Welcome to the Era of Workforce Experimentation

“I am so sick of tired of these people asking during an interview about work-life balance, working from home etc. They should just concentrate on getting a job and being happy with that. So tired of them.”

That statement was made by one of the senior HR executives in a workshop I was leading in the Asia region. As I listened, I could see the disdain she had for those asking those questions: How dare you question me and my company?

My response was to move into coaching mode: Why does that bother you? What would you prefer them to ask you? Do you think they have the right to ask about the work environment? Does your company address work-life balance? Does your company have workforce flexibility policies? What questions are your workforce asking around these two topics? What is the average age of your workforce and is it skewing younger? What is the average tenure? What was the turnover amount last year?

By now she was worn and weary and somewhat resigned to the new normal.

Stuck in time

I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired of a managerial and HR type that is STUCK in time, hoping and praying that things will go back to a workforce dynamic of yesteryear. I take pleasure in addressing these type issues.

When I was VP HR at Martha Stewart, our workforce was 72% women, average age of around 28. I got a taste of what it would be like with a huge group of young people. The insight I derived from that journey frames my thinking today.

To the woman in my workshop who expressed such frustration my message is, “Get over it and yourself. A younger workforce gets it and they will consistently demand more from an employer.” And my thought is: More power to them.

This is a new workforce that is diametrically opposed to a policy and procedure framework that for is anchored in years past. Either you adjust or you become a relic grounded in the way we USED to do things

The era of organizational experimentation

I call this new era “Organizational Experimentation.” It is the era of “Let’s try it and see what happens”:

  1. The company in New Zealand that says lets try and operate from a 4 day work week.
  2. There is another that says, you must go on vacation and DISCONNECT. We give you a vacation bonus of $7500 if you do. Small print: No checking work emails, texts, or calls.
  3. The ROWE [Results Only Work Environment]. In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work.
  4. Unlimited vacations. No more lying about being sick just to get a day off.

The list could go on and on but it boils down to this, in today’s workplace environment, the standard vacation policy and other age-old perks and policies will have to be rethought. With industrial age policies from the last century running head-on into the dynamics of a new workforce, companies that want to thrive must become self-aware. If not, you run the risk of high turnover, low employee engagement and a host of other costly ills.

Employees before customers

Let’s turn this situation around in another business context: What if your clients were consistently giving you feedback that your policies and products were not aligned to their working model? And what if you were in a competitive environment that was nimble and very flexible?

In such a case you would have no choice but to rethink what you were doing.

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That’s what successful companies do in today’s business world. They are customer-centric. It is doing business with your customer in a way that provides a positive customer experience before and after the sale to drive repeat business, customer loyalty and profits.

So, tell me why an employee-centric mindset is not just as important. A company can improve by simply listening, taking action, and letting their employees be people. Treat them as you would your best customer. Vineet Nayar extolled this policy several years ago in his aptly titled book, Employees First, Customers Second.

As he says in the opening pages: “By putting employees first, you can bring about fundamental change in the way a company creates and delivers unique value for its customers and differentiates itself from its competitors.”

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.