Improving the Workplace Environment: By Larry Josephs The workplace should be a place where everyone works together for the common good of the company as well as improving the quality of life for all employees. Walk in any company and ask employees just two questions (assuming you can put them at ease and get a straight answer out of them) and you’ll know if they have a job or a career. 1.      When you wake up in the morning do you look forward to getting to the office or do you dread it being another workday? 2.      Do you have a true mutual respect for your fellow employees and do you treat them as family? The focus of the corporate leadership should be a commitment to the employee’s success and their upward mobility and truly empowering them to make positive decisions, and once that becomes a part of the workplace environment, you can literally guarantee quality customer service. The workplace reflects our values. It is based on a common purpose and mutual respect. When I train salespeople, I train them first to focus on “selling themselves” to the prospective clients. Once they have successfully accomplished that, whatever it is they are marketing is merely a “by-product.” Corporations should train their salespeople on relationship selling, and management should be trained as well to focus on building relationships with employees. Why is it that management has to feel that they must instill fear in the employees in order to feel that they have arrived? Once they are promoted, they set themselves apart from the employee base and grow further and further away from the real workers of the organization, when in reality, just the opposite should be true. Their promotion was a direct result of their work ethic and practices. Now it should be their turn to try and “duplicate that” through training and staff development and helping others to climb the corporate ladder. If they find employees that can’t “move up” within a department, then perhaps they can “spread out” into another department and become an extension of the manager’s efforts where they too can start making a difference. Experts tell us that motivation based on fear is at best a temporary and external motivator. How long before the threat is no longer taken seriously? Ask any soldier that went through Basic Combat Training…a drill instructor could instill more fear in you than the enemy! But after eight weeks of listening to the screaming, you adjust and just accept it and can’t wait until graduation. Translate that to today’s employment situation, where the past three years have been high unemployment and employers not paying attention to their employee base because they know there are few opportunities out there.  Converting employee’s perceptions about a having just a job or a real career goes a long ways to creating a permanent and internal motivation. As the economy turns, watch the high rates of turnover as employees bail out of their positions where they hate going to work in a place with little or no recognition. History has proven that employees will work for less where recognition and opportunity for growth are present. Frederick Herzberg’s famous Theory of Motivation study taught us that salary was number 8 on the list of “Satisfiers & Dissatisfiers.” Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs taught us early on, people just want to belong to something where they can be recognized and feel some level of self-esteem. What kind of standard does your organization have? When I see a CEO going through the cafeteria lunch line and immediately looks for an opportunity to sit with employees that he hasn’t visited with or doesn’t know very well yet, it speaks volumes about that person. The other old saying validates this: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” These are executives that care about their employees and make every effort to send that signal throughout the organization. We are all responsible for providing a workplace that is safe for all employees. Safety-in-the-workplace, sexual harassment, hostile workplace or other issues such as diversity, are all issues that need and require management attention. The company that truly believes in their employees, creates a career and a future for them, practices diversity; rarely has to focus on such unlawful behavior, since it is no different than worrying about this in your home! Companies that conduct “brown bag seminars” where employees can bring their lunch into the training room and participate in training sessions, or where the company provides lunch (giving them even more incentive to come) can do a lot to build strong teams. Sessions can be such simple things as designing a Job Description with management and employees agreement on the exact “Tasks, Duties & Responsibilities” and what percentage of time is spent conducting the assigned tasks, duties and responsibilities. The percentages then must add up to 100%.  If management would reward employees on a quarterly basis (quarterly reviews) based on performance, rewards would be more of an incentive since the employee knows what they have to do to earn the reward. One example we used was a computer reseller in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where the call center staff was rewarded using this approach. The callers knew exactly what they had to accomplish (tasks, duties and responsibilities) in order to be rewarded with a $1,000.00 bonus each quarter. If they only accomplished 90% of their job, they got $900.00, 80% = $800.00 and so on down to 70%. If they ever achieved less than 70%, they received no bonus and were placed on 30 days probation and sent for remedial training and given an opportunity to prove that they still wanted to be in the department. The department went from a cost center to a profit center inside of 90 days. When employees are motivated and enjoy their workplace environment, everyone wins. Another such session, we took turns making an employee the CEO for a day! “Now, what changes would you make immediately to become more profitable?” You would be amazed at how fast they focused on their “peer’s” work ethics: “Coming-in late; excessive breaks; long lunch hours; leaving early; working on non-related projects (internet/email) on company time; sending out resumes on company time; or just plain not knowing if they are “goal achieving or tension relieving” (as the old quote goes) every time they are away from their work station.” Once an employee is sensitized to the fact that they have “been inconsistent with their own behavior” they become more aware of their contribution to the employer and how that relates to the bottom line. When a company pays little or no attention to their employees, they get little or no real performance out of that employee, unless they are standing over them with a hawk eye watching their every move. Micro management doesn’t work and only serves to create a hostile workplace environment. When a company pays attention to their employees, recognizes their performance, cares about their families and overall health and welfare, the performance on the job requires little or no supervision. I call it psychological reciprocity. The employees all do their part, knowing that they make the difference and they feel good at the end of each workday. Experts have also suggested that: “One-half hour of acute boredom is more devastating on the human body than eight hours of hard work.” If you truly enjoy what you do for a living, then you don’t have a job! There’s a lot employees and managers can do, to improve the workplace environment. Instead of putting a poster on the wall that says “TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More”…why not let your action speak louder than words? Practice the concept. Train and cross train everyone in their present jobs, while allowing them to train for future opportunities, so they are prepared when potential vacancies open up. Management can take a page from the motivational speakers when they talk about the difference between Human Relations and Human Nature:

  • * Human Relations says; Always place the other person in the spotlight, recognizing them for their achievements.
  • * Human Nature says; I’d rather be there.

As a trainer and seminar leader since 1973 I have personally witnessed the relationship between companies that believe in training, and those that do not practice training and development. Many of the companies that refused to invest in training and development of their employees are no longer in business. They fail to make the connection between truly caring about the upward mobility of their employee base and the impact it has on improving the workplace environment. It’s kind of like managing pennies; the dollars will automatically take care of themselves. Jack Welch, CEO of GE said it best: “The only thing worse than training people and having them leave the company, is not training them and having them stay!” In 1998 when unemployment in Minnesota was less than 3%, employees could jump out of any window of any company and get 5 job offers before they hit the ground. That day is coming again, and if you haven’t been “Paying Attention to Retention.TM” then be prepared to pay the price in turnover costs and lost productivity.