3 innovative models that can make the workplace more humane
A variety of structures exist to both treat employees with more respect and increase productivity.
- People love freedom but spend most of their day in a place where they are devoid of power, at work.
- There are a variety of ways to organize an enterprise that give workers influence over the workplace.
- Studies have found time and again that giving workers dignity, influence, and decent conditions pays off.
People spend about half of their waking hours at work. Many people define themselves by what they do or are at least sure to include their occupation in the first few sentences when introducing themselves. While few of us would say we like work, none of us can deny the importance it has in our lives and the meaning that it gives many people.
Yet, somehow, the same work that can and should give us meaning can be dehumanizing. Philosopher and Big Think Expert Noam Chomsky makes a stark comparison between the modern workplace and the most oppressive totalitarian regimes. He dubs them:
". . . more brutal and destructive than a totalitarian state. If you live in a totalitarian state, they don't tell you you're not allowed to the bathroom, okay? Or you can't talk to this person, or you have to wear this kind of clothes and so on. That's where people spend their working lives, living under totalitarian rule in which you may admire what they do, but you despise what they are."
Combine this with broadly defined insubordination clauses and random drug tests, and you may notice that many workplaces also have control over what you say at work and what you do in your own time.
Somehow, it has become common to suppose that for a small amount of money we are to be expected to leave our humanity by the door when we go into the office. That we should do precisely as we are told no questions asked, no matter how goofy the manger's orders are, or find ourselves on the street.
This is anathematic to the idea of the individual as dignified being, worthy of respect and autonomy.It doesn't have to be this way. A variety of systems for giving workers more control over their workplace and a stronger feeling of ownership and autonomy exist, which make the workplace both more humane and more effective. Today, we'll look at three such models.
The Scanlon Plan
The first plan that we'll look at is one created in the United States to make enterprises run better. It does this by reminding higher-ups that workers know what they're doing and are likely to have great ideas if you just ask.
Invented by Joseph N. Scanlon during the Great Depression to save a failing steel mill, the Scanlon Plan worked so well that it spread to organizations all over the country and was widely used during WWII. Its popularity has since faded, but it can still be found in many places.
In short, the plan is a gainsharing system where employees are encouraged to make suggestions that will improve their workplace to an elected committee who review them for applicability. The good ideas are then passed on to higher management. The approved ideas are implemented company-wide. Any resultant gains in sales or productivity from these suggestions are translated to increased wages or salaries according to a pre-determined scale.
This system directly rewards employees for working to improve their productivity, encourages participation, and provides a real and workable method for suggestions to implemented in, giving a stronger sense of employee ownership. Most importantly, the system recognizes that while people want a bigger piece of the pie, they are also motivated by things such as the change to be in control of their work environment and pride.
Studies have shown the Scanlon plan to be very effective at what it sets out to do. While the program is often associated with mills and factories, it also works very well in retail environments; one recent study showed considerable increases in sales after the implementation of Scanlon systems.
The plan has also received praise from executives. The former CEO of Herman Miller Richard Ruch praised it by saying:
"It is a method to allow all the people in the company, the employees in particular, to join together in achieving the company's objectives, through cooperation with each other, and through the opportunity to share a productivity bonus, and to really become accountable and responsible for their work."
Developed to its greatest extent in Germany, co-determination is the practice of giving workers a vote on the executive boards of corporations through elected representatives. Unlike the Scanlon plan, which provides workers with a voice and increased investment but little actual power, this system gives at least some measure of control of a business to the workers. This has caused the system to get a great deal of attention lately.
Despite fears that co-determination would lead to the collapse of the German economy, it has instead helped it to flourish. A myriad of studies suggests that it increases productivity, lowers turnover, and improves information flow.
Importantly, it also provides workers with a real voice and power in the operation of their workplace. This is associated with increased motivation, which likely leads to the benefits mentioned above.
Another system that takes these ideas even further is workplace democracy in the form of cooperatives. When done by the workers these are known as worker-cooperatives. In such an enterprise, the workers are both owners and employees. Business operations are carried out democratically, and profits shared according to what the workers think is just. Before you start thinking that only small operations could run like this, consider that the Mondragon Corporation in Spain is a cooperative with 75,000 members that brings in €10 billion a year.
A variety of other experiments and studies agree and show that treating people like, well, people is good for business.
One recent attempt at a four-day week by Microsoft Japan lead to significant productivity gains and less time wasted in meetings. Another from a couple of years ago in a Swedish nursing home showed similar productivity improvements and improved customer service with a six-hour day. Last year, a New Zealand firm introduced a four day week without a cut in pay as an experiment and saw such tremendous gains form it that it made the change permanent.
In all of these cases, the well-rested employees were much happier and reported improved work-life balances. These also aren't the only companies to have toyed with the idea either.
As it turns out, people do well when treated like people. While not all work can be made fun, and some drudgery must be expected, there is no fundamental reason why we have to leave our humanity on the door when we step into the office. Even if we cannot radically change the nature of work by the end of the week, these studies demonstrate that a more humane way of running a workplace is possible.
- What socialism is — according to Michael Harrington - Big Think ›
- The Crisis of Meaning in the Millenial Workforce - Big Think ›
- Codetermination: a way to rebalance the economy? - Big Think ›
- 7 items to make working from home easier and more efficient - Big Think ›
- Why your rapport with coworkers is about much more than small talk ›
- The benefits of making small talk at work - Big Think ›
- The benefits of making small talk at work - Big Think ›
- Democracy at Work in Century 21 - dom - Medium ›
- What is Workplace Democracy? | HRZone ›
- Considerations of Workplace Democracy as a New Business Model ... ›
- Fearing the Worst? Threat, Participation and Workplace Productivity ... ›
- (PDF) Worker Democracy and Worker Productivity ›
- Worker Democracy and Worker Productivity ›
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Hungarian cartographer travels the world while mapping its treasures.
- Simple idea, stunning result: the world's watersheds in glorious colors.
- The maps are the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs.
- His job: to travel and map the world, one good cause at a time.
The world<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzU3Njk1M30.rRdZpcl0bfVi4oBsljHdZSbcX0New9rdLcx6fr2mD7Y/img.png?width=980" id="f982a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fa67421340f881d5ab91463514cf9a6d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Can you spot the world's ten largest drainage basins? In order of magnitude: Amazon, Congo, Nile, Mississippi, Ob, Parana, Yenisei, Lena, Niger, Amur. Image source: Grasshopper Geography
Africa<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTI2MzI0MX0.OeTS-scZwBES4AlZAan7fBlaBkznkig5hPjgcd1j6hw/img.png?width=980" id="e987c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d3a8999ed4071a123b30efc5652fee9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Africa is home to the rivers with the world's second- and third-largest catchment areas: the Congo (in blue), with a basin of 1.44 million square miles (3.73 million km2), and the Nile (in red), with basin area of 1.26 million square miles (3.25 million km2). The Nile is the longest river in Africa, though (4,130 miles; 6,650 km), followed by the Congo: 2,900 miles (4,700 km). The Congo River's alternative name, Zaire, comes from the Kikongo nzadi o nzere ('river swallowing rivers'). Image source: Grasshopper Geography
Europe<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTkzOTMyMH0.tq5fjnq8wvLqXY0C9gzfoUd0ahOAQ7IZQxbpVnC1FdY/img.png?width=980" id="a8ec4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1ce5f59691501103343e080905ce74a3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Volga (in yellow) is the river with the biggest catchment area in Europe (just under 545,000 square miles; 1.41 million km2). It flows exclusively through Russia, and the catchment area is entirely within Russia as well. Europe's number two is the Danube (in orange), which flows through 10 countries — more than any other river in the world. Its drainage basin (just over 307,000 square miles; almost 796,000 km2) includes nine more countries. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Germany<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzk4ODA3Nn0.qX1sOfJWAI7TUbTQCiIob-R5p4_wj299wEtrYAUREmg/img.png?width=980" id="d5efa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e73c53d75840f21b4f2ca4b8a1e7f51" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The hydrographic map of Germany is dominated by just four major drainage systems: the Danube (in orange) in the south, the Rhine (in blue) in the west, the Elbe (in purple) in the east and the Weser (in green) between the latter two. In Antiquity, the Rhine was the border between the Roman Empire and the Germans. Rome once attempted to shift the border to the Elbe, which would have radically altered the course of history, but it suffered a massive defeat in 9 CE at the Teutoburger Wald (roughly between both rivers). Image: Grasshopper Geography
Great Britain and Ireland<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTk2MjM3MX0.nDy__OLIyC1arty4_2xd54fjTzmfsIZo-2pe5QRjjA4/img.png?width=980" id="31a6f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d089f66097f37a10ab854eaccdac3581" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Both Ireland and Great Britain are islands, as a result of which neither boasts a continental-class river. Twenty of the 30 longest British rivers are less than 100 miles (160 km) long. The longest river in Britain is the Severn (220 miles, 354 km), its catchment area shown in blue in the southwest. Ireland's longest river is the Shannon (224 miles, 360 km). Even combined they're not as long as France's Seine (483 miles, 777 km). Image: Grasshopper Geography
United States<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDYyMzEyM30.7S_83dA6bcLyID_7BhH1R_OTy61tpgDZrBMQ_iPwnjM/img.png?width=980" id="a879d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a7c74a7b5a7887fb2d13b40d5d96223c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Spread-eagled across the central part of the United States, the Mississippi's drainage basin covers all or parts of 32 U.S. states (and two Canadian provinces). The easternmost point of Ol' Man River's catchment area is really far east: Cobb Hill in northern Pennsylvania. Here rises the Allegheny, tributary of the Ohio, which in turn flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Washington State<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzU2MzM4OH0.mniqbkEQq84rNaWOQIl4fB4mOhNdJf5WactNyE_VsyM/img.png?width=980" id="adc4d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97eb5a5add49c06ef00ff0bca812b380" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Even leaving out the Mississippi, there's enough going on in the rest of North America to keep the eye occupied. Here's a drainage map of Washington State. The big fish in this much smaller pond is the Columbia River (drainage area in blue), the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Only in the western third of the state is there a colourful counterpoint, in the multitude of smaller river basins that are draining into the Pacific or into Puget Sound. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Australia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTM0ODM2NH0.U7vckwnoNoxf-bk8SuYO246hNMpR2zXILILsd4pas9o/img.png?width=980" id="38c2b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0c44d30d61c6cb94b8d5c7205cbabd58" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
At 1,558 miles (2,508 km), the Murray is Australia's longest river. It is often considered in conjunction with the Darling (915 miles, 1,472 km), the country's third-longest river, which flows into the Murray. The Murray-Darling basin (in blue, in the southeast) covers just under 410,000 square miles (1.06 million km2), or 14 percent of Australia's total territory. Don't let that spidery network of river courses in the interior fool you: Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent (Antarctica, bizarrely, is drier). Image: Grasshopper Geography
Russia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE0MjUzNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzg5MzIxOX0.WhShHLjjWdEh4FF_OZsY1oTN3Vc77X29TbMYbVHrHqA/img.png?width=980" id="f5cee" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="53acd93f1ab67be979e6ab128c144ce6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Four of the world's largest drainage basins are in Russia: the Ob, Yenisei and Lena (origin of Vladimir I. Ulyanov's nom de guerre, Lenin) entirely and the Amur, shared with China. The Volga may be Europe's longest river, but 84 percent or Russia's surface water is east of the Urals, in Siberia. The sparsely-populated region is traversed by 40 rivers longer than 1,000 km. Combined, the Ob, Yenisey and Lena rivers cover a drainage area of about 8 million km2, discharging nearly 50,000 m3 of water per second in the Arctic. Image: Grasshopper Geography
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.
Finances can be a stressor, regardless of tax bracket. Here are tips for making better money decisions.
- Whether you have a lot of money or a lot of debt, it matters how you handle your personal finances. A crucial step when it comes to saving is to reassess your relationship with money and to learn to adopt a broader, more logical point of view.
- In this video, social innovator and activist Vicki Robin, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, and author Bruce Feiler offer advice on achieving financial independence, learning to control your emotions, spending smarter, and teaching children about money.
- It all starts with education and understanding. The more you know about how money works, the better you will be at avoiding mistakes and the easier it will be to take control of your financial circumstances.