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Manage Work, Not People: Does a Results-Only Work

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Employee turnover. Employers dread it, knowing how costly even an average performer is to replace. Yet employees sometimes just can’t avoid it as home and work life responsibilities increasingly intersect and clash.

What can be done to reduce turnover while still providing the flexibility today’s two-income households often require? While the answer is incredibly nuanced, many modern employers have found answers that have worked for them after implementing ROWE, aka a Results-Only Work Environment. Will ROWE work well for your company’s turnover problems to the tune of the 45 percent decrease some ROWE-centric employers are now enjoying?

ROWE + Telecommuting

Increasing flexibility of work options can take any number of different forms. To date, approximately 20 percent of the American workforce now works from home, which appears to be one ROWE-related flexibility option that is really working out well.

Perhaps this is because telecommuting is both good for the planet and good for its people. Employers that permit telecommuting give themselves the option to tout this in their environmental responsibility talking points. At the same time, telecommuting employees report skyrocketing work satisfaction into the 90th percentile, even though in most cases, they also report logging longer, harder work hours than their office-bound peers.

How does telecommuting add up to extended, more productive work time? As it turns out, homebound employees will still work when they fall ill. They will work odd hours in exchange for the option to be present for family obligations. They will work during the hours formerly wasted sitting in traffic. They will work while sitting in doctor’s offices or while waiting on the internet repair tech.

More and more, it is looking like telecommuting effortlessly promotes positive results for employee time management, creative problem solving, greater employee and customer satisfaction, more equitable income between genders and better overall workforce productivity.

ROWE Results Vary by Employer

For some employers, ROWE has been akin to finally finding that fabled pot o’ gold at the end of the workforce rainbow. For others, it has felt more like following Alice down the rabbit hole into oblivion.

Ergo, ROWE won’t work for every company, every employee or every job. ROWE must fit within the values of your company culture. Evaluating or assessing a candidate prior to employment may be the best way to find out if they fit into a ROWE culture.  For example, in highly team-based endeavors such as retail sales, incorporating remote workers into the mix nearly always makes results achievement harder, not easier.

As well, not all employees or tasks will respond well to a self-paced work environment. Those that can accommodate a delegation-heavy management style may produce fabulous (27 percent or higher) results. But where delegation works poorly, both the workforce and output often suffer.

As well, as unbelievable as it may sound to a workforce which is overall hungry for flexibility, some workers simply work better with more structure, including time in/time out requirements and an office setting to work from. For these workers, a ROWE-based system can and often does hamper productivity and reduce satisfaction, especially where the corporate culture embraces ROWE to the point where in-office attendance is strongly discouraged.

In terms of insuring your business success, moving to a ROWE-based management style can even increase workforce turnover as the bottom 10 percent and then some drop away due to lack of adequate oversight and revealed poor performance. However, this is often a temporary side effect, as room is created for employees with stronger self-management skills to join the team.

To ROWE or Not to ROWE?

Intriguingly, the ROWE program was originally birthed within the confines of its most prominent supporter-turned-detractor, Best Buy. ROWE was created by two former Best Buy employees, adopted by their former company and then dismantled when results measurement didn’t equal turnover reduction.

Today, CultureRX, the ROWE co-founders’ company, continues to consult with employers interested in moving to a ROWE-based corporate culture. CultureRX’s diverse client list (most of whom are not even close to becoming household names) highlights what Best Buy has already discovered: ROWE works well for some and not so well for others.

At the end of the day, workforce turnover reduction or employee satisfaction aside, ROWE’s effectiveness all boils down to results.

About the author


Isaac Christiansen

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Isaac Christiansen moved to Riverton Utah and has been there ever since. He is a private practice PT and enjoys spending time with his family and reading up on consumer technology when he's not at the office. Isaac also works closely with the folks at Ice Shavers while constantly looking forward to summer.