Can we make Results Only Work Environments Work?


Some jobs have to be tracked by time and not results. So ROWE may not work with them.
Some jobs have to be tracked by time and not results. So ROWE may not work with them.

Jody Thompson, the president of Culturex, said in a presentation to the 2013 Benefits Forum and Expo, that we need a workplace where “Each person is free to do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done” according to writer Kathleen Koster. It sounds great, but I have to ask can we make Results Only Work Environments work?
Pipe dream or reality?
I have written about this several times. Dan Pink has written about this and I responded to him in this post. Let’s look at what Ms. Thompson said about ROWE. She approaches it more from a flexible work environment as a benefit tact rather than a results and productivity point. She says that flexible work environments are not really flexible. If you want to vary from your flex schedule you have to ask permission. And she is correct in a sense. Many organizations put permanency in flexibility in an almost contradiction of terms manner. “Your flex day is Wednesday and that is what it is will be until given permission to change it.” Kind of points out the ridiculousness of some situations. Ms. Thompson says that ROWE offers 100% autonomy and 100% accountability that produces optimum results.
She recommends we manage work results and not people. Her premise is that giving people deadlines that are specific will result in achievement of those goals without all the work of having to keep track of the people. She says we need to stop operating like it is 1952. If we make people accountable we will reap the rewards. But I ask the question is this a pipe dream or is this reality.
There is this thing called the government
I am a big fan of ROWE. Heck, I live it as a consultant. Deadlines and desired results. I think it can work for some types of jobs, but I also think there are some major roadblocks to its success.
First of these is the government. There is this little law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in 1938 that requires that we label people as exempt and non-exempt. Ms. Johnson decried the need to label people. Well sorry but it is required. What this means is that ROWE might work well if your employees are exempt, but for nonexempt employees the prime measure for compensation is NOT productivity it is TIME. We have to exactly measure the time they work because we have to pay them for that time regardless of their results. The DOL doesn’t really care if they are productive or not, if you have them on the clock they get paid. Lack of productivity is a discipline problem not a wage problem. Because of this we have to track those employees who work whenever and wherever. Not to say that is impossible but it certainly causes problems if it is done incorrectly. We do have to manage those employees more closely than someone who is exempt. The DOL gets bolstered by unions in this viewpoint. Go try to tell a union that you are not going to pay someone based on their time but rather their results.
The nature of some work
For ROWE to work people really need to be engaged in their work and let’s face it some work is just not that engaging. That kind of work does not get done without some sort of control or management.  Be honest have you always been 100% engaged in your work and NEVER watched the clock? I am sure you might have gone home without that work being completed if not for a manager.
Additionally some work is integral to other work being completed. If I decide to do my work on my schedule what does that do to other work getting done that relies on me? People don’t get fed in a restaurant if I decide I want to cook on my schedule and not the hours the place is open.
Ms. Johnson decried that different labels and schedules made people jealous and that everyone should be on ROWE, but it just doesn’t work for every job or every person. If you can make it work more power to you. In the meantime I will keep on writing on my schedule and not yours.

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