Small things matter alot

An interesting blog at IDEO highlighting an experiment in client empathy ended up emphasising how the little things in life really matter.

IDEO is a creative design company which is justifiably proud of their fantastic work culture. In their words ‘We provide the small things that enable the day to run smoothly so individuals can focus on great work.’

On April 25th they decided to institute a Client Empathy Day.

How did the Client Empathy Day work? They mixed up the employee practices of some of their clients and applied them to their work environment. On the day, changes ranged from: no free tea/coffee, no free breakfast, sweets or biscuits, no headphones or music playing in the studio, no access to Facebook or other social media sites, no personal calls. They asked everyone to dress smartly, keep regular work hours and placed the leadership team in a meeting room only accessible by appointment.

During the day employees felt unhappy, frustrated and spent time trying to bend the system. Colleagues 3000 miles picked up the vibe and wondered what was going on. Afterwards IDEO asked for feedback and five points emerged:

1. The effect of having little control over their environment left people feeling disempowered. They switched from ‘getting it done’ (the work) to ‘getting through it’ (the day).

2. Expectations of employees have changed over the years. Millennials in particular have expectations that the workplace shouldn’t be like a school system but instead employers trust individuals to do the right thing, for example managing their own time.

3. Some people’s objective became how to beat the system. Tons of energy was consequently diverted away from doing great work.

4. The leadership group lacked visibility and connection to the team. As a result they were unable to deal with the unhappiness brewing across the studio.

5. Small things that really support our values have a disproportionate effect on culture and on performance. Free coffee, tea and breakfast; the freedom to play music, and to come and go as long as the work gets done, access to leadership.

There are a number of messages from this experience including the importance of consistency between the employee’s experience and stated values. Small costs saved by stinting on biscuits and coffee are lost in poor performance or time wasted trying to ‘get around the system’.

Happiness is a result of positive day to day experiences. Happiness of your employees matters. Research from Warwick University has shown that happier people are approximately 12% more productive than their counterparts. And other research by workplace consultancy Happiness Works (based on a model of wellbeing developed for the UK Government) showed a direct correlation between happy employees and 10% less absenteeism as well as a 10% reduction in staff turnover.

The full story from IDEO is here.