THE BLOG
06/05/2014 02:57 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

This Call May Be Monitored for Quality Control

Funny how everyone talks about how important workers are to companies, but no one seems to do anything about it.

You'd think this was something difficult to achieve. But it's not a difficult concept: treat people well, value their contributions, praise them, let them have a sense of control. And guess what? They'll be happier workers, more loyal workers and the company they work for will be more successful.

If it were so simple, why doesn't it work?

Because companies don't trust the people they hire.

I read a lot of interviews with CEOs and entrepreneurs in the business section of newspapers, and invariably these CEOs talk about what they are looking for in their employees. Everyone seems to say the same thing: creativity, independence, ambition. But I have a feeling that while the CEOs talk one thing -- or believe one thing -- the truth is closer to the actual drudgery of an actual office, the misery most people feel about heading into a fluorescent-lurid cubicle and wasting their time doing work for which they feel little affinity and for which they receive no praise and only grief.

Why is this?

Again, most companies don't trust their employees.

Think of the unending harm that the so-called efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor wrought when he came up with the idea that workers needed constant supervision or they'd do nothing but steal from their employers. He - and those who followed him in management circles - considered workers to be deadbeats who showed up only to collect money without working.

His ideas are still with us, unfortunately -- think of that message you hear when you call an online help desk, that the call might be monitored for quality control. How unnerving to work under the threat of constant upbraiding. Who wants to be thought of as a criminal when all you want to do is a good job?

You can't win.

An excellent essay in the New York Times, "Why You Hate Work," by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, explores this, especially in our hyper-connected age, when companies are learner, employees are called upon to do more, and people are feeling overwhelmed, under appreciated and out of options.

Just 30 percent of Americans feel engaged at work, the authors say, citing a 2013 Gallup survey. That's probably even a little optimistic.

The authors say something that seems self-evident but is apparently very hard to achieve at most American companies:

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

But companies look for what they consider to be efficiency, and the human element be damned. It's a shame how much more powerful and, yes, efficient we'd be if we were treated with the respect and given the independence we all crave. American workers would give so much back. Consider these facts, which the authors cite:

Costco, for example, pays its average worker $20.89 an hour, Businessweek reported last year, about 65 percent more than Walmart, which owns its biggest competitor, Sam's Club. Over time, Costco's huge investment in employees -- including offering benefits to part-time workers -- has proved to be a distinct advantage ... Costco's employees generate nearly twice the sales of Sam's Club employees.

And here we're still arguing over the minimum wage.

Be good to your employees and they'll be great for you. Is that so hard a concept to absorb?