How progressive is your company when it comes to its policies and procedures? In the industrial revolution the concept of clocking in and clocking out, closely monitoring work and a ‘Taylor’* management style of rewards and punishment was born. Since then the nature of work that the majority of us do has shifted dramatically and yet much of our systems and procedures are still based on Taylor’s Scientific Management principles from 1911. Over 100 years on, lots has changed, and many companies are reflecting these changes in how they manage and organise people. If you are still working for a company whose policies are from a bygone era, some of these might surprise you.
How often have you been frustrated at how long it has taken to get an expense approval for a business trip or a new laptop? Maybe consider applying to media giant Netflix. Netflix avoids the issue of expense management altogether, by empowering its employees to make their own decisions. The company has no expense policy. Instead, it trusts employees to act responsibly. Netflix recognises that expense processes can impede progress, waste time and drain energy so they simply give the power to their employees themselves.
Software firm Atlassian believes in innovation and they walk the talk. Each week employees have 24 hours to work on whatever they want. There are no rules only guidelines of how to use the time, Atlassian say it should be something that inspires you, you can assemble your own team to help you and you have just 24 hours. (Presumably they can also sleep during that time). This initiative has resulted in product upgrades, bug fixes and office improvements. One project involved installing bike racks in the car park and upgrading all light bulbs to be energy efficient ones. These projects might not seem ground-breaking, but they give the employees to freedom to make the changes that make their workplace a slightly better place to be. It also encourages accountability for things that employees see and don’t like – you want to change it, do it in your 24-hour time. We know that people are more motivated when they are able to work autonomously and follow through on their own ideas. At Atlassian this is not just a 24-hour initiative but an ongoing philosophy and culture of innovation, accountability and self-management that exists every day of the week.
I used to work at a tech company that would take all of the staff away for a city break each year. Now this could be a benefit or a curse depending on how much you like your co-workers! In our case I think most people loved it and it was a great boost at the end of the year. (I do think this policy stopped once they got above 30 employees, but I was glad to be part of it while it lasted)
It seems to be the tech companies that lead the way when it comes to progressive holiday allowances. Netflix, HubSpot and Evernote all offer unlimited holiday days to their employees. Take as much as you want, when you want. Employees have to make sure they have got their work done and that things will be covered while they are away. They are trusted to be able to make their own decisions about how much time they are able to take off.
The catch to this? Well if you are an employee you may feel confused about how much time you can actually take off and some studies have shown that in organisations with unlimited leave employees actually end up taking less holiday. Investment firm Morning Star hasn’t tracked holiday days since they started but they do encourage people to take at least three weeks off. There is always the possibility also that the policy will be abused, and some individuals will take advantage.
So, is the policy worth it if it doesn’t get utilised or in some cases it gets abused? As someone who works for myself, I can tell you there is a big difference between not taking holiday because you choose not too and not taking holiday because you can’t. In the unlimited holiday allowance option, you are giving employees the control which is empowering and motivating, whether they choose to take advantage of it or not.
For the individuals abusing the policy I would argue that that would show up in their performance results anyway, so they probably will not survive long. What is obvious is that this policy doesn’t work in a vacuum, it must be supported by clear and measurable performance metrics, using a tool such as OKR for example.
Chances are in your organisation you don’t know what your colleagues or boss are getting paid. Some companies are embracing a policy of open salary data. US retailer, Whole Foods has had an open salary policy since 1986. Social media platform Buffer and analytics company SumAll are other organisations that follow this policy. Advocates say that it erases gender and other discrimination because salaries, and the reasons behind them are open for everyone to see. This removes the impact of individual negotiating power as salaries for roles are set. It has also been shown to reduce the wage gap between the highest and lowest earners and increase motivation as people understand the reasons behind their salary. Before you leap in and make everyone salaries public it is important that this is accompanied by a thorough and well thought through salary system with reasoning and explanation behind the pay grades. Needless to say, this cannot work where there are clear gender/race/family biases in salaries.
Performance Reviews and Promotions
Brazilian manufacturing company Semco is a rich source of unique and admirable policies. (And it’s not in tech and not in Silicon Valley!) One that stands out is their policy on hiring and promotions. No one is hired until they have been interviewed and accepted by all of their future subordinates and twice a year subordinates evaluate managers. This democratic approach is integral to running the business and big decisions are made by company-wide vote such as large acquisitions or moving to a new plant.
Another company that stands out in its performance reviews is Bridgewater Associates, the investment firm founded by Ray Dalio. Bridgewater created a tool that allows employees to rate each other in real time on their performance in a meeting environment. They rate on an app and give colleagues a score out of 10 for different performance metrics – for example how well people listened, spoke directly or displayed emotional intelligence. Bridgewater makes this data available and does ranking of employees based on feedback. Dalio has created a culture where feedback, learning and growth are paramount and there is no room for ego. This clearly starts from the top, Dalio himself makes it clear he is open to feedback from all employees, and he gets it – the good and the bad!
Many companies recognise that their responsibility extends beyond their employees to the community that they are part of. Organisations such as Bosch, Ikea, Exxon Mobile and Goldman Sachs give millions each year to charitable foundations and causes. Other organisations encourage their employees to get out and make a difference. Sales Force employees are encouraged to take action in their communities with six paid volunteer days off per year. When an employee utilizes all six volunteer days, the company awards the individual a $1,000 grant donation to the employee’s choice charity. Apple matches charitable contributions made by their employees of up to $1000 per year per employee while ExxonMobile offers up to $10,000 of donation matching for employees, spouses and retirees. There are many companies that do this well, Pepsi Co, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, GE and Google also have generous charity policies. Clearly companies recognise that not only is this the right thing to do, it also offers a boost for employees to be able to give something back to causes that are meaningful to them. This increases an employee’s sense of purpose which is an important motivating factor.
Learning and Growth
Many companies offer excellent learning opportunities for their employees. Schneider Electric, GE, Apple, Mars and Pixar are examples of companies that have their own corporate universities to shape and grow their employees.
Other organisations invest heavily in their employee’s development for work related and non-work-related skills. Amazon enrolls new managers on a month-long leadership programme before they start work and they will pay 95% of tuition fees for employees to take courses in high demand fields. Hopefully these are policies that they will now be rolling out locally in the gulf region. At Twilio, employees are encouraged to read to their heart’s content. The company gives each employee a Kindle, along with $30 per month toward the purchase of books. Employees of Twitter enjoy benefits like taking improv classes and relaxing with on-site acupuncture.
Parenting and Family
This part of the world is not known for its generous parental leave. If you are looking for good parenting perks it is often not where you work that matters it is what country, you live in. The Scandinavian countries have some of the best laws when it comes to maternity and paternity leave. In Sweden, parents (not just mothers) are given 480 days of leave per child, and 420 of these days are paid at a rate of 80% of your salary up to a capped limit. If you have twins you are entitled to an additional 180 days. That would be handy for all the UAE twin births! Some companies do go against the mandated legal parental leave policies and give benefits in this area above and beyond what they need to.
The US is notoriously bad for standard parental leave. However, employees at Spotify enjoy six months of paid parental leave, in addition to flexible work options when they return to the office. Plus, the company’s benefits include covering costs for fertility assistance and egg freezing! (A generous perk or a way to keep women working longer without having children!?)
Facebooks helps new parents out with those extra costs by giving $4,000 in “Baby Cash” to employees with a new baby. Any chance of “Puppy Cash” for those with new puppies? Would help with shoe replacement costs from pairs chewed!!
If a Google employee passes away, Google will pay the surviving spouse/partner 50% of the deceased person’s income for ten years.
On gaining more balance in male/female representation at the top there is clearly a long way to go, but many companies are playing a positive role in the problem. Financial advisory firm Deloitte offers up to 16 weeks of paid family leave, up to $15k to be used towards IVF treatment. They offer six months of paid maternity leave for mothers (16 weeks for fathers), lactation facilities, backup childcare, and a New Parent Program.
Locally Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (Du) have recently launched a women’s council to empower women in their workforce (29% of their workforce are female). The council will seek to support women in their careers, build a collaborative culture, raise female engagement levels and develop the next level of female leaders.
What does this mean for your business?
You might look at some of the initiatives above and think, great, let’s do it! I think it would be fantastic if more companies started to adopt some of these more progressive policies, but you do need to tread carefully. You cannot cherry pick initiatives and think they will work the same for you as they do for Google. If you don’t have the right culture and supporting policies and environment to make it work your plan could back fire. Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco says that his business is built on three values. “These values—democracy, profit sharing, and information—work in a complicated circle, with each dependent on the other two. If we eliminated one, the others would be meaningless.” Things do not happen in isolation and in the examples, we cited the policies work to support each other, they have been around for a long time so the company has had time to trail it, test it, break it and fix it. Success will not happen overnight, change is hard but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Fortune favours the bold after all.
Most of the data I found for this blog comes from companies that are US based, I would love to hear more examples of locally based companies in the Middle East that are offering great benefits. Please share your experiences below.
Note - *Fredrick Taylor was a management consultant and engineer who tried to improve operational efficiency in the early 20th Century. He pioneered scientific management and his approach focussed on training an individual to do a specific piece of work repeatedly and dividing planning and work between management and workers.
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