Can Sad Employees Help Solve Workplace Issues?

Andrew Greenberg, CEO

Andrew Greenberg, CEO

This Sunday’s New York Times’ Business section featured an article by Neil Irwin titled, “The Mystery of the Miserable Employees: How to Win in the Winner-Take-All Economy.” The article is part of the author’s research for his new similarly titled book (released today) about designing a thriving career in today’s ever-larger organizations. Irwin’s book research took him to the Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where he spent time with Brett Ostrum, a vice president of development on both Surface and Xbox devices. 

The article highlights Mr. Ostrum’s quest to understand a distressing trend from an employee survey: the 700 Microsoft employees within the development groups of Surface and Xbox reported being much less satisfied with their work-life balance than their counterparts elsewhere in the company. This made Ostrum unhappy, and thus began his search for an answer. 

The article calls out the need for organizations to truly understand what’s going on within—for greater efficiencies, greater happiness and all around less friction. As the writer states:

"The nature of modern organizations is that they are so complex, with so many people doing so many unmonitored things, it’s harder than it seems to know what is really going on. As the economy is dominated by more of these large firms, that is going to be the case for more workers. Not many of us are laboring in a small factory, where the boss can look out her office window to the shop floor and observe inefficiencies."

This is the heart of our Greenberg Inside™ product, helping companies understand what’s really going on. Complex patterns exist beneath the surface of every category — essential habits, heuristics, and traits that drive preferences, behaviors, and decision-making. In the workplace, it’s essential to identify these patterns and, more importantly, the connections between them, to create an evaluative and predictive framework. Together, these help reveal the bigger picture and better shape strategy and communication for retention, employee engagement, and diversity and inclusion issues.

After some deft data analytics (pointing the insights beam inside the company versus at consumers) Microsoft had its answer: people like to think deeply to solve problems. As Irwin adds, “What really distinguished those teams with low satisfaction scores from the rest was their meetings tended to include a lot of people — 10 or 20 bodies arrayed around a conference table coordinating plans, as opposed to two or three people brainstorming ideas." They couldn’t get good (deep) thinking done while at work, so they had to do it at home in the evenings or on weekends. Once they had a sense of the shape of the issue, they could better question employees about the source of their frustration. 

Employees are more emboldened than ever to find experiences that better match their values. By virtue of wanting to remove friction, increase growth opportunities and make the work environment more appealing, Microsoft has helped shed light on the importance of embracing and engaging the employee in the solution.