In Japan, they are called ‘freeters’ and simply avoid getting a career job
by living at home with their parents. In the US, they are part of what is known
as the ‘going postal’ phenomenon where disgruntled employees pick up shotguns
and shoot colleagues (often before shooting themselves). In the UK, they are
the group that spends an average of three hours each day flirting, e-mailing
and gossiping. They are all part of a wave of dissatisfaction with work.
According to Jan Nuttall, HR director at Morley Funds Management: "It’s
something about the 21st century. Something that is making people seek meaning
in their work and in their lives. If the workplace doesn’t deliver, nor will
the people who do the work."
Employers and employees are faced with essentially the same problem.
Employers need the best efforts of their workers, those who do the work, to
figure out the most effective ways of completing tasks, achieving the overlying
objectives of the business, and meeting the needs of customers. They can’t
afford workers who simply clock-in and clock-off doing only what they are told
while waiting for the end of the working day before engaging their brains. It
requires self-direction. But an effective self-directed culture is not
something many companies understand or have ever successfully established.
The involvement of the board of directors is critical, but insufficient in
isolation as self-direction is all about independent behaviour and cannot be
achieved by dictate or by publishing a set of cultural values on the intranet.
"The critical part is that each employee believes that his or her
individual contribution can really make a difference and that they will be
appreciated for it," explains Brenda Dainter, HR director at ITNet.
"Our culture is not rules-bound, which is why our induction process develops
people’s confidence in their ability, their right to contribute and to be all
they can be rather than focusing on how to fit in or avoid getting into
This development of the individual must then be matched by opening the minds
of managers to a new deal that offers fewer controls and delivers undreamed of
effectiveness. As Tor Farquhar, HR director for Alfred McAlpine points out:
"There has to be recognition that managers are there to provide a work
environment that allows people to feel good about their jobs and to do the best
job possible. That includes better use of worker ideas and making sure that
tools are the best quality available and that the toilets on site are as clean
as those at head office."
That isn’t a complete list, but it’s an indication of the insights that are
coming from the bold HR directors who are embarking on this journey to
self-directed culture because they know that effectiveness comes from avoiding
a ‘freeter’ future.
The first annual Unshrink the People Conference takes place at the BT Tower
in London on 29 October.
By Max Mckeown, Consultant and author of Unshrink the People