- By Ian Bradley
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I’ve just read “Why Work Sucks” by Ressler and Thompson, the ex-Best Buyers, whose resonating book title describes their Result Only Work Environment- ROWE.
For those not up on the latest business buzz, the book takes to task our underlying assumptions about time and work. Briefly summarized here is their beginning premise:
A employee at his or her desk is not necessarily a productive employee. In fact, there is probably only a modest relationship for most white-collar employees between time spent in the office and work output.
If that’s the case, then why not let employees decide their working hours AS LONG AS the work gets done. That’s their plan- focus on results not effort or time, hence Results Only Working Environment.
Part of me simply accepts this as normal, and that’s the university professor part of me. No one in the university checks to see when you arrive in the morning or leave at night. There are, of course, strict time commitments for classes or seminars but for most professors, the majority of the work – the thinking, the writing, the reading – are accomplished without regard to any 9am to 5 pm limits. Most professors work when they want, where they want, with the goal of accomplishing what they want. Good ideas can occur in coffee shops, in the bathroom or over a computer on Sunday morning.
Of course, the result of this personal freedom is closely scrutinized. God help the up-for-tenure professor who has not published the requisite number of papers in top ranked journals. Focusing on clearly defined results makes time clocks at universities unnecessary, no need for Time Tracking Software. Ressler and Thompson believe that most organizations would be better served by treating their employees like university professors with specific goals that are verified and evaluated but with freedom to decide when and where the work should be done.
ROWE taps into two core psychological principles – control and autonomy.
Fifty years of psychological research has demonstrated that control, even a subjective perception of control, aids coping, especially coping with stressful situations. We can leave an arm in an ice bath longer or endure an aversive noise better if we know that we can terminate the experience when we want.
Perhaps more important for work than control is autonomy. One of the most prominent theories of motivation, Self Determination Theory, has demonstrated that environments that provide autonomy unleash worker motivation. That autonomy can be achieved by maximizing employee discretion about how or when a task should be performed.
Of course, the authors aren’t suggesting that every business can operate with employees deciding their own schedules; otherwise, trains would never run on time. Even where appropriate, can the ROWE system operate without attentive management where managers and bosses regularly set-goals, evaluate outcomes and coordinate effort among all participants. The perception of fairness is key since everyone in the ROWE environment must work with the fulfilled assumption that no one is gaming the system.