Workplace Culture and Motivation:

Tossing Out the Employee Policies and Handbook

Gallup reported that workforce engagement for 2015 averages at 32% leaving a 50.8% majority of the US workforce not engaged while at work. This is nearly unchanged from the previous year so why are the majority of us that participate in the workforce so disenfranchised from our careers? Workforce cultures and policy are contributing to an overall uninspiring work experience. After all Don Drapers job in Madmen looked a whole lot more interesting than Peter Gibbons in Office Space.

What happened that created a massive workforce culture shift? It seems as if the rest of the nation is evolving into a more open and accepting culture breaking glass ceilings through the last decade such as electing our first African American President, a woman running for President twice, honoring and accepting LGBT marriages, and increased access to affordable health care. Sure there is a lot more achievements to list and even more work to do. Why however have we as a nation progressed but the workplace remained more prison-like than ever before? Freedoms and liberties abound when you punch the clock but seldom are they to be found within the workday.

The workplace seems to have evolved from an environment in which free thinking, creativity, and yes the occasional break to grab a steak and do shots at lunch gave way to the single level cubicle farms of the 90’s. Overall companies are moving away from the cubicle farm for co-office or common office spaces that mimic college student centers and media centers. The idea is to provide cohabitation and drive collaborative work climates but even with a change in the environment the nation’s workforce remains stuck in a looping “case of the Mondays.”

The reality is that office culture from the ultra-authoritative cubicle farm days holds fast as human resource departments churn out more employee policies than the US Tax Code. Which; has created a general fear and workforce anxiety to which every conversation and email is an exercise in CYA. This isn’t meant to say that we should be able to do whatever we desire during the workday or you end up with The Wolf of Wall Street. However, maybe we could imagine a workplace where we can be ourselves again. Remember how you governed yourself when you were in college. The university you attended had student conduct policies that protected the civil liberties and provided safety for its students, but you never needed to look through that information because most of us are decent people. Furthermore, you graduated just fine completing all your assignments without being micromanaged by anyone. If we can achieve the professional degree’s and certifications required to get the job without any oversight why then don’t we have the same respectful freedoms in our workplaces. After all, some of our people’s greatest creativity has come out of these type of free thinking campus environments.

Engaged employees are those employees that are motivated and connected to the company and work they are producing. There are two different types of motivation extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the things that surround us and is meant to motivate us to be participatory in the workforce such as salary, promotions, and personal responsibility to meet our obligations for the sake of (family, community, bills, etc…) Intrinsic motivation is much more complex it is wanting to be productive and fruitful simply for the sake of being better at what we do. It’s why we perfect hobbies and feel connected with the things we are interested in even when we are not compensated for doing them. Essentially there is very little if any reward for becoming accomplished as there is in our professions. We do it just because we want to and no one is making us. While there may have been some expectations when we were working our way through college, there was only the promise that we would eventually be rewarded by graduating.

How did they manage to create a motivating environment that strung us along perfecting our knowledge for four years as students but the workforce loses our interest so quickly? Why do people get together and practice learning music weekly or play on softball teams when there is no reward? It’s simple we seek out the aforementioned collaboration and to be good at something for the sake of being good at it. If we remove the barriers of exhaustive, endless, creativity-crushing company policies and create a less restrictive corporate culture, we just may find ourselves fostering more intrinsically motivated staff.

How do we transition to a less restrictive workplace after all the policies were designed with good intentions and dare I say put in place to protect the company? The truth is we can’t simply throw out the book there has to be a proverbial line in the sand that gives an employer the grounds to dismiss those employees that don’t work well. Or can we throw out the book? If we create an open, unregulated environment that focuses solely on outcomes. Then disregard how our staff produces the expected outcomes. The onus then becomes more focused on vetting new hires that are capable of working in this manner. Instead of focusing on regulating people that are incapable of producing results without micromanagement.

Darrell D Lingle
The Write Connection LLC