Employee Engagement

Maddie Axelon, the CEO of Axelon Endeavors, was at a loss for what to do. During the COVID pandemic, Axelon’s office went remote. While work was interrupted for a while, eventually each of the offices were able to continue at pre-COVID levels. Now that the pandemic seemed to be waning, Maddie needed to decide whether to return to in-person operations.

Her advisors had different opinions. Some advocated for in-person operations while others wanted to remain remote. There were clear pros and cons for each option. Maddie struggled with her decision until her daughter asked her a simple question: “Why don’t you let employees decide?” That’s what Maddie did.

Employee teams were created at each worksite to identify possibilities for that site’s work practice. What was fascinating was that each site picked a different practice.

Site 1 decided for a continuation of remote work with smaller offices to use for in-person requirements.

Site 2 decided on a full-time return to in-person work for all employees with an understanding that employees could request remote days for cause.

Site 3 decided on a hybrid model where there would be return to in-person work the first three days of the week with the last two being remote optional.

Special consideration was given to college hires in that they would start their careers in an in-person environment. In each model, the teams focused on work-life balance as a primary factor in their decision.

Maddie agreed to let each site go with its selection as a one-year trial. She wanted to see what effect these models would have on work performance.

Now, one-year later, the results were in. Each site outperformed its pre-COVID levels across all measures. In fact, each site achieved this performance level with fewer people due to the number of employees who resigned during the pandemic.

As Maddie reflected on the results, she concluded that the work practice itself had limited impact on performance. What did have an impact was on how work was done was the employee’s decision, not a corporate one.

How much say should employees have in decision making? That’s a decision that has been the subject of books, articles, and management gurus for over a century. Is there a conclusive answer? There is not. The essence of leadership is to make the call on when and how to engage employees in decisions. Maddie made the right call, it seems.

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“On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work.” – Marilyn Carlson (CEO of Carlson Companies)

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