While many employers are concerned about the skills gap in this country, there seems to be another gap growing in today’s workplace: a performance gap. According to a 2013 workplace survey, workplace performance has gone down 6 percent since 2008, due largely to a decrease in employee focus. Perhaps that’s why some employers are taking some unconventional – some might even say extreme – measures to increase workplace productivity and re-engage their teams. But are they sustainable? Take a look at some of the more unusual workplace productivity trends that have emerged over the last few years.
Getting rid of job titles: Are job titles holding companies back? That seems to be what Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh thinks. The company recently announced it was getting rid of job titles and managers with its new holacratic workforce model. The is to create a flatter “’holarchy’ that distributes power more evenly” than a traditional hierarchy, explains business writer Aimee Groth. Though some doubt whether a Holacracy is viable, Zappos has been pretty successful by going against the grain. Will other companies follow suit?
Raising the bar: Not many companies can get away with asking employees to put in up to 30 extra hours per week for no extra pay, but that’s exactly what Amazon does with its “bar raisers,” a group of employees who work extensively to vet potential employees and evaluate them for cultural fit. Certainly, involving more people in the hiring process seems like a surefire to eliminate hiring mistakes and ensure better workplace productivity, but is such a long and arduous process sustainable? Or would the time and effort invested up front pay off in the long run? Amazon seems to be betting on the latter.
Putting it all out there: At some companies, there are no secrets – even when it comes to money. That’s the case at Buffer and SumAll, two companies that practice salary transparency. The idea is that, without the distraction of wondering how their salary compares to those of their colleagues, workers will be more focused on work – and even more driven to work harder because “people understand the threshold to get more money,” according to SumAll’s CEO. Though the practice of open salaries has its skeptics (including Chris Charmon, director of talent management at Towers Watson, who told CNBC he’s “unconvinced” of its benefits), the companies that do it swear by it.
Saying goodbye to cubicles: An estimated 70 percent of all offices have open floor plans. The concept behind the open office is to promote collaboration that cubicles and other closed office spaces (supposedly) inhibit. Despite their popularity and perceived benefits, open office plans may do more damage than good: a recent New Yorker article cites research indicating that open offices “were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.” But for all their faults, Forbes’ Susan Adams says open office plans can be effective – depending on how they’re executed.
Giving unlimited vacation time: Operating under the belief that giving employees more freedom to take time off whenever they want will actually make them more productive, many employers have started adapting unlimited vacations policies. Though their intentions may be pure, employers that give employees unlimited vacation time may not be doing them any favors, some say. In a recent article for Quartz, management professor Lotte Bailyn argues that giving employees too many options could be stressful and confusing, while Jena McGregor of The Washington Post says that, with no clear guidance, employees may end up taking less time off – effectively defeating the purpose of the policy.
Putting email in the trash folder: Is email, as Hootsuite’s Bryan Holmes declared in 2012, “the new Pony Express”? More companies seem to think so. Believing that internal email impedes collaboration and workflow, digital marketing agency Klick decided to build its own workflow management system to use instead. Now, employees only use email to speak with clients. Similarly, over at WordPress.com, instead of communicating via email, employees post information on internal blog posts, where colleagues join the conversation via comment thread, in chat rooms, or on Skype. As more companies follow in their footsteps, is it only a matter of time before email becomes obsolete?
Letting employees take sabbatical: Want to get more productivity out of your employees? Tell them to leave work behind for a few weeks. That’s the mentality at email marketing firm Emma, where employees who’ve clocked at least five years are eligible for a four-week sabbatical. Similarly, Genentech employees who have given six years of service can take a six-week sabbatical. The idea is to let employees explore an outside passion or goal that weekends or typical vacations don’t allow – and come back re-energized and ready to engage with work.
What do you think? Would any of these policies work in your organization? What do you do to boost employee engagement and enhance productivity?
Forget what you think you know about HR... it's all about to change.
Sign up to start getting exclusive content designed to empower you with the insight necessary to go from HR professional to strategic business partner.