Do Your Employees Own or Rent?

July 19, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Flipped Rental CarI was reading an article this morning on Fast Company about sharing. Specifically, the article was about a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, which found that without a psychological sense of ownership, people do not take good care of shared objects. Like rental cars. Like public facilities. Like… your company?

The article looked at sharing services that have become popular lately, such as Taskrabbit or Airbnb or Zipcar—which share tasks, homes and cars, respectively, among a group of people who all pay a fee to participate. When the authors interviewed users of the sharing services, they found that they often lack a psychological sense of ownership, and that leads to carelessness about the products.

One member named Mike described in the study how he feels about Zipcars: “I’ll double park a Zipcar real quick if I’m just running into Starbuck’s or something. Which I wouldn’t want to do with my car. Or, I’ll parallel a Zipcar in a tighter spot than I would with mine because it’s not mine. I’m just not worried about it.”

This is another way of saying that these people are not emotionally engaged in their shared resources. Lacking this sense of “ownership”, they engage with the brand and company solely as a service provider. Participation in these services is seen as entirely transactional.

There is a huge parallel to this in the workplace. A recent CIPD study showed that employees can be transactionally engaged in their work but lack a sense of ownership and community responsibility. These employees are more stressed out and more likely to jump ship with little provocation. They are double-parking your company while they run into Starbucks, instead of taking the care with it that they would if they felt more ownership.

Interestingly, the study also found that the solution to making people feel more invested in and responsible for their shared resources was… you guessed it… more and better interaction with their peers. Connecting with other stakeholders on a personal level gives people a sense of shared community and ownership that encourages them to take better care of shared assets.

So how do you imbue a company’s workforce with a sense of ownership and investment? What it comes down to is the emotional distinction between a shareholder and a placeholder. If you want the former—and who doesn’t?—the difference seems to lie in encouraging strong, meaningful interactions and relationships with other people.

Turn renters into owners. Strengthen peer-to-peer networks within your company, and you’ll strengthen your company.

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