I do not believe in coincidence; I do, however, believe that when multiple, yet disparate, sources point out the same thing, it is important to pay attention. So, when days after hearing a story on NPR about ROWE–results-only work environment–my reading of Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, brought me to his discussion of ROWE, I knew I needed to pay attention.
According to Pink, ROWE was the invention of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, two human resources professionals. In a ROWE, employees simply have to get the work for which they are responsible done in accordance with the standards and time frame of their employer; where, when and how they do it is entirely up to them. You don’t want to come into the office on Tuesday because you want to see your child’s play or spend the day with friends or go golfing or to the spa, great! You need to go to the doctor or dentist or take your car into the shop, there is no need to count your sick or personal days. Do it. And then, just be sure that you do the work for which you are responsible. No one is watching over you, seeing if you are at your desk on time, doing your eight hours, monitoring your conversations.
To me, a ROWE is a workplace culture that recognizes that most people are professionals and do their work because they recognize and accept that it is their responsibility, and they may even want to do the work; and, of course, they recognize that, in the end, doing the work justifies getting the pay check. But they are not doing the work simply because they are monitored and scrutinized, supervised and time checked. Rather, they are doing the work because, for a variety of reasons, they want to.
Imagine how people feel when they are treated as adults instead of children? Why must we replicate the structures of primary school in a professional workplace—getting approval to leave early to go to the doctor or take vacation only when our supervisor says it is okay? How empowering is that? But if our workplace allows us, as adults–as a ROWE does–to balance our work life with our personal life, won’t we become happier, perhaps even more loyal, employees? In Pink’s example of a workplace that first tested ROWE as an experiment and then permanently adopted it, the CEO noted that with the ROWE, productivity rose and stress declined. Further, he believes that as long as the compensation he was offering was within the ballpark of his competitors, employees would not jump ship from the ROWE for simply more money. What more could you ask for? Interestingly, though, two employees left the company because they could not adjust to the freedom the ROWE provided.
This CEO believes that as more folks of his age (read young) become heads of organizations, ROWEs will be become more prevalent. But what does age have to do with respecting your employees, providing them with the opportunity to balance the demands of their work and their personal lives, treating them as professionals instead of children who need to be monitored? Why do we need to wait for baby boomers to be replaced by generation x or yx or whatever?
Granted, perhaps not all businesses will lend themselves to implementing a pure ROWE. Nor might all positions in an organization. But what about hybrids? Everyone gets a day a week where their jobs have to get done regardless of whether or when they show up at the office. Or all caseworkers have to be in the office four hours every day between the traditional hours of operation, but where, when and how they get the rest of their responsibilities done is up to them. The development and membership staff, on the other hand, can have a ROWE. After all, not all employees have the same jobs, so why should all employees have the same conditions of work?
I hear all of the gasps and accusations of “not fair!” and “It won’t work!” But neither will more years of no or minimal raises. As leaders of nonprofits, we must be creative in how we support and thank our employees. If not a ROWE, then come up with something else. But come up with something.