The Aeron chair is a beautiful chair - beautiful to look at; beautiful to sit in.
However, the $700 +/- AERON chair is a symbol of a startup's post-IPO indulgence. After closing their first investment round, they buy state of the art espresso machines, work from obscure artists, a foosball table and...the Aeron chair.
My story with the Aeron chair is different.
As CEO of a small company, I sat in the same wobbly chair for nearly 6 years. The arms wiggled loose. The back rests did not rest. Seat bolts poked me through the whisper thin seat cushions. Wheels regularly rolled...off.
Everyone in the company sat in these same chairs. Several reported new back, shoulder and neck problems since coming to work there. Back, neck, shoulder and head aches undermines engagement. Who wants to engage with anyone, even a loved one, when you desperately want to disconnect from your headache, back ache, shoulder and neck ache?
We knew Aeron's were the best. Our people were the best. So, recognize the best people with the best equipment. Right?
The challenges and their solutions follow.
The chair was $700-ish each. There were 7 in the company. I did not want to see the impact on the quarterly reports from purchasing all 7 at once or discover that these chairs were not all that.
- Solution: We’ll buy a per month.
Challenge: Avoid Favoritism.
Favoritism kills engagement. We wanted each chair to be cause to celebrate, not resent.
- Solution: Hold a monthly drawing.
Each month we held a drawing to determine the owner of the next chair. The winner of the previous month would determine the criteria for the current month's drawing. They could put names in a hat, choose random numbers, favorite colors, sports teams...whatever. I, as CEO, organized the drawing for the first chair.
Challenge: Rigid settings
We wanted each employee to own their chair, not avoid it as a company mandated policy. Aeron chairs can be customized for fit, tilt, lumbar...and even colors and materials.
•Solution: Each person orders their chair, customizing it with their preferences.
One more thread, one big thread, weaving our culture of connection.
Fun. Excitement. A monthly celebration.
Ownership in the process, the decisions and the outcomes.
And...a slow erosion of physical ailments that might interfere with happy, engaged, inspired people bringing the same experience to our customers.
- fewer internal complaints. This left more time to grow the company.
- more smiles and laughter. This was shared with each other and our customers.
- more testimonials and referrals
- greater receptivity to new ideas
- increased enthusiasm. This from their needs being recognized and being able to participate in the process to solve their needs.
- More enthusiasm and engagement in those company meetings.
Disclaimer: A noticeable percentage of readers have expressed concern, even outrage, at this idea. They tend to fixate on the chair, ignoring the process and clear signal we're willing to invest in the health and comfort of our employees in a way that's both cost-effective and that's meaningful to them.
This was one of the 52 ways I included in my first book on Employee Engagement:RECOGNIZE THEM: 52 Ways to Recognize Your Employees in Ways They Value . Here’s what some business experts are saying about the book.
On the sidebar of this site are links to free samples of the introduction and the first category of ways to recognize your employees.