Conventional wisdom suggests that as technology has improved our ability to work more efficiently, both workplace flexibility and time available for non-work pursuits would increase. While there are pockets where that wisdom holds, recent data suggests cultures of long hours and face time are more often held up as the ideal.
Maintaining a competitive advantage based on that sort of culture is difficult at best, and most likely to result in diminishing returns for employee and employer alike. On the other hand, cultures of contribution can lead to more sustainable competitive advantage.
Within a culture of contribution, organizations strive for the promises of a better workforce where efficiency leads to flexibility and greater life balance are normal. A culture is built that empowers employees to work in ways that allow them to be productive contributors, regardless of time and place. As a result, employees are more likely to ask themselves “What value can I bring?” and not “How many more hours should I work?”
Getting there requires successfully navigating a couple of fundamental forces, however, that have become enmeshed in the ways that many employees work today.
According to a report by the BBC from the other day, one of the core issues hinges on a lack of workplace trust. As the article points out, a “lack of trust brings about fear, which goes a long way to explaining why we put in face time, even when we probably don’t need to in order to do our work well.”
Two related issues are the ease with which technology has allowed employee behavior to be monitored, leading to greater levels of stress, and the lack of a sense of belonging involved in today’s rapid digital communications. There is also much greater uncertainty in the basic employee-employer relationship.
These forces speak to the types of solutions that will ultimately be successful in developing a culture of contribution.
One key principle is to introduce greater humanity into the workplace as one of the ways in which greater trust can be built, both interpersonally and as an enabler of greater contribution. The former creates a sense of community and confidence in one another, which reinforces the latter (and vice versa) through greater creativity and collective motivation.
Another principle is leveraging social technologies that blend the ability to do better work and to build relationships. These technologies can help connect people to one another: to share ideas, to recognize great work, and develop collective skills and abilities.
Together, these types of solutions can go a long way in creating more productive and also more flexible workplaces through a culture of contribution.
How does your own company emphasize your contributions instead of the hours you’ve put in?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.