Companies seem to be increasingly struggling to keep their employees happy. More and more employees are dissatisfied with their workplace and looking for alternatives. The impact of an ever-changing unhappy workforce is starting to take its toll on the profitability of the organization.  These problems can leave an employer at a loss as to how to fix this.

So why exactly have you an unhappy workforce? And what can you do to keep your people from leaving?

To answer this question, let me ask you this one question.  Have you ever observed two pieces of original artworks that are alike?

More? Or better?

Only manmade things produced in bulk are ever exactly the same. Original art pieces are all uniquely different and people are willing to pay far more for an original than a copy. They know that having one of a kind is much more valuable than having something that thousands of other people also have the same of.

The same is true about your workforce. Uniqueness and the ability to think outside the box are in most cases more valuable than obedience and blindly following instructions. Yet, in the workplace, people are expected to fit into a generic mold and follow generic rules. Mostly, these rules and regulations were designed around the needs of the employer and cases where there were conflicts or disagreements, punishing the masses for the mistakes of a handful of outliers.

Job descriptions. Roles. Policies. Procedures. Leave entitlement. Performance reviews. Salary.

All are generically designed around the concept of fairness and equality for everyone, yet the source of unhappiness for most people, even if only on a subconscious level.

What used to be the burning issue during the French Revolution is no longer the main problem in the digital age. The primary need then was for people to be treated as equals. The primary need now is for people to express their creativity.  It’s time to relook at what equality in the workplace looks like.

Same-Same, But Different

All people are not the same and they don’t have the same needs.

Treating everyone the same just because it is less administration to manage in the short run, is like refusing to service your car because it will mean a day of inconvenience without transport. Yet, we know that the temporary inconvenience, while your car is in for a service, saves a lot of inconvenience and money in the long run.

The same concept applies to employee needs. It might be more administration to cater for individual needs, but it will save a lot of administration and money in recruitment costs and loss of intellectual property by valuable employees leaving. And it will be more human and avoid an unhappy workforce.

Equal doesn’t mean identical

Fairness and equality do not mean everyone should be treated exactly the same. Fairness implies that each person is rewarded according to the value they deliver and their commitment level. The more value you add as an individual, the more you should be rewarded, regardless of your job description or how long you’ve been in the company.

Equality, on the other hand, implies that each individual is entitled to an equal share of resources. That does not mean that everyone gets the same resources, it means that each gets an equal distribution of available resources, depending on their individual, and changing needs.

One person might value extra leave days while someone else might appreciate training. Yet another might rather want a financial reward in the form of a bonus or increased retirement benefit. Each person, depending on where they are in their life has different needs. It is the role of the employer to make sure that they meet those needs if they want their employees to remain happy.

Rules are there to be broken

Rules are supposed to make life easier. As the rules of the road, if people don’t follow the rules, accidents happen.

When however there is an accident, the rules are temporarily changed. You might need to take a detour or drive in the emergency lane for an ambulance to pass. Or a traffic officer might take over and direct the traffic usually managed by a traffic light.

If you’re still following the same policies and procedures than five years ago or have only ever added to it, you are most likely ignoring what is not working anymore and just putting a band-aid on top of the bleeding wound.

To allow them to heal, however, it is necessary to look a little bit deeper.  So next time you find yourself declining an individual’s request because it isn’t policy, ask yourself this one question.

“Is it easier to review the rules now, or to fill the hole left behind when people leave as a result of the rules not meeting their needs?”

Image courtesy of Depositphotos

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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.