U.S. Politicians and economists talk about jobs, jobs, and jobs. They say they want to close the skills gap, better prepare young people for employment, and retrain workers for new, high tech careers. They claim that if only people were better educated and trained (especially in STEM fields) and we did a better job of matching people with jobs, we would grow the U.S. economy at a faster rate and expand the middle class as a result.
For example, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder has made jobs a high priority of his administration. Although unemployment in Michigan is at a 17-year low, estimates of the number of unfilled jobs in the State go as high as 100,000. The Governor is encouraging private-public partnerships to train people in the skills they need to fill that gap.
What these politicians and economists don’t seem to realize is organizational culture is a major barrier to attracting, developing, and retaining the people that companies need to be successful. Nobody wants to work in a poorly managed organization, yet policy makers don't factor this into the equation. They don’t ask companies to make their workplaces more attractive to workers.
That is a black-box theory of work, with company culture being the black box. It’s an analysis of inputs and outputs without examining the thru-put. They count the number of degrees among new hires and the GDP of the economy but they don’t look at indicators of the quality of the workplace experience.
Most workplaces are unpleasant places to work and most managers are not very good at managing people. Employee disengagement is consistently measured at around 70% and managers are the primary reason why employees leave their jobs. Research by the Learning and Development Roundtable of the Corporate Executive Board (Gartner) found that “nearly 60 percent of frontline managers underperform during their first two years.”
Why would people want to work in an organization and do their best in an organization where they are not respected, where they are not trusted, where they do not have an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills for which they thought they were hired, where there is little opportunity to learn and grow, where the performance goals are not clear, where they are chastised for trying something new when it doesn’t work out, where they are discouraged from collaborating with people in other units of the company, where they receive feedback only once a year at a perfunctory performance review meeting, and where pay and benefits are awarded unfairly?
Of course, increasing employment in good paying jobs, especially for women and minorities, is a worthy goal. But without a workplace conducive to learning and growth, people will be discouraged from seeking work and doing their best after they’ve been hired. And when sexual harassment and racial discrimination are allowed to continue in some workplaces, people will not want to work in those organizations. Many who experience these indignities prefer to either work for themselves or stop seeking work altogether.
It isn’t enough to get people into jobs; we should also be helping them stay in their jobs, be successful, and develop career competencies. Having the knowledge and skills needed by companies is part of it but we also need to make sure that people have a positive workplace experience if we want the economy to grow faster and have more people enter the middle class.