“Hi, my name is Eric. What’s yours?” I was asked by a gentleman who came sprinting from his work desk to shake my hand and introduce himself. My response was followed by Eric bringing me over to his workstation to show me what he was making. Eric shared with me the different steps that go into making the product that he was working on and also shared just how many products he had made that entire day. Eric is not your typical manufacturing employee; Eric works for Kandu Inc., a non-profit that provides opportunities for those individuals with severe barriers to employment. A large population of Kandu’s workforce has mental and/or physical disabilities. Kandu identifies local and global light-manufacturing work for the workers to conduct on-site at their primary location in Holland, MI. In addition to bringing work on site, Kandu focuses largely on placing qualified workers with local employers.
In addition to being incredibly proud of this organization to which I was introduced, I left their headquarters with two profound notions of what a modern day workplace could look like.
The first comes from the example of Eric, who was not unique in his actions. Easily, 25-30 workers attempted to wave our group over to them in order to show and tell us about what they were working on. These workers were proud of the work they were doing and wanted to share their accomplishments with others. Nearly every workstation we passed by had a handful of people greet us and introduce themselves.
After we left the manufacturing floor, someone from my group made the comment of how nice it was to have ground floor workers wave with all five fingers rather than one. Management isn’t always greeted by such smiles on the ground floors of their own organizations. I think he was half kidding, but nevertheless, the comment revealed something about the attitudes of many workers today. There isn’t much joy in the workplace. This comment is a generalization, and I understand it doesn’t span all companies and industries, but when you walk the floor of Kandu, you can tell attitudes are different. What if your organization had more people like Eric that took pride in what they do and were joyful in doing it?
The second workplace observation I took away came from a response to a question I asked about how well the individuals with other barriers (for example, those with felony backgrounds) integrated with those with disabilities. The response was that the integration was seamless. This was followed with a passionate explanation of why:
“They don’t care. They don’t care about what you did in your past, what kind of car you drive, how much money you make. They simply don’t care. They want to know, are you nice to them? Do you talk to them? Do you invite them to sit by you at lunch?”
This answer resonated with me as I reflected on my own experiences in corporate America where everything was about status in one way or another. The environment at Kandu is one where judgments, comparisons, and status are removed from the equation.
Unfortunately, I am not going to close with a step-by-step process of how to create this kind of environment in your own organization but rather pose the question of “what if?” What if you could create an environment where your employees truly valued and took pride in their work? What if all of your employees found joy in their work? What if everybody felt as if they were equal and didn’t have to worry about what others thought of them?