A question of degree

You’ve just received the workplace survey link. It’s like being given a banjo and asked to hit a cow’s backside: you just can’t miss. It’s just a question of degree.

The property team will read your response under a hail of trepidation and nausea, given the constraints under which they are working and the utilitarian challenge of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. They’ll want people to be satisfied, happy. The stickier the sugar coating the better. They’ve put time, care, energy, emotion, love and sweat into the outcome you’re about to click-trash. Like presenting a soufflé to Wallace and Torode, the property team would probably rather not know, but know they have to.

We’ve laboured for years under the impression that – especially in the context of global benchmark surveys – good marks are a good thing. The higher the satisfaction rating, the better.Workplace folk can dance happily in the meadow, while the Board  can open a Montrachet for sanctioning the investment. It’s wholly intuitive.

But it might be wrong.

I could be Gavin in Accounts . The catering gets top marks but I’m blissfully half asleep all afternoon digesting the steamed treacle pudding and custard. I’ve rated the IT kit and connectivity because the Sainsbury’s website responds like a dream when I need to do my weekly sweep, and a big thumbs-up for the furniture because I’ve got a great spot that’s not overlooked while I’m doing it. And it’s my own desk, my stuff all over it all day and night, none of this clear desk policy with its ASBO’s. I can be really productive by sticking up this big red flag saying “I’m busy” and everyone leaves me alone, so Top Sante for the etiquette policy. It’s one-hundred-and-eighty for the parking because I always get a space even though it would only take me twenty minutes to walk here, if I could be remotely bothered. When asked why I haven’t spoken to anyone all day I just flash a copy of Susan Cain’s “Quiet” – “introvert” I mutter, and look away. I haven’t read it, but it really works.

Satisfied with my workplace? Is my workplace working for me? Are you kidding?

In fact the survey results are so fantastic the Board have just authorised rolling out the approach nationally. Clink, another round of Montrachet. Clearly it’s all going to plan. We’re also hitting the top of the benchmarking indices. We’re a beacon in a foggy Slough. We have workplace nailed. We’ll keep our recipe secret, save for a few empty glossies in FX and the odd stage appearances at unnecessarily expensive and unnecessary conferences.

But you’re not Gavin in Accounts.

It’s not about satisfaction or popularity. There is a fundamental gulf between a workplace that makes life easy for you per se, and a workplace that makes it easy for you to work the way you need to get things done, and to develop and grow. What may be easy for you may not be what the organisation wants, or employed you for. They may want you interacting, collaborating, energised, motivated, healthy, well, unencumbered with concerns about owning estate.

And so the workplace needs to work for you and for the organisation providing it. You love being there and what you do, you can always find somewhere to work that suits what you’re doing, you’re always expanding your network because you’re visible and involved, when you need help it’s always available, there’s coffee on tap and you’re a stone lighter than when you started. You feel valued and value it, because it’s all there and it all works. It hits all of the #elementalworkplace buttons, and more.

Yet you may still “mark it down” in places for not bringing you – on an entirely personal level – the gift of unfettered ease. You acknowledge that, but still.

Meanwhile your marks, maturity and sense are aggregated with Gavin’s. And all of his mates.

Satisfaction. Its a dangerous thing.

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