Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

by Nicholas Edwards on June 25, 2018

Imagine if everyone in your organisation was forced to wear size-nine shoes to work, regardless of the size of their feet. Would this have a positive impact on employee engagement and morale?

The answer, of course, is no. While a small minority would be fine, the vast majority would end up feeling pretty uncomfortable. The quality of their work would probably drop, as would their motivation. It may even be enough to make some walk, or hobble, away.

If you hadn’t already guessed, this blog post isn’t about shoes; it’s about the problems associated with a one-size-fits-all approach to work.

Finding the right fit

As with shoes, some ways of working fit us and some don’t.

I’m a morning person. I do my best work before lunch and start to burn out by the afternoon. In order to think clearly and creatively, I need peace and quiet. And to be honest, I find large groups of people exhausting.

But I know people that are the complete opposite – some don’t get going until the afternoon and are at their creative best when bouncing ideas off people in a buzzing office environment.

No doubt you’ve also learnt that certain conditions either help or hinder your productivity and experience of work. And as you will know, this is about more than personal preference; it’s about creating the right conditions to get your best work done.

This diversity of working styles is a reflection of the workforce itself – a group of individuals, each with their own personality, preferences and ways of doing things.

The customer is always right

For many people, work doesn’t involve much choice. They are told how, where and when to work, but they are rarely asked “what works for you?”

Organisations are typically reluctant to cater to the individual needs of employees, preferring instead to treat people as homogenous groups. This way, the conditions are prescribed – the where, how and when of work – and everyone is expected to just get on with it, because that’s the way work is.

The result is that the vast majority of people end up working in ways that just don’t suit them.

If you think about it, work is the only place where this happens. Outside of work, companies spend millions of pounds trying to understand exactly what we think and what we want – the customer is always right, after all. As a result, we spend our lives picking and choosing, making our little worlds just the way we like them. But when we get to work, all that stops.

Give and take

Successful relationships are built on compromise and the desire to find common ground. Why should it be any different at work?

The traditional employee-employer relationship is essentially one sided – the employer dictates to the employee what work is like, while the employee has very little say in the matter. But in truth, both parties are in the same position: they both have something to offer in return for something they want. It is time work started reflecting this fact.

Instead of one-way demands, employers should attempt to meet their employees in the middle and actually try to understand the conditions they need to get their best work done.

Having had first-hand experience of this myself, I know how effective it can be. As a result of being able to change my work environment to one that better suited me, I am not only able to concentrate better, I am also more engaged in my work.

By offering this type of flexibility, you let people know that they are valued as an individual, which humanises the relationship between employee and employer. It is all so simple, yet so effective.

Time to get personal

Some organisations will argue that they simply don’t have the resources to understand each individual’s needs. While that may have been true ten years ago, it isn’t today.

Technology has the ability to liberate us from old ways of working, making it easier than ever to offer flexible working conditions, and providing valuable insights into productivity and happiness at an individual level.

Take People First, for example. Our software is designed to help every employee spend more time in the flow – a state of intense focus where we do our best, most creative work. But we understand that each person’s experience of flow is different – the conditions I need to do my best work may be different to yours.

That’s why each user has access to their very own personal assistant, which allows them to track their daily performance, anxiety, energy and happiness levels, providing clear insights into what makes them tick.

The tide has turned

While people may have accepted a one-size-fits-all approach in the past, that is slowly changing. Younger generations value flexibility over stability, with many willing to choose it even over a pay rise. As a result, employers are realising that providing a personalised, flexible approach to work isn’t just a perk, it’s an expectation.

Sites such as Glassdoor turn employees into consumers, providing a space for them to rate their employer and comment on their experience of working for that particular company. In many cases, employee reviews can be the difference between a candidate accepting or rejecting an offer. This level of transparency has gone some way towards resetting the balance of power between employers and employees, leaving the former with no place to hide.

Ultimately, as in the commercial world, the market will decide. As millennials and younger generations gain more influence in the workplace, organisations will be forced to adopt a personalised approach to work if they are to stay competitive and relevant.