Capturing The Heart and Mind

How can organisations recapture the hearts and minds of employees to gain the highest commitment and performance given the restructuring focus of the past several years? Popular human resource policies and practices such as teamwork, leadership, brainstorming, recruitment strategies and training are commonly applied to address commitment and performance issues. However, there may be recurring trends that impede workforce potential.

Are there lessons from history that can be learned and applied to avoid the repetition of practices affecting commitment and productivity – before the behaviours become entrenched?

Wavering Employee Commitment and Performance

Commitment and performance are affected by internal environments, such as changing strategic objectives, human resource practices, and workforce and organisational cultures. These are further influenced by the organisation’s external environments; i.e. globalisation. Then, over a period of time, the unrecognised (or perhaps ignored) changes in the organisation and/or in the workforce may result in policies that are no longer applicable–or practised—can become contributing factors.

What happens when cultures, reward systems, and job designs are no longer as effective or as efficient?

Moreover, historical events indicate that wavering employee commitment and performance are not current issues but rather an ongoing challenge that appears to be based on similar causes. For instance, in the early part of the 20th century, skillful independent artisans lost their autonomy to the impersonal, “routine, machine-paced jobs” of mass production (Vance, 2006, p. 10). Ultimately, the monotonous work instilled feelings of dissatisfaction. Without substantial support, workers had few options; thus, responding with frequent absences or quitting in hopes of finding significant work (p. 10).

However, during the 1950s, in an effort to gain employee commitment and to enhance their performance, employers turned toward “the beneficial effects of job enlargement (broadening the scope of job tasks) and job enrichment (providing more complex and challenging tasks)” (Vance, 2006, p. 10). In the 1970s, the identification of job characteristics and reduced management became the acceptable standards of practice. Currently, employers are beginning to accommodate the personal lives of employees. Flextime and leave policies allow workers to take time off to care for their families, while not jeopardising their jobs. Ideally, these new standards are meant to encourage employee commitment (p. 10).

Internal Factors

Nowadays, companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Whole Foods, and Genentech, give employees control over their work lives to encourage ongoing development (Levinson, 2007). In addition, their leadership style is collaborative and employees are invited to contribute to all areas of business—ideas, products, and services (Levinson, 2007). Furthermore, the reward system and job design strengthens engagement by challenging and stimulating employees, allowing authority and autonomy, access to resources, and encouraging growth and development (Levinson, 2007).

What happens when cultures, reward systems, and job designs are no longer as effective or as efficient? In due course, Hewlett-Packard, after experiencing a number of controversial issues and CEO turnover, dropped off the list of the ‘Top 10 of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For’. It appears that the human resource policies of job designs and reward systems were no longer effective in supporting a workplace culture where employees were engaged sufficiently to want to develop and to contribute the skills needed to remain competitive and profitable (Levinson, 2007).

Amy Stroud, Hewlett-Packard executive; Professor Kimberly Elsbach, University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management; and Ileana Stigliani, a visiting professor from Imperial College in London, researched the issues and found a pattern of “employee trust and distrust [that had] evolved between 1995 and 2010” at Hewlett-Packard (Preer, 2012). Their study details how the words and actions of leaders signaled dissatisfaction with employees, disrespect for employees and unfairness in treatment, engendering distrust, which deepened as events unfolded (Preer, 2012).

Similar patterns of successful human resource practices falling short of ongoing, changing business and workforce requirements can be found throughout history.   For example, in Colorado, at the turn of the 20th century, the Ludlow Mining Company provided stores, homes, education and other benefits for their employees. However, over time, the influence of these reward systems diminished as job safety factors became a growing concern (Colorado Mines, n.d.). Like Hewlett-Packard’s research cited in the previous paragraphs, there was a general dissatisfaction with employees, disrespect for employees, and unfairness in treatment at Ludlow Mines, as well (Preer, 2012).

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