Too many corporations operate from a fundamental and deep-seated fear of lack, which turns them into forceful, resource-grabbing militaristic machines that leave its workers deeply disconnected and discontented.
From this mindset arises rampant bullying, high turnover, absenteeism, a disengaged workforce and ultimately, a substantial erosion of profits.
Or reflect on the US Postal Service who implemented a new, profit-driven business model with a harsh management style in the 1980s. They had fast paced mail-sorting machines that turned employees into robots for ten hours at a time. As a result, they quickly developed repetitive strain injuries, became disengaged with each other and even some of their most mild-mannered employees began to turn their minds towards fantasies of going on killing sprees.(2)
Causal factors of human happiness are also the causal factors of business success and the best enterprises cultivate our need to be connected as strength rather than crushing it as weakness.
For example, consider companies like high-tech firm Gore Associates, makers of the fabric Gore-Tex and Whole Foods, a health food supermarket.(1,3)
Gore is consistently on the list of best American companies to work for. It has a third of the turnover of the industry average, has been consistently profitable for each one of its 35+ years of operation, continues to grow and has an innovative, high-profit product line, that is the envy of the industry.
Gore has small, manageable work teams housed in separate buildings, each responsible for only one of their products. Theirs is an egalitarian, non-hierarchical organisational structure. They have no elaborate strategic plans, no budgets and salaries are determined collectively.(1)
Similarly, Whole Foods has an open policy that allows staff to find out what everyone is earning – all the way up to the CEO, which creates high trust and an attitude of “we’re all in this together”. If employees wish to be paid more, the company is transparent about what kind of work will lead to that outcome. The result is a highly motivated, productive workforce with a deep sense of community.(3)
According to the research of anthropologist Robin Dunbar, human beings function within the largest social groups of all mammals and have a correspondingly large neocortex to handle that degree of complexity.
The magic number, above which we severely overtax the limits of our cognitive capacity, is 150. If a work unit is larger than that, then it becomes an impersonal environment filled with strangers. Controlling behaviour depends on rigid rules and hierarchy, which in turn produces a ripe terrain for workplace bullying.
Work teams of less than 150 allow each of the members to have the same work goals in common which allows them to know each other personally, become a close-knit fellowship and share greater loyalty and cohesion.(1)
All of us want our work to mean something beyond just ourselves and to make an important difference in the lives of others, even if the contribution is small. We want our work to be engaging and enjoyable and we want to be recognised for what we produce.
Smaller groups facilitate the essential ingredients of wellbeing, which according to Martin Seligman, is described by the acronym “PERMA”(4):
- Positive emotion
Companies wishing to improve their workplace culture need to take control of facilitating as many of these ingredients as possible in order to create a more efficient business structure that boosts both staff morale and financial profits.
1. Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. London: Abacus.
2. Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal (2010). Documentary; Director: Emil Chiaberi; Producer: James Moll.
3. Griswold, A. (2014). Here's Why Whole Foods Lets Employees Look Up Each Other's Salaries. Business Insider Australia.
4. Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. NY: The Free Press.