What Workplace Studies Can Tell Us

Compensation Cafe logoBy Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Experiments in the workplace can help show the impact of innovative practices, and provide insight into management philosophies.

Experimentation in the workplace isn’t necessarily a new idea. As early as the 1920s, studies have looked into the effect that various workplace changes, such as lighting and scheduling adjustments, could have on productivity.

Today, many companies and even municipalities continue to experiment, in pursuit of insights that can create a better workplace.

I recently wrote about the conclusion of one such study on Compensation Cafe. This study centered on a government-run nursing home in Sweden that had implemented a 6-hour workday, and the outcomes that stemmed from that change.

Studies like this reflect a delicate balance between two management philosophies.

As with earlier studies of the workplace emerging from the Industrial Era, an emphasis is on factors that can make workers more productive and positively impact the bottom line. But there is a shift as well in some of the outcomes, reflecting an employee-centric view that aligns to the philosophies of the Human Era. In these cases, policies are examined that have potential to improve the employee experience and well-being.

Workplace experiments can offer the opportunity to examine how outcomes related to each philosophy are weighted against each other, tracking the evolution of our thinking about work.

Take the outcomes of the experiment in Sweden for example. Researchers there found that 6-hour workdays were able to improve a whole host of outcomes related to employee happiness, health, and even productivity. Unfortunately, the changes were also reported as costly and difficult to implement, leading to skepticism about such practices among policy makers.

Perhaps the experiment in the nursing home was slightly ahead of its time, or perhaps we simply need to learn more about how to make human-oriented practices more sustainable. As I wrote in the full post on Compensation Cafe:

These experiments have shown that we can increase well-being and productivity, and that things like happiness can have tangible outcomes. As we build our collective knowledge across organizations and settings, we can solve for the remaining variables like cost and ease of implementation.

Much like some of those early experiments, findings may not have supported the desired outcomes, but instead offered insight that is much more valuable over the long run.

What are your thoughts about experiments like this and the future trajectory of the work experience?

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