There are some companies people would kill to work for, and you probably know already whether yours is one of them. At some companies, people love coming in every day. At others, the paycheck is the only thing stopping the staff from burning the place down. If your company sounds like the latter, here's what you can do—at any level of the organization—to make your company a better place to work.
Being a great place to work goes deeper than high pay and great benefits: the work environment and attitude of the employees are important too. The best companies appreciate their workers and offer them benefits and perks that make them feel valued. They also train managers to work efficiently, treat their employees like adults, trust them to get their work done, and judge them on their performance. It all sounds logical, but if all companies were so above-board, everyone would love their jobs. Sadly, we know better.
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In this guide, we'll walk you through some things you can do, whether you're entry-level, standard staff, middle management, or a manager, to make your company—or at least your team—more friendly. First, we need to discuss what makes a company great.
What Makes a Company a Great Place to Work?
Every year, tons of magazines and blogs publish lists of the "Best places to work." Many of them work with the Great Place to Work company to poll employees and evaluate the results. For example, the 2013 Best Companies to Work For list has been published, and you'll see some familiar names at the top of the list. Not all of them have the same things in common though. Great Places to Work says the criteria for a great place is simple:
Employees believe they work for great organizations when they consistently:
- TRUST the people they work for;
- Have PRIDE in what they do; and
- ENJOY the people they work with.
It's important to note that a long list of benefits and perks does not a great company make. You can offer employees free lunches, tons of relaxation space, flexible work hours, and more, and they'll still hate working for you if they don't have the more basic needs met.
Great Places to Work goes into detail about this here, but the point is that if you're looking to make your company a better place, benefits and perks only go so far. They have to be used in a way that doesn't just make people happy for the moment, but reinforces the fact that they're appreciated, their work is appreciated, and they're working with people they like and trust. Keep that in mind while we walk through some of the things you can do to improve your workplace.
What You Can Do To Make Your Company a Better Place to Work
You don't have to be an executive or an HR director with a budget to make some basic changes that'll improve your work environment (although it helps.) Let's take a look at what you can do on any level of the company to improve things for yourself and your peers, your department, and the whole company.
Entry Level, Non-Management, or Any Employee
At this level it might seem like there's nothing you can do—or nothing you'd be allowed to do—to brighten up your workplace. That's not always the case. We discussed a few things you can do for yourself when you feel like your job sucks, but there are other things you can do with your colleagues to make things better for everyone:
- Start small and talk to your manager. Before you go too far, the first thing you should do is make sure that there's something you can do without upsetting your boss, or their boss. For example, your manager may be more than happy to help you organize a potluck lunch or something, but they probably can't cordon off part of your team's work space as an impromptu lounge. They may be able to give you some flexibility to work from home, but they can't make that change for everyone in the company, or maybe even your department. Let your boss know that morale is low and you'd like to do something to bring it up. See what's possible.
- Break down the walls between your colleagues. Small social activities can go a long way. It sounds corny, but when they're genuine and meaningful (and most importantly, things that everyone wants to do versus things they feel forced to do because management is asking them to do them) they can brighten up a workplace and help foster the kind of trust and collaboration that the best companies have in droves. How you do this is up to you and your office—a lot of companies have potluck lunches, but why not turn it into a chili cookoff with a prize for the best pot? Better yet, have a panel of judges—make them all regular people judging managers' recipes. At my last company, we were all gamers, so every couple of months we all brought in our rigs, set up a small LAN, and held LAN parties. It's amazing how lobbing a grenade over a wall at your CIO makes you appreciate him more.
- Organize and sit down with management. We're not talking about forming a union or anything, just making sure everyone's on board with a very small set of proposals that you think your manager or department head can help you with, and then see if they're possible. Start slow with small changes that you think will make the biggest impact for everyone, whether it's a place to eat lunch in peace that isn't your desk, a potluck luncheon every month, or something else small that will help everyone warm up to each other a little more. Whatever you do though, make sure its genuine: skip the trust falls and go for the things that people actually enjoy.
Middle Management or Senior Staff (eg, When You Speak, Your Boss Listens)
If you're the type of employee that has a little pull with your boss, you've been around for a couple of years and have some friends at work, or you're just in the position to suggest something bigger than a potluck, consider some more substantive changes:
- Don't forget to start small. Just because you're more senior doesn't mean that you can just jump in feet first. Again, make sure you're clear on what you can and can't do, and start with some of the smaller suggestions. They can get your feet wet, show you how much resistance you'll run into, and whether or not anyone will actually appreciate the changes you're trying to make. You may get more traction starting with something small, like asking if a supply closet can get some lights, a table, and some comfortable chairs so you can have a comfortable place to eat lunch. That'll probably fly before you get a full-on lounge. Similarly, if you can't get a sandwich counter in the office, ask if anyone would care if you asked some local food trucks to come down to the building around lunch time—if you can get your colleagues to go with you, everyone wins: your coworkers get a treat, you get delicious food, your company is suddenly more attractive ("Yeah, we have food trucks come down from time to time,"), and a local business gets valuable customers.
- Suggest policies that encourage happier, more productive teams. See if your department could start a telework program, or ask if everyone can try working from home one day a week. There's been a lot of controversy about working remotely lately, but for most people and most companies, it's still a great option. Plus, it shows a lot of trust when management can say "Yes, we trust you to get your work done even if we can't see you doing it." That's huge, and its impact on individual workers can't really be minimized. If the work that your team does doesn't require you to have your butt in a seat or a physical presence in your working area for eight hours a day, it can go a long way. Telework is a great example here, but it's not the only one: starting a "bring your pet to work day" can help a lot assuming your office isn't dominated by people with allergies, for example.
- Lead the charge. The key to making any place a better one is to be tenacious. You won't be able to just throw a suggestion at your manager or their manager and then walk away assuming it'll happen. You have to be willing to take the reins and do the work required. Bonus: you get to be a leader and show your commitment not just to a project, but to the company, which will go far with people who may not even be involved.
An example: at my last job, when we moved into a new building, the company built on a bistro as well—a small cold counter where pre-made sandwiches and salads, delivered every morning, were sold to employees and there were plenty of tables for everyone to sit and have lunch. We even had a pair of fountain soda machines, an iced tea brewer, and an espresso machine. Pretty sweet, but none of them would have been there if people didn't ask for them and the CEO didn't agree. Ultimately it was our receptionist and a few others who led the charge in selecting the vendors who provided the sandwiches and salads: the side benefit being that whenever they came in to show off their culinary skills, everyone in the office got to benefit with a free lunch. You don't have to be an exec to help make those necessary decisions, and since the receptionist asked us all for our opinions about the food, we all had a role in making sure the food we got was food we would enjoy.
Senior Management, Directors, Execs
If you're a real power broker in your organization, or you have the ability to influence company policy as a whole (or maybe just your own department), why not use it to make your team happier, and more attractive to new talent? After all, you will need to hire at some point, and your position will be much stronger if you can outline the ways that your team is one of the best teams in the company to work for. If they catch on, or the rest of the company takes notice, you could be responsible for something big that really does make the whole company a great place to work.
- Chat with HR about the changes you'd like to make. You're not in this alone, and your HR department may be able to lend you some help when it comes to making the changes you'd like to make. Whether you want to give some people on your team the option of telecommuting, or you'd like to give your team a lunch area, you never know—instead of just turning a spare closet into a lounge, see if there are any empty spaces in the building that everyone could use, not just your department. Turn a conference room into an Xbox or Wii room for an hour or two every Friday. Also, if you're planning anything after hours, make sure you're not running afoul of any company policies or regulations around overtime or employee hours in the process.
- Don't force your team, let it happen naturally. If there's anything most employees have, it's a finely tuned BS detector. They know when you're doing something because you want to "improve morale and make the department more fun" versus you genuinely want them to be happier and have a good time. Err on the side of the latter, and don't judge your team if participation is low at the outset. If morale is low, you'll have a hard time getting people to stay late for a poker night when all they want to do is go home. Just make sure you get a few people and start building a core group that really does enjoy the activity you've planned. It'll grow organically from there as long as the doors are open and you invite people on a no-stress basis.
- Shamelessly borrow policies from the best. Some of the perks and policies that make other companies a great place to work are actually surprisingly easy to implement. Granted, they'll differ based on the corporate culture you have and the type of work that you do (if you're a director in a shipping company, for example, the benefits at a tech company may not be work for you) but network with other directors at other companies. See what makes their teams successful and how they're handling the challenges of a team that's interested only in their paychecks. Make no mistake, some people will only ever be interested in their paycheck, but you all have to see each other for 40+ hours a week—the least you can all do is enjoy the time you spend together. Get in touch with other companies and managers that understand that and agree with you and see how they made it all work. Not only do you have the benefit of networking, you'll get some valuable insight you can bring back with you.
- Build a better working environment from the inside out. Remember, Great Places to Work says that the best places don't just have a laundry list of perks, there's actually a sense of mutual trust and respect among employees, managers, and directors. It can be difficult to foster, and in many cases your HR department can help, but in the end you're the one who knows and leads your team. Treating your employees with fairness and respect, trusting them to do their jobs and evaluating them fairly on their performance, and encouraging them to help and work with one another will all go much further than speedy new computers and free lunches (although all of those things help too!)
Every Great Place to Work Has to Start Somewhere
Let's be honest: It's easier to just quit and find a company that has the perks that you like, or keep searching until you find a corporate culture where you really fit in than it is to actually make these small changes and try to improve your working conditions from the inside. It's why so many of us just give up when things start sucking and start looking for a new job.
Unfortunately, jobs are scarce these days in every industry, and everyone knows it. Sometimes it's better to put in a little effort to keep the one you have, and starting off small and slow like this is a great way to make the kinds of changes that will ultimately make your company not just better for you, but more attractive to other great talent. You need to be willing to stick to your guns, lead the charge, and go out on a limb to make the time you spend at work a little better for everyone. After all, you spend at least 40 hours a week (and many of you said you spend more than that) at the office. It should at least be an enriching experience.