I listened to a very interesting discussion on the BBC about Seattle-based company Social Strata granting its employees as much paid leave as they want, whenever they want. Much of the approach to the coverage, including an interview with an employment lawyer, seemed to look at this as an almost fantastical way of running a business.
I had hoped to hear more about the business reasons behind this decision, and what improvements in employee engagement Social Strata expected to see as they build a culture of freedom. Another example of this bold move is the Silicon Valley firm Netflix, who scrapped its formal holiday policy to balance as they say “freedom and responsibility”.
I have argued before that we should scrap the formal working week and place organisational value on delivery and output, not input through the amount of hours worked. We should worry less about how and when an individual provides their knowledge and skills, and instead switch our focus to what they contribute. Confining people to perform only in strict hours, with an expectation of them being physically present throughout, is an outdated approach to working. It stifles creativity and engagement, dulls performance and takes no account of how people are motivated or of the society in which we live.
That said, I understand that physical presence is required for certain roles to actually carry out the tasks. I’m not asking for my local restaurant to consider home working for their waitresses - but I am saying that unless we treat those who work for us as a sum of their parts, from family commitments to educational aspirations, we will continue to miss a trick on truly engaging our employees and encouraging them to bring more to work than only their bodies.
Strong reactions to changes in working patterns, such as the BBC demonstrated, are often based on the assumption that people will abuse the so-called benefit and simply not work. This distrust is misplaced. My belief is that no-one goes to work to fail, but factors that are not always obvious can get in the way. As we enter our workplace doors we often enter environments that are dehumanising and set up to operate in opposition to how humans actually work best.
The 9-5pm routine, or in fact the 7-7pm pattern which is more common, does not work for our physiological makeup let alone our capacity to manage all aspects of our life. We are intrinsically motivated by our need to learn and have purpose; feel secure and connect with others; be heard and have autonomy over how we do things. If we have these elements in our work then we are driven to deliver, and enforcing set working hours becomes completely unnecessary - as does the provision of authorised time off.
Given the freedom to manage our lives, with work being a meaningful part of it and not an all-consuming element, we will deliver much more and the returns to our businesses, as well as our communities, society and economy, will be significant.