While baking a cake this morning, I listened to an excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Joy of 9 to 5’, about managers. Presenter Lucy Kellaway investigated what managers actually do, and introduced us to some new approaches to management, emanating in particular from the United States.
Some American companies act on their belief that a happy and fulfilled person is more likely to make a good contribution at work. Therefore, some companies will pay for employees to learn a new hobby, such as how to play the guitar, or even how to fly a plane. The company might also pay for a family holiday to a special place a team member has always wanted to visit.
The programme pointed out that many people have little control over what happens at work, and are very conscious that their efforts go towards making someone else rich. Employees’ sense of boredom or imprisonment often leads them to put creative energy into flouting the rules or getting away with less work than they could be doing. It makes sense to tackle any potential alienation by giving team members a sense of control and influence, or by facilitating their non-work-related dreams, in the belief that (for example) an employee who’s just been to Morocco at the firm’s expense is more likely to work with a will and be nice to everyone when they get back. In a way you could say this approach is just another form of calculation about how to extract meaningful work from employees, but what a wonderfully constructive way to do it!
Lucy Kellaway ended by saying that she has always worked for conventional organisations and is willing to exchange autonomy for the pleasant knowledge of having no responsibility. She concluded that being managed by someone is actually better than being managed by everyone. I was struck by this because I’ve never worked for a conventional organisation. All my music groups were ‘managed by everyone’ in a very hit-and-miss way. We all had influence, but were sometimes not very wise about how to use it. Nobody ever brought modern American-style managerial principles to our lives or worked out how to get the best out of us. We all did actually give of our best, whenever we could. But this morning I found myself thinking that these new approaches to creating happy team members would be a great thing to experience.