George Michael sang about it. A blue-faced Mel Gibson roared about it. Politicians debate it on the regular. And companies like Patagonia, Ritz-Carlton and Shake Shack make it a centerpiece of their employee experience.
What is it? It’s freedom.
By giving employees freedom and control over their actions, today’s do-it-differently employers are blowing up the traditional workweek grind to build their brands and boost employee engagement and productivity. These freewheeling, free-to-be-you-and-me practices shatter the “work smarter, not harder” paradigm — because, as it turns out, those who have the freedom to work smarter… actually want to work harder.
Forget about time tracking. Forget about office hours — or even set work hours. Shift the priority to flexible schedules. Personalized job crafting. Family time. Working toward happiness. When employers loosen the vise of control they actually get more from their teams. Let that sink in for a minute. Less control = more value.
Less Control = More Value
It’s all about autonomy and empowering employees to have control over their work and their lives. Autonomy is the umbrella for choice, independence, solitude, and empowerment. Autonomy is also a key driver of happiness in the workplace.
Today’s most successful enterprises have shifted their focus to prioritizing happiness as fundamental to employee engagement and loyalty. Happiness is the ultimate why, the most sustainable competitive advantage, and the ultimate currency in business.
It’s also the premise of Yellow Goldfish, in which co-author Rosaria Cirillo Louwman and I explored the nine ways to find and create H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. in the workplace. We looked at how over 300 companies provide the little extras to contribute to the happiness of their customers, employees, and society — resulting in delight, growth, productivity, success and bottom-line results.
Autonomy is the second piece of the H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. puzzle, and the second in a nine-part blog series taking a look at the full monty, as it were.
As today’s businesses compete in crushingly competitive spaces they’re also in an all-out war to attract and retain the skilled employees who make the magic happen. If job creation remains at historically high levels and unemployment stays at its historic lows, the tight labor market will continue to be, well, tight. And maybe even tighter.
The answer for employers in the trenches may not be bigger salaries and bigger bonuses, or even swapping out the conference room table for foosball and ping pong. As freedom-focused companies know, the answer to winning over the hearts and times of employees is autonomy.
Lessons From Patagonia, Ritz-Carlton and Shake Shack
In Yellow Goldfish, we look at the “business unusual” of Patagonia and its laser focus on work-life balance among its outdoorsy crew. Here, autonomy and time away from the office is more than encouraged, it’s required. Employees enjoy “Let My People Go Surfing” time to head out into the great wide open, to surf, bike, climb — whatever, they’re free to choose. Patagonia’s flextime freedoms extend to taking classes, scooping up kids off the school bus, or taking two months off for a paid green sabbatical. The win-win benefits? Employee engagement and morale, employee loyalty, and ultimately employee retention.
Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard wrote in his book Let My People Go Surfing, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet, going up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even barefoot. We needed to have flex time to surf the waves when they were good, or ski the powder after a big snowstorm, or stay home and take care of a sick child. We needed to blur that distinction between work and play and family.”
At hospitality savant Ritz-Carlton, employees are given the freedom to delight guests to the tune of up to $2,000 per guest per day, with complete discretion and autonomy.
Ritz-Carlton quoted a senior account executive in a blog post about the practice: “Employee empowerment means being able to use my natural ability to create a lasting memory for guests or resolve a guest issue and have the confidence that my company supports me 100 percent in my effort. Sometimes the most delightful ‘wow’ moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever.”
Ritz-Carlton’s employee empowerment delivers the priceless gem of establishing trust between employer and employee, and boosts employee engagement as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty — both of which have bottom-line impact beyond a mere 20 Benjamins.
I know it’s not realistic for every company to keep slide thousands of dollars into their employees’ pockets with which to wow guests. But all is not lost. You have the freedom to get creative!
Shake Shack recently began experimenting with giving store-level supervisors more freedom thanks to four-day workweeks. The goal? Shaking up employee recruitment and employee retention, and staying true to the chain’s commitment “to invest in and take care of our teams.”
If you want your employees to be happy, engaged, and loyal, then take a long look at freedom and autonomy. A recent survey by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group found among the new developments most urgently affecting businesses were employees’ expectations for flexible, autonomous work, better work-life balance, and remote working — though only 30 percent of the 11,000 workers and 6,500 business leaders who responded to the survey said they were prepared to deliver.
There is a gap between wanting autonomy and flexibility, and getting workplace autonomy and flexibility. It’s a gap today’s companies will need to close — quickly — to stay current and competitive. To learn more, check out Werk’s first-ever study to quantify the gap between flexibility supply and demand.
Let’s wrap this up by bringing it all back to happiness. In the words of celebrated cartoonist and columnist Frank Tyger: “Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.”
Can your employees say both?
Maybe George Michael was sharing some advice for employers in the song Freedom, “You’ve gotta give for what you take.”
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.