There's the truth employees tell you when you're talking in the middle of the day. 

Then there's the truth they tell each other later at happy hour--when you're not around--and they've had a few drinks. 

So if you're a professor at London Business School (LBS) hoping to learn what's really going on, you need to "work" overtime--and make sure you have a few drinks with the employees you're studying. 

That, at least, is how Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones approach their research. For their third book, the recently released Why Should Anyone Work Here?, the longtime LBS professors spent time (day and night) with the employees of 21 large organizations, including Heineken, Novo Nordisk, McDonald's, Samsung, and Unilever. All they were hoping to do was answer the question in the title. "I often say--as soon as you switch the recorder off--at that very moment you get the best data," says Jones. 

They developed a simple questionnaire, cultivated initially for their 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "Creating the Best Workplace on Earth." Eventually, Goffee and Jones converted the questions into a numerical scale, which organizations could use like a magazine quiz--as a self-assessment tool. The numbers also allowed the authors to match their personal observations with practical math. One thing they quickly discovered was that the best workplaces fostered cultures of inclusiveness, self-expression, and employee non-conformity. At these workplaces, employees didn't feel as if they had to change personalities once they set foot in the office. Employees also felt as if it was okay to speak out against organizational initiatives. 

How Much Can Your Employees Be Themselves?

Here's how the diagnostic quiz works: For each of the following six statements, give yourself or your organization a grade from 1 to 5. A grade of 1 means "strongly disagree;" 2 means "disagree;" 3 means "neither agree nor disagree;" 4 means "agree;" and 5 means "strongly agree." Ready, set, go:

1. I am the same person at home as I am at work.

2. I am comfortable being myself.

3. We are all encouraged to express our differences.

4. People who think differently from most do well here.

5. Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict.

6. More than one type of person fits in here. 

If employees gave any of the above items a 1 or 2 score, you need to pay immediate attention to it. A total score below 18 means your organization--hate to break it to you--does not value the individuality of its employees as much as it should. 

Rediscovering Individuality

What should you do then? The first step is recognizing you can't change it overnight. You'll have to sound out your employees about what's wrong. You'll have to stay patient while your employees get comfortable with the idea that disagreement isn't frowned upon. You'll have to hire new employees who lack the baggage of your conformist culture and who are unafraid to speak out. 

Above all, Jones says, is a need to jettison from your organization any outdated understandings of the employee-employer relationship. It was Henry Ford who called work a necessary evil, consigning leisure strictly to an employee's "free" time, away from the job. It was Frederick Winslow Taylor who conceptually separated the labor of conception (thinking) from the labor of execution (doing). 

Those divisions are the by-products of yesteryear. But many organizations still carry forward with the concept that work is neither the place for joy nor individual expression. The prevailing attitude remains: Don't complain, because you're lucky to have a reliable income.

"Henry Ford's deal was, 'I'll make work horrible, but you'll be richer,'" says Jones. "Our view is almost the opposite. Most adults spend the bulk of their waking lives at work. It's vital that they be fulfilled and engaged. You can't rediscover your humanity in 48 hours over the weekend."

Published on: Nov 5, 2015