Reading the rest of chapter 3 of Hard Facts..., ("Is Work Fundamentally Different from the Rest of Life and Should it Be?"), I'm struck by the things that they say that make me say "duh!" Basically, observations to the effect of "if the environment is unpleasant, people are more likely to quit." I'm not saying they shouldn't make these observations, but it's amazing to me that they are forced to say them in the book. That the intended audience of the book, presumably managers, must be convinced that a pleasant workplace is better than a harsh one. And that "better" actually translates to "much more profitable."
Yet it seems to me that the world is still dominated by "get tough" businesses, command-and-control operations that look at their employees as adversaries that are trying to take from the company. And probably, with an attitude like that, the only employees that stick around are those that buy into that mentality. With a world view like that, a bullying mentality seems like a natural approach to take, like the CEO "chainsaw Al" Dunlap who supposedly cleaned up Sunbeam (but who was eventually fired for accounting fraud, not before he was praised by the business press has a hero and great leader). The man was a notorious abusive bully, but no doubt provided, for awhile, vindication for bullies everywhere.
When I read a book that says "you shouldn't allow any kind of bullying within a company" it makes me want to cry. One of the authors (Sutton) felt compelled to write a whole book about the topic: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Why do we even have to say this? Why isn't there already a variation of the "golden rule" that says: "Build a workplace where you yourself would like to be?" (Perhaps that's what happened, but the workplace was created by the bullies, then imitated by everyone else).
I don't think I've ever visited a company that isn't some variation of this model. Sure, there are better and worse versions. One company felt like entering Orwell's 1984, including useless searches at the door and a rule that someone had to walk me to and from the bathroom (eventually people just told me to casually hold my hand over my badge so you couldn't tell I was a visitor). In the best working situations, the manager subverts the rules as much as possible to make it more pleasant, but you always know that the overarching environment was one of domination -- if something happens to that manager, be prepared to scurry for cover or leave the company.
A few years ago there was a brief moment where employees were hard to come by. Traditional companies were suddenly put in a position where they couldn't make demands just because they were in the driver's seat. For a short time, they were forced to think, "How can we make this into an attractive and pleasant work environment?" I'm sure it was very uncomfortable for many who were used to the "normal" situation of calling the shots.
The software industry has always been on the leading edge of scarcity when it comes to employees. Finding people at all has typically been difficult, and if you need the top 5%, you have to work hard indeed -- I equate programming to writing, and if you want novelists, they are few and far between. So I think I might have seen more leading indicators there than in the short burst of not-enough-people we experienced a few years ago. For some reason, the two things that left an indelible memory were: dogs at work, and someone who had set up their own espresso machine in their office. I think those two things said more about self-expression and making a comfortable space than anything else -- but I also think they were just the tip of the possibilities.
What if, when you joined a company, they said: "here's your space. We want you to make it an expression of yourself, and a place where you delight to be." And you could do anything the space would support, including putting up sound walls or other kinds of structures, or even bringing in your neighbors to build a broader space (like the theme camps at Burning Man). The goal is to create a space where you say (1) "Wow ... I get to go to work today ... I can't think of anything I'd rather do" (2) "Change jobs? Why would I even think about that?"
What would your space look like?