appeals to the heart. A few of the Isms get covered in 10 or 15 minutes, some take an hour. But the end result is a full-day immersion in a whole new language — a “vocabulary of competition” that sets the company apart in the marketplace and holds people together in the workplace.

On the day I attended, more than a thousand participants crowded into a ballroom in the Marriott Renaissance Center on the banks of the Detroit River. Gilbert and Emerson urged their new colleagues to embrace the idea that, “The inches we need are everywhere around us” — in other words, there are countless small opportunities for people to tweak a product, or improve a process, that lead to big wins in the marketplace. They insisted, no excuses allowed, that everyone agree with the Ism, “Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play.” Gilbert personally emphasized again and again, sometimes with jokes, sometimes with withering disdain, the absolute requirement that Quicken employees return every phone call and every email on the same business day they were received. “We are zealots about this,” he thundered, “we are on the lunatic fringe. And if you’re ‘too busy’ to do it, I’ll do it for you” — at which point he gave out his direct-dial extension and promised to return phone calls for any overwhelmed colleagues.

On and on it went — funny stories, sure, sage pieces of advice, a quick history of the company. But mainly an urgent iteration ands reiteration of the company’s Isms:

“Numbers and money follow, they do not lead.”

“Innovation is rewarded, execution is worshipped.”

“Simplicity is genius.”

In business leadership, as in all forms of leadership, words matter. Indeed, several of the attendees with whom I spoke weren’t new employees at all. They’d come back for a refresher, a reminder, an opportunity to spend a day reacquainting themselves with the language that defines life at Quicken Loans, a chance to spend a day watching the founder and the CEO “talk the walk.”

So ask yourself, as you try to lead an organization, or a business unit, or a department: Have you developed a vocabulary of competition that helps everyone understand what makes your company or team special and what it takes for them to be at their best? Can you explain, in a language all your own, what separates you from the pack and why you expect to win? Even as you make sure to walk the talk, do you know how to talk the walk?

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William C. Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company magazine and author of Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself. Follow him on Twitter at @practicallyrad.

Encourage Your Employees to Talk About Other Job Offers – by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh

Why can’t employees speak honestly about their career goals with their managers? It’s because of the reasonable belief that doing so is risky and career-limiting if the employee’s aspirations do not perfectly match up with the manager’s existing views and time horizons. It seems safer to wait until another job offer is in hand, so that if one’s manager reacts badly to one’s ideas, there’s no danger of being passed over for on-going professional development, or worse, left unemployed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: once an employee has gone far down the road with another potential employer, it’s hard for her to maintain a positive relationship with her current company.

Neither manager nor employee necessarily wants the current employment relationship to end, but because of the lack of trust and honesty, that’s precisely what becomes likely to happen with talented employees.

If you want to forge a high-trust alliance with your workforce, take a page from a popular clause in founder employment agreements — the “Right Of First Refusal” (ROFR). When a founder wants to sell stock in the company and has an offer to purchase some or all of the shares, the company has the right to exercise its ROFR and buy the stock at the offered price. This compromise reassures the founder (or employee) that the company can’t block the sale of stock while allowing the company to make sure it isn’t saddled with investors it doesn’t want.

We believe that an equivalent compromise can help improve the employer-employee relationship: the “Right of First Conversation” (ROFC). If an employee decides she wants to explore other career options, she commits to talking with her current manager first, so that the company, if it so desires, has the opportunity to define a more appealing job or role. This doesn’t mean that the employee informs her manager every time she receives a call from a headhunter—this kind of disclosure would be onerous for both employee and manager. Rather, the employee should initiate a conversation when she is seriously considering alternate job offers or career paths. Similarly, the employee should also approach the manager if she felt strongly that her current tour of duty no longer fits, and that without a change, she would feel obligated to start looking for another employer.

As with other aspects of the employer-employee alliance, the ROFC isn’t a binding legal contract. It’s an understanding between manager and employee that carries moral weight if violated.

Because the employer typically holds the power in the relationship, it’s up to the company to take the first step towards building the necessary trust. Managers need to say, “We don’t fire people for talking honestly about their career goals,” and truly mean it. Once employees believe that the company will live up to those words, managers can point out the benefits to the employee of granting them the Right of First Conversation.

First, an employee can benefit from frank career advice from a manager on specific industry opportunities. In a high trust relationship, a manager will not reactively denigrate competitors or “say anything” to keep an employee.

Second, perhaps the current company can upgrade the quality of the employee’s existing tour of duty. An employee who provides advance notice allows the company the time necessary to explore and develop more possible options and offers. If the company has weeks to match or exceed an offer from a rival, it has a much better chance of pulling together a counter than if it only had twenty-four hours to respond.

Finally, even if the company can’t present a compelling counter or the employee chooses to switch firms, the ROFC helps preserve the long-term relationship. The split can be made amicably, and on a timetable that works for both parties, honoring the mutual obligations and investment they have made in each other.

As a manager, would you rather manage a planned separation from an employee who has completed her final tour of duty? Or would you rather scramble to perform damage control on a sudden departure?

As an employee, would you rather depart amicably and become a valued member of the company’s alumni network? Or would you prefer to depart under a cloud of acrimony?

The Right of First Conversation represents a major departure from business as usual, but that’s precisely the point. The lack of trust between employer and employee is costing both parties. Adopting the ROFC helps both parties build trust and a longer, more fruitful relationship.

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Reid Hoffman is cofounder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, and partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock. He is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

 

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Ben Casnocha is an award-winning entrepreneur and bestselling co-author, with Reid Hoffman, of The Start-up of You. He is a frequent speaker on talent management, and is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

 

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Chris Yeh is an entrepreneur, writer, and mentor. He helps interesting people do interesting things as VP of Marketing at PBworks and general partner at Wasabi Ventures. He is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

Why You Hate Work – by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath

THE way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

Increasingly, this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also to top executives.

Our company, The Energy Project, works with organizations and their leaders to improve employee engagement and more sustainable performance. A little over a year ago, Luke Kissam, the chief executive of Albemarle, a multibillion-dollar chemical company, sought out one of us, Tony, as a coach to help him deal with the sense that his life was increasingly overwhelming. “I just felt that no matter what I was doing, I was always getting pulled somewhere else,” he explained. “It seemed like I was always cheating someone — my company, my family, myself. I couldn’t truly focus on anything.” Mr. Kissam is not alone. Srinivasan S. Pillay, a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School who studies burnout, recently surveyed a random sample of 72 senior leaders and found that nearly all of them reported at least some signs of burnout and that all of them noted at least one cause of burnout at work.

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life.

Increased competitiveness and a leaner, post-recession work force add to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.

Curious to understand what most influences people’s engagement and productivity at work, we partnered with the Harvard Business Review last fall to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. We also gave the survey to employees at two of The Energy Project’s clients — one a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees, the other a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were remarkably similar across all three populations.

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

THE more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. When employees have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.

Engagement — variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” — has now been widely correlated with higher corporate performance. In a 2012 meta-analysis of 263 research studies across 192 companies, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for engaged employees, compared with the bottom quartile, had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.

A 2012 global work force study of 32,000 employees by the consulting company Towers Watson found that the traditional definition of engagement — the willingness of employees to voluntarily expend extra effort — is no longer sufficient to fuel the highest levels of performance.

Willing, it turns out, does not guarantee able. Companies in the Towers Watson study with high engagement scores measured in the traditional way had an operating margin of 14 percent. By contrast, companies with the highest number of “sustainably engaged” employees had an operating margin of 27 percent, nearly three times those with the lowest traditional engagement scores.

Put simply, the way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform. What our study revealed is just how much impact companies can have when they meet each of the four core needs of their employees.

Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40 — and the more continuously they work — the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with any given company, and also doubles their sense of health and well-being.

Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.

Focus: Only 20 percent of respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged. Similarly, only one-third of respondents said they were able to effectively prioritize their tasks, but those who did were 1.6 times better able to focus on one thing at a time.

Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

We often ask senior leaders a simple question: If your employees feel more energized, valued, focused and purposeful, do they perform better? Not surprisingly, the answer is almost always “Yes.” Next we ask, “So how much do you invest in meeting those needs?” An uncomfortable silence typically ensues.

How to explain this odd disconnect? The most obvious answer is that systematically investing in employees, beyond paying them a salary, didn’t seem necessary until recently. So long as employees were able to meet work demands, employers were under no pressure to address their more complex needs. Increasingly, however, employers are recognizing that the relentless stress of increased demand — caused in large part by digital technology — simply must be addressed.

Still, the forces of habit and inertia remain powerful obstacles to better meeting employee needs. Several years ago, we did a pilot program with 150 accountants in the middle of their firm’s busy tax season.

Historically, employees work extremely long hours during these demanding periods, and are measured and evaluated based on how many hours they put in.

Recognizing the value of intermittent rest, we persuaded this firm to allow one group of accountants to work in a different way — alternating highly focused and uninterrupted 90-minute periods of work with 10-to- 15-minute breaks in between, and a full one-hour break in the late afternoon, when our tendency to fall into a slump is higher. Our pilot group of employees was also permitted to leave as soon as they had accomplished a designated amount of work.

With higher focus, these employees ended up getting more work done in less time, left work earlier in the evenings than the rest of their colleagues, and reported a much less stressful overall experience during the busy season. Their turnover rate was far lower than that of employees in the rest of the firm. Senior leaders were aware of the results, but the firm didn’t ultimately change any of its practices. “We just don’t know any other way to measure them, except by their hours,” one leader told us.

Recently, we got a call from the same firm. “Could you come back?” one of the partners asked. “Our people are still getting burned out during tax season.” Partly, the challenge for employers is trust. For example, our study found that employees have a deep desire for flexibility about where and when they work — and far higher engagement when they have more choice. But many employers remain fearful that their employees won’t accomplish their work without constant oversight — a belief that ironically feeds the distrust of their employees, and diminishes their engagement.

A truly human-centered organization puts its people first — even above customers — because it recognizes that they are the key to creating long-term value. Costco, for example, pays its average worker $20.89 an hour, Businessweek reported last year, about 65 percent more than Walmart, which owns its biggest competitor, Sam’s Club. Over time, Costco’s huge investment in employees — including offering benefits to part-time workers — has proved to be a distinct advantage.

Costco’s employees generate nearly twice the sales of Sam’s Club employees. Costco has about 5 percent turnover among employees who stay at least a year, and the overall rate is far lower than that of Walmart.

In turn, the reduced costs of recruiting and training new employees saves Costco several hundred million dollars a year. Between 2003 and 2013, Costco’s stock rose more than 200 percent, compared with about 50 percent for Walmart’s. What will prompt more companies to invest more in their employees? Pain is one powerful motivator. Often companies seek out our services when they’ve begun losing valued employees, or a C.E.O. recognizes his own exhaustion, or a young, rising executive suddenly drops dead of a heart attack — a story we’ve been told more than a half dozen times in just the past six months.

In a numbers-driven world, the most compelling argument for change is the growing evidence that meeting the needs of employees fuels their productivity, loyalty and performance. Our own experience is that more and more companies are taking up this challenge — most commonly addressing employees’ physical needs first, through wellness and wellbeing programs. Far less common is a broader shift in the corporate mindset from trying to get more out of employees to investing more in meeting their needs, so they’re both capable of and motivated to perform better and more sustainably.

THE simplest way for companies to take on this challenge is to begin with a basic question: “What would make our employees feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused and more inspired?” It costs nothing, for example, to mandate that meetings run no longer than 90 minutes, or to set boundaries around when people are expected to answer email and how quickly they’re expected to respond. Other basic steps we’ve seen client companies take is to create fitness facilities and nap rooms, and to provide healthy, high-quality food free, or at subsidized prices, as many Silicon Valley companies now do.

It also makes a big difference to explicitly reward leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, care and humility, and to hold them accountable for relying on anger or other demeaning emotions that may drive short-term results but also create a toxic climate of fear over time — with enormous costs. Also, as our study makes clear, employees are far more engaged when their work gives them an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

The energy of leaders is, for better or worse, contagious. When leaders explicitly encourage employees to work in more sustainable ways — and especially when they themselves model a sustainable way of working — their employees are 55 percent more engaged, 53 percent more focused, and more likely to stay at the company, our research with the Harvard Business Review found.

Mr. Kissam, the Albemarle chief executive Tony first met more than a year ago, has taken up the challenge for himself and his employees. He began by building breaks into his days — taking a walk around the block — and being more fully focused and present during time with his family. He now sets aside at least one morning on his calendar every week for reflection and thinking longer term. He has also made it a practice to send out handwritten notes of appreciation to people inside and outside the company.

Mr. Kissam has also championed a comprehensive rethinking of his organization’s practices around meetings, email, flexible work arrangements, conflict resolution and recognition. By the end of 2014 more than 1,000 of his leaders and managers will have gone through a program aimed at helping them more skillfully meet their own needs, and the needs of those they oversee.

“I can already see it’s working,” Mr. Kissam told us. “Our safety record has improved significantly this year, because our people are more focused.

We’re trusting them to do their jobs rather than telling them what to do, and then we’re appreciating them for their efforts. We’re also on the right path financially. A year from now it’s going to show up in our profitability.

I saw what happened when I invested more in myself, and now we’re seeing what happens when we invest in our employees.” Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm. Christine Porath is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant to The Energy Project.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 1, 2014, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Why You Hate Work.

© 2014 The New York Times Company