How healthy is a results-focused work environment?

Last week, I looked at how Capital One has applied the principle of flexible work design. Another company that has adopted flexible work design is Best Buy, a consumer electronics chain. The Best Buy experience raises important questions about whether a focus on results actually gives employees, especially those at the front-lines, more choice, control and meaning in their work.

Best Buy introduced what it calls a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). ROWE’s premise is that work performance should be measured by results, not by hours and face-time. Employees are empowered to take responsibility for delivering results and figuring out the best ways to do that – a culture shift that requires managers to trust employees to do their work.  ROWE was a major step beyond offering structured flexible work arrangements because employees at any level could regularly change their work times and locations without seeking the permission of a manager. ROWE is team-based, and at team training sessions members explore flexible work options together. ROWE teams believe they are transforming how America works – another powerful motivator, no doubt. This suggests that employees themselves are catalysts for changing the culture and redesigning work.

The impact of ROWE at Best Buy’s head office was evaluated US academics, who compared teams that had implemented ROWE with those that had not over a 6 month period. Results showed that individuals in ROWE teams experienced a range of personal wellbeing benefits. ROWE employees also experienced improved health and wellbeing, as measured by less presenteeism (going to work when sick), less work-life conflict, better and more sleep, more energy, more exercise, and more doctor visits when they were sick. Best Buy benefited from improved organizational commitment, job satisfaction and perceptions of a family-friendly culture.

A second retailer, The Gap, implemented ROWE and documented modest improvements in productivity and quality, reduced turnover, engagement and quality of work-life.

These examples show what is possible, but their direct application to other organizations has limits. Both Best Buy and Capital One have relatively young workforces that embraced innovative work design. Not all employees may be so welcoming of such change, even if the goal is to improve their working life. However, these examples show that healthy outcomes for employees, customers and shareholders can result from simple changes in how work is done.

If your company is considering going down this road, two big issues consider are trust and responsibility. Will managers and front-line supervisors actually trust employees to be more autonomous in their work? And will employees themselves be prepared to take on the additional responsibility that is at the heart of a results-focused work environment?