The Dilbert Index? (Ep. 63)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Dilbert Index?” (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.) It’s about workplace morale and the measurement thereof.
This segment was largely crowd-sourced from Freakonomics blog readers — so: thanks! It began with a blog post in which a reader named Tim Wadlow asserted that the direction you park in your company lot may say something about company morale. We then opened up the blog to further observations on company morale. One of the most interesting: the “Dilbert Index,” as described by a reader named Damon Beaven:
BEAVEN: I look for the number of Dilbert comics and that seems to be inversely proportional to the level of morale. A lot of Dilbert comics seems to be like a passive aggressive way of an employee complaining.
We also take a step back and ask the basic questions like: How much does company morale matter to a company’s bottom line? What’s the best way to measure morale? And, in the realm of unintended consequences, what happens when a company tries to cut down on sick days?
These questions are addressed by Michael Johnson, a professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, who specializes in organizational behavior.
JOHNSON: A lot of the current research on employee morale and managing people in general in organizations suggests that this may be the only remaining competitive advantage that organizations have. Organizations that do this well, they tend to do really well financially, too.
A recent paper of Johnson’s, published in the Journal of Management, is quite interesting; it’s called “Outcomes of Absence Control Initiatives: A Quasi-Experimental Investigation into the Effects of Policy and Perceptions.” It looks at an auto-manufacturing company that set up a new policy, including both carrots and sticks, to cut down on employees taking too many sick days. Along the way, Johnson and his co-author also looked at absenteeism under the Family and Medical Leave Act
JOHNSON: Overall absenteeism dropped about four to four and a half days, but the absenteeism that was related to the FMLA went up about a day or a day and a half over the year. So it seemed to us they might actually be gaming the system so they could keep taking days off work and not suffer any punishment for it.