Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

How to Create a Better Workplace

How to turn a workplace hell into a workplace heaven

We spend nearly a third of our life at work (including time thinking about or worrying about work). A wonderful workplace can enrich our lives, provide a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and a source for friendships and social connections. A terrible workplace can become a living hell, leading to stress, depression, and dissatisfaction.

It is important for businesses, large and small, to try to make the workplace as positive and as productive an environment as possible. Here are several suggestions on how to make your place of work better.

Promote Regular Team-Building Activities. The best places to work (think Google, Cisco and Whole Foods Market) have a shared commitment to the organization's purpose. At these companies, employees (who are often referred to as "team members") believe in the company and what they are doing and they support one another.

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To get that shared sense of purpose, it is important to focus on ways to build it. Some organizations have the resources to put on regular, consultant-assisted team building programs. But even small organizations that lack those resources can create team-building activities that can accomplish tasks while building that shared purpose and commitment.

For example, consider having all employees contribute to the creation of a company brochure or website. Such promotional materials for the company allow each member to focus on the organization's mission and purpose, and to focus on the "positives" associated with the company.

We have gotten the same effect by having all of our team members contribute to the writing of an annual report. It offers the opportunity for everyone to reflect on their personal accomplishments and learn about and celebrate the accomplishments of others, and turns an onerous task of "reporting," (formerly done by the executive team) into one of celebration and teamwork (Hint: This can be done on a wiki website!).

Create a Culture of Mutual Respect. A core value of every organization should be one of mutual respect and civility. Of course, this is easier said than done, but a starting point is to simply promote this value. Company leaders play a critical part in creating an atmosphere of respect and stopping instances of employee-to-employee (or supervisory) abuse.

My daughter's elementary school has done a wonderful job of this. They regularly discuss the value of mutual respect at assemblies. There are prominent signs that say: "No-Bully Zone," and a zero tolerance policy for bullying. [Note: Not simply a schoolyard phenomenon, workplace bullying is on the rise and an oft-ignored workplace problem].

Develop Programs to Make Workplace Improvements. Years ago, I worked with a large financial institution that had a biannual survey feedback program. All employees were surveyed about all aspects of their jobs, their departments, and their companies. Employees had the opportunity to identify problems or indicate where the company could do better. At an all-employee meeting, the areas of strength and weakness/problems were shared. The executive leadership team decided on 2-4 areas that needed attention and/or improvement. Employees from all levels then volunteered to serve on year-long task forces to target the problems. There was so much enthusiasm to serve that the number of volunteers far exceeded what was needed. As you can imagine, this company was an industry leader in employee satisfaction.

A common element of these workplace improvement programs is involving employees to help solve problems - doing it in a way that can both make the workplace better, but may also lead to productive outcomes for the organization.

 

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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