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Should Employees Have Freedom at Work?


Posted by on November 7, 2013

I just finished giving a keynote presentation on the future of work to a room of 200+ telecommunications executives and business leaders at the Glenn Eagles Resort in Scotland.  After my session someone stood up and asked a very interesting question about employees having too much freedom.  His basic question (slightly paraphrased) was: “there are a lot of employees that are already screwing around at work and doing nothing when they should be working, why do we want to give them even more freedom?”

The question got a lot of laughter from the audience, just imagine it being asked in a heavy English accent with a wee bit of profanity behind it.

I’m sure you can guess what I told him.  Yes, employees need freedom at work.  If you are hiring employees who are literally taking advantage of you then they are not good employees and they shouldn’t be working for you.  However, employees will always take breaks and mess around a bit which is fine and normal.  We are so used to having employees work like drones that we forgot what it’s like to have people be…people.  Even if you force employees to come to the office they can still “not-work” while they are there.  They can mess around on other websites, go hang out with co-workers, or do whatever else they want to do to avoid working.  Just because you see them and just because they come into the office doesn’t make them more productive or more efficient.  However, studies consistently show that employees given the freedom to work how they want are more productive.

If you want to attract and retain top talent, employee freedom and workplace flexibility is something that many value more than pay. If however, your hiring employees who are are screwing around and taking advantage of you, then that’s a whole other problem.

If you don’t want to offer workplace flexibility then don’t, nobody is forcing you, just don’t be surprised if nobody wants to work there.

 

 

  • Stephan Weck

    That’s exactly the problem of most companies or better the problem of the “managers”. Sure it’s also a matter of trust but i think that this opinion about employees makes them feel unhappy and destroys the freedom they need to do a good job.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Thanks for taking the time to post Stephan. Appreciate the comment and I agree with you.

  • Paul Rees

    I think that advice is spot on, Jacob. When employees know exactly what is expected of them, they should have the freedom to do their work anyway they feel is best. It seems we see this a lot in the creative/consultancy industry. Do you think more “rigid” organizational structures can benefit from moving in the same direction?

    -Paul
    @10kft