A “Give and Take” policy is much better than swimming pools and M&Ms

Somewhere in 2007, I had to muffle a chuckle every time my Software Engineering professor at college used the term “customer satisfaction” — I would imagine a gazillion ways to satisfy the customer without having to deliver some groundbreaking software. The term made more sense to me if I were a resort manager; I can satisfy my clients by providing luxurious services and the best entertainment facilities for instance. The term ‘satisfaction’ is tricky and can convey so many meanings. However, customer satisfaction is one thing and employee satisfaction is a totally different story.

Ever since I kick-started my career life, I’ve been hearing the term “employee satisfaction”, and what usually occurred to me every time I heard it included more paid vacations, higher salaries, less work, regular bonuses, probably a swimming pool, a spa, a tennis court, movie nights, etc. It never occurred to me that it might include personal growth, career progress, being engaged in vital projects, or anything of this kind.

I’ve almost always heard coworkers say stuff like, “Have you seen the slides at Google’s offices? Or the swimming pool at YouTube’s Silicon Valley office? We are waaaay behind those people!” Apparently, yes, many companies are way behind Google and YouTube, especially when it comes to managing human resources, but that’s got nothing to do with the slides or the swimming pools. Human Resources departments at those large corporations are in the forefront not because of free lunches, slides, spas or ping-pong tables, but because they know the resources they are dealing with are actually human.

For me, seeing people enjoy a swimming pool at the office while I have a lot of work to do is torture! I wouldn’t argue against a large corporation’s strategy, but I assure you there is more to their employees’ creativity and ‘satisfaction’ than cool offices.

Besides, why exactly would I want to be stuck doing absolutely everything at the office? Why not go to a gym in a separate building? Maybe even a separate neighborhood. Jumping into a mud bath after a stressful meeting for instance is surely satisfying, but when I go to office, my goal is not to enjoy the facilities or get pampered! I’d rather do this stuff elsewhere or maybe once a month at the office, which will bring the team together in non-work-related activities.

The traditional managerial mindset views employees as machines fueled with paychecks at the end of each month — where the salary might be probably low and the workload heavy. This mindset is surely outdated and often seen at small firms and startups. When managers or business owners with this mindset attempt to evolve and adopt modern techniques and strategies, they look at what large corporations are doing with their super-employees, and all they see is usually how these corporations provide their employees with naptimes, free lunches, gyms, spas and ping-pong tables.

Working for smaller firms and startups has many perks indeed, but there are also drawbacks, which may include weak human resources management, a traditional managerial mindset, or maybe a non-diverse work environment.

My very first experience at the workplace was undoubtedly my best — because it was at Cisco. I never imagined that workplace environments could be so friendly, warm and supportive. Yes, they did have an Xbox and a pool table, but I only played pool there once and never touched the Xbox. I was merely a Coop Trainee, but felt like I was actually an integral part of important teams engaged in important projects. I worked with several teams on multiple projects, and I must say all the experiences were quite satisfying. I wasn’t that grateful back then because I did not know much about other workplaces.

My first month at Cisco was full of surprises — and they continued till my last day there. Senior management treated me as if we were good friends. They joked, laughed and shared personal stories with me. I did not know whether it was okay to respond in the same manner, so I preferred to be silent as much as I could. It felt like the Cisco Riyadh office was my second home. I was engaged in important projects and no one ever undermined my efforts — not even those who disliked me. In fact, the management was mostly very supportive and highly appreciative of my skills and efforts. They instilled in me the belief that I was going to make it big one day. I even remember the General Manager once silencing everyone during a meeting as soon as he read my body language — which suggested I had something to say but wasn’t sure it was okay — because he wanted me to speak up and voice my opinions. I was very eager to do any job at all and was highly cooperative. I was on fire and unstoppable. I was never satisfied and always begged to do more… I wanted to be challenged more. I was treated as a human being and not a laptop or a robot.

Managers and business owners: That is what your employees want. They want to be engaged. They want their bosses to mentor them and care for their development. They need to be at a supportive environment to which they can largely contribute and be part of large projects. They want more freedom to be creative and, not only think outside the box, but actually believe the box never existed in the first place. They need a company which believes their growth is essential to the company’s, and thus focuses on their strengths and helps them shine. They want a management that actually listens, and not only shouts orders, scolds them and undermines their skills and efforts. Good employees who do not find a place to thrive in the companies they work for will not believe they don’t deserve better and will soon leave the company — even if the pay were generous. Above all, they want to be treated as human beings — not machines and robots.

Human beings need more meaningful, fulfilling work… and the more talented and skilled they are, the more eager they’ll be to advance and prosper. They need to be inspired, motivated, mentored, befriended, heard, respected and appreciated. They want their aspirations to be met and their voices to be heard.

In her article, The Truth About Employee Engagement Surveys and Other Corporate Bullsh*t, Liz Ryan, Founder and CEO of Human Workplace, said, “There are real people with issues, stories, passions, concerns and aspirations that deserve and require human reaction in every organization. It’s time to evolve out of the Junk Science paradigm that has made HR weak and ineffectual in so many organizations and that has reduced employee loyalty practically to zero.” She added, “Your employees run your business for you, and they deserve the same respect.”

This article was originally published on anantello.blogspot.com.