Taking Employee Morale to the Next Level

The Chicago-based web-application company 37signals just announced in a blog post that they are conducting a set of Workplace Experiments in an attempt to make their company “one of the best places in the world to work, learn, and generally be happy.” So far they’ve implemented three new policies:

  1. Four-day work week: after a summer of Monday-through-Thursday work, they realized that they were getting roughly the same amount of work done as they had when they were working five days a week. So why not enjoy three-day weekends?
  2. Funding employees’ passions: If people want to pursue a hobby or interest or whatever, 37signals will help them for it, as long as they blog about what they’ve learned.
  3. Discretionary spending accounts: All employees are getting a credit card so they can buy books or software or attend a conference without having to ask first.

They are a small company, with only 10 employees. They’ve been hugely successful over the past few years, and their small size is intentional. They’ve repeatedly spurned offers of corporate buyouts and huge sums of venture capital. Their main tenet is keeping things simple — from the software they produce to the way they run their company. Their outspoken, rebellious attitudes have garnered them a huge devoted following as well as quite a few critics.

I’m wondering what my friends and family — and others who happen to read this blog — think about what 37signals is trying to do. Are they being too idealistic? Are they on to something big here? Are their “workplace experiments” applicable to other companies, or is there something unique about 37signals that lets them get away with this? Is this kind of thing a luxury that very few companies can afford, or is it something that companies can’t afford not to do if they want to be successful to the extent that 37signals has been?

By the way, my last few entries haven’t generated any comments, so I’m not even sure if anyone is reading this anymore. I know my writing has been sparse lately. I’m hoping to post a bit more frequently now, since I’ve freed up a little time for myself.

Update

Turns out my self-pity about not receiving comments was premature. A recent surge in “comment spam” forced me to tighten the moderation controls, which resulted in a few perfectly legitimate comments being labeled as “junk.” I’ve restored those comments and changed the controls again to what I hope is a better level.

Also, Kevin mentioned the problem of customer service in a comment below. I failed to mention this in my post, but the 37signals folks have a customer service rep who has not yet shifted to the four-day work week. They’re looking to hire another rep so the two can stagger their on-call days. You can read more about this situation from the current customer service rep herself.

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