“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.” So sang the charmingly quirky dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White. In many ways they stood for the hopes of mid-century Americans: Hold down a secure job, produce your share of goods or products, do what the boss says, go with the program, and earn enough to support a comfortable lifestyle for yourself and your family. Things haven’t really changed all that much–or have they?
Only a few of us are currently involved in any type of manual labor or production. In fact, more than 80% of the workforce is in a service position according to most of the information we receive in our Human Resource office. In the past 100 years, the tools of the trade have changed dramatically. We’ve gone from plows to assembly lines to computers as the primary drivers of our livelihood.
What about “off to work we go”? All indicators point to an ever-increasing rise in telecommuting, home offices, and part-time and just-in-time or temporary workers, spurred on in large part by the increasingly transnational nature of corporations. So this place called work is rapidly becoming any place at all.
Changes like this are happening in all aspects of the workplace and can be attributed too much of the stress that employees are feeling today. I have noticed that many employees are complaining that the high stress of their jobs is causing employee burnout at a very young age, but all of this change is not as catastrophic as it may seem. There are many positive effects to be garnished from the inevitable changes in the workplace. This paper is going to look a four of these positive results from change. 1. Changes allow for freedom on new ideas. 2. Changes meet the Generation X’s needs for a constant variation in the workplace. 3. Employees work better with a little stress (Fight or Flight). 4. Done right, involving employees in change can create a feeling of ownership.
Changes allow for freedom on new ideas.
Without changes in the workplace you are stifled with the age old traditions. If employees are seeing new ideas tried out regularly, they will in turn, try to provide new ideas in the workplace. A top executive, interviewed for the book The Leadership Challenge states that “If organizations & societies are to make progress, then, leaders must be able to detect when routines are becoming dysfunctional. They must be able to see when routines are smothering creative planning and blocking necessary advancements.(Kouzes, Posner 47)”
This was a major problem when I was working for the newspaper. We had some long time employees, many who dated back to the hand set press days. These employees were very resistant to some of the methods we needed to change to make us competitive in the marketplace. Many of the old routines that were established eons ago were still in effect because it was the “newspaper way” with unnecessary deadlines and extra print runs. Those ways needed to change to bring in the new technology needed to run a competitive newspaper in today’s society. We needed to look at the demands of the advertiser and reporter which was our ability to react at a moments notice without unnecessary delays. Once we were able to break the old traditions, the new technology became accepted and the old seemed cumbersome and tiresome.
Some change is inevitable, a totally stable company can cause you to become stagnant in you working environment. You never get a chance to shine with your ideas. The only direction up in a traditionally stable company can be a pre-determined route that you will need everybody’s consent to take.
“If the company had been totally stable, I might have stayed a vice president or who knows what. I just wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I had” states one top executive interviewed in the book Smash the Pyramid (Doyle, Perking 234).
Everyone wants to protect his/her status in the company and change can challenge this on a regular basis. But, James Kouzes, author of The Leadership Challenge recommends that if leaders do not challenge the process any system will unconsciously conspire to maintain the status quo and prevent change. This change may be the one thing that stagnates the company and will eventually cause the company to loose ground in this world. Embrace change and it will become a positive force for you in your travels to the top of your field.
You’ve heard that every problem is an opportunity, and as tough times begin to close in, you can probably spot several ways to do something good for your company. So, let the tough times roll… and the new ideas will follow.
Changes meet the Generation X’s needs for a constant variation.
We have a new type of work force developing in the horizon. The schools are experiencing trying to teach these future employees now. These youth are going to require a different workplace than what our parents had. They will not be able to sit and perform the same task over and over for eight hours a day because since birth, they have been constantly stimulated with all of the high technical devices available in the modern day world. These people have been stimulated with everything from dolls that read to you to Nintendo games that give you virtual reality. The teachers of today are now learning how to train these future employees and we are going to have to change our workplace to meet their needs.
Students, however, conditioned by years of television, interactive video games and computers, are looking for something other than continual discourse from the teacher. They want to manipulate the joysticks, move the mice, and be “on-line” with their educational process. In other words, they want to be active participants, not passive observers, in their learning. The situation has prompted a “call to action” by the United States Secretary of Education, R. Riley: “We cannot sit still rooted to the chalk board and pencil at a time when a 12-year-old can literally touch his or her mouse pad and travel from web site to web site around the world (Riley, 1998)”
“Generation X’ers take longer to make job choices. They look upon a job as temporary instead of as a career, partly because they want to keep their options open. They are always looking to jump ship when they can upgrade their situation. They will often leave a job at the hint of a better position(Losyk 29-44)”. States Bob Losyk in his analysis of this new generation. He makes a point of noting that this generation does not expect the loyalties from the companies, with their downsizing, and in turn are not near as loyal to their place of employment.
To attract these employees and provide a beneficial work place environment for them many companies are changing their workplace strategies. Where once you were encouraged to bring you children on a specific day to see where you work, then they came up with the idea of workplace child-care, now the employees are being allowed to bring their pets with them to work.
These new Generation X’ers are going to change the face of the workplace creating an environment of excitement and innovation. As long as our economy continues to improve this generation will provide us with many new looks to the old standby workplace.
People work better with a little stress (Fight or Flight)
When humans first appeared on this world, they needed a little stress to survive, to kill the mastodons and live for another season. We really have not changed all that much. Today’s workplace requires us to give our best as often as possible. James Kouzes feels that “Opportunities to challenge the status quo and introduce change opens the doors to doing one’s best. Challenge is the motivation environment for excellence (Kouzes, Posner 39)”. The only exception that needs to be brought out by that is that we need to give people a change to get used to the changes before we introduce more. The major reason for stress is when you do not allow for the adjustment period in-between major changes.
” Stress has gotten a bad name. Stress of all kinds is good —– physical, emotional and mental. It’s strengthening. What troubles us is the absence of recovery strategies need to balance the stress.” by James Loehr, sports psychologist (as quoted in Fortune, 11/28/95)
Many times when people feel threatened by change they may be willing to take on more risks to improve their status within the company. Geoffrey Colvin, author for Fortune magazine says “One great thing about difficult times is that they make our hard-wiring work in our favor. People really do feel threatened. That makes this a good time to launch gambles you believe in. It also means that others in the organization, feeling threatened, are more likely to think up risky, innovative moves that could be worthwhile, so it’s important to make sure you find out about them. And remember that those above you also feel threatened, so now could be an excellent time to propose that crazy idea you just know would succeed. Your audience is receptive.(Colvin 243)” If you have built trust in your ideas you can create a positive situation for both you and your boss with the successful ideas you may develop.
We must be careful not to bombard our employees with the “catch phrases of the day”. Many top managers are looking for a cure. They are embracing the latest concepts to improve their productivity. These concepts are in abundance in today’s society. It appears that anyone can come up with an idea that will work for someone. You can have everything from Total Quality Management (TQM) to Work Focus Groups (WFG) to Just in Time (JIT) processing. In the article TQM reduces problems and stress by James Montague you are given the theory behind TQM. “Simply put, TQM is focused on understanding customer requirements and meeting their needs every time.(Montague 16)” Like that is a reality. It may be something to strive for, but the reality is that you are not going to be able to do this all of the time.
The problem with these is not with the concepts, because many of them are basically the same but with the adoption of too many of these processes in the workplace. Employees who have gone through many of these processes just look at the new one and assume that they can talk the talk and then go back to the way things were.
The company I work for, Appleton, has joined in a joint venture with another company. This company has placed most of their managers in the upper management positions of the new joint venture. They are trying to instill their way of management in the new company. This has created a feeling of chaos in our local plant. When the employees have a feeling of unrest, they will be more accepting of the new ideas that this joint venture has fostered. It will be an effective way of developing acceptance with little or no resistance to the new ways.
Changes in the workplace can bring out the best in the employee if it is introduced correctly and with the proper focus.
Involving employees in change can create a feeling of ownership.
If the employees are involved in the changes and are made aware of the need for these changes they will be more likely to accept these changes. The companies are going to have to set out company goals and organize people around those goals. They will have to have a team for every business process. Formal, narrow jobs will have to be replaced by fluid, versatile, flexible roles on a team declares Marc J. Wallace Jr., cofounder and partner of the Center for Workforce Effectiveness.
Most companies are developing this form of team work as a vast array of information just waiting to be tapped. These new and innovative work environments are allowing employees to become more flexible in their work environment. This allows employees to take control over the total outcome of the product they are producing. Kenan Jarboe and Joel Yudken, authors of an article, Time to Get Serious About Workplace Change, from Science and Technology magazine, feel that a high-performance work system will seek to enhance organizational performance by combining innovative work and management practices with reorganized work flows, advanced information systems, and new technologies. Most important, it builds on and develops the skills and abilities of frontline workers to achieve gains in speed, flexibility, productivity, and customer satisfaction.
Keeping top performers happy can be a full-time job, but in this economy with 1-2% unemployment rate, it’s worth the effort. Just ask Walter Noot, who is head of production for Viewpoint DataLabs International, a company in Salt Lake City that makes 3-D models and textures for film production houses, video game companies, and car manufacturers. He compares the modelers and digitizers on his team to sports stars: high performers who sulk if they suspect they’re getting less than they deserve.
Noot decided to do something radical. Now no one in his group gets a salary. They’re still full-time Viewpoint employees, with benefits, but they’re paid as if they were contract workers. Every project’s team splits 26% of the money Viewpoint expects to receive from a client. Almost overnight salaries have jumped 60% to 70%. But productivity has almost doubled. Where the group used to have set hours, they now work when they please. One fellow works 24-36- hour marathons, keeping a pillow and blanket under his desk for catnaps. Some people work only at night. Whatever. “Now life is bliss,: says Noot. “It has totally changed attitudes, I never hear complaints. (Munk 62-6+-)”
Noot has learned, as other managers are learning, we need to give the employees control over their destiny and then the changes that go into effect will come from them and they will accept them and even sometimes embrace them.
Doyle, Willima and Perkins, Willima Smash the Pyramid Warner Books 1994
Colvin, Geoffrey. Let the tough times roll!. Fortune. , v. 138 no12 (Dec. 21 ’98) p. 243-4
Jarboe, Kenan Patrick.; Yudken, Joel Time to get serious about workplace change. Science and Technology. , v. 13 (Summer ’97) p. 65-7
Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. The Leadership Challenge Jossey-Bass Publishers 1987
Losyk, Bob Generation X: what they think and what they plan to do., The Futurist, V. 31 Mar./Apr. ’97 p. 29-44
Montague, James TQM reduces problems and stress. Business Credit., v. 97 (Feb. ’95) p. 16
Munk, Nina The new organization man., Fortune. v. 137 Mr. 16 ’98 p. 62-6+
Riley, R., (1998, March). Education first: Building America’s future. Vital Speeches of the Day, 64 (11), 322-327.
Verespej, Michael A. The old workforce won’t work: technology isn’t the only thing to change. Industry Week, v. 247 no17 (Sept. 21 ’98) p. 53-4