For this blog post I will try something new. I just read a really interesting article in German, but unfortunately could not really find any good articles about the same subject in English. Therefore, I decided to translate the German blog post into English.
First of all, I also would like to say thank you to David Rotter who put this fascinating article together that can be read on the here: http://www.sein.de/gesellschaft/neue-wirtschaft/2010/die-befreiung-der-arbeit-das-7-tage-wochenende.html.
The liberation fo work: The Seven-Day-Weekend
Managers from around the world look at the brazilian company Semco, a service sector company with a service offer from industry equipment to postal solutions, with disbelief : Things that happen there are controversial and against all their beliefs. The 3000 employees choose their own managers, set their own working times and salaries. There are no business plans, no human resources, nearly no hierarchy. All earnings will be divided by a voting system, the salaries and all business records are available to everybody, but the emails are seen as strictly private and how much money is spend on business trips and for computer equipment is up to the individual.
Respect as secret to success
For current human resources managers this must sound like an anarchic nightmare, but in a reality it is a success story. Since the changes put into place by owner Ricardo Semler, the earnings rose from 35 million to 220 million dollars. And not only the figures will support him, but foremost the employees: the staff retention is above 99%.
The recipe is simple: Treat your employees like adults, then they will act like one. The more freedom you give them, the more productive, satisfied and innovative they are. A business consist of grown up and equal people, not employees. Everybody has the right to develop and find his personal work-life-balance. In contrast to the current belief, pressure and stress do not increase productivity, but make people sick. And this is where the business will loose as well as the person itself.
The aim of Mr. Semler is to create a new understanding of work: A company is a shared undertaking, in the best case scenario a shared passion. However, society teaches us something different. We should see ourselves more like a mason, painter or handyman instead of the creator of a cathedral. At Semco, employees are an integral part, there co-creators, not just a small wheel in the system. They have ideas, know they work and know what they are worth.
Trust instead of control
However, our current human resources managers still believe that employees have to be controlled by clocking in and out, firm shift patterns, production reports and email spying. Semco has given up on that belief and exchanged control by trust – and seriously: Who wants to work with people you cannot trust?
For Semler, the control obsession of some companies is just crazy. His employees are educating their own children and vote for governours, they are adults that know best what they want and need.
” The idea that people are still so fixated on how something is done is absolutely crazy. Here, nobody says: ‘You are 5 minutes late’ or ‘ why is this worker again going to the toilet’ […] If you look at an office at Semco you will find a lot of empty seats. The question is: Where are the people? I have no clou and I don’t want to know.
It does not concern me in the context that I don’t want to assure that employees spend a certain amount of hours per day at work. Who needs a certain amount of hours per day? We need people that deliver a certain target. With four hours, 7 hours or twelve hours in the office – Sundays in and Mondays off. It does not bother me.”, explains Semler strangely obvious.
No hierarchies, but teams
Semco is something that should not be allowed according to current managers. And if it would be allowed, it should not work. But it does. There are three questions Semler constantly faces: Are you really doing that? Does it really work? And: What now?
The first two are easy to answer: “We are doing this now for 25 years and nearly everybody who was interested to see if it works was here to see it themselves. And our figures show the rest.”, says Semler self-confident.
For him, breaking up the structure of the company was the only possible answer to the unhuman working world we have today. He learned it the hard way, when he suddenly woke up in a hospital with a complete burn out. That was the point when he made the decision to never again subordinate his personal and mental health to the job – and to asked the same from his employees. That the insanity has to stop.
” If we really look at it, it becomes evident that the traditional system does not work. And this is the stimulation to look for something else.” – plain simple by Semler.
But it is still very difficult for many companies to let go of control. Because current businesses are not organised like places for creation, but rather like the military: with hierarchical power system, with order givers and takers. But Semco is built up of concentric and venerable circles, there are no titles and no dedicated office spaces. Nobody has to come to work. It is up to the individuals and teams if they work from home, in the jungle or at the cafe in town.
These teams are the backbone of Semco. People are working in groups that individually produce a product or subproduct. How they do it, in which time frame and what money is up to them. The person who wants to take a rest because they are tired, just goes to the company garden and has a little snooze – a person that is tired make anyway only mistakes.
The company without human resources
Semco has 3000 employees and no human resources office. This when traditional company owners get cold sweat on their forehead. Who employes the people? Who controls achievements?
This is all done by the employees them selves. When a team discovers that they need a new person, they post a meeting on the intranet. This meeting is not mandatory: everybody can come, but nobody has to.
” We do not want that people get involved in something that they are not interested in. Therefore, all meetings are optional. This means, meetings will be announced and the person that is interested can come to it and shall leave the moment it become boring.”, explains Semler the philosophy behind meetings.
People that would leave a meeting because they are bored – that would drive some managers into insanity. But at Semco only those people should make a decision that have a shared interest. On such a meeting, it would be possible to decide that a new person is needed and what qualities and knowledge this person has to posses. Then they would post an advertisement for the position and as soon as CV’s arrive they are commonly shared within the team: Everybody who is interested can take some CV’s home and shares the most interesting with other team members. Instead of interviews there are group meetings with all candidates at the same time – and everybody is free to join.
The only employees that are formally appraised are the decision-makers – appraised by all others. If one of these managers regularly gets bad appraisals he usually leaves the company on their own.
Actually, most things get done by the teams themselves. If someone makes a good job it will be discussed within the team or in a meeting. Someone who allocates themself a big salary increases the expectations from the team and pressure from peers. But also the employees have a different relationship with work: If somebody earns a lot of money, the whole week actually only plays golf, but still makes a good job and gets his things done – who cares? The result counts.
A study by CNN recognised that employees at Semco have a much healthier work-life-balance, more time for relationships, children and hobbies, but on the other hand also show great dedication and extraordinary results at the workplace. Not despite but because of more freedom. For Semler, this is not surprising: people must have space for development, to bring in their potential.
And it works
Semler is sure: his concept works everywhere. He himself used it is factories and IT-offices. Actually, it is the other way around – this is the only way it works. Our current working environment with burn-out-syndromes, mobbing, stress, gastric ulcers and depression does not work at all, it is continued insanity.
It is time, that we create a society where a profession has something to do with appointment or mission and passion instead of slavery and exploitation. A society where people can make their own decisions and get the respect they deserve. A society where private life and work are seen as equal – including the managers. It is time for the 7-day-weekend.
Ricardo Semler published a few books: ” The Seven-Day-Weekend: A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century” and “The Semco System: Management with out managers”.